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Published: September 29th 2009
The road into town
I can't help resenting that Sitges is billed ahead of Harrogate, but it's nice that Harrogate's Queen of Yorkshire
…..otherwise known as Bagnères-de-Luchon, Harrogate’s twin town. We went there this weekend for a change of air, to see Big Mountain scenery, and to make an escape into Spain for hooch for Christmas cooking.
It’s a fair twinning. Both towns match each other in living up to the cliché - plenty of genteel elderly ladies in straitened or not so straitened circumstances.
Both towns also don’t live up to the cliché - there are lots of perfectly regular people-next-door types. Both towns too have housing stock and council tax levels that prevent the young and less well off climbing onto the housing ladder.
Of course, both are towns whose glory days as Spas are rather in the past. Luchon welcomed Napoleon and Mata Hari, Harrogate Agatha Christie. But the elegant buildings and parks remain as evidence of those rather more romantic times. We found though that on the weekend we chose, at least, Luchon was rather between seasons, neither open for business as a sunny mountain resort, nor as a successful ski station. We had a good time anyway, and made new friends.
Lunch looked like being a problem. Everyone eating out on Sunday books in advance in
Luchon. We hadn’t. The restaurant we really liked the look of however, proved to be owned by an ex-Lavelanet lass, whose parents and brother now live in Laroque. We were soon friends, she found us a table, and though busy, came often to chat to us throughout the meal. She won’t go back to Lavelanet - too flat compared with the Real Mountains that surround her now. If you know the geography of where we are, you may wonder about her choice of the word ‘flat’……. Still, the important thing was the quality of the food that appeared on our table. Miam miam.
Our next friend was on duty in Tourist Information. We ended up talking to him in English, for the pleasure of listening to his accent. He’d learnt all he knew near Dublin, and French-accented Irish, we now know, is a delight.
Finally, after our hearty walk, we went to a Salon de Thé (Betty’s??) for a cup of the best Italian hot chocolate you’ll ever meet. The décor puzzled us. Lots of framed pictures of lingerie, with would-be poetic captions in English. The patronne enlightened us. She used to run the place as an underwear
At that moment, cold, windy, very Lake District
shop, but fancied a change, a teashop in fact. ’From D cup to tea-cup’, as Malcolm wittily pointed out.
Hearty walk? Well, after lunch, we needed one. We chose to walk from outside town to one of the many lakes, the oddly named Oô. A calorie-burning climb gave the chance to admire the Lake-District-and-then-some peaks, the waterfalls and rivers below, before reaching our lake. We barely stopped to glance at it though, because the clouds were gathering, the wind whipped up, and a storm was clearly on the way. The 75-minute walk up became a 45-minute gallop down.
Against the odds, the storm didn’t happen; so on our way back to town, we paused at the village of St. Aventin, named after the beatified local lad. He deserved his halo, apparently because all the local bears would come along to him for help every time they got thorns in their paws. The village celebrated his life by building a wonderful little Romanesque church. We only saw the outside, but look what a little gem it is, poised high at the top of a steeply climbing village, with equally steeply pointed roofs.
And that was it, mainly. We
had a quick sortie into Spain the next day for that hooch, another lunch, another walk….then home, to discover the roofers have arrived and erected scaffolding. New roof next stop.
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