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Published: September 15th 2013
A truly amazing drive today across the mountains of the Hautes-Pyrénées. We concluded at the end of it that we had been most fortunate in the weather. Rain had been forecast but we didn’t see any, only low cloud (very) as we approached the summit of the Col de Tournalet from the East and otherwise glorious blue sky and sunshine. What could be better for a scenic drive across, over, up, down and round mountains. I remembered as we were driving along taking in the wonderful views just why I had asked Bob to include the Pyrénées on this trip.
The first half of the drive didn’t include any mountain passes but we drove through lovely countryside in the Ariège region and some really pretty villages. The first village which we admired, Bordes sur Lez, was by mistake. I realised this when I tried to find what it was called on my map and couldn’t as it was not on the road we thought we were on. We were heading up a mountain, next stop Spain. This did mean we got to enjoy it a second time after we had turned round and returned the way we had come.
We were rather surprised by some painted signs on the roads, “OURS NON”, especially at the entrance to villages, as they seemed to be a direction to bears to keep out and we didn’t think that bears could read. I asked about it, when we stopped at a Boulangerie, for our daily baguette, and yes the signs did indeed mean, “No Bears”. It was only when I checked on the web later that I discovered that the Pyrenean bear stock is sadly depleted so there was an initiative to introduce more which caused an outcry and violent protest from the locals. Sadly we didn’t spot any of the bears on our travels.
The second half of the drive was through, or rather over, cols, and these are the ones we drove over today, together with a lot of cyclists and quite a number of motorbikes : - Col des Ares
797m Juzet-d'Izaut to Fronsac - Col de Peyresourde
1569m Bagnères de Luchon to Arreau - Col d’Aspin
1489m Arreau to Sainte-Marie-de-Campan - Col de Tournalet
2115m Sainte-Marie-de-Campan (past La Mongie Ski station) to Barègesabove the town of Luz-Saint-Sauveur.
The Col D’Aspin was most noteable
for the summit. A fantastic viewpoint over the Pic du Midi de Bigorre (2,877 m). We could just make out the observatory on top. To add to the scene there was a herd of lovely Pyrenean cows, including calves, as a foreground to the view, Camera went into overdrive of its own volition. We had passed a few cows on the road as we drove up to the summit – they were heading for a feeding station at the top and ambled up and across the road entirely regardless of any traffic.
We have been up the Col de Tournalet before, in 2008, from Luz-St-Sauveur to the summit. We did this on the scooter. On that trip I had to get off for the last 200 meters as the poor scooter couldn’t quite make it to the top up the incredibly steep gradient. Today the scooter stayed in the Tandy garage and I have to say it looked quite relieved.
We were feeling a little disappointed as we rode up the col on the other side as the cloud had dropped and we couldn’t see a lot. We drove up through La Mongie - the largest ski resort
in the Pyrénées to a view of ski lift cars hanging eerily above us in the mist. Then we reached the summit (of this cyclist’s challenge and a favourite route for the Tour de France). We were above the cloud, glorious, clear blue sky and a fantastic drive down the mountain on the other side. Stopped a few times to get past the sheep , llamas and cows which were hanging about !
One big advantage over the scooter was that I could take photos as we drove along, so I did, and I did and I……
As we approached Barèges we were puzzled by the amount of building work along the road, beside the river then realised there must have been a recent flood. We saw houses which had parts knocked away, a bridge half broken and signs of major destruction all along the route. As it was weekend the bulldozers and earthmovers weren’t working but they were lined up all along the route and it is obvious that they are working full time to rebuild the river banks and the road. This is after all a major ski resort area and we presume they intend to
have it fully operational for the 2013/4 season.
We checked on the web later and yes there were terrible storms on June 18th
which left the village cut off for several days.
We decided to use the campsite we had found which is up the mountain rather than one near the river (!). An excellent choice, the indoor pool is the best I have ever used (yes, really) and I will be using it again tomorrow. We stayed put for the night. The forecast rain arrived but it is also forecast to be gone by morning. Fingers crossed.
Campsite is Camping Pyrénévasion at Sazos – 3 km up the hill / mountain really, from Luz-Saint-Sauveur. A treasure of a campsite at only $12 (ACSI) all in including indoor (superb) / outdoor pools, super sanitaires, electric, wifi, bar etc etc. And surrounded by lovely mountain views. We’ve paid as much as this for a spot in a field with no facilities in England !
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