Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Big Mountain Trip 2011: The Pyrenees

While my friends and I had a great time laughing at funny place names during our trip to the Pyrenees in July, we did plenty of other things as well.

Understanding Frenchman and I spent a night en route at the Hotel l'Oustal in Vezac in the Perigord. It had a gorgeous (and empty!) swimming pool with a view of two different chateaux and was surrounded by fields of sunflowers. In the evening, we had dinner followed by an evening stroll in La Roque-Gageac and were really quite sad when we had to leave first thing the next morning.

We picked up some more friends in Toulouse and drove to the gite de Miquelet in the mountains behind the town of St Girons. We were pretty excited by the prettiness of the location as well as the fact that the gite, while being charmingly rustic on the outside, was actually very well equipped on the inside. The fact that the electricity had cut out just before we arrived only added to the sense of adventure, although we were quite relieved that we had planned a barbecue for that evening and that the owner offered to refrigerate our food and lend us candles. When the light was gone outside, we lit a fire in the hearth, setting a trend which carried on for the rest of the week.

The next morning it was raining and the electricity was still off but we set out for a hike in the afternoon and were very pleased to come across an EDF lorry and discover that they had found the source of the problem and were getting ready to fix it. We came across EDF vans on four of the seven days of our trip - a lot of electricity is generated in the area but they also have their work cut out providing a service in an area that can be hostile to things like overhead wires.

On our second day we hiked most of the way to the Etang d'Araing, which was a fabulous walk but bad weather and the steepness of the mountain stopped us going all the way down to the lake (which we couldn't see anyway) and we stopped at the highest point, a cool 2221m above sea level. We learned that day that in the Pyrenees, horizontal kilometres are almost irrelevant - it's the vertical ones you have to worry about!

Day three was our walk to the beautiful Cascade d'Ars and turned out to be the only really sunny day of the whole week.

Afterwards we went to the spa at Aulus-les-Bains in the hope of soothing our tired muscles but unfortunately their crummy customer service left us suffering more from high blood pressure and rage.

Wednesday was supposed to be a rest day, but we still managed to drive for a couple of hours over a hairy but spectacular mountain pass to Vicdessos for a three hour hike to the castle of Montreal de Sos and the little village of Olbier before driving back through the medieval town of Foix, where I learned that it's Troyes Foix Sept fait vingt-et-un.

On our last two days, we hiked up to the Refuge d'Estragnous to climb Mont Vallier, which for a long time was thought to be the highest peak in the Pyrenees. It's not, but at 2838m, it was spectacular and high enough to give some of us the beginnings of altitude sickness. The weather on the hike up was miserable but we were rewarded with a friendly reception, warm, comfortable beds and genepy on the house for our efforts. Because of the rain, not many people were staying there and in the evening, all ten or so of us got involved in a game of Jenga which was almost as breathtaking as the climb itself.

All in all, it was an amazing trip and even with the prospect of more holidays before the end of the summer, it was hard to come back to Paris!

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