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Saturday, 21 June 2014

Through France to the Pyrenees Five: Posh Showers and Pilgrims

We tore ourselves away from the lentils and volcanoes and made it to the Pyrenees.  OsmAnd told us our altitude as we drove past Lourdes and climbed up the mountain road to Gavarnie.  The air was cooler at around 1,300m above sea level and in the evening it was soon long-trousers and jumpers weather; items of clothing we had banished to the back of the wardrobe since leaving England.

Anthony looking over to the Cirque de Gavarnie
During the daytime it was back in to shorts in the sunshine and we have to say that the Cirque de Gavarnie is the most spectacular natural World Heritage Site we have seen yet.  We walked up to 1700m to an alpine meadow viewpoint above the Cirque de Gavarnie on a less travelled route that we had to ourselves.  We enjoyed our picnic with a ring-side seat over the valley, entertained by the Alpine Choughs and the Griffon Vultures above our heads and then we crossed fast flowing glacial streams and walked through woodland down to the bowl of the Cirque itself.  Here there is a hotel and a terrace that has a spectacular view of the Cirque and is just the place to enjoy a beer (€8 for two being as you ask).  We took the easy route back down to the village with the other pilgrims and resisted the temptation to buy a fluffy whistling marmot in the gift shops.

We retreated back down to the valley for some cycling, as the Col du Tourmalet is still not open.  We chose an ACSI camp site in Argeles-Gazost next to the Voie Verte that follows the Gave de Pau valley.  We were surprised to find the camp site very busy so early in the season and we are not sure if the attraction is the proximity to Lourdes, the entertaining rabbits on the site or the plush shower rooms that wouldn’t look out of place in a four star hotel.  Each shower room is individually designed and the poshest has a sink set in a boulder.  The site also has a series of swimming pools, including a circular rapids section and swimming against the current was hard work.  The camp site bar is showing the football every evening and we watched France resoundingly beat Switzerland 5-2.

The river Gave and cycling on the Voie Verte
The Voie Verte cycle route we had come for follows an old railway line through the valley and small villages to the edge of Lourdes and most of the other cyclists we met were lycra-clad boy racers.  We stopped in the village of Geu to see the Lavoir that was prettily set by a stream at the top of a hill and spotted a pair of Egyptian Vultures.  Lourdes and the number of people there is beyond our comprehension and all we can say is that we enjoyed some good ice-cream and Anthony got a puncture in his back tyre.

We took the van out to high up in the Vallee du Marcadau and walked up the river Gave, walking past gushing waterfalls, through an abundance of flowering Azalea bushes and in to green mountain pastures.  We spotted a Dipper in the fast flowing stream, such a small bird holding its own in such energetic water and certainly doing some White-water dipping.

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