Pacing the Pyrenees
Compromise is the name of the game when it comes to planning a vacation for Arthur and me. Arthur loves exploring, seeing new things every day, and getting far away from the busyness that can be the norm of central Europe. Sitting still is not his forte. I dream of rolling up the tent somewhere idyllic where I can put up my feet, and read a whole book. On this particular occasion, I decided to be proactive with planning. Arthur had finished his gig. We were in France!! Surely I could find a little something to keep us both in holiday mode.
August temperatures in the central flatlands of France average about 30 degrees, too warm, even for me, so I was not entirely opposed to finding somewhat cooler climes. I had been reading up on the Pyrenees. The Pyrenees! Just the name of these mountains exudes exoticism. It is here that France meets Spain; a mountain range with a Mediterranean climate. Now we’re talking! I’d read that this area is one of the least inhabited places in Europe. That would appeal to Arthur, and, that it is dotted with off-the-beaten-track villages full of friendly folks; right up my alley.
About an hour south of Toulouse we began our ascent. I remarked at the palm trees, don’t see those in the Alps! I chipped. We turned west and began to traverse high mountain passes. I read aloud about our surroundings, and our usual issue arose; we wanted to see it all.
Arthur and I have put on over 300,000 kilometres crisscrossing Europe, sometimes passing through a dozen countries in the space of two weeks. We usually have a strict timetable, and while we do our best to plan different routes to our destinations, or take a side-trip between commitments, I can think of only three times in 13 years when we have stopped, rolled up the tent, and stayed put for more than two nights. Once, on an island in Croatia, once in Snowdonia National Park in Wales, and once at Lac d'Aiguebelette in the foothills of the Alps.
As I read, I realized our trip through the Pyrenees was threatening to be a driving marathon instead of a holiday. Arthur had his sights set on several mountain passes. I was drawn to every side road that took us through an ancient village. Progress was slow. On the third night, we found ourselves high on the Col d’Abisque, Haute-Pyrenees. We had read that this was, a must-see, an unforgettable view. We had driven three days to reach it, and there we were at the top! The view was five metres at best. Clouds descended all around us, hugging the ground. A light rain commenced, and the driving became treacherous. We pulled off to the side, and I walked in front of the van as we drove through a meadow in search of a flat spot to roll up the tent for the night. I was cold and damp. A lonely Pyrenees Mountain Dog herded his sheep onto our small plateau and sat howling into the fog, clearly perturbed with our presence. I felt defeated. This was not the holiday I had in mind.
Arthur, who doesn’t mind being cold and damp, suggested over coffee the following morning, that we stop here for a couple of days. Ha! Oh, I wanted to stop, but this was downright depressing. I was motivated to find a solution to our misty dilemma, so I pulled out my books. I read that we had indeed reached a most beautiful spot. We’d have to trust the book on that one, but what got me excited was the mention of two wild valleys that cut down into Spain, just a short distance away. Look! I said, pulling out the map. I pointed to the Aspe Valley, and read aloud a promising review on a small campsite in the area. There was a village, hiking, and, yes, gorgeous views. We agreed we would drive a little further.
Too often, French campsites resemble an amusement park sporting pizzerias, water slides, and even discos, rather than a wilderness spot. I was quite content to see just two stars hanging on the wall of the stone office building of Camping du Lauzart. Two-stars indicated warm showers and flush toilets (not necessarily with toilet seats) and a quiet, unstructured atmosphere. Find a spot! Encouraged the front desk monitor, waving us out the door with a friendly smile. High clouds shrouded any mountain view, but the ground was unhindered by fog. We found our grassy plot, rolled up the tent, and hung our wet tarps over a nearby fence.
Camp pitched, it was time to replenish, both my attitude and our supplies. A small wooden sign pointed out the quickest route to the village: Lescun, 1 km. A little exercise and a grocery basket filled with mountain-sheep cheese, local sausage, fresh milk, and a few bottles of cider had me back on track.
Outside the shop, I grabbed Arthur’s hand and pulled him toward a sturdy steeple rising above the rooftops. Time to explore! As expected, the door of the village church was unlocked. We stepped over the sill into the cool interior. Arthur spotted an antique and dilapidated harmonium and sat down. He pumped the bellows a few times and suddenly the wee space was full with the music of organ-chords bouncing from the thick stone walls. I chuckled at his brazenness. He smiled back. We had found our holiday stride. We returned to camp as the clouds blew away revealing Le Cirque de Lescun. Shards of towering mountain-tops drew a circle around our little field, It was nothing short of stunning.
The next morning, the rising sun shone full on the walls of the roof-tent creating the oven-effect inside. I threw up the door flap to let in a blast of fresh mountain air, and pulled on my woolies. Arthur , who had been up for some time, handed me a cup of fresh coffee as I descended the ladder. I was warm and happy.
The GR10 is a hut-to-hut hiking trail that traverses the Pyrenees, and lucky for us, it cut though Lescun! We headed off for a day hike. following the code of white and red slashes painted on rocks and trees, indicating the direction at each intersection. High up in the hills we unpacked our cheese and sausage in the shade of a farmer’s tree, lingering for some time to let our legs recover from the climb before circling back to the village.
Back at camp, I traded in my light cotton hoody for my thicker merino and placed my chair in the last rays of sunshine. Arthur pulled out his cello and worked through a piece by Bach. A few people gathered on a grassy slope, listening, and chatting quietly. Hikers flowed into camp from the surrounding hills. Arthur stopped to point out to me that the sheet-music he has leaned up against a fence post is in the handwriting of Bach’s wife. I looked up from my book, took a sip of cider, and smiled.
We stayed three days.
Hover over the images (or choose landscape on mobile) to see some pictures of our travels in the Pyrenees.