Up in the Mountains again – Haut-Pyrenees, Occitainie, France

We had a lovely easy drive up to the Pyrenees on Sunday morning, enjoying the lorry-free roads due to the HGV ban on Sundays. We decided to head straight to the Haut-Pyrenees area, where we had a few nice wild camp spots planned. We were not quite sure what to expect in terms of snow, as we knew that the Alps have had some snow since we left. We passed some pretty villages as we entered the Pyrenees and always considered stopping.

Our first night was in Saint-Lary-Soulan, a ski resort, we thought that would give us a good view of the terrain. According to the snow forecasts, 17 of 24 pistes were still open, though due to close at the beginning of April. As we drove up we could not see how they were open as we could see very little snow anywhere. However, there were people carrying skis and snowboards, obviously fresh off the slopes. We had to conclude there was snow hidden under the clouds above the hills.

Skivillage apparently without snow in St-Lary-Soulan

The next day we had to retrace our steps slightly to go around the mountains into the next valley and Loudenvielle. The scenery is gorgeous driving through the Pyrennnes and it is much quieter and slower paced than the Alps in ski season.

Beautiful drives through the Pyrenees

We drove through Loudenvielle to a dead-end road in the valley above hoping to find a wild camping spot for the night recommended by others an app. However, what they did not mention in their posts was the Wild Camping prohibited signs you pass on the way to it. The road ends at a hydropower station, which are usually pretty quiet and appear unmanned. We found a bit of gravelled ground just off the road and parked up for the day.

The sun was shining and we enjoyed exploring the river running through the valley, which was strewn with tonnes and tonnes of stone, a testament to the power of the spring thaw waters when they arrive. The dogs roamed free and we got out the chairs and had a picnic lunch. Revelling in the silence, the only sound being the waterfalls on the opposite side of the valley. We saw several large hawks / eagles circling in the thermoclines above us and said once again that we really must get some binoculars. However, despite the dead end there were a few passing cars going to the start of the mountain hikes / hydropower station at the end of the road. We decided as the municipality had gone to the trouble of providing a really nice Aire only 5 kms away we should use it. As sadly there were some signs of other wild campers and their fires who had not respected the place, so you could understand why they don’t want people there.

Parked up in the Aire in Loudenvielle

We parked next to the lake at Loudenvielle and set off to circumnavigate it. It has an old signal tower at one end and snow capped mountains on the other. There are fishing permits and a number of locals were fishing peacefully in the sun as others enjoyed a stroll like us in the sunshine. We watched the parascenders, who seem to be a constant sight in the mountains, landing at the end of the lake. Lola was mesmerised by the ducks, which were thankfully out on the water, as she had learned to chase them when we were on Lake Garda. She set off to swim after one which had come dangerously close to the edge and was gaining on it, but thankfully responded to our commands to return before any ducks were damaged!

The next day we drove to the summit of the Col d’Aspin (1489m) and finally could see the row of properly snow capped mountains behind those we had previously seen. It was definitely up there with one of the all time epic drives, especially when an enormous vulture set off from the road just beside us to join the 15 or so which were circling in the thermoclines of the natural amphitheatre of the mountainside. We were though somewhat humbled by the cyclists who made their own way up though 🚴‍♀️

That night we stayed in Payolle next to a babbling stream, which was the ultimate Feng Shui for camping. We’d spent the afternoon enjoying the sunshine and walking round the mountain lake there, avoiding yet another pack of huskies stationed nearby.

After Payolle’s hefty inclines we calculated we did not have the fuel to do another 30km of inclines up to Col du Tormalet at 2115m and into the snow line. We’ve done a fair bit of altitude on this trip though, so we headed down the valley to Lourdes. Obviously Lourdes is famous as a centre of pilgrimage and had an impressive church on a cliff side, but also very busy roads and nowhere handy to park. So, after looking at the forecast and realising it was due to be 25 degrees on Thursday, we decided to head back to the coast. We enjoyed a quiet night on a farm Aire in Orriule with fabulous views overlooking the Pyrenees mountain chain.

Sunset over the Pyrenees at Orriule

We were up early for our travels the next day, pulling up in Ondres at an Aire by the beach for breakfast and a wonderful day of barbecues and basking in the sun. The surf was pounding with a continual roar in the background. By the time we went out for a drink in the evening it had really built up and we watched the sun set under the low cloud like a distant fire from our table.

The next day was different again with the arrival of the cold front, drizzly and grey, which curtailed my cycling plans. However we did get out for a couple of miles walk on the beach, a decent exercise on the soft sand. We saw the evidence again of the power of the sea with huge tree trunks, possibly from the US / Canada washed high ashore. There was also some interesting remnants of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall along the beach, in the shape of concrete bunkers now heavily decorated in graffiti. The most extreme demonstration of the power of the ocean provided by the breaking up of one, constructed of several feet thick of metal reinforced concrete.

Ondres beach super-scale driftwood

The sun came out again on Saturday and we decided to head further north to Messanges beach Aire and it’s rabbit warrens. One of the closing weekends of the Premiership rugby season providing the entertainment, especially with the edge-of-the-seat game between Saracens and Quins.

Finally to close the circle, we had to return for Sunday lunch at Le Plantane in Lanton on Aracachon bay, where we stayed when we last visited the vets in Bordeaux. We are both keen to complete the consultation tomorrow on Lizzy’s eyes and discuss her potential cataract surgery. We need to understand when they may be able to complete the surgery and the aftercare regime we would need to follow, so we can plan our travels ahead. Hopefully the fires will have been put out before we get there 😳🫢

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