My Pyrenees Adventures
Our adventures began soon after arriving in Collioure, a very busy and beautiful seaside town in the south of France. Our first short walk was up to Fort St Elme on a warm afternoon. We were all pleased that we completed this initial walk relatively easily.
The next day we were driven about 20 minutes upwards to begin a longer walk to the Tower, again above Collioure. This walk encompassed a great variety of tracks and with gusty winds, conditions weren't easy. After 2 hours walking, lunch at the Tower was a welcome break. Downhill began on asphalt but soon we were rock scrambling and being very careful with our footwork. The next section on the 'Balcony' followed the contours around the mountain and for me it seemed never ending. The vans were a welcome sight after about 5 hours walking. Our first long walk was completed with great views over Collioure and the contoured vineyards on the steep slopes below.
After yesterday's walk we were very happy to have a driving day to Prullans in Spain. Along the way we stopped at Ceret and visited the Museum of Modern Art. The afternoon break was at Mont Louis, a small ancient walled village. Further along we drove through the beautiful Cerdanya valley until we arrived at Prullans.
The first walk out of Prullans went from Bellver to Martinet, a distance of about 12 kilometres. Walking along the valley, with 'a few ups and downs', on a variety of paths and with views across the valley to the mountains, was not too difficult. The highlight today happened at lunch time in the tiny village of Olia, when contact was made, by chance, with a lovely Spanish family who were holidaying in their renovated, historic home. They allowed us to sit on their stone wall to eat lunch and then brought out freshly brewed coffee for everyone. Some of us played badminton with 10 year old Anna on the recently mown grass. After this most pleasant stop it was onwards across farmland and finally along a shady river path into Martinet and a most welcome beer!
On the way to our next stop in Tavascan we visited Andorra for a couple of hours. Tavascan is a small, pretty village situated in a narrow valley and quite close to the French border. So that we wouldn't lose our fitness, we had a short walk to Anieto, an ancient, tiny hamlet just 18 minutes from the edge of Tavascan. I really enjoyed this mostly renovated village and the views of the valley from the wall.
Walk number 5 proved the most difficult for me although the scenery was sensational. We had a 40 minute drive to Espot and then 4 wheel drive taxis to the starting point at lake St Maurici. Today's walking conditions encompassed everything imaginable - boardwalk, rocks, shale, tree roots, made road and always upwards! When Sabine pointed out the Refugi d'Amitiges and only 3 more zig zags, I wondered how I could possibly get there especially as it was quite hot. We did get there and of course the scenery was amazing so all was forgiven! What goes up has to come down? 'Mainly down,' says Sabine. Some of our group even walked a further 5km instead of catching the taxis back to Espot.
From Tavascan the next day we enjoyed a 'short' walk to Noarre, further up the valley. The gradient along the stream was easier and there was shade so it was very pleasant stroll. Some of the buildings in Noarre had been renovated or in the process of but mostly it was deserted. Lunch in a grassy meadow looking at the mountains opposite was lovely.
Heading westwards and more skilful driving by Gabriela and Sabine took us over Port dera Bonaigua and the Audas mountains to Bagneres du Luchon for our lunch stop. We all enjoyed this spa town and wished we had longer there. After lunch and over Col de Peyragudes and through the 3km long Bielsa Tunnel to the Parador de Bielsa in the Pineta Valley where we were surrounded by high mountains.
Our 7th walk was up to the waterfall, visible from the Parador and again on a wide variety of paths. Always upwards to get the best views, along the Balcon de Pineta and just a few more zig zags till we stopped for a picnic and a rest. A bit further on to the top of the valley there was a wide open grassy area with cattle grazing and another waterfall in the distance. The fittest people walked the extra distance to the head of the waterfall.
Travelling the next day from Pineta to Gavarnie took us over the Col d'Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet, certainly a highlight for those of us who enjoy the Tour de France.
As there was a local Sportif in progress, there were many bike riders on the road and once again the skills of our drivers were evident. We witnessed the finish of a race on the Col d'Aspin and watched in amusement as the very friendly cattle tried to lick the salty legs of the hot riders. We met Mike from London who had ridden up Aspin and then as chance would have it we met him again up Tourmalet, a very fit and likeable young man. At the top of the Col du Tourmalet there were hundreds of bike riders and tourists all enjoying a fun atmosphere. There was much posing by some in our group who pretended they had ridden the Tourmalet! Loved the scenery.
Gavarnie was a little gem, nestled at the foot of a Cirque. We had to wait a day before our walk to the Cirque owing to heavy rain (shopping and coffee shops helped fill in the day). The next morning we all set off up the valley along a rapidly flowing stream in brilliant sunshine with many photo opportunities. The Cirque de Gavarnie was brilliant and owing to the rain there were many more cascades making it beautiful. Unfortunately the rain meant that we couldn't go all the way because some crossings were water logged.
Lunch on the way back to Gavarnie was at a Crêperie beside the stream to celebrate the birthday of one of the tour group. The omelette and blueberry tart were delicious, thank you Walkabout. Even though we were feeling quite lazy after lunch, our intrepid leaders, decided we needed more walking. This time we drove up the Vallee d'Ossoue for about 20 minutes before walking some kilometres up a made road to a reservoir. Along the way the marmots kept us amused and the tinkling sounds of the various cow bells was very pleasant. From the reservoir, we headed cross country 'mainly up and a little bit down'. Most tracks were well marked, including the Grand Rou 10. We rested for a while in a meadow, watching the marmots, before making our way down some steep tracks to the road. We were all very weary and as there was no organised dinner, a quick pizza and an early night was much appreciated.
Our final walk, number 10, was around the Cirque de Troumouse. Beginning at Heas and along with many other people, we set with a spring in our legs.
By now we thought we were much fitter than when we started a fortnight earlier. Well, it was all uphill for 3 hours and over all sorts of terrain. After a break and snack, Sabine told us there were just a few zig zags before we reached the top. I counted and there were at least 17! We all made it despite much huffing and puffing and self-doubt. We had walked up at least 569 metres. Once again the views all round were amazing and well worth the effort. After lunch and a well-earned break we had a much more leisurely walk across the plateau and back to the vans to be shuttled down to a hotel and a cool drink.
And so the walking part of the tour was over and the next day we drove to Biarritz via Lourdes. Biarritz is a spectacular seaside holiday town and as the weather was hot there were many thousands of tourists enjoying the beaches.
Sipping a cool drink at a bar, we spent some time watching the local teenagers jumping into the water from the rocks and flirting with the lovely young girls before zooming off on their scooters.
Our Walkabout Adventure from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic was sadly all over. Our group of 16 came from many walks of life but all had good sense of humour, making for many funny incidents. Conversations were never dull and we enjoyed light hearted banter, but also encouragement and support when required. The accommodation was always in delightful villages and towns and each had a special charm of its own. I especially liked Tavascan and could have spent more time there. The charismatic owners of Hotel Marbore in Gavarnie entertained us on many occasions.
There were so many memorable meals. Perhaps the last night in Gavarnie was the one I enjoyed most with potato and leek soup, fish in a packet and crème brulée. The paella in Prullans was amazing and huge, so tasty that we didn't leave space for the rest of the meal!
Gabriela and Sabine were wonderful tour leaders .They always accommodated any wishes- and supported us through any self-doubt, tailoring walks to suit the weather and our abilities. Surprisingly I discovered I could walk up mountains that seemed improbable at the beginning, despite my 'medium fitness'!