Monday, 30 October 2017

I promised myself I'd go back...

...and I was running out of time.  We were still in glorious sunshine, but only for another day or so.  After that, the forecast looked depressing.

So Wednesday evening I leave Tod and the dogs and head south in the dark for Pau and the Pyrenees beyond. Thursday morning reveals a town smothered in pink for breast cancer awareness and clear skies over the mountains on the horizon. Pic du Midi d'Ossau, with its distinctive double peaks is my eventual destination.

Pau - Place Clemenceau decked out for breast cancer awareness month

Pau - View from Boulevard des Pyrénées, with the distinctive outline of Pic du Midi d'Ossau

And those clear sunny skies stay with me as I revel in the glorious scenery and stop to take photos on nearly every bend in the road.

Bas Ossau (the lower Ossau) is green and lush.  The mountains hang back, leaving a spacious valley floor, populated with small towns and villages.

Looking down on Laruns

Higher up the slopes, Eaux-Bonnes a thermal spa made popular by Empress Eugénie now languishes in a scruffy, faded glory - the Hôtel des Princes a shadow of its former self.

Eaux-Bonnes casino

Eaux-Bonnes Hôtel des Princes now derelict and sold at auction in July for a mere 19,000 euros!

I travel on and upwards, following in the tracks of the Tour de France cyclists.  A pause on a sharp bend for a lunchtime ice-cream (the only food) and a Perrier at one of the few restaurants that are still open, I look back down on the ski station of Gourette - now a ghost town with its bars, hotels and apartments shut at the end of the summer season.

Gourette from Les Crêtes Blanches

My destination is Col d'Aubisque, a mountain pass at 1,706 meters (5,607 feet) and most years a passage in the Tour de France. Giant bikes honour the event and make wonderful climbing frames for small children. I stroll up a grass-covered slope and look back down on the modest hotel and cafe - still doing steady business as late holidaymakers and tough whip-thin men who have cycled all the way up relax under umbrellas and drink in the views.

Col d'Aubisque with Le Soum de Grum to the right

Friday dawns brisk - the temperature in single figures - as I set off for Haut Ossau (High Ossau), pausing at another thermal spa, Eaux-Chaudes, on the way. "Bonjours" are exchanged with a middle-aged couple cheerfully heading towards the entrance, towels under their arms.

Eaux-Chaudes thermal baths

The mountains here press in on the valley and the sun is slow to come over the horizon.  When it does, the landscape glows in the late morning light.

Gave de Brousset

Cirque d'Anéou

I'm heading for the Col du Portalet pass (1,794 meters, 5,886 feet) and the Spanish border (just so I can say I've been there). I cross into Spain to find a gaggle of French shoppers busy buying cheap booze from a huddle of small supermarkets.

Pic du Midi d'Ossau from the Spanish side

Now on the Spanish side, I realise I am looking at a mirror image of the peak seen in the distance yesterday morning from Pau - I have arrived!

Time to head home, passing the occasional cow complete with large cowbell on the way.

Through the windscreen

The weather is changing, the cranes are flying south and by the time I'm back on the motorway it's raining. These two last days of our Indian summer have been precious.

On Tuesday we're moving back down to the cottage for winter.


  1. Beautiful photos, you were right to go back. I particularly like the one of the cow!

    1. Hello Sue, thanks for dropping by. It is a glorious place to visit when the weather's good. :) The cow picture was shot through the windscreen as I was crawling along behind her - one hand on the wheel the other on the camera button! (Don't tell anyone!)

  2. Really beautiful part of France and we have passed through in the past. I have the feeling that there are other 'corners' in the country that are equally worth a visit that we shall not get to see. Life goes by too quickly. Lesley

    1. Hello Lesley, sorry I've been slow to respond. We've been moving back to the cottage and everything's a bit all over the place! Yes life does that doesn't it! I'm glad I grabbed the chance while I could. :)

  3. Happy Christmas to you all. Hope to read you in the new year! Lesley

    1. Hello Lesley, thank you for your seasonal greeting. And very best wishes to you and yours for Christmas and the New Year. Sue