Almost 2 years ago (the first week in September 2006) we were in the Pyrenees. C has always had a “thing” about the Pyrenees and so when we were choosing where to go in France (as part of our bigger-than-Ben-Hur Europe trip) we chose the Pyrenees for him, Provence for me and Paris for all of us. A week in each. Years before an online friend had told me that Biarritz was her favourite place in France, and as there is an airport there, it seemed logical to base ourselves close to Biarritz (we flew in from the UK, and picked up a hire car). It gave us options of mountains, beach and Spain, as well as enjoying the Pays Basque. So we chose Les Tilleuls and loved it! (The photo which is behind my blog heading was taken at the Wednesday market in Peyrehorade, a lovely town 20 minutes away.)
We had a memorable day trip to the Cirque de Gavarnie. We should have left earlier in the morning, but C was battling a chest infection. (Breakfasts were “pah ah chocolah” – chocolate croissants – from the bakery in Bardos). We had lunch (the ubiquitous goat’s cheese salad)
at a village south of Lourdes (maybe Argeles-Gazost?), and arrived at Gavarnie about 2.30. The sky looked threatening, but we managed a short walk towards the Cirque.
We left shortly before 4 as the clouds darkened and the first drops of rain fell. We decided to take a “back road” instead of going back through Lourdes as there is only one main road through Lourdes and the traffic was horrendous on the way in. So we headed off west up into the hills… we LOVE going off the beaten track.
We were on the summit of the Col d’Aubisque when the storm became frightening. (It was only when we were back in Australia that I googled the pass and discovered it was one of the classic climbs of the Tour de France and one Cadel Evans – Australia’s hope in this year’s Tour after second last year – had summited first in 2005!) We didn’t see much scenery – it was too scary to take our eyes off the road and the heavy rain and cloud meant we couldn’t see anything anyway. It was quite one of the scariest hours of our lives. We spent most of it stopped and on a few occasions were worried the sheet-like torrents of water would wash the car off the road and down the mountain. And there weren’t good places to stop, and other cars were creeping along the pass too, trying to get off the mountain before dark, and the road was narrow and barrier-less in many places, and there was the danger a parked car might not be seen. A lone cyclist found refuge in the cab of a truck driver in one of the tunnels on the corniche. We sheltered alongside them for a while. So we crept along when we could. (Remember that we were driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and it was a manual car – but C is convinced that the manual gears saved us as it gave him more control). C later admitted after that he was petrified that we were not going to make it. My prayers were urgent and desperate. But after a while, the rain eased, and we could marvel at our escape and how the mountaintop had been transformed by the hundreds of rivulets that had appeared everywhere. And wish we could have enjoyed the view before the storm. We were too shaken to take a photograph! We just wanted to be off the mountain before dark and before it rained again.
We finally got back to Bardos at about 8.30 and had a simple but wonderful meal at Chez Odile. I had a salad and soup, MissN a mushroom omelette and C a steak.
Here is a recipe for Garbure, the vegetable soup of the Pays Basque.
I don’t know if we will ever get back to France. I do hope we do. But meanwhile each year I can relive part of our trip with the cyclists of the Tour de France and ascend the highest and and most arduous roads from the comfort of my lounge. ( I WOULD like Cadel Evans to win this year!)