21st.- 25th AUGUST.
The gite had to be vacated by 10am as new arrivals were expected that afternoon. We said our goodbyes on Saturday night as there was much to be done with packing and young children on Sunday morning without us getting in the way and departed about 9.30, waving goodbye my new friend, M.Arnal the farmer on our way. Short drive to ST.ANTONIN and the aire.......whilst we Could have driven further, I felt the alcohol level in the bloodstream was high enough to justify driving to the nearest place and parking up for the day. Nice market in the centre and terrific boulangerie for the requisite tarte aux fraises.
Only problem was the heat and only part shade. By mid afternoon, with the silver screens on, all vents & windows open and the cab doors open, the temp inside was 39.8. and we were sitting in the only shade behind the van...and then we discovered that we could go and sit in the river about 100m away which probably saved us. Very uncomfortable night as temp never dropped below 32.
Up early on Monday because of the heat and on the road about 8.30. Good drive to TARBES where we parked for a few hours in a private guarded aire and walked into town for a drink and look around. Still rather hot in the middle of the day for sightseeing so a stroll through the very nice gardens was the highlight ( We decided to give the birthplace of Marechal Foch a miss, merely having a drink in his square, opposite his hotel). Then onto LOURDES. Ok I know, I swore I wasn't going to do another Catholic pilgrimmage site and the GF only agreed to go if I promised to not to rant on about a. Religion b.Religious souvenirs c.Gullible Religious Tourists....but I didn't promise not to write about them. So we found a very nice little family run campsite where we pitched under shady trees and did a bit of housekeepng. Next day, got the bikes out and cycled into LOURDES, only 3km away. Unfortunately the weather changed and thick mist hid the mountains and a fine drizzle fell as we approached the town but it soon cleared. LOURDES. Its better than it might be and whilst unashamedly attempting to separate you from you money ( I was offered, in dark alleys, enough splinters from the true cross to build an ark) it is obviously bringing enormous comfort (and hope?) to hundreds of thousands of unwell people so who am I to mock. And it's not up itself like Compostello nor are there armed guards in the church of the grotto which was an interesting church. So we had a cup of coffee and left them to it (I have several splinters of the true cross available at a reasonable price if anyone is interested).
Now. The real reason why we were in LOURDES was to begin an Escapade en CampingCar, from Mr.Michelins book of the same name, which is a tour of the thermal waters of the Pyrenees, including crossing the Col du Tourmalet, the highest of the passes. The GF had only agreed to this on the basis that Mr Michelin wouldn't send us up impassable tracks or dangerous routes, even though she had watched the tv pictures of the Tour de FRance crossing said Col in July. Well I thought it would be fun. But then the weather changed and the clouds came down and the forecast was for several days of thunderstorms in the Pyrenees so there wasn't much point.
We had also planned another Escapade after the mountains, touring the Cathar castles based around Carcassone, so looking at the maps we decided to head south to FOIX, another Cathar base and also close to Mont Segur, number one on my 'must visit'list ( having read several books about its place in Cathar history). Found a nice riverside campsite at BASTIDE DE SEROU after a very pleasant country drive with the attraction of being very close an old railway track cycle path (Voie Verte) to FOIX, about 20km away.
So on wednesday we visited the tourist offices, armed ourselves with maps from the very helpful young man, and after visiting the market (where we watched a man dispening wine from vats in the back of his van via hosepipes into any container you wished to present for 0.90€ a litre or 1.10€ a litre for the superior) we cycled to FOIX along the best cycle path we have ever done. A slight gradient as path follows the hillside with spectacular views over to the Ariege massif, foothills of the Pyrenees. Final 4kms on the road down into the town of FOIX. Stunningly restored castle overlooks the town and we climbed up to it in the heat of the day ( although not as bad as last weekend)and whilst it was open, the only English speaking guided tour of the day at 1pm was cancelled due to ill health. So we just did the best we could and had a good look round and a picnic under a shady tree with lovely views up and down the valley it was built to protect.
Had intended moving on but discovered on thursday that in order to visit the caves at NIAUX, which are as important as Lascaux, it is necessary to book a reservation as visitor numbers are limited and the earliest booking we could get was Saturday so we stayed on another day. Set off for a bike ride on friday morning, overcast but looking as though it would clear, only it poured with rain and we got very wet.
I might be back ...
10 months ago