On August 2011 I went to the central French Pyrenees (see
map) with my wife. We don't like arranged travels and we
prefer to travel on our own, because we think is the only way you can get in touch with
the real country and its people. This way of travelling is harder and more expensive than
others, but also more pleasant, relaxing and, that's the best, gives you a different point
of view on the culture and way of life.
After my experience here you have my advice if you
plan to travel on your own to the central Pyrenees. You have to understand that
this is MY PERSONAL POINT OF VIEW and that it is not my intention to
criticize the people or culture of the mentioned places. You also must take into
account that these observations are from year 2011. Things might have
changed (either in the right or in the wrong way) since then.
Due to the restrictions for travelling this year, because of job issues and
the need to travel with our dog Milena, and after unsuccessfully soughting a
decent hotel in northern Spain where pets and smoking wives were allowed
(arduous and fruitless experience), we choosed as an alternative going to
the south of France, but looking for an area where temperatures were
bearable in the month of August. The alternative chosen was the French side
of the Pyrenees, and in particular its central area in the regions of
Haute-Garonne and Haute-Pyrenees. The trip began with a day trip
on the Trasmediterránea-Acciona ferry "Fortuny"
from Mallorca to Barcelona, where we spent the night at home with relatives,
with the intention of startinting the route by car the following day.
So the first day was spent on the road going from Barcelona to
the village of Gesset
in Sauveterre de Comminges ,
where we had reserved a room at the Hotel Des 7 Molles ,
that would serve as a starting point for excursions by car on the area. The
hotel is located in a rural area, away from the hustle and bustle, and all
were facilities for our stay and our dog. In its restaurant you can taste
dishes of all kinds, including trouts that are caught from their nursery
after you order the dish (fresher impossible). The quickest route from
Barcelona crosses the border by Puigcerdá and then passes near Toulouse, to
finally turn west toward the region of Comminges. Although in total are less
than 500 km it took us all day to reach our destination, because the roads
in the Pyrenees do not always allow to drive at good speed, especially the
French roads on this tour in particular.
The first day we did not get too far from the hotel and went to the
Gallo-Roman village of Saint Lizier ,
promising with its many monuments and buildings to be something really
spectacular, but actually quite disappointed us. For me the only really
interesting thing was the cloister attached to the cathedral. After a short
walk and since it was nearing time to eat (French restaurants usually close
at 13:30) we went to the nearby town of Saint Girons ,
where the river running through it provides beautiful prints, and where we
begin to realize that in France a beer can cost twice what it costs in
Spain. Fortunately, the food prices are more or less the same level.
After lunch, to complete the day we went to the cave of Mas d'Azil
of which I had good references. The main cavity of the cave is really
spectacular for its size (in fact a river and a two-lane road crosses it)
and it's really worth seeing. Apart from the public part, there is also a
by some of the chambers where there has been human settlements since
prehistory . Unfortunately, these chambers have recently been "decorated" by
some kind of thinking mind that wanted to combine the contemporary art
course with the majesty of the cave through the installation of giant iron
chains hanging from the walls like a waterfall, or the location of ridiculous
painted plastic figures of animals across the cave. I'd rather not even talk
about the grotesque visual effects projected on the walls, or the pathetic
sound effects that you are forced to listen to during the long (1 hour) and
boring tour. In short, visit the main cave, walk through it, see the
waterfalls at its output, but except for masochists better abstain from the
The next day we took the highway that in just over an hour took us to
where I briefly visited the sanctuary alone (dogs and smoking prohibited,
even in the vicinity) and the obligatory bottles were filled with the
miraculous water, as a souvenir for the family. The sanctuary and its
surroundings are really worth, but what really surprised me was to see how
far a few cures (only 67 officially recognized by the church throughout
history) can generate a world around them (a city, shops, hotels, even its
own airport ....), and even in the XXI century there are long lines of
people in wheelchairs putting his hope in the intangible. Something to
After the religious souvenir shopping in the many shops, we returned to
the hotel by secondary roads as directed by Marlene (the voice of my
submissive GPS). It must be said that throughout the central region of the
French Pyrenees there is a very good network of secondary roads,
although the time of making long journeys has to be taken into account
because you can not drive very fast due to the constant crosssing of
small villages where the speed limit is 50 km / h, even in many cases 30 km
/ h, and also because the roads are a constant succession of bends.
The next morning we set off south towards the spa town of Bagnères de
where we were surprised by a heavy rain, which only allowed us to glimpse
the beautiful town. Since the rain didn't stop we decided to look for better
weather moving to another valley and crossing the Col d'Azet
we descended to Azet where we stopped to eat a Cassoulet, a
typical stew of beans and meat, and then went to the natural reserve of
for a brief but impressive visit to the lakes Lac d'Odeon and
Lac de Cap de Long. While visiting the latter a new storm began and we
had to go back towards the hotel, stopping at Saint Lary
for some last minute shopping.
The next day we went straight to the city of Toulouse ,
about 150 kilometers by highway, since I had never been there and my wife
had a vague memory of it from her childhood. The truth is that it was a
journey that paid off, as the historic city center, which extends around the
beautiful square of the Coliseum (now the Town Hall) is really a jewel with
its wide pedestrian area, and walking along the shore of the river Garonne
something you should not miss.
After a day of urban visiting, to compensate we went to the highest part
of our journey, stopping first at the disappointing spa town of Bagnères
de Bigorre ,
and then beginning the ascent to the famous Col du Tourmalet ,
covered with a thick band of clouds at its 2115 m of height. Down the
other side, continually dodging cyclists and some occasional scorcher, we
arrived to Luz Saint Sauveur .
I would like to devote more time to visit this area, especially the famous
Cirque de Gavarnie, but we were far from the hotel, so this
interesting region will remain on the agenda for another future trip.
The last day of stay was dedicated to visit the nearby beautiful town of
Saint Bertrand de Comminges ,
which dominates the area with its impressive cathedral on top of a hill.
After lunch, back to the hotel, we made a brief stop in Saint Just de
and there was still enough time to do a little hiking along a trail through
the forest ranging from Barbazan to Sauveterre de Comminges
and then finish up at the Chapelle Notre Dame de Barry, from where
there is an excellent overview of the region .
It was time to depart back to Barcelona, so I programmed an alternative
route into the GPS towards Puigcerdá in order not to return by the same
road, made a brief stop for lunch in Foix
(his castle is absolutely beautiful) and in the afternoon we arrived to
Barcelona, where we spent the night and then took the ferry "Zurbarán"
of Transmediterranea-Acciona, which is little more than an old freighter with a
small seating area for the passage and without the most basic infrastructure
for transporting pets (they must stay in rusty cages located at the back of
the garage of vehicles). The only good thing about the sea trip was the nice
at the arrival in Mallorca.
Click on the links of the map below to see some
Photos and information of the area in my photo album.