Well if yesterday was AWESOME, in the lower (basse) Pyrenees, today was HIGH AWESOME in the Haute (high) Pyrenees. Just like yesterday, I went through four passes (Cols) but each one of them was higher than the previous four. Col Tourmalet was the highest at 6939 feet. That’s how high I was, the mountains towered over me, this was the PASS through them!
The entire day turned out to be on parts of the route of the Tour de France. I was going the opposite direction as the Tour (I will explain) but those cyclists had to climb the same four mountain passes I did, and without my 240hp. Needless to say, the roads, which were remarkably good this high up, were choked with cyclists, way more bikes than cars. At one point, coming down hill, I was PASSED by two cyclists and I was going almost 40 miles per hour. I can’t imagine what a crash at that speed would do.
All along the route there were spray painted messages on the road surface, plus symbols and flags. Many of these were well-wishes for various teams, others were warnings of blind downhill curves to come, and the like. All upside down since I was going the opposite way, but pretty cool.
I did see one cyclist down, but it was not apparent if she was hit by a car or had some sort of crash on her own, but it didn’t look good.
If the shear drop offs from yesterday got my attention, the ones today, at twice the altitude, took my breath away. At times I was saying, “you are nuts for doing this” and then I would pass a group of 60 somethings on bicycles, grey bearded hikers, and even a motor home pulling a trailer with a Morgan on it, and say to myself, “if they aren’t scared, why should I be?”. Just use the low gears, save the brakes and enjoy the switchbacks. You will get there when you get there. A life lesson courtesy of the Pyrenees.
I don’t want you to think this was all white-knuckle driving. At least half the time I was traversing the valley bottoms, winding along some river and through forest with not another human in sight. But inevitably, it was up, up, up again, and then down, down, down.
As mentioned in my last post, I planned to stop today and take a cable car ride to Pic du Midi de Bigorre, one of the highest accessible peaks. It’s actually on one side of a massive ski resort called La Mongie that has ski lifts in abundance. Some of those slopes must be double black diamond. You may as well jump off a cliff with skis on. Anyway, I misread my map and missed it (if it was running, which it may not have been as I didn’t see any of them moving as the “season” is over until it snows). Once I figured out my mistake, I didn’t feel like turning back and adding an hour to my drive.
So, I forged on to my overnight in Luchon, a nice little “city” in another amazing valley. There is evidence of bronze age settlements here, but this place really made the big time when the Romans established a settlement here due to the natural mineral water hot springs. Even if the location didn’t make much sense, those Romans loved their baths. The “thermae” is still in operation today, so off I want for a hot soak to ease my somewhat worn out brake and clutch legs.
The spa consisted of two large steam rooms cut into a cave in the side of a mountain, one so hot that you were not allowed to stay in more than two minutes, plus a very large naturally heated pool with jets, bubbles, waterfalls and such. The steam was great, the pool (at about 160F) was a little too cool for me, but that is the temp the water flows from the springs at I guess. I know the Romans liked it hotter!
Tonight, I am staying at an 1875 manor house that has been everything from a home for troubled teens to a men’s club over the years and now has been converted into a hotel. Very Victorian, but cute, with beg rooms and a modern bathroom. Little balcony with a view, but not like last nights.
Tomorrow it’s my last day in the mountains, ending at the beach side resort of Collieure (on the Mediterranean). Hoping for an early start and a long afternoon on the beach. Wanted to stay two days, but alas, no time to spare.
Today’s route: https://tinyurl.com/yasxf93a
Look carefully at several of the above and you can see the roads I was on. You might have to click and open in another window to see them closely
They even have headless cows up here! His head probably fell off when he looked over one of the cliffs one day.
Lot’s of waterfalls, but hard to get pix, and drive, at the same time!
Check out the roads on the above three pix.