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Haute Pyrenees


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Our traditional summer holiday always starts when the kids have gone back to school and this year we ventured south on the 6th September. First stop was Sauveterre de Bearn in the Pyrenees Atlantique booking in on the communal camp site which is cheap, around €15 pn and has flat, shady ptiches. The town is a little jaded and only two restaurants were open but there are river side walks and buildings of historical interest. Bearn was an independent country between France and Spain and has seen some conflict as both countries had intentions of adding the territory to their portfolios. There are also a couple of free aires, neither serviced, but situated in pleasant open sites.


From there we visited Lac d'Estaing a mountain lake in a wide pastoral valley reached and exited by a single road. The communal camp site is cheap €14 pn but very basic and the concrete sanitation block was not of the best quality. The site is roughly terraced and only 25% occupied it could be a bit messy in wet weather. Also the pump and dump facilities are a little strange. However, it is a magnificent location and there is nothing to stop you parking in the large open spaces and staying overnight free of charge. That is what we shall do next time. Just remember the bar / restaurant closes at 6pm and it is a long, long walk to the nearest shop! Talking of walks; you can walk some way up the valley and also around the lake.


On route to Lac d'Estaing we detoured slightly to visit Camp de Gurs, a former concentration camp originally built to detain 30,000 Spanish and other refugees fleeing Franco's fascists. When WW2 was declared the French cleared the camp and interned German nationals then under the Vichy regime it became a prisoner camp for Jews, Gypsies and what were called 'Undesirables'. Up to 60 souls lived in wooden huts barely larger than our motorhome. In 1944 the camp was cleared by sending the inhabitants to Polish death camps. A section of the railway remains along with information boots and some other original features. The eerie peace was only broken ironically by a barking German Shepherd Dog in the garden of a neighbouring property.


We then went a few more kilometers off route to visit a small church at L'Hopital St. Blaise that was originally built as a mosque during the period that the Moors controlled this part of France. It is one of those visited by pilgrims heading for Compostella from Lourdes.


We planned to make the next stop Cauterets that is situated in the Haute-Pyrenees and has multiple camp sites, some basic and open, others including the one we stayed on, Les Gleres has individual pitches some riverside and really good sanitary facilities. It is also the nearest one to town. There are two aires; one in town that is a large tarmac area with a station of service and that will save you about €5 a day over the camp site fees. Another aire is towards the Pont d'Espagne, but I didn't get chance to look at that.


From Cauterets you can walk to many destinations including the Pont d'Espagne, a drovers route through high mountain valleys. Dogs are banned on some routes so we took the shuttle bus to the huge car park and the Pont d'Espagne and walked in the pastoral meadows that flank the river. We also ate at the excellent restaurant at the base of the ski lifts. It is possible to take the ski lift to the Lac de Gaube with the dog, but you cannot walk the dog there. Superb location and well worth a visit with or without a dog.


Gavernie was next on the route in order to visit the large geological formation there. However the place was rammed. Camp site full. Town aires full and even the ones out of town were busy. The town aire, for what it is, is basically side by side parking right at the side of the busy road. Sardines comes to mind. The out of town aires are large limestone paved spaces with a 2km walk to town. So we abandoned that and instead headed to Bagnares sur Bigorre which is mis described in tourist books. The town is down at heel and has nothing going for it other than a lovely restaurant on the edge of town called L'Allee Fleuri. The other non-Asian, takeaway, pizza, etc had recently closed down. Not only that, but the site that we stayed on was quite poor. Cheap at €15 pn, but there was hardly any shade yet what trees there were hindered getting onto and off the pitches. I never quite worked out why people stayed there unless they were visiting places we did not know about.


We left the Pyrenees behind and pointed Berty Burstner northwards to the Lot department. More of that later.

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some of my favourite places there. Love Gavarnie. Interesting that the top aire was crammed as there is normally tons of space up there this time of year. I think there are three different large parking area. There is a short cut back to the village through the bottom of the Aire, you dont have to walk down the road. I generally use the scooter but Mrs D has done it several times.



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