Europe

Tackling two mountain passes and Lourdes in the French Pyrenees

Our trip through the North of Spain sadly ended after we finished our hike through the Ordesa valley, but it wasn’t the complete end of our roadtrip. We still had to drive back home and for that, we had to cross the Pyrenees. Oh beautiful mountains, I can’t just drive past you, can I?

Late afternoon, we crossed the border of Spain and France over the Col du Pourtalet. Not a very famous name – at least not one I’d heard of before -, but it was a beautiful road with nice views along the way. A taste of more to come the next day.

Since we were back in France, it was time to go camping again! We put up our tent at Camping Pont Laugère in the commune of Laruns, at the foot of the Aubisque. That name will probably ring more bells for all cycling lovers. It’s one of the “hors catégorie” climbs in the Tour de France, which means it’s a pretty damn steep road.

Our racing bikes were in the trunk of our car and that’s where they stayed the next morning. Stupid as we were… We were so focused on getting back home and quickly catching some extra views along the way that we never even realized we could take out a couple of hours to climb the Col d’Aubisque by bike. It was only at the top, after one of the most gorgeous winding roads I’ve ever taken in my life, that I regretted not tackling this bitch by bike.

The view was simply breathtaking. Add a couple of horses and then some cows and the image was complete. I was so pissed at myself for taking the easy way up by car, even though I was now able to enjoy the view without the burning sensation in my legs. Because burning they would have. It’s hors catégorie after all…

Both moping over our bad decisions, my dad and I reluctantly continued our route through France. Our next stop would be the catholic pilgrimage town of Lourdes. I’m not religious at all, but there is something about that place that drew me in and made me curious to go have a look. And I’m glad we made the stop. The atmosphere around the sanctuaries is indescribable. You can almost taste the hope of those people praying.

After some obligatory candle burning for our loved ones, we left the site quietly and returned to our car. One thing hadn’t left our minds yet though; the missed opportunity of cycling to the top of a col in the Pyrenees. So instead of letting this feeling ruin the rest of our day, we said ‘Yolo’ and picked ourselves another mountain pass the climb; the Col d’Aspin.

It was a bit of a detour to the foot of that col, Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, but we couldn’t care less. We would make use of those bikes in the trunk of our car and that was all that mattered. The Col d’Aspin is also a climb that’s often featured in the Tour de France, but a little less heavy than the Aubisque. More my cup of tea!

The first seven kilometers up were pretty easy and I was almost wondering why again I thought the Col d’Aubisque would have been too heavy. Seemed like I was on fire. But then the real climb began and my thoughts instantly changed to “why the hell do I do this to myself?” and “I don’t even like this!”. Five kilometers of slow agony. But then you arrive at the top, catch sight of the beautiful mountain peeks surrounding you and realize that while it’s hard, it’s all worth it!

Climbing that col was the best decision we made that day. It immediately made us forget about the lost opportunity at the Col d’Aubisque. Of course the views weren’t as spectacular as they are over there, but we still got to check off a col in the Pyrenees and even got some extra sights now. Win!

Satisfied and a bit tired, we loaded our car again, for the last time. This was the last major stop of our trip. It was early afternoon and we still wanted to cover some road through France to get us closer to home. It was still over a thousand kilometers, which seemed a bit much to cover in one day.

But of course, eager as we are, we couldn’t help ourselves. Driving a bit up north would bring us in a region in France we both hadn’t visited before. Uh-oh. Not squeezing in just a tiny sight would have felt like a missed opportunity. And we had had enough of those already that day. So we made just a small detour, to the famous clifftop village of Rocamadour.

It was literally minutes before sunset when we first caught sight of the village. And what a view that was! We parked our car at the top – for free as it was already after 6pm! – and descended into town. Most of the tourists had already left and shops were closed or closing up, leaving the streets deserted and quiet. I can only imagine what this place must look like peak tourist season. Phew! We just enjoyed the tranquility as we picked out a restaurant and enjoyed a lovely pancake dinner in this beautiful village. A perfect end to an amazing trip!

♡ Ellen

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