We were looking forward to this part of France. It wasn’t orignally on our agenda as we had planned to meet up with friends in Carcassonne, but they told us they were no longer coming so we changed our route.
After our trip to Patagonia the mountains had a special place in our hearts.
We prepared the van for the journey. Filled it with enough food to last 4/5 days, checked the engine coolant, oil, water and filled with diesel. We didn’t put too much water in the leisure tank as it was extra weight going up the steep roads
“B” was ready for her journey into the wilderness.
Our first stop off was going to be Lac d’Estaing. We’d seen someone else’s blog and the photos looked stunning. The roads were narrow and steep. Kev was having to change gears constantly to get us up. I was gripping onto my arm rest, whilst Kev was pulling onto the steering wheel, both leaning forward, willing B to make it up. The roads were windy and you couldn’t see around corners. We had cliffs to one side (with signs warning of falling rocks and to be safe) and a sheer drop at the other side (with a gorgeous babbling stream of glacier water below).
I felt sick with apprehension as to whether we’d make it. There was nowhere to turn round so we had to keep going. All the time the roads got steeper and we wondered if our brake pads would be in one piece on the way down. Kev said if we needed to get rid of some weight on the way down, I was getting kicked out!😂
It finally levelled off and our wild camping spot for the night was not far away. Phew!
As we approached Lake Estaing we were astounded by its beauty. The turquoise water of the lake that was surrounded by mountains dotted with lush green trees. WOW.
There is a campsite close by but there were a lot of motor homes on the other side that were wild camping so we decided to stay too, but on the other side, which had a better view, and less vehicles.
As it got later we could hear what we thought was music. It ended up being a herd of white cows with bells on their necks. It was lovely at first then they got closer to the motorhome and the bells got louder. The noise was constant whilst they were eating the surrounding grass. They were oblivious to everyone around them, and just walked, stood and ate close to anything and anybody. They stood in the road outside our motorhome. A couple of cars had a stand off with them but the cows won everytime. ….they had horns on their head. You don’t argue with a big hefty cow with horns haha. Kev said I just needed the horns! 🐮
The next morning we headed off to trek up to the Parc National to get a closer view of the glacier. The views on the way up were spectacular. We climbed higher and higher as the sun shone. It was stifling. It was 34 degrees and no breeze. Not a “pleasant stroll” but the views at the top were worth every step. Note to self….buy some new walking poles!
On the way down we dipped our hats in the fresh mountain stream and tipped it over our heads. The icy glacial water ran down our faces and backs…..pure heaven 😨. One woman looked at us as though we weren’t right in our heads……😜.
We were going to stay another night here as it was so nice but it was August, the French were “en vacance”, and the roads were busy on a morning. We packed up and left. We headed to our half way point, to the next destination (20 mins down the road) at 8.30pm!
The aire was full so we stayed in an empty car park in the middle of the mountain village. It was hot and there was no breeze. It was going to be a long uncomfortable night 😣. At 6am the following morning we were rudely awaken by people talking, cars parking at the side of us, and doors slamming. Wtf? It was Saturday morning……market day!
We headed off to our next destination by 8.30am. We drove to Pont D’Espagne and walked up to see the waterfalls before heading to the Lake.
Lac de Gaube was at the end of yet another trek in the searing heat. It was a lot steeper than the previous day and I knew I’d struggle on the walk back. It’s always easier walking uphill with bad knees. Our knees were aching, my feet were burning from the constant walking but we made it….and it was, yet again, another jaw dropper.
Kev put his arm around me when we reached the lake and nuzzled into my neck. “People will think I’m being so nice to you” he said, whilst nipping my arm then jabbing me in the side, and laughing his head off! I hit him back and he pointed his finger in my face and said “DON’T! If you want to play that game, then be warned you’ll come off worse” 😂. He then slapped my arm for hitting him then slapped me again just in case I decided to try hit him again. To say he was 60, two weeks ago, he’s so childish 😄. He keeps asking me if I want to “play a game”. When I asked what game it would be, his response was “the one where I’m a burglar with a hammer!” He’s deranged!! 😲
On the way back down the mountain we stopped off in Cauterets. A gorgeous little ski village, but also thrives in summer from walkers/hikers. We found free parking at the back of a theatre…bonus 😉.
We spent the night on a free aire in a village lower down the mountain. At 8.30am the next morning we’d had breakfast, packed away and was on our way to Gavarnie. The only parking was just outside the town and was €8 for 24 hours. Looks like we were staying here for the night. Can’t complain. It really was a car park with a view.
The town was small and touristy but had a great backdrop. A gushing stream of glacial water tumbling over stones and rocks with a crescent shaped mountain range behind which was supporting Europe’s longest waterfall 😍.
It was a steady walk on the Circuit de Gavarnie that took about an hour and a half. We reached the point where it splits into a more difficult path and stopped for lunch.
Kev decided to carry on the more difficult path, whilst I sat near the rapids enjoying the sunshine. He climbed as far as he could get to the waterfall. He slipped twice, cut his knee whilst scrabbling on the scree and came back a dithering wreck. He was shattered! He’d seen some glaciers so took me further on to see them. To say it was blistering heat they were still about 18″ thick!
We headed back to the aire and spent the afternoon chilling and staying out of the sun. We walked into the village in the evening to get water and so Kev could get a pastry fix. He’s got a penchant for Escargot de Raisin at the moment. It’s a puff pastry wheel with raisins and sometimes a little custard in. We’ll never lose weight….we love our food too much 🐷🐖.
Our next place to explore was the Cirque de Troumouse. An “easy walk” up to some waterfalls the guide claimed. I took my walking poles (yep! bought some new ones) just incase. Let me tell you, it was no “easy walk” it was constantly uphill and the pathway was formed from rocks that you had to walk over/round. At some points we were walking so close to the edge of a sheer drop that I was leaning into the side so I didn’t fall off. It was definitely a “feel the fear and do it anyway” moment.
It was a 5 hour walk, round trip. There was no way I could have done that. It was climbing so high then you had to come down again, which is worse for me. We climbed for 1.5 hours then turned back 😅.
Kev wanted to drive further up into the Pyranees to Col du Tourmalet, which stands at over 2100 metres! What he failed to tell me was on the map it was pinpointed as a dangerous road 😣.
The road up was quite steep but manageable. We stopped in in a large car park (with amazing views) for lunch. I’d planned to make a tuna and rice mixed salad. I left the water in the pan to boil so I could then put the rice in. I went outside to take photos.
When I went back in Kev had decided to make a start on lunch but obviously hadn’t heard me say what I was planning on making. He had opened a tin of Cassoulet and started tipping it into my pan of water! 😂
The tin of Cassoulet consists of haricot beans with 4 sausages, 2 big chunks of ham and 2 large slices of another variety of sausage. When sharing it, you mix it slowly and carefully so as not to break everything up, then I portion it out equally, into the 2 dishes. Kev on the other hand got a large serving spoon mixed it frantically until most of it was squashed and then spooned it into the dishes. He had 3 sausages and 2 large slices of sausage. I had 1 sausage and 2 chunks of ham. We both had equal portions of mashed up beans! 😂😂
When I share food I like to share equally haha. I divided it up whilst he was scraping the pan with the serving spoon and shovelling it in his fat chops 😋. So etiquette (like my use of French words? 😉).
After lunch we carried on up to the summit. Oh man was it scary. We were so high and and the road was VERY narrow. We went as high as the ski lift!
Kev’s hands were sweating on the steering wheel, we were both leaning forward whilst expletives were coming from both our mouths 😆. We planned to park at the top and let the engine cool down but there were no parking spaces. It was part of the Tour de France route and although it has finished, there were plenty of cyclists/tourists around. We couldn’t get parked so had to drive straight down.
This time we were driving on the edge of the cliff with no barriers, on an even more narrow road! We were in a 3.5 tonne vehicle that was trying to get down the mountain as fast as it could 😣. Hold on to your hats 😲.
Every turn, we were dreading another vehicle coming towards us, the road was just so narrow. We went as slowly as we could but Kev had to rely heavily on the brakes.
We reached a point about about quarter of the way down, saw a car park and stopped. We needed to catch our breath and let the engine cool a bit. The first sign we saw was “WC”. I bet a few people had stopped to use that on the way down 😉😷😂.
10 mins later we carried on with the descent. We’d not been going long when a red warning light came on the dashboard. I quickly got the manual out to find it was the front brake bads that had worn out 😮. Great. Halfway down at steep mountain, that’s all we need. We pulled in as soon as we could and smoke started billowing from the wheels. We waited until it had calmed a bit then made our way to an aire that was 15 mins away. We were hoping that resting it overnight might just magically switch the warning light off 🤔.
The next morning Kev started the engine……and the light came on, and stayed on. Damn!
The next big town, that would hopefully have a garage, was only 20 mins away….downhill 😯.
We parked up in an aire and walked into the little town of Begnéres de Biggore. The lady in the Tourist Office was really helpful and tried 3 local garages for us. The 3rd one she tried could fit us in straight away and was only down the road. Phew!
To cut a long story short, the brake pads weren’t worn out. The wire that’s attached to the pads that sends the warning signal had melted. They cut the wire, so it switched the light off and told us the brakes were only half worn and would last us a while. What we thought may be and expensive bill turned out very cheap…€21.12 😁. Kev wanted to go back up into the mountains again. Hmm maybe not, we’d need to get the pads replaced on the way down again haha. The clouds had started rolling in anyway and we could see the tops of the mountains anymore.
We changed our plans and decided to head in the direction of Carcassonne. Our first stop en route was 2 hours away. Our sat nav is set to avoid toll roads so I turned that off and it reduced the time by half an hour. Kev decided to go the long way round. Which way did it take us??? Back up into the bloody mountains!!! 😂