So as the new member of the Grease Monkey team, and in the way of a short introduction I thought I would share some details of my recent hiking and biking trip to the sunny Pyrenees.
Having cycled since a very early age, competing in just about all disciplines, my spare time and now holidays, are very much cycling focused.
Having toured France in the past, and then some time living and working in the Pyrenees area, I tend to head back “home”, mostly Lourdes, for some warm weather cycling each year.
I’ve happily got into hiking up mountains in Scotland in the off season, just to mix my weekend efforts, we pack our boots for some great walking up into the highest peaks in the area between the French and Spanish border (also there is normally a nice wee lake to cool off in).
Leaving from Edinburgh on a budget carrier is always a little bit worrying, but nope, all went smoothly and we were heading rapidly to Bordeaux for a one night stopover.
Voted Europe’s top destination in 2015, Bordeaux offers an amazing mix of great regional eating, great shopping, varied museums and of course it’s fantastic wine.
Having been to the city a number of times now , I would firmly recommend it.
After a quick brush up at our hotel (the Great Western next to Le Gare, as we were booked on the TGV in the morning) we headed into the old town area .
The plan was to visit a restaurant that I had probably been served the best duck dish of my life on our visit last year, and had waited eagerly for a year to have again. It was closed!
So a walk around the pretty quiet streets (Sunday nights seems to be a night to either close early or just not open?) of the old town, that has a strange mix of chic and urban decay, looking for some now very urgent sustenance.
We do luckily find a nice little corner bistro, and quickly devour some nice salmon, fish soup, pork and cod dishes, and at 70ish euros for food and wine, not too bad, then it’s a nice stroll back through the Place de la Bourse to a welcome pillow.
As mentioned earlier, I had booked the TGV to Lourdes, there’s a lack of direct flights from Scotland to the south of France, and Bordeaux to Lourdes is about 2 and half hours on the train, plus I love the TGV, even say it with a French accent for some reason..
I had cycled in this area in 2010- 2011 and have great joy pointing out the roads from my rather posh seat to Michelle, who just nods in agreement, not even lifting her eyes up from the text of some girly book, but she has heard my rantings before, so just lets me get on and re-live my days of touring and camping.
So by the time I have relived my past glories and finished off some pastries and coffee, we arrive in Lourdes.
Getting off and onto the platform, we both comment about the heat, it’s hot! Not much below 30c, and would stay this way for nearly all the 11 days.
As we quickly march up the hill towards our accommodation, pulling our cases (just under the 20kilo limits ) was probably not a good idea, as I’m now dripping with sweat so think we will get a taxi on the return trip.
We had booked at the Zenitude resort from last year’s trip, and we’re welcomed to a great top floor apartment with stunning view onto the mountains and basilica.
It’s a nice little resort, may be bit basic for some but at the price for 11 days we got, it suits us fine.
So after a fulsome breakfast on our first day proper, we head over to Cycles Arbes on the Tarbes road to rent a couple of road bikes.
It’s a fantastic shop, with lots of bling bikes and kit, and thankfully English spoken by Eric the son of ex pro owner Hubert.
OK so a couple of Giant Defy’s ordered for 3 days for 50 euros each, job done, so it’s back into Lourdes for some groceries and to relax with a nice red, plus discuss our route for tomorrow.
Our first day on the bike is hot, even at 8:30am it’s high 20s, but we decide to stick to our planned route, that will take us out of town on the superb bike path alongside the river Garve to Argeles, then continue towards Pierrefitte, then cut right up a short climb to St Savin for a coffee and visit the chapel.
St Savin is lovely, stunning views over the valley, and surrounded by high peaks, it has a little chapel that is a great place to sit for a minute or two, or even on a day like today to cool down.
Unfortunately the coffee shop was closed, and it looks permanent, shame…
So we decide to go back on the road route to Argeles, and coffee and cake in the square….yum.
I had previously lived and worked in this part of France, so know the best patisseries, and Argeles does some of the best chocolate fancies around.
Eventually we get back to our digs after a brilliant day in the sun, with nice new tan lines to show for our efforts of around 40 kilometres, not big miles, but enough to get us started.
We have a lovely night in Lourdes, visiting the Grotte and taking in a mass, if for nothing more than the spectacle, I would recommend doing.
Up nice and early for day two of bike riding, and it’s a similar start for our route, but then after St Savin, we will climb towards Lac d’Estaing and the col de Borderes.
Great roads that lead to the Lac, quiet and well surfaced, and the views towards some of the highest peaks are amazing.
This route runs parallel with the Col du Soulor heading in the direction of the Aubisque climb famous from the TDF, so for those that may have rode that route, don’t, go via St Savin.
So from our furthest point out and getting low on water we cut across and descend the Soulor back to Argeles, 15 kilometres downhill… excellent, and you may have guessed, more cake and coffee, but having burned off a few thousand calories climbing, a baguette is in order we agree.
So day two on the bike is a great success, 70 kilometres done, good climbs, and a great coffee break.
My tan lines are now a deep colour of burned!, Factor 30 ?.
So after a few successful hot and hilly days on the bike, we decide to swap our cycling shoes for hiking boots and plan to head towards Cauterets and a good hike up to the lakes above.
I hope you will look forwards to my next brief travelogue that will be posted soon.
Keep cycling and be “careful out there”…