Friday, April 25, 2008

On Lakes, Falls and Mountains

one of the mountains in the Pyrenean range

One of our favorite destinations is the Midi-Pyrénées, a region in the south/ south-west of France. I believe it was given that name because it is where the central part (midi) of the Pyrenean mountain range (a natural barrier between France and Spain) is located. We like the department of Hautes-pyrénées in particular. (France is divided into regions and each region is composed of two or more departments.)

Hautes-pyrénées is where Lourdes is located. This is where the Virgin Mary made several apparitions to St. Bernadette and since then, has been the most known place of Christian pilgrimage). There’s also one very picturesque town which is part of the Way of St. James (La route de St.-Jacques-de-Compostelle, another Christian pilgrimage since the Middle Ages) . As it happens, this town named St. Bertrand de Comminges is also one of our favorite villages. It is a medieval town perched on a hill with narrow paved roads and fortified walls, a 5th century basilica, a very interesting cathedral with its carved wooden enclosure and cloister overlooking a valley.

There’s also the Pic du Midi-Bigorre (Peak of Midi-Bigorre) where an observatory is located. From this point, one can have a spectacular vast panorama of the Pyrenean chain. The access to the observatory is only through a cable-car, so if one has a problem with heights, better close your eyes while taking a ride:)). In any case, I think the view on top is worth a few moments of clammy hands and reeling sensation while inside the cable car.

The Pyrenean range is older than the Alps, so for those interested in geology, botany and/or zoology, this can be considered a haven. And it has mineral hot springs (which the Alps lack) so if you want to have a spa or water therapy (balneology or thermalisme in French), has several resorts which can cater to this need. For sports enthusiasts and in need of some challenge, this is also one of the places to go. The various passes (cols) will always test a cyclist’s stamina and leg power. In fact, I believe a Tour de France won’t be complete without passing through one of these famous cols. There are also many ski resorts where you can slide down the slopes with skis, snowboards or sleighs. If you’re into hiking during winter, you can also do that in winter with a snowshoe, a kind of web-like shoe contraption. They call the sport raquette à neige or snowshoeing.

For the rest of the year, the Pyrenean Mountains is there for you to discover through several trails ranging for occasional hikers to professional ones. There are even some tracks appropriate for families with young kids. The Parc National des Pyrénées Occidentales (National Park of Western Pyrenees), one of the nine national parks of France, is in Hautes-pyrénées. And adjoining it on the eastern side is the Massif de Néouvielle, another natural reserve.You can also find the highest peak of the Pyrénées on the French side in this department. Several cirques or semi-circular sheer cliffs mostly covered with snow characterize the southern boarder, with Cirque de Gavarnie as the most famous. It may be far from the sea but you won’t miss water that much for it has several gaves (streams) and cascades/waterfalls of various sizes that will take your breath away.

There are also many high altitude lakes which are of a mesmerizing blue. You can even do fishing in these lakes, although I believe you have to have a license to do that. Well, even if you can’t, the panorama that will greet you upon reaching one of these lakes is enough compensation.

Well, I don’t work for the tourism department of Haute-pyrénées, but I really couldn’t help sharing these things so you’ll have an idea why we love this place. And to add to the breathtaking beauty of the area is that you can visit them all for free (except for the observatory and the ski and spa resorts, of course)! So it means you can allow your eyes feast on the enchanting charm of the place without having to shell out money *wide grin*. In exchange, I believe it's only fair to respect one unspoken rule: don't throw or leave any non-biodegradable products in the vicinity. In this way, everyone can enjoy the wonderful work of nature that is preserved by this one simple act:).


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