Since my last update we visited our last bastide town before we made a beeline for the Pyrénées. Cordes sur Ciel is purported to be the first bastide ever to be built in 1222.
It clings to the Mordagne peak standing 100 metres above the surrounding river valleys.
It is now a major centre for artists and the Cordes Academy holds many exhibitions drawing in visitors from far and wide.
We arrived on Monday 5th September 2016 in the late afternoon. We knew by the number of motorhomes at the aire below the town that it would be worth the visit but thought it best to explore the town on Tuesday morning when it would be cooler.
The temperatures have remained in the low to mid thirties for several days now and the afternoons are really too hot for trekking up and down steep hills.
The main narrow road up from the bottom of the town to the top is very steep and a feast for the eyes: cobbled streets, fortified walls, gothic archways, gothic and medieval houses decorated with flowers, kittens peering down from shuttered windows, the list goes on.
We explored all round the alleyways in the lower and upper town for a couple of hours just marvelling at the sheer scope of it all before hitting the road to make our way to the foothills of the Pyrénées. It was an easy drive skirting round Toulouse on the motorway with the Pyrénées in full view on the horizon. We arrived at the little village of Siex after the two hour drive with not a cloud in the sky and temperatures in the low 30’s.
We found a little aire tucked away behind the village where another four vans were parked. I said ‘bonjour’ to the lady in the next van and she asked if we were staying for a few days. I said ‘oui’ as we wanted to do some cycling in the area. She then became very animated telling me her husband was a keen cyclist and he could tell me about some of the routes he had done. It turned out that the four vans were all together and whilst the men went out every day on the bikes the wives stayed behind presumably enjoying the sunshine and chewing the fat. Her husband showed me the map of some of the rides they had done and invited us to join them the following day. I politely declined as, even though they all looked to be in their 60’s, they also looked like Tour de France retirees judging by their muscly legs. They were doing rides of 60-70km on road bikes. We would have been left behind on the flat let alone the hills. Also Tim would have killed me if I’d happened to drop in to the conversation that we were partaking in an Anglo-French bike ride the next day. Therefore, on Wednesday we headed off on a 40km bike ride which took us on a gentle incline through the Garbut river valley to the village of Aulus-les-Bains.
Even though it was really hot it was a superb ride as the densely forested hillsides provided some much needed shade.
The water in the river tumbling down the valley is so clear it takes on an almost duck egg blue colour over the rocks.
From Aulus-les-Bains we just had to negotiate the Col de Latrappe, a 1111m pass taking us into the next valley and down into Ousto. The climb is 5km long with an average gradient of 7.4%, the steepest sections being at 10%. It was first used in the Tour de France in 1956 and has been featured another seven times, the last time being in 2011. Only one thing for it really – get the bike into granny gear and grin and bear it. I have to say Tim set off like a rat up a drainpipe and didn’t stop until we got to the summit some 45 minutes later! I expect the ‘Tour’ guys do it in ten minutes but, no matter, we’d conquered our first ‘Col’! The ride back down the other side was exhilarating, with the sun on our backs, whizzing past the poor blighters huffing and puffing up the hill.
We had a beautiful stop for lunch and then cruised down the valley back to Siex feeling very satisfied with ourselves.
Whilst we were in Aulus-les-Bains we spotted another aire which would be ideal to do a couple of walks from and that is where we have been for the last four nights. We have a lovely view of the hills and a field of sheep with clanking bells around their necks behind us.
Aulus-les-Bains is best known for its thermal springs and spa complex.
We’ve done a few walks in the last three days twice climbing up and beyond the Cascade D’ars. The waterfall is 246m high and has three levels.
At the moment there isn’t a massive amount of water coming down but I expect it’s spectacular after several days of rain.
On Friday were woken up by the sound of a saxophone coming from somewhere in the village. Tim went to investigate and returned to the van to collect his clarinet saying there was an old boy playing a soprano sax in the park and he was off to join him. I went down to have a look myself and there they both were sitting on a bench in the park banging out some French tunes.
I sat on the bench opposite with the chaps wife and she explained that they were staying in the village at the thermal spa for three weeks as it helps with their ailments.
I’m currently updating the blog sitting on a bench enjoying the free internet access from the ‘office de tourisme’ whilst watching a cycle race coming down through the village. We want to head over the Pyrénées into Spain in the next couple of weeks but also want to linger a bit longer in the hills to get some more hiking trails under our belts whilst the weather holds. Tomorrow we have a very glamorous day planned with a back log of washing to do and a grocery shop on the agenda so we’ll be heading back down the valley to civilisation before making a further foray into the hills.