Since my last blog update we have had a week of contrasts in terms of both landscapes and weather. We left the aire at Aulus-les-Bains on Sunday 11th September to have a drive up to the Ski resort, a few miles away, at Guzet. After 6km of steep climbing we arrived at the ski station with a stupendous view across the Pyrénées all to ourselves. It’s only a small place which seems to just cater for the ski season so everything was deserted bar two or three cars. All it lacked was a bit of tumbleweed blowing through! It all felt a bit surreal really and it would be interesting to see the difference in the ski season.
We lingered admiring the views for half an hour or so and we could have probably stayed the night up there without any bother. However, we’d planned an early start on Monday morning to get the washing done so drove the 12km back down to the aire at Seix ready to hit the ‘laverie’ at 7am.
I arrived at the ‘laverie’ at 7am to find it does not open until 8am. Meh. I arrived at the ‘laverie’ at 8am to find all three machines in use having just started their 45minute program. Double meh! So much for our early start. Washing eventually done we headed back down the valley to St Girons for a quick pitstop at Aldi to restock before traversing the lower Pyrénées westwards towards Bagnères-de-Luchon, 10km from the Spanish border.
The drive wasn’t too torturous, but then, I wasn’t driving! We followed the D618 over Col de Portet d’Aspet (1069m) and Col des Ares (797m)passing through rugged little towns and forested hillside along the way. We arrived at the aire at Bagnères-de-Luchon, twinned with Harrogate (nod to my parents who live just outside Harrogate), in the early afternoon.
Luchon is a mixture of ski resort, thermal spa resort and Tour de France destination. We were disappointed that the cable car only runs at the weekend from September as it was long, steep and looked fun and we could have done some walking from the top. Tim dragged me round the whole town trying to find somewhere that would sell a half decent camera but to no avail. Unfortunately, until we find somewhere big enough to sell that sort of thing you’ll all have to put up with the black dot and other blemishes on the photos.
As we were now only 10km to the border of Spain, and with the cable car not running until the weekend, we decided to press on into new territory. We took the road out of Luchon towards Vielha climbing and climbing and switchbacking to meet the Guardia Civil at the summit on the border.
We weren’t stopped so continued down the other side stopping at a viewpoint to see the little town of Bossòst below.
Yay, new country!
After a wander around Bossòst we continued on to Vielha, another ski resort, which was a contrast to all the ancient medieval towns we’d seen in France.
Taking the C28 out of town in a south easterly direction we embarked on a spectacular drive up and over Port de la Bonaigua at 2072m and down the other side through the Vall d’Aneu. Epic!
Tim did a fantastic job of driving. He did ask if I wanted to drive, but with me having more interest in the view than the road ahead (read: short attention span), he felt it safest that he continue on as he doesn’t make a particularly good passenger, especially on these types of roads. D.I.V.O.R.C.E. may have ensued had I taken to the wheel!
Further on down the valley the mountains gave way to reservoirs of iridescent blue, flanked by rugged hillsides, in between more ski resorts until we came through La Pobla de Segur which was the first traditional looking town since arriving in Spain. We carried on down (we’d been going downhill for hours by now!) and swung into a free aire at Tremp. 108 miles covered with an average speed of about 25mph!
Tremp is a contrast of old, new, derelict and half built but it had a vibrant friendly air about it as we strolled around in the early evening. Lots of people were out with their children enjoying the tree lined streets and cafes. We joined them for a couple of cheeky beers to soak up the ambience! Four 50cl San Miguels and two complimentary bowls of nuts came to €6.40. Oooh we’re liking Spain, that would have cost us €19, without the nuts, in France! Big tick for Spain on that one!
We got back to the van before a huge thunderstorm which continued into the night. On looking out the next morning to see the clouds down over the mountains we discussed our plans on where to go next. We both felt that, with the weather forecast to be unsettled for the next few days, we would head out of the hills towards the coast. We are going to be meeting our friends, Di and Chris, in a few weeks time somewhere on the south coast of Spain so felt we might as well start to move in that direction.
Decision made, we programmed sattynav to take us to an aire in the Parc del Delta de l’Ebre on the coast just south of Tarragona. Great, 3.5 hrs and we’d be there by lunchtime. That was until we drove through the Mont-Rebel canyon. The drive from Tremp was stunning through the gorge and as we rounded a bend we saw a parking area coming up so pulled in just intending to take a quick photo before resuming our journey. We got out of the van marvelling at the view down the valley but then turned around to see the immense sight of the gorge behind us.
We’d have missed it if we had continued on without stopping. It was just stunning, glowing orange in the sunshine, with the river in full flow after the rain the night before.
The Noguera Ribagorçana river divides the Monsec area into two with Ares on the Catalan side and Estall on the other in Aragon.
We gaped for about half an hour before deciding to get the boots out and take a footpath leading across the hillside on the other side of the river.
The footpath took us up and over the railway line to a viewpoint where we could see right through the canyon to a hilltop village about 3 miles away.
When we got back down to river level we sat for another half an hour watching four climbers halfway up the sheer rockface. Awesome!
Waylayed by three hours now we continued on further down the gorge stopping at several places along the way.
The finale to this phenomenal drive was a steep descent to a dam across the river leading into a tunnel about half a mile long to emerge on the other side to the tailend of the gorge. What a day, views wise it rated as our best day of the trip so far!
By now it was 4.30pm and we were still 3 hours away from our destination! The drive to the coast was a comedown after the day we had had with the roads busy with lorries and sprawl after sprawl of factories and industry. We got caught in a thunderstorm, which brought lightening and high winds, so we were mightily relieved to arrive at the aire at El Pouble Nou Del Delta at 7.30pm just in time to see the sea before it got dark. With the weather as it was it looked more like the North Sea than the Mediterranean though!
The Parc Naturel del Delta de l’Ebre is a rice growing wetland area that is a haven for birdlife away from the busy coast road. We are going to stay here for a couple of nights at least to enjoy the birds and a bit of flat cycling before trundling down the coast a bit towards Valencia.
Hasta la Próxima!