Spain and France 2013 - Facts and Information

Day by Day 2: Hautes-Pyrénées

A week based in the foothills of the Pyrenees near Foix

Above Potes
Below Potes
S of Potes
Around Lerate
S Martín de Unx
S Maria de Eunate
Around Unzué
Puente la Reina
Fab de Orbaitzeta
Monast de Irache
Around Foix
Foix and around
Camon & Puivert
Two Abbeys
Latou Valley
To the Dordogne
W of Borrèze 1
W of Borrèze 2
Urval & Cadouin
Vézère Valley
Maison Forte

May 18
After twelve hours torrential rain overnight we woke to a dull and later damp morning for our drive into France. Driving through the mountains to San Sebastian on the A15 the temperature was down to 2°C and the gritters were out. Once by the coast and well into France we settled down to a drive in steady rain. However as the afternoon passed the rain stopped and we made a detour to see the interesting cathedral at Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges before heading on to our next accommodation at Barthale just above Montferrier.

May 19
Took scenic route via Roquefixade and stopped to look at castle (from the bottom) and village. On to Foix where large car park on main street had been commandeered for start of a cycle race. After three circuits (getting increasingly suspicious looks from a policeman) we found the way in to another park. Medieval part of Foix bit scruffy and with beggars but castle is impressive to see. Saint-Volusien Abbey church is usually closed but Mass had just finished so we were able to get inside for a while until they locked up. Went to see Pont  du Diable (lots of legends, none true) in pleasant setting and have our lunch. Then to Forges de Pyrène which was a major disappointment, we had expected a major industrial heritage site like Blists Hill in UK but it had very little to offer us. Back home via Château de Montségur (viewed from the bottom again.

May 20
Dull and drizzly so we headed for villages west of Mirepoix and looked at Les Pujols, La Bastide de Lordat and Lapenne, all pleasant enough. Then to Saint-Félix-de-Tournegat, an amazing example of an ecclesiastical fortified village with the church (closed) surrounded by a little ring of houses. Next to Vals with its incredible hilltop church which you enter through a grotto at the bottom and climb up through the rock. We had intended to look at Mirepoix but gave it a miss as there was a major fair on and cars were parked nose-to-tail for some distance from the centre. We went instead to Camon, another fortified town. Finally to Château de Puivert, which we did go up to, but found the castle a little sad in its presentation.

May 21
A nice day and we headed first to Saint-Hilaire with its attractive abbey. Then to St-Polycarpe, a delightful small settlement built around a Benedictine Abbey. After St-Polycarpe we headed into the hills to St-Salvayre along a very dubious, very narrow and very winding road to see a church Eleanor was desperate to see. After lunch to Alet-les-Bains, which grew up around  a C9th abbey (interesting ruins), and is a pleasant small town which has retained much of its original character.

May 22
Steady rain as we headed north but it had stopped by the time we got to Carcassonne (get there early before the car parks fill). The town is splendid to see from the outside but inside its streets are unexceptional. The church is impressive and the château worth a visit, especially its museum. After Eleanor's navigational skill had been stretched to its limit we eventually got to Abbaye de Villelongue, a C12th Cistercian foundation in a delightfully peaceful setting. Finally to Abbaye de St Papoul, a pleasant village with an impressive abbey with a rather unexpected Baroque chancel.

May 23
We started in the Latou Valley first calling at St Martin-d'Oydes, a striking example of a fortified ecclesiastical settlement with a somewhat unusual Scottish baronial style church to which we gained entrance having found the keyholder. We called in at St Ybars, a bastide town on a ridge, before heading for Lezat-sur-Lèze, a town with interesting streets and buildings and the impressive C12th Èglise St-Jean-Baptiste. At first our next call at Rieux-Volvestre did little to impress but driving down the town with its brick buildings we found the large Mairie and the huge Cathédrale Sante-Marie looming over the river. Montesquieu-Volvestre is an interesting C13th bastide town with the large, interesting C14th Église St-Victor. Then back home via the pleasant and unspoilt village of Montbrun-Bocage.

May 24
Yet another wet morning as we headed for Saint-Lizier with its medieval streets and impressive cathedral. Lunchtime saw us at Audressein, a very attractive village where the C14th Église Notre-Dame-de-Tramesaygues is set on a delightful site at the confluence of the Bouigane and Orle rivers and has a porch with amazing frescoes. In the afternoon we returned Saint-Lizier for the Bishop's Palace (museum underwhelming) but which gives access to Notre-Dame de Sède with its excellent wall paintings. Return home was via the pleasant fortified village of Montjoie-en-Couserans.

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