September 20, 2012

La Madeleine

Last year I wrote that the area around Barcus seemed worth spending more time exploring, and this year I am not disappointed. My hotel, in the village of Arette, is not too far south of there, and today I set out to explore the little roads in between Arette to the south, Barcus to the north, and Tardets-Sorholus to the west. I aimed to include a small in stature, but important local mountain, La Madeleine, weather permitting. The ride to Aramits was quick and uneventful, then the road climbed quickly out of town. Shortly after that this car was unmissable in the hay barn. A good start to the ride.


The road wound its way around, up, and then down. It was steep down, but fun. The roads almost all day were of the one-car-wide variety. The pattern just described, if you add the option of steep up continued all day. I will try not to continue telling you this: up up down around down up around. Very fun riding.

We have this plant at home too, though I don't know its name. Looks something like Queen Anne's Lace, but that's not it.

Part of what I like about riding these little roads is watching the gardens, fences, animals, the detail of it, and the smells. Much of today the world smelled of mint.

The road descended fairly steeply, but fun, and somewhere along the way I missed a turn, or perhaps followed the main road when I should have gone straight on a smaller yet one. Beats me.

Before I knew it, was back on the D918 in the town of Montory. Rather than return to look for the missing turn, I rode to Tardets-Sorholus for lunch, and found a place on the square. It was a set menu, 3 courses. Far too much food for me to eat and then get back on my bike with any kind of energy. The proprietor told me I could have any part of the menu that I wanted, so I opted for the roast pork Basquaise (sauce of tomatos, pepers, onions.) It was salty, which turned out to be a good thing, because after lunch the sun came out and I rode steeply uphill.

But to go back a bit, just before lunch, headed uphill on a medieval sized street, there were 2 campercars, a truck, and a few cars stopped in front of me. So of course, I went around them, then realized it was too tight for me to get comfortably through.  Cautious and polite cyclist that I am, I stopped to let the traffic by.  Who came by in a car, and stopped to chat for a moment, but the Parisian couple I had met the day before yesterday in Larrau! Very fun, worth a good laugh.

After lunch I took the route from Tardets to La Madeleine, and it did climb. Along the way, there were many beautiful farmhouses, and their gardens. Every one seems to have a good leek crop this year, and virtually every garden I see here is beautifully tended and tidy.

Nearing the summit, a flock of sheep was descending the road, and were none too happy to see a bicycle in their territory. All but this one scattered upon seeing me. They are not so skittish with cars. It is a diffeent breed of sheep than the horned variety found higher in the mountains. Both breeds are small animals compared to many I see at home.

At I estimate 300 or 500 feet below the summit there was a flat area, big enough to park some cars (most people walked up the remaining distance, as the road steepened yet more and narrowed to little more than a track.) This man was there, holding something, who shouted out a bravo, chapeau. I thanked him, and then did a doubletake and made an immediate stop. He was flying this plane, totally unmotorized, which was soaring and circling like a bird. But a bird on a string.

There is now a small chapel on the top of the mountain, where my hosts at the hotel were married. They are both cyclists, and she suggested visiting this site. It has a long history of ceremonial and/or religious use, first during prehistoric times, when people used it as a sacred site; then there was a Roman site of some kind there, stelae have been found; and later a Christiatn chapel. This one is dedicated to those who lost their lives during the terrible events of WW2.

There were a handful of hikers there.

I stayed on the top for a bit, and met a nice couple who lived not too far away, and had used some of the local roads to get there. I could see those from the top, they were somehow even steeper, narrower, and dirt, than the paved road I had come up. They made a point of telling me to descend carefully, and though I probably didn't need the warning (the steep dropoffs were warning enough) I did appreciate their care in warning me.

Once down I continued north to Barcus, admiring the architecture, but limiting my photo stops. I wanted to get back before dinner. Many of the rural houses are right smack on the side of the road.

As I came back into town on a main road (two lanes, each one wider than the narrow ones I had been on) these cows were dominating the thoroughfare. The men herding them laughed with me, as I tried to keep rolling and keep taking pictures.

I did get here long enough before dinner to chat with the two American cyclists staying here. They are from Montana, and have visited France, Italy, Spain frequently to ride. They climbed Col d'Aubisque today, but it was cloudy, and cold, so they didn't cross the cirque to Soulor. Yesterday they climbed Marie Blanque, also enveloped in clouds. This is more dedicated climbing than I will ever do.

Diner opened with a delicious pumpkin soup.

41 miles, 4600 feet climbing. Some sun, some clouds. A lovely day exploring small roads in southern France.


  1. You must be pretty friendly, Suze, because you are always meeting people on your rides. Maybe Papillon has something to do with it, too. Your other bike might be too aggressive for sparking up new friendships.

    1. I think you are onto something about Papillon, she (!) is good at getting conversations started here in rural France. Solo, grey-haired, non-threatening, foreign woman who says Bonjour Madame, Monsieur at the least provocation might have something to do with it also, who knows:-) I do know that I enjoy and appreciate all little conversations that I have.

      At home, I promise, Pinarello is better at starting conversations!

  2. It's been a bad year for pumpkins here too. I see those ones in your photo were very small. I only have one tiny one, out of dozens of plants I put in. It's been too hot and dry this summer for them.
    I like the look of those sheep. They seem lighter and more elegant than my girls.

    1. I admit, it was only the color that drew me to the pumpkins! These sheep are zome of the smallest, most delicate I've seen.


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