September 6, 2011

Pyrenees Tour: Berenx to Barcus

The forecast today promised sun and clouds, proving that the forecasts in the hills here are just as accurate as in those of home. That is to say, not accurate at all. Most of the day it rained. When it didn't, it threatened rain. Given the rain and the traffic, during the first 5 miles or so I probably stopped six times. Add my flashing light to the rear of my bike Papillon, put on a raincoat, get out of the raincoat and change into a lightweight shirt under it, add rainpants, stop and consider the traffic. Stop again, consider the traffic, and change plans.

The traffic. My plan was to visit two ancient cities with Roman roots, Salies de Bearn and Sauveterre de Bearn. But, the traffic started off busier than it ever was yesterday, and steadily got heavier. Along with the rain. Rain, fast and sometimes congested traffic, limited visibility, is not my idea of happy riding, even with a wide shoulder and flashing light on my bike. 

I turned off the heavily trafficked road onto a small, "white" road, which turned and crossed over the busy road, providing the opportunity for the illustrative photo.

The small road I turned onto had flocks of sheep, cows, horses alongside it, with people working in the fields. It was a good decision to change my route.

I passed through Navarrenx, a town famous for its stone fortifications. The town's wall is huge and fortifications were evident in many areas as I entered town. They date from the 16th century when Henry II of Navarre had them built. I didn't know just what I was looking at, it appeared to be a warren or maze, of fortifications, with a very evident tall exterior wall remaining.

No matter the rain, I wasn't going to miss L'Hopital St. Blaise, and headed there on narrow, little winding roads leading to the village and church, mostly well paved with few potholes or ruts, and extremely fun to ride. The closer I got, the smaller the roads became.

The church itself is another UNESCO World Heritage site. A Romanesque church (which I find the most fascinating and compelling) it dates from at least the 12th c. Since then it has offered sanctuary to pilgrims headed to Santiago de Compostela.

This was the second day in a row that I waited out a storm in the shelter of a medieval church. This time I passed the time talking with a man hiking the pilgrimage route who was from Venice. He had been on the road for 4 months, following a meandering route, and staying off main roads as much as possible. He mentioned that he once won a one-week trip to NYC, but he couldn't get the extra time away from his work. Now that he is retired, and has the time, he doesn't have the free trip. His French was better than mine, but he was easy to understand, perhaps because it is also not his maternal language, and he spoke more slowly.

Leaving L'Hopital St. Blaise I took a photo of the sign, because the signs here are in French and Basque, a very ancient language that is unrelated to any other European language.

Immediately after the sign I turned off the main road onto the little road on the right. I use Michelin yellow, 400 series maps, and ride, in order of preference, the white roads, the thin red roads  and the the thick red roads. Occasionally a yellow road if necessary.The maps indicate climbs and descents with chevrons. I avoid three chevron routes. Two chevrons indicate grades between 8% and 13%. Steep enough for me, and I take them seriously. Sections of the route today were steep, worth 2 chevrons. Steep enough that remounting after a stop pulled the front wheel up off the ground. No doubt the reason I got off the bike twice in steep uphill sections was just for photos and water. Also, no doubt it's good that I believe there is no shame in getting off the bike before keeling over on the road!

The B&B in Barcus, Maison Carriquy, which dates from the mid-nineteenth century, is both beautiful and comfortable. The owners are delightful, and not only make sense of my French, but offer useful, friendly corrections.The photos are in the next post.

Tomorrow, I continue up into the Pyrenees foothills, finishing the day in Bielle, a town that theTour de France passed through this year.



  1. Well, it's rainy here, too, but we lack the stone fortresses you're hiding out in. I smile through every word you write. Love it! Laury

  2. Hey Laury, every night at dinner I wish you were here with me. Usually good, occasionally very good, and always, so far, something new to try. SM


My blog is out of date, and so comments are closed.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.