As our tour de southwest France continues, we’re headed to the town of Gavarnie, which is about an hours drive from Cauterets, to hike the Cirque de Gavarnie. It’s a sunday, the roads are fairly empty, and we soon found out why. The French that are not in church, or enjoying a relaxing sunday brunch, are out jumping off bridges.

About halfway through our drive, we passed along a massive stone bridge over a river gorge where a huge crowd had gathered to enjoy a hip-hop barbeque while people took the plunge over the bridge (there was a long wait, so Renee and I opted out…at least that’s what we told each other).

65 Euros for a jump, not bad!

We watched a few fearless flyers, and then headed back on the road to reach our destination. The Cirque de Gavarnie is a massive natural amphitheatre, which is an enclosed rock formation, in the Pyrenees with waterfalls all around. Pretty impressive.

Cirque de Gavarnie
Town of Gavarnie

The town of Gavarnie is a cute little mountain town that mainly serves as a base for hiking, not really a destination on its own.

Along the trail we passed babbling rivers, people riding donkeys (yes, you can rent a donkey), meadows of sheep, and finally our destination of the Cirque. It was a beautiful site and definitely worth the walk.

We Have An Audience
Mama et Bebe

The main trail was pretty crowded, but if you veer off the main path, there are some great, and empty, alternative trails, which we opted for on the way back down.

Found Our Private Trail Back

Our reward for a streneous day of hiking? A visit to the Bains du Rocher which are a collection of pools, hot tubs, saunas, hammans, and showers to relax and ease the body. For about $20 bucks you have two hours to enjoy the baths, and some serious people watching.  No pictures allowed 😦

Bains Rocher

Cauterets, Day 2 + Lourdes, One Crazy Place

Mind the cows please

We started the day by driving to the highest point at Pont d’Espagne, only to find free range white cows milling about the trail, fantastic!  They were friendly to me because they know I don’t eat them:) It was the perfect rejuvinating walk to get our day started, but I’m a little upset we didn’t get to hike the complete 4 hour trail as it looked goregous, AND there was a restaurant at the top.  Why didn’t we hike it…because Lourdes was calling!

The Cathedral at Lourdes

Oh Lourdes, the combination of its wonderful history and story of Bernadatte, the joint sadness and hope of the ‘pilgrams’ coming to be healed, and the way the city has turned into one mad tourist attraction – it definitely carries a mixed bag of emotions. A brief history lession for my Dad to put things into perpective….in the mid 1800’s, the Virgin Mary appeared to a 14 year old girl named Bernadette Soubirous an estimated 18 times.  Since the apparitions, Lourdes has become one of the world’s leading Catholic shrines where many spend there life savings to come drink, and be bathed in, the waters of the Grotto, which is said to have healing properties (and which the 8th sighting of the Virgin Mary occured). So with such a holy place, so close to us, we had to see what all the hub bub was about. Sooo, off we went — the healthy Lutheran girl and Jewish boy to the Catholic shrine.

Yikes, what’s with all the souvenir stores – this place is a tourist trap!

A Catholic Alliance Souvenir Shop, oh fun

But we made it to the Grotto, which has been turned into a free for all water fountain. Justin…go drink that holy water and clean up your life!  Can I have some too please?

Filling up our bottle with water from the healing Grotto

The catherdral and grounds were beautiful, but the town itself overrun by souvenir shops and tourist buses was pretty depressing, so after all that religion we were happy to head back to our little alpine village for a delicous meal of trout, prounced like “tweet”, at La Sienna. Viola!  I think we might just stay an extra day in Cauterets to hike Gauvernie!

– Posted by Renee

Cauterets, the Pyrenees

On the road to Cauterets
Our Hotel

A 3 hour drive from Albi and we arrived in the most perfect mountain village I could ever imagine. Cauterets is tucked into the Pyrenees, a gorgeous alpine mountain range with gaves and waterfalls at every turn. And our chambre d’hotes, Hotel Lion d’Or, is a quintessential cozy European mountain retreat.

There is even an accordion player outside of our room as I write this! (which turned out to be not so charming after 5 hours of playing ’til 1AM).

Though we were a little tired from driving, the beautiful mountains and fresh air were calling, so we headed for the acclaimed Pont d’Espagne for a fantastic 2 hour hike up a lush waterfall and stone trail.  We have yet to meet any Americans, and made our presence known by being the only hikers without hiking poles (who needs ’em), and Nikes (fashion first I suppose).  Upon our return, and after a proper Leffe Blonde, we happened upon a typical market with freshly prepared treats and started salivating. After some horrible French, we were stuffing our faces with 3 cream Lyonnais potatoes, spinach lasagna with gruyere and seafood paella.

Dinner from Les Halles Market
Pipe and a Crepe? Bong and a Blintz?


Hiking the Pyrenees

Albi, France

Albi is a great little medieval town surrounded by water, and our hotel and room is fantastic. We’re staying at the Maison d’hotes du Pigne (www.chambresdhotesalbi.fr), which has the feel of a chic B&B created in a historic, renovated townhome. Our room, La Tour, is on two levels with the living quarters on the first floor, and a stone spiral staircase leading up to the bedroom with French windows that open to treetop views.

La Tour Room
Ahh, to get lost down a cobblestone street

Albi’s cobblestone streets are lined with homes constructed of timber and brick, immediately transporting you back to a village life. Much of our day was spent roaming the narrow side streets, and enjoying the views while exploring the walking paths along the riverbank.

Albi is also home to the largest brick cathedral in the world dating back to the 11th century which is visible from all angles within the town, so we have a good point of reference.

We have two days in Albi to just relax and catch our breath after all the flying and driving, and are looking forward to enjoying the slow pace of life by the river. Tomorrow we head down to the world renowned religious town of Lourdes (in route to our destination of Cauterets in the Pyrenees), where we’ll consider being blessed in the holy water in the buff, which is a religious right of passage for many visiting the town from around the world.

– Posted by Justin

On the Road to Albi

First on the list, find croissants and coffee. Check.
We left our hotel after breakfast, giving us plenty of time to get lost on our way to Chateau Lacroux, yet we still managed to lose our way enough to be 15 minutes late. On the way, we stopped at this quaint, yet oddly empty, town of Gaillac to grab a quick Crepe before arriving at the winery (Renee wants to note that I actually ordered a 3 course meal + wine instead of a quick crepe).

Town of Gaillac
Crepe in Gaillac

This was our first taste of a small French village. Yet again, we got lost up a steep one way street that required us to back out, thus causing a slight mishap with our car and a new, now broken, porcelain water drain.  All to be viewed by a lovely old French woman watching the event out of her window and telling Renee to go to city hall to pay up (which of course didn’t happen).

Finally we arrive and Chateau Lacroux is absolutely beautiful; it’s everything you would imagine when dreaming up a French chateau and vineyard. Owned by a good friend of the family, we were lucky enough to have a full tour of the premises while in the middle of harvest, and enjoyed some of the fantastic wines with the family overlooking the beautiful scenery. A perfect afternoon. Check out this harvesting machine!

Harvesting Machine
Our Hotel in Albi

After a champagne toast, we left Chateau Lacroux around 5:30PM to make our way tothe town of Albi, about a 30 minute drive through the beautiful French countryside,to check in for the evening.  While I was slightly intoxicated and half asleep, Renee was just happy to have everything in one piece when we arrived at our absolutely beautiful chambre d’hotes, Maison d’hôtes du Pigne.

– Posted by Justin