Conquering the Pyrenees

We had a lovely setting last night, but maybe we were a bit too close to the old church. It helpfully tolled the hours every hour, not once but twice. Midnight. Twice. I maintain that it rang first in French and then in Basque, or maybe vice versa. They are touchy about that stuff here.

Our first stop of the day was in the town of Cambo-les-Bains, where playwright and poet Edmond Rostand of Cyrano fame built his country home. This was an impressive but rather confused estate. The Villa Arnaga has the pretensions of Versailles in the design and scale of its gardens, but the house itself has the exterior of an oversized Basque farmhouse, which has absolutely nothing to do with the interior, which swings from the whimsical to Louis XVI. Bizarre.

But it was a great little town, with a lovely laundromat we gratefully patronized, as we were having a cup of tea in the nearby cafe. It is Monday, after all.

Then it was on to one of the big tourist spots in France – le petit train de la Rhune, a narrow-gauge railway at the western end of the Pyrenees. It links the Col de Saint Ignace to the summit of the La Rhune (Larrun in Basque), with an elevation of 6,000 feet.

Larrun holds an iconic place in the Basque culture. It is covered in neolithic monuments and was held to be a sacred place, with a reputation as an meeting place for witches. Up until the 18th century, local villages paid for a monk to live at the top of the mountain to keep those witches away and ensure good winds.

Although this summit lies on the border between France and Spain, the railway is entirely within France. The climb is quite breathtaking, and the view goes from the Bay of Biscay into the Atlantic, into Spain across the Pyrenees. It was incredibly windy – which keeps the witches away – and a bit overcast, but still dramatic, coming and going.

A lovely day of scenery, and then on to the town of Sare, where we are staying in a 1,200 year hotel which seems to have nice new mattresses and a lovely view from the balcony. Oh, dear – just heard some church bells…


3 thoughts on “Conquering the Pyrenees

  1. Jo
    Love the shorts, but not sure about the top(Trying to work in some smart remark about a Basque…. but failing).
    Looks like you’re liking this place a lot. It’s different, and good, isn’t it?

    1. Seems like a lot of other French don’t care for it, but I think they are missing out. (I don’t think the Basques mind much what other people think, anyway.) And you could say about La Rhune that we were blown away…

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