In previous articles, while we wandered through the Montagne Noire, the Pyrenees were only part of the background. However, this time we're heading for the range on a weekend getaway. Located just an hour and a half from Toulouse, separating Spain and France, the Pyrenees are known for their stunning views, thousands of streams, and steep rocky paths.
After a rainy hike, we got back in the van and headed towards Arrens-Marsous, a small town hidden a few valleys behind Lourdes. We put on the heat and ventilation to the max, hoping it would dry our clothes during the one-hour drive. The winding road was slippery and we carefully drove, making stops along the way to buy some food for our dinner. In a single day we had gotten accustomed to van-life!
Our first stop was for baguettes, a must for every meal. Once we arrived in Arrens-Marsous, we stopped for a second time at a local market that sold only locally sourced produce. While Tara was put-off by some of the confits, we bought cheese, chips, sauce, and instant coffee. The last item on the list was water, so we drove to a nearby fountain. It was still pouring rain and while I was trying to fill our water bladder, Tara on the other hand had never seen such “a cute fountain” and documented the scene. We then left the village behind us and drove until the end of the road, deep in the mountains.
After reaching our camping spot, we celebrated our little weekend getaway and first hike with apple cider from Normandie. We kept the engine running for a little while to warm up the van and try to dry our last clothing items. Soon enough, it was time to prepare dinner: gluten-free pasta with ratatouille and various other things we had bought. Since it was still pouring rain and quite cold, we set the table outside and only opened the back of the van. Although the conditions weren’t helping, we had great views over the nearby peaks and the distant sound of bells set the ambiance.
While Tara was busy trying to cut the cheese, I got out to start the stove and fifteen minutes later the water was boiling, our meal was almost ready. After mixing the sauce with pasta, we enjoyed a simple yet warm and comforting dinner. We contemplated the cows, the river and the clouds traversing the valley. After such a long day we were already pretty tired and didn’t need much to fall asleep. Tara wanted to catch the sunrise and we made plans to wake up early (spoiler alert: it didn’t work out).
At 6:00 am, the first (and last) alarm went off, our sunrise plans were compromised. We slept for another two hours and after a good night of sleep made breakfast. The weather forecast was right, the sun was already up, peeking over the peaks! We made coffee, I ate a cheese/honey toast and we prepared our picnic. In fact, the whole point of the planned hike, was to cross the border with Spain and enjoy our picnic there, overlooking a beautiful lake. This time though, the fog and clouds shouldn’t block the views! We then packed our bags and drove the last kilometer up to the hiking path.
After putting on our wet boots, we started our second day on the paths. The weather was already beautiful and that made a huge difference! We could see miles ahead of us and with the path almost to ourselves, we wandered through this “jurassic park” like landscape. The hike on its own is a straight line running from the bottom of the valley all the way to a mountain pass and the border with Spain. While simple, the views it offers on the way up and down are a sight to be seen. Although Tara was hoping to see dinosaurs, a few kilometers later, herds of sheep appeared on the horizon.
Hundreds of sheep were parked at the bottom of the valley, waiting to be transported back to their respective farms for the winter. Oddly, there wasn’t any patous (shepherd dogs) guarding the herds. Perched on the peaks, vultures were patiently waiting for a soul to get lost. We slowly crossed the herd and continued our slow ascension. Tara had adapted to the mountain and was doing much better. While the clouds were dancing over the peaks, Tara was dancing from one rock to the other. We then stopped for a change of clothes, a snack and a little bit of sunscreen.
I had warned Tara about the slow but long and continuous climb. However, with the conditions we had endured the day before, it almost felt like a walk in the park. After climbing a set of steeper hairpins, we reached a series of lakes fed by melting ice. Each corner or rock hid a new and completely different landscape. We stopped on several occasions to take pictures and enjoy the stunning views. While in the summer, this path is often crowded, it was empty and we didn’t make any encounters. Half an hour later, we reached the pass and crossed the border with Spain!
Once we had reached the top, only two kilometers remained until our picnic spot. Up there the temperature dropped sharply and we quickly layered up. Just like the day before, we tried to find a spot sheltered from the wind. This time though, we could enjoy the sun and a stunning view over the Campo Plano lake. The Spanish emergency services even provided entertainment with their emergency drills on the lake’s bank. I devoured a delicious sandwich while Tara’s was soggy from the melted honey and gluten-free bread. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our lunch in Spain, watched the helicopter, a caterpillar and sunbathed like lizards.
However, the wind was cold and after an hour in the sun, we decided to head back down. While I generally prefer loops, this hike is an exception and the way down offers completely different views over the valley. We traced our way back through the rocks, leading us to the border, and entered France. At the border, a couple asked us if we had seen their friends. They were supposed to meet at the border and picnic in Spain (a classic on this path). Luckily, we had seen them but they had already started their descent. After a few pictures in the rocks, we too descended on the French side.
At times, the path faded on rocky slopes and we had to remain careful. It was especially demanding for our ankles. At some point, we decided to run down the mountain. As if we were professional trailers, we blazed down the path, hopping over rocks, spiky grass, and streams. Though we were careful enough not to step on the last standing dandelion! Soon enough, we had made our way down the valley and just a few kilometers remained until the end.
We crossed a few bridges, met our now sleepy friends (sheep), and took a few pictures along the turquoise water of the lake. Sadly, it was already the end of the hike. We took off our boots, changed our clothes, and headed back to Toulouse. Tara seized the opportunity and slept most of the way back.
Since she had never visited Toulouse before, we ended the weekend with an evening stroll on the banks of la Garonne. We grabbed dinner at a restaurant and wandered through the city afterwards. Although tired, we had succeeded on our getaway mission! We had managed to hike 40km, up more than 2000m and endured rough weather the first day. Our two very different hiking styles had made for quite a fun journey and we were already planning the next one!
As always, you can check the route and the activity on Strava using the link below.