Transbordeur bridges in France and the world 2: focus on Portugalete, Chicago,
The Département of Hautes-Pyrénées is a relatively small department, both in surface area (4,388 km²/1,694 mi²) and population (121,419). This department has has several geographical areas. To the south are the central Pyrénées mountains, which border Spain. The Pyrenees range has over twenty peaks higher than 3,000 metres, few rising above 10,000 feet. The Observatory at the Pic du Midi offers astounding panoramic views across the Pyrenees range. Older than the Alps, the sediments in the Pyrenees were first deposited during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras. This mountain area is a regular and popular part of the annual Tour de France, providing gruelling cycling with amazing scenery.
Going north into France are high pastures, then rolling foot hills with verdant chestnut and oak forests. Here, sheep, cattle, goats and horses roam freely. The landscape changes again to the north of the Department, with flat, agricultural plains stretching to its border with Gers.
Tourism is a major revenue source for this department, winter sports and summer hiking being important activities. There are many ski resorts [stations de ski] for all abilities, while the Pyrenees National Park, extending over 45,000 hectares, is a natural wonderland of alpine flowers, animals and birds. The National Park is protected from construction and touristic over-use, with a peripheral area extending into the foothills. With well-marked footpaths and overnight shelters (rather like youth hostels), there are many opportunities for hiking and observing nature. To make sure of seeing wild animals, you can visit the animal park at Argéles-Gazost, where there is also a Natural History Museum.
Some of the large birds that you may well see soaring in the mountains are vultures or golden eagles. Brown bears have been re-introduced, and wolves also live in secluded mountainous areas. The lower woods are also home to wild boar, deer and red squirrels, that often look close to black.
Pau, capital of the département of Hautes-Pyrénées, is birthplace of Henry IV of France [1553 - 1610]. His mother was Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre, whose family titles included Navarre and Béarn as well as the countdom of Foix, and whose vast territories included much of Les Landes and extended around Agen, to Périgord and to the viscomtdom of Limoges. Jeanne converted to Huguenot Protestantism in 1560, seven years after the birth of Henry. Henry of Navarre became the first Protestant to become king of France, after converting to Catholicism, supposedly with the comment, “Paris vaut bien une messe” - “Paris is well worth a mass”.
English travellers came to Pau from the late 18th century, to enjoy its climate and healthy air, encouraged by Wellington, who had left a garrison at Pau on his way into Spain during the Peninsular War against Napoleon I. Holidaying British, who came even before the railroad was built, made their mark with the scenic Boulevard des Pyrénées, the first full 18-hole golf course in Europe (laid out in between 1856 to 1860, and still existing), and a real tennis court.
Napoleon III refurbished the château, and there are streets of Belle Époque architecture, built before Biarritz become the fashionable resort. Pau is a major winter sports centre, and equestrian events such as a famous steeplechase are held there.
Pau’s prosperity is now based on helicopter manufacturer Turbomeca, as well as tourism and agriculture. The French fossil fuel company, Elf Aquitaine, is based at Pau.
The most prominent feature used to be the fortified castle which rises up from the centre of the town on a rocky escarpment. However, with the burgeoning Christian fervour and attraction of this town, there are now many religious edifices to compete for attention.
Lourdes has the second greatest number of hotels in France after Paris with about 270 establishments. After alleged apparitions of “Our Lady of Lourdes” to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, Lourdes has developed into a major place of Christian pilgrimage. This year, 2008, is the 150th anniversary of her ‘visions’.
Entering Lourdes on the D821, the road from Cauterets, then the N21, you can see on the right the straight line of the impressive funicular railway that rises 480 metres, over 1,000 feet to the summit with its panoramic view over the town of Lourdes.
Operating since 1900, the funicular has a single line with a passing place about half way up (left). On the right, one car has almost reached the top, while the other emerges from the tunnel before approaching the lower station.
At the summit are grottos, an observatory
and a restaurant.
Gavarnie is a base for walking in high mountains, admiring the spectacular scenery, the jewel- like flowers, the soaring eagles. You might even see a marmoset guarding its burrow. The Cirque de Gavarnie is a two-hour walk from the village, or you can ride up on a mule. For more experienced walkers, the High Pyrenean Walking Route follows the heights, with refuges for overnight stops.
Cirque de Gavarnie is a famous example of a cirque in the central Pyrenees, in the Pyrenees National Park. The cirque is 800m wide (on the deepest point) and about 3000m wide at the top. It incorporates seventeen peaks that are over 3,000 metres, with the highest waterfall in Europe at 423 metres - the Gavarnie Falls.
A major feature of the cirque is La Brèche de Roland (Roland’s Breach, also called the Roncevaux Pass), supposedly created by Roland, a nephew of Charlemagne. According to legend, Roland owned a sword reputed to be indestructible, that had previously belonged to Hector of Troy. To prevent the sword falling into the hands of the Sarasens, Roland attempted to destroy it by hacking at the rocks. He managed to cut a gap 40 metres wide and 100 metres high.
Like Gavarnie, Cauterets is walking territory during the warmer months, but during the colder parts of the year, Cauterets is a major skiing resort, for both cross-country and downhill skiing, with cable-cars up to the pistes running all through the day, and visible from town centre hotels.
As well as being a ski resort, like many mountain towns, Cauterets is also a spa town. Thermal springs welling up from the ground provide mineral-rich waters, containing calcium sulphates, iron, sulphur and sodium. These are used to treat respiratory and skin diseases, as well as rheumatism and other complaints.
A local speciality are the flavoured boiled sweets, berlingots [the name refers to the shape of the sweet]. These are made in several sweet shops in the town, and you can watch the stages in making striped boiled sweets - a quite extraordinary process. As well as being able to buy bags and boxes of mixtures that you’ve chosen, from at least one shop it is possible to order and have sweets sent to your home.
In 1873, a weather station was set up on the Col de Sencours, below the Pic de Midi. The foundation stone for the Observatory was laid five years later. This Observatory, now listed natural site, has been opened to the public since 2000. Thus, it is visitable, providing you do not mind riding in “a bucket on a string” [a cable car]. The trip starts at 1 800 metres. Fifteen minutes later, you reach the Observatory at an altitude of 2,877 metres for a two-hour visit.
Here are the most spectacular views across the snow-topped Pyrenees to the plains southern France and north to the Massif Central foothills. There is a museum and discovery area where you can understand the astronomical research being done with the three telescopes, including a solar telescope. There is also a restaurant, a snack bar and a gift shop. Visitors should take both warm clothing and sun glasses, and take account of being almost 1.8 miles higher than sea level.
See also Pic du Midi - observing space clearly for much more detail and many illustrations.
The A64 motorway, La Pyrénéenne, runs through the northern plains of the department of Hautes Pyrenees, on its route parallel to the Pyrenees mountain range. Amongst its many aires de repose and aires de service are two that provide more than just a peaceful stop for picnicking and ‘escaping’ the confines of a car.
|on first arriving in France - driving||motorway aires, introduction|
|travelling by rail to and within France||Les Pyrénées, A64||Poey de Lascar, A64|
|aires on the A75 autoroute from clermont-ferrand to béziers||Pic du Midi, A64||Dunes, A62|
|aires on the A89 autoroute from bordeaux to clermont-ferrand and beyond||Hastingues, A64||Mas d’Agenais, A62|
|aires on the busy A7 autoroute from lyons to marseille||Pech Loubat, A61||Garonne, A62|
|aires on the motorway to Spain - the A9 autoroute||Port-Lauragais, A61||Catalan village, A9|
|three aires on the canal du midi, A61||Ayguesvives, A61||Tavel, A9|
|aires on the autoroute of two seas - the A62||Renneville, A61||Les Bréguières, A8|
|aires on the other autoroute of two seas - A64 and A61||Carcassonne, A61||Lozay, A10|
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