I took off from Sweden the day before and stayed the night in England, so I could take a plane directly to Pau in the Pyrenées. I arrived at Pau in the middle of the day and waited some time for the train to Lourdes. In Lourdes I had chosen a hotel not so near the train station, but thought I could go there with my big bicycle box (with bad small wheels). It was cumbersome, but around 5 pm I was off cycling up the mountains. I did not want to wait until the next day and had thought I should be able to get up to Port de Gavarnie and back again before dark. That was when I thought I would be able to leave off from Lourdes at around 3 pm. But I decided to go anyway as I knew I had a place to stay the night at.
I did not quite remember the way out south of Lourdes since I was there in 2001 and ended up taking the motorway for a while and soon understood I was not supposed to use that road. Going up the mountains from Lourdes offers some of the best scenery in the Pyrenées with towering mountains awaiting all around in front of you.
It is first after passing by Luz-St. Saveur that the scenery becomes really fascinating and you feel you have entered the high mountain area. At Gèdre comes the first serpentines and the real start of the climb to Port de Gavarnie. Gavarnie is a small village that looks a bit chilly in the evening as the sun goes down quickly here (around 19 I believe), due to the high mountains around.
From Gavarnie (1379) and up there are not really any more houses. Just some ski-lifts and cows. The climb up here to Col de Tentes (2215) is around 10% on average and a bit hard. The road is wide and mostly good though. At Col de Tentes there is a parking and the views improve. One is not supposed to use the road continuing up Port de Gavarnie/Boucharo (2270) even though it is surfaced even by bicycle as it is part of a protected parkland. Apparently some people have been fined here – it seldom happens that guards in other parks are so strictly enforcing such rules. However, the road is also blocked by stones/rockfalls, so you will not get far with a car anyway and even with my bicycle I had to lead it at one place (not to risk falling down the mountainside). It is also little use in going up there with a car as the path down the other side to Spain is not practicable even with a 4-wheel vehicle. (Maybe the path down could be used with a mountainbike, but surely not with a road bike.)
The views from Port de Gavarnie are very good, but best back into France. The sun was going down as I was about to get back down again. I just hoped to get down to Gavarnie, at least, before it got really dark. I stopped at Gavarnie to have dinner (maybe hoping it would not get totally dark on the way down later). It took some time before I got something to eat though and the restaurant was not very good (maybe there was another place too). When I got on my way again it was totally dark and there were no wayside lights until Pierrefitte-Nestalas, I think. But I am somewhat used to bicycle in the dark without lights and it worked out fine in the end – just that I had to go a bit slower and accept some cars honking at me … .
I was not back at the hotel in Lourdes before midnight, but had a good night sleep.
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