16 February 2012

Guess Where? #6

Where have we pedaled to now
Another week of adventure and more desktop traveling to France. Can you guess the locations of these 3 sites?
Image #1
©Photo by PedalDancer/DRR
 Image #2
©Photo by PedalDancer
Image #3
©Photo by PedalDancer

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port ("Saint John at the foot of the mountain pass" in French).
Located in Pyrénées-Atlantiques department in south-western France, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is one of the major towns in the French Basque area of the Pyrenees. Once razed by Richard the Lionheart, the town was rebuilt in the same spot on the famed route of pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela over the Roncevaux Pass. Only 6km from the border of Spain, Basque is still spoken on both sides of the border. The town is situated along the river Nive and is wonderfully picturesque with tiled roofs, rust or brown colored shutters, buildings constructed of pink and grey schist, and cobbled streets typical of the area. 
I had read that Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port was a growing center of cycling and so we made a point, on a rest day, to travel to visit the town in 2008. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is the old capital of the traditional Basque province of Lower Navarre, and if you have not yet tried a Navarre chilled rosé wine, please do so. Vineyards are increasing in the area, land prices are rising, and the area in a growing trend in popularity. The region reminds me of areas of Tuscany, Italy, and the central coast of California. It is neat and tidy with plentiful cafes and rolling green scenery. Mondays are market days and Sheeps cheese is a delicious local specialty.
River Nive through Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port  ©Photo by PedalDancer/DRR
Landscape of Saint-Jean-Pied-De-Port  ©Photo by PedalDancer/DRR
 Port to Spain ©Photo by PedalDancer/DRR
Gothic church, Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont  ©Photo by PedalDancer/DRR
Signs in the area are in both French and Basque
Basque flag

Pic du Midi de Bigorre
It took me until my forth trip to the Pyrenees to understand that there was more than one Pic du Midi along the mountain range of the French Pyrenees. The most well known is Pic du Midi de Bigorre the grand peak above the Col du Tourmalet. The peak (pic) supports the highest observatory in France (Observatoire du Pic du Midi de Bigorre) initially constructed in 1878! NASA placed a large telescope in the building in 1963 in preparation for the Apollo missions to the moon. The observatory now houses a number of instruments and telescopes and has made numerous major discoveries The road (on the west side) to the top begins just to the left of the souvenir shop on Col du Tourmalet. The road is rocky and rough and not always passable due to snow pack.
Continue past the souvenir shop on Col du Tourmalet  ©Photo by PedalDancer
Hike to Pic du Midi de Bigorre  ©Photo by PedalDancerr
The rocky road down from Pic du Midi de Bigorre in June  ©Photo by PedalDancer
On the other side of this road (seen above) down the east side of the Col du Tourmalet lies the town of La Mongie, from this town you may take a steep cable car ride up to the observatory. This video will give you an idea of the massive area around the Col du Tourmalet, and perhaps why this climb is so magical on a small bicycle. Video: Pic du Midi de Bigorre - Cable Car Ride - All the way to the top!

There is another beautiful mountain peak that is a noticeable landmark on the mountain scape of the Pyrenees named Pic du Midi d'Ossau. This peak is slightly west of the other Pic du Midi with wonderful hiking trails and lakes. I hiked near the base of the peak in 2005, horses and cows roamed among green pastures and lakes, and the sound of cowbells filled the air. It was a rocky steep hike up the hillsides but a very enjoyable hike to Lac de Bious-Artigues. Take the D934 south of Pau and keep going (past the turn left up the D918 to the Col d'Aubisque) until you reach the town of Gabas, park and start hiking.
lake near Pic du Midi d'Ossau  ©Photo by PedalDancer
Pic du Midi hiking  ©Photo by PedalDancer
Pic du Midi d' Ossau from the Ossau Valley south of Pau  ©Photo by PedalDancer

Flamme Rouge (Red Kite)
The red kite is the pennant marking the final kilometer of a bike race. The site of the flag means the race is almost over and the winner about to be determined. The banner inspires the phrase red kite prayer, supposedly naming the gesture of bowing the head as riders pass under the flag, digging deep in their last 1 kilometer of hard effort. I need to start paying better attention because I don't think I've ever noticed a rider actually doing this, but the popular blog Red Kite Prayer, inspired by the name, claims it to be a true tradition. I do know every time I am watching a break away or lone rider in the lead, and the rider passes under that red kite, I find myself cheering "come on you can make it, go!" The red kite is a long tradition in the Tour de France but is also used in other international races. The flamme rouge remains a very happy site for cyclists.
Red Kite at the finish line of the Tour de France  ©Photo by PedalDancer
Red Kite being set up at the Criterium du Dauphine  ©Photo by PedalDancer
Where we traveled to this week: click map to enlarge
A. Pic du Midi de Bigorre;   B. Pic du Midi d'Ossau;   C. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
View the other Guess Where series: