More and more people are heading high in the summer. PlanetSKI reports from the French Pyrenees.
The French Pyreness is a region of extreme contrasts – from high peaks to lush valleys.
There is wonderful cuisine and fascinating culture.
Adrenalin action sports to gentle family activities.
PlanetSKI reporter, Vanessa Fisher, has been enjoying the area with her young family.
I visited last summer to see some of the extremities of the region and reported on it here for PlanetSKI. I fell in love with the Pyrenees in the summer months and was keen to see some more of this contrasting region.
Down in the foothills is a sleepy little village called Madiran.
Wine aficionados may recognise the name from the rich red wine which carries its name.
Madiran wine, is one of the most well-known red wines from this part of France.
The Brumont family being one of the biggest growers and exporters of this wine.
The vineyards grow on the south facing slopes of this little corner of the Hautes-Pyreenees.
What isn’t little is the Chateau which sits amongst the vineyards – Chateau Montus.
When I visited it was about to host a huge wedding party.
The converted outbuildings were decked out with linen and flowers but we managed a quick peek in to another of the vast buildings which houses the enormous metal cylinders where the wine is produced and stored.
I’m not a huge wine fan (unless it’s fizzy) but the beautiful old chateau sitting with its panoramic views across the valleys was quite the setting for a wedding reception.
The lady on reception went down to the cellar to dig out a couple of bottles of 2010 Montus, an excellent year for this wine…apparently.
My dad loved it!
On the other side of the region, heading down towards the Med and nestling up against the Haute-Garonne department is the Barousse Forest.
With our wine stash we were in search of some new treehouses that have been built up in the woods.
This is where Sat Navs struggle, small mountainside roads, where they get confused with the switch-back roads and tiny paths and tracks.
After a couple of interesting routes, we drove into another tiny village, Cazarihl.
Just off the ‘main road’ through the village are Les Cabanes de Pyrenes.
A local couple have invested in a small section of the forest and built three bespoke treehouses, one sleeping two, one sleeping four and a larger treehouse sleeping seven.
That was to be our home for the night.
As a family overnight treat it was absolutely idyllic; giant wooden games are scattered through the surrounding woodland, and if you want to hike, the owners are clearing an ancient path which runs north from the treehouses up into the woods beyond.
Each treehouse has a different entrance, the duo with its circular stairway and a ladder across to a seating area ‘a deux’.
Ours had an easier wooden staircase, safe for the children, a lovely outside balcony and fun swinging chairs underneath.
Inside was spacious, with a double raised bed, two sets of bunks and a small single under the double.
Small details such as the intricate carving around the windows and the lovely bed linen makes an overnight in these treehouses seem luxurious.
The naturally heated hamman (like a small Jacuzzi) was fired up for us to relax in and for dinner we ate in the on-site Kota grill.
You can cook local meat over the fire in the centre of the little hexagonal building and the owners prepare potatoes and salad plus homemade tart and breads and dried meats to accompany.
After more wine, sleep comes easily, no noise, just the sounds from the woods and pitch black all around.
Gentle fairy lights inside enough to keep the children’s fears at bay!
In the morning, after hauling a wicker basket full of fresh croissants, hot coffee and chocolate up and over the balcony and devoured around the little central table, we moved back down to the valley to discover some ancient caves and hand prints.
The Grottes de Gargas caves take you way underground where, with a guide, you follow the routes through the limestone tunnels and discover a series of 27,000 year old hand prints and animal carvings.
Our guide spoke in French but quickly translated in to English.
Once again we were late for our set tour but luckily managed to tack on to the back of the tour which had only just begun – booking in advance is essential.
Onwards up the valley still at the very edge of the Hautes-Pyrenees and then crossing the high pass at Col du Peysourade brought us down in to the Louron Valley.
At the top of this valley is Loudenvielle with its lake and outdoor pool and slides.
We spent a fabulous day here using the pedalos on the lake before heading in to Ludeo with its fun slides and warm outside pools.
We’d travelled from the furthest tip of the region bordering Gers, across to the Mediterranean side and finally back in to the heart of the Hautes-Pyrenees.
Who says the mountains are just for winter?
See here for more information about holidays in the Hautes-Pyrenees.