Skiing in the Pyrenees

Flo and Ali were in Paris with Ali working while Flo was visiting friends. I was back in Lisbon with a car full of ski equipment and luggage, about to begin a long drive to the Pyrenees. Our plan was to rendezvous in Pau France – me driving and them arriving from Paris by train.

I made my way through central Portugal into Spain, and then crossed the flatlands above Madrid, passing through the towns of Salamanca, Valladolid and Burgos. It’s a place of big sky and land that flows on forever – you see the steeple of the church of the next town from many miles away. 

I’d decided to spend the night in Logroño, which was slightly off my route and meant enduring a snow and hail storm just outside of Burgos. But we’d stayed there some years back and enjoyed the Laurel Street area with all its tapa bars. So I booked a hotel near to it and after a shower to clear my head, went out for a stroll to find a cold beer and dinner. But it was so cold that no one was outside, the only people were those that could fit into the tiny tapas bars. A very different scene from when we were there last and everyone was out on the streets, holding a glass of wine in one hand and a tapa snack in the other. I ended up having a burger and a beer at Berty’s Burgers, which claimed to have the 2nd best burger in Spain (and it was good!).

Laruns, in the Ossau Valley

The next day I drove on to Pau, arriving just as Flo and Ali were coming in from Paris. Together we drove up to Laruns, a small village at the base of the Pyrenees in the Ossau Valley. We’d rented a three bedroom apartment, just steps from the main town square. 

Gourette Ski Hill

We were there to ski and the closest hill was Gourette, about 20 minutes from Laruns. For the second year in a row we’d gotten lucky and fresh snow had been dumped just before our arrival. So we had three great days of skiing with mostly blue skies and good snow conditions. 

The Gourette ski station is not big – there’s just 12 lifts with 37 runs, most of them red and blue. It accommodates mostly people from the region. We didn’t hear any English, and just a bit of Spanish during our time there. It’s situated between two massive rock bluffs with one separating the area into two skiing regions. So with that many runs we got to know the best runs quite quickly. And the snow was so good that what you found at the top (2,450 meters), was pretty much the same as what you found at the bottom in the village. 

We finished off our third day at a spa. It started with a soak in a cedar hot tub in the backyard of the spa, surrounded by mountains (and chickens running around in the yard next door!). From there we showered and were scrubbed down, followed by another shower, and then a full-body massage. And they knew how to find the sore muscles of skiers after a hard day on the slopes!

We returned home to cook up some local lamb chops on the plancha – a very full day.

Benou Plateau

On the fourth day we met up with friends Pasquale and Alain for a walk up on the Benou plateau. Pasquale is an old friend from our Vallarta days, who also had returned to Europe. It was a beautiful walk, surrounded by mountains ladened with snow. Afterwards we drove back down and had a picnic alongside the Ossau river. Alain and Pasquale had packed a lunch with homemade pâté, cheese and smoked hams. 

The next day we drove down to the city of Pau to spend a few of days exploring the city. Pau is lovely, perched on a long narrow hill that has a boardwalk that runs along the Blvd. de Pyrenees, with amazing views looking southwards towards the Pyrenees, stretched out like a chain of peaks from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, also serving as a natural border between France and Spain. 

Most of the old town is pedestrian only, lined with shops and boutiques on the ground floors of buildings from 17th century on. We enjoyed walking the city and a visit to the Pau Chateau, where King Henri IV was born.

That night we had dinner at Alain’s house with Pasquale, a wonderful meal of duck straight from the farm, followed by an early night as we had a busy day to follow.

The next day we dropped Alison off at the train station and headed south, crossing the Pyrenees into the Aragón Valley. We were supposed to be heading back to Portugal but the conditions on the hills was so good we decided to take in a few days at the Spanish Candanchu ski station. We had lunch at the hotel, rented skis, bought afternoon passes and hit the slopes. Candanchu sits on the border of France and Spain, although mostly in Spain. Again, we hardly heard any English, and not even that much French. Great snow conditions, mostly red runs, and clear deep-blue skies. Again, we lucked out.

From there we continued our drive home, stopping in Extremadura to pick up my paddle board that had been confiscated during our trip there the year previously. Long story short, after many courts documents and a few fines, I got my board back. From there it was a few hours drive to Lisbon, where we enjoyed a long soak in the hot tub.

Train (and bike) Ride to Tende, France

We’ve been wanting to venture farther from the coast with our bikes, but not having a car to take them has made that difficult. So we looked into taking a train and found one that goes leaves to Tende, a small town that sits alongside the Italian border in the national Mercantour park, and allows bikes on board. The train follows what was the old “Route de Sel” or salt route.

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Our time in Nice has come to an end

Most of our outdoor activities have involved walks, hikes, and biking. We’ve walked most of the coastal “sentier” trails along the Cote d’Azure, which I covered here and here and here. Once we had done those we started hiking up into the hills, which I covered here and here and here. When we were done with that we started biking, first along the coast and then up into the hills, which I covered here and here and here and here . And there are just so many great hilltop villages to visit, such as St. Paul de Vence, Gourdon, Eze, St. Agnes and so many more. In the winter (when we were in Europe) we went skiing in Auron or Valberg.  Although we’ve done a lot, we’ve really just barely touched upon all that there is to do in and around Nice.

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L’Ile de Noirmoutier

For more than 20 years we have returned each summer to the island of Noirmoutier, (just off the French coast, a little south of Nantes), spending the month of August visiting family and enjoying a very laid-back style of life, a welcome change for many years from our otherwise busy business lifestyle. For the kids it was a time to reconnect with their cousins and polish up on their French. This past August I brought my drone along and did a little filming of the island. Shooting with a drone on Noirmoutier can be difficult as it is often quite windy and the weather can change quickly. Here’s the results.

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Weekend in Provence

Franck & Paco, (Les Garçons), friends from Mexico and Paris, have a home in Fontveille, Provence and each year in June they hold a party that extends over three days. We drove down from Nice on Friday and stayed close by with friends at their lovely farm house on the outskirts of the village. Friday night was a served dinner for 16, Saturday night was a themed (Black & White) party of about 50, and Sunday afternoon was back down to 16, before we headed back to Nice. Most who attended held in common that they spend time in Mexico, actually that’s where most of us met. As June is quite hot in Puerto Vallarta, Provence was a much better choice of venue for the event!

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Drone-Filmed Bike Ride to Forte Revere

This past winter I bought a drone (Mavic Pro) so I could update the aerial images we have on our MLS real estate website back in Mexico. On our return to Europe I brought the drone with me as I really wanted to film one of my favorite bike rides and take advantage of the “tracking” the drone can do. By that I mean you can launch the drone, select a target on the screen, (in this case, me on a bike), and it will follow you.

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