The weather forecast for today had been looking, errm, challenging, pretty much since we arrived, so we thought it might be a good idea to plan to do something that wouldn’t really be affected by the state of the weather. At some point Kas had read a blog post entitled “10 things to do in the Pyrenees if you’re not cycling up the Col du Tourmalet (or something similar) – a post designed for consumption by the widowed men and women whose spouses had forced them to go all the way to southern France just so they could go on a bike ride.
One of the items on that list was the Grottes de Medous – a series of limestone caves just over the other side of the Col from where we were staying.
We hauled our butts out of bed at a reasonably early time and got ourselves some breakfast whilst watching some pretty awful weather out of the windows. When we got to the car it still wasn’t great, so we decided to take the long route around by going down the valley to Lourdes and then around the bottom to the Grottes, which are in Bagnères-de-Bigorre. The alternative is to drive over the Col du Tourmalet, which might be nice in good weather but wasn’t something I fancied doing in driving rain and poor visibility. More of that later, anyway.
The drive around the bottom was fairly uneventful, if rather slow, and we arrived in a very damp car park at the Grottes in the middle of the morning. We walked pretty quickly into the ticket office to pay a fairly reasonable entry fee and were then ushered into the caves. There might have been some discussion about what we were supposed to do, but if there was, it wasn’t articulated very clearly before we got inside. So we sauntered in and started making our way around the caves at a leisurely pace, unaccompanied. A little way into our walk we were disturbed by some returning members of staff, who gave us the evil eye, and eventually we figured that we were supposed to be following the official tour. There were two problems with that, from our perspective. Firstly, we were at the back of quite a large group, so had no idea which particular feature the guide was describing, and secondly, the tour was conducted only in French. Now that’s not unreasonable, given that the place is actually in France, however it put us at a disadvantage because none of us can understand spoken French when it’s going at normal speed and with a wide vocabulary. Net result was that we really had to deliberately haver around at the back, ensuring that guide was moving forwards and all our fellow visitors had started following, so that we could follow at a slower pace, which gave us the time then to actually look at the stalactites and stalagmites we were passing en route.
I think we might have been told we couldn’t take photos either, but that part got very lost in translation, and given that we saw several other people recording the entire tour on their phone or iPad we’re not feeling very guilty about having taken a few photos. The scenery in the caves is good, but the need to follow a specific tour, and then the demand at the end to tip the tour guide, was a bit much.
When we came out of the Grottes the weather had improved somewhat. Well, quite a lot. You could see the sky, and not all of it was grey. Invigorated by this massive improvement we thought it might now be appropriate to go “over the top” rather than returning the way we’d come, so off we pootled in a southerly direction. The weather continued to clear a bit as we were driving.
At the top of the Tourmalet we’d managed to get ourselves up into the weather, and it was still quite grim. It was windy, grey and cold, and there were clouds drifting around below us and around us. Quite dramatic to watch, but not great if you didn’t have a coat.
We’d parked as close as you can get to the summit of the Col, and a little way up a gravel track from there is a little restaurant that must do pretty brisk business in the skiing season. At this particular part of the summer season it was also doing pretty brisk business – the inside was more or less full. We found out why when we were delivered our chosen meals. Kas and me both ordered a thick, pork based soup, which was absolutely top-notch. By “pork-based” I mean that there was most of a pig in each serving. They initially bought out one quite large bowl, and Kas and me decided that was a fairly generous portion between two of us. Then they bought the other one. ‘Twas rather nice though. There was dippy-bread and everything. That made up for us feeling a bit cold and miserable.
As we’d started quite early we decided to head straight back down from the top after lunch (it was after 2pm anyway, so not really a wimp-out) and I then sat in the reception area typing up some blog posts while the kids splashed around in the pool and Kas walked up the shops to buy some stuff for tea. We plumped for a snacky job of hot dogs, salad and fried slivers of potato with assorted flavourings.
Kas had sadly forgotten a couple of things, so Ami and me walked up into town to get them, and while we were there we bought some playing cards, which were then subsequently used during the course of the evening. A decent day overall, given the pretty poor weather at the start of it.