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Friday, 14 October 2016

The condensed version of our Pyrenees holiday

Hi everyone! We are back and we've had the most amazing time imaginable! Trying to sort through 1,500 photos has taken some time, and it will be a while before I can write more detailed posts, but for now here's a condensed version of our 25 days away.

We started off visiting Le Teich bird reserve near Arcachon, where they have 20 hides and the walk is about 10km. We did it in 36C and by about 2/3rds of the way around I was ready to be carted off in a stretcher! Birding was a little disappointing; autumn is not as good as spring when the birds are singing so you are much more aware of their presence. We did see plenty of water birds though such as this Lapwing which I've never seen so close before.

Once back at the campsite I knew how to cool off and those new swimming cossies got put to good use!

I saw some great butterflies and managed to total 12 lifers! Most of the butterflies were in the mountains where it was not dried out and there were still wild flowers. We also visited a butterfly farm/park in the Ariège department and as well as enjoying the tropical butterflies in the polytunnel, we spent ages in their outside butterfly garden, which to be honest I enjoyed more. There were tons of butterflies in this garden and I could have spent hours there! I really need some Asters in my garden as they were very popular nectar flowers. Below is a Common Blue - I saw lots of them but as they are rare at home I was happy to see them.

As usual you can never get away from Breton 'cuisine'!

We spent three days in an amazing campsite in the mountains of the Pyrénées-Orientales, at Mont Louis. You couldn't imagine a more peaceful idyllic setting, beside a mountain stream and amongst the pines.

A first for me up in the Eyne valley was seeing multiple butterflies puddling! I've only ever seen single butterflies doing this. These are Adonis Blues along with Small Whites (I think, there are other mountain and southern species of white which are similar).

Then it was off to Spain and the Costa Brava where we had a Moho meetup arranged with Monika, a (virtual) friend who I've known for about nine years, first through the Selfsufficientish forum, and latterly on facebook. We both live in France though Monika lives in the middle. She has the most adorable little dog, Olivia, who I would gladly have stolen if I could have! We spent an enjoyable time together before Monika headed back home and we continued our stay, as we had booked a week at the campsite at L'Escala. 

Of course we revisited the wetlands of the Aiguamolls de l'Empordà. This was our third visit and I've already written about our previous visit in 2013 here.

We still found something new in the area and spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring the beautiful botanical gardens of Cap Roig.

The weather wasn't always great though! We had wind and rain too!

The sea wasn't so inviting when the sun wasn't shining and I decided it was too cold to swim in anyway.

After the Costa Brava we headed to the southern part of Catalonia to revisit the Ebro Delta, yet another important wetland area for birds. Here in the photo below is where the first thoughts about motorhomes came into my mind. We were picnicking on the beach in 2013 and there was a solitary van here, and I remember thinking how nice it would be to have your kitchen on board so that you didn't have to secretly steal your lunch from the breakfast buffet, and to have a toilet too! There are very few places to 'go' on the Delta. It's all flat and full of rice paddies or lagoons so no going behind a bush. We had to keep going back to the same cafe to use the facilities! My 2013 post from the Delta is here.

The only downside to having a Moho is the parking - we were unable to find parking space beside the hide where the flamingos were, but a good thing about a Moho is that it is much higher than a car, so you get much better views, and can see over hedges!

Still in the Delta, and very close to our campsite was the organic rice farm of Riet Vell, which has a hide overlooking a lagoon. It was the only place we saw Purple Gallinules in 2013 and lucky for us, we saw a number of them again. You gotta love a Purple Swamphen! They have such huge feet and are so ungainly.

Yet again though, the weather followed us. We got to experience our first thunderstorm inside a tin can. It rained so much that the campsite roads turned into rivers!

Inland from the delta is the mountain range called Els Ports de Tortosa. This was where our car overheated last time and was the start of endless overheating problems which stuffed up our holiday as we had to keep to fairly flat land after that. Mary Moho had no such problems and chugged her way up and down steep zigzag roads effortlessly.

Not all of Spain is scenic - most of where we went was delightful, but these flatlands near to Zaragoza were a bit dull to say the least.

Finally back in the Pyrenees again and we ended doing a couple of trips which we had originally planned for the beginning of the holiday, but it was raining in the mountains then. This next photo was at the Col du Somport which is a border crossing. It was looking quite autumnal up there.

We then headed to the Col du Tourmalet, which is the highest paved road pass in the French Pyrenees at 2,115m altitude, and is often used as a stage in the Tour de France. Consequently it's a good road so we had no problems getting up or down.

Sometimes I manage to get my selfies right!

Just past the Col in the ski village of La Mongie you can take a cable car up to the Pic du Midi observatory perched atop a mountain at 2,877m altitude. Thanks to my bravery riding the Devon Eye I had no problems riding the two cable cars to the top; I loved every minute, including when the car rocked occasionally! The views from the top are superb and in places we were looking down on the clouds. This day was the highlight of my trip. I also have a much better head for heights now when we are driving up and down the mountain roads (or maybe it's because K goes slower than he would in the car), although I still get occasional vertigo.

Our last day in the mountains we did the walk to the Cirque de Gavarnie. There is an amazingly high waterfall at the end (not in this picture). After a much tougher walk than I had imagined, about 5km mostly uphill on a rough track, we made it to the cafe where we ate our picnic lunch. I declined the further walk to the base of the waterfall. I know when I've had enough, and I'm jolly glad we did this walk at the end of our trip when I was considerably fitter than at the beginning. The scenery all around Gavarnie is stunning and we spent our last night in an aire up above the town with mountain views on all four sides - just spectacular.

All too soon it seemed, it was time to say goodbye to the mountains. This though, was the first day that we saw the Pyrenees with no cloud cover somewhere!

And as the Law of Sod would have it, our journey the last but one day was with skies like this all the way, until we neared the coast in Charente Maritime where the clouds from nowhere appeared and enveloped us. Our final day driving home was in pouring rain (and traffic jams), until we got near Rennes, when it stopped. Home was dry - not good for my poor dry garden but great for unloading. Mary Moho is now back in her cupboard and I miss her. We could happily have stayed away longer and that is the plan for next spring.... watch this space!

(Oh and two out of three cats were all over me the moment we got home, Harry, however, took a whole week to forgive me.)