The Cave cooperative
Cave cooperatives can be literally translated into cooperative cellar; the small grape producers bring their grapes to the cooperative where they are weighted, tested, etc, and transformed into wine; the producer is either paid with money or gets his wine and the cooperative sells on his behalf, but most of wines have the label cave cooperative.
The cave cooperative is found at the entrance of the village of Gan on the right side and there are signs which you cannot miss (big bottles, huge barrels on the road side.
Many wine producers are associated in a cooperative collecting the grapes and elaborating the wine. There are two types of Jurançon white wine . . .
The dry Jurançon, is generally sold in elongated bottles, but classical Bordeaux-type bottles are also uysed; this dry wine is made of grapes picked early in autumn (end September-beginning October). It has some nice fresh flower perfumes generally, but varies a lot from one producer to the other and at the cave cooperative they make different blends (cuvees) . This dry wine must be drunken chilly and goes best with seafood, or as aperitif.
The sweet Jurançon is the best known, and has very many types. The grapes are picked from October to January (some call it ice wine) and give a heavy much flavoured wine with tastes of apricot or mango. It is in the area the beverage of kings as the legend (some say it is not a legend, it is true!) says the future king Henri IV was given some drops of this wine when he was born, so he had wine before even his first drop of milk.
The wine can be drunk at any occasion, preferably chilled, at aperitif, with foie gras (fat goose or duck liver, local speciality) and as a desert wine.
You can freely taste wine at the shop on the side of the cave cooperative, and the competent people there explain the different types of wine, how they are elaborated, what and when to drink, and of course you can buy wine there. Of course I do not taste wine when I am biking.. . . .
- Wine Tasting
Spend some time to visit the village of Gan
Spend some time to visit the village of Gan, a bastide, typical south western France village
Ah, what is a bastide: it is a “settlement” where houses are built around a square place; the houses have generally arches on the basement floor where the shopkeepers can display their goods; on the external side of the village there are often defensive walls and the village has entrances guarded by towers. Not a lot of this middle age lay out is kept in Gan.
Leaving the cave cooperative, if you are still able to drive(!), after 500 m you arrive at Gan; take the road on the left of the fork at the village entrance .
More about bastides on this link of the Bordeaux University:
Gan is a quiet village with old houses built of white or grey stones; by bike, you can enter through the North tower gate (picture 1) , I am not sure the roads is two-way. Then you go ahead and can look at houses, like the one on picture 2 where the tower is in fact the staircase leading to the first floor of the house. Just after on the left is the city hall (picture 3) , other blond stone houses are worth a look (picture 4) , and then you reach the church (picture 5) which will be described in the next tip.
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This village on km 21 is located on a small path from where you have a broad view over the Ossau valley to the south. The road sign still tell you are 33 km from the col d’Aubisque. . .
For a short visit, you can park your bike (your car) on a little parking place just left (looking south) at the circulation lights; then, go down the small street to the west and there are some old houses (Pictures2 and 3)., with heavy doors along a narrow street; this street goes a little bit down and a sign on the left indicates the church; unfortunately this church is generally closed and you can only see the church tower from outside. This tower (Picture1). with its square onion shaped roof is another typical “renovation” result of those frenetic renovation actions in the French village towers. Ah, yes, if you travel in France you may notice that in the villages many little churches have he roof of their towers completely renovated in generally an ugly ready-made-to style, which probably has not a lot in common with what was there before. Well, but may be this is better than no roof at all.
The church is surrounded by private properties and it is not easy to have other views of it; It is possible to have a look at the church from another angle, but you have to go south on a little road and then climb over a fence in a meadow and walk uphill for 200m. On the path, looking south, you can see what is awaiting you (Picture4).
I do not know the restaurant you can see on the picture with the road signs.
- Arts and Culture
Rebennacq village, like Gan traversed previously, is also a bastide which has been built in the 12th century. Small houses with porches and arcades, and the chuch may be worth a stop.
The church was open when I was here last time (oct2006) and it is possible to visit the church during day time.
It is a quite recent religious building (1869) and its style is not well defined, general roman but in a light style, with open buttresses. Bearnaise style for the roof with campaniles on top (Picture1)..
Inside the painting behind the altar, and the stained glass windows are worth a look, displaying male saints on one side of the choir and female saints on the other side .St Christopher, St John the Baptist (Picture2)., bless the visitor and Mary and the other saint (Picture3). are featured as queens. Look at the strange Moresque - Turkish style buildings in the upper part of all four windows. Like for Gan, the craftsman was Maumejan.
This village has even a website where lots of information about the village, short hikes around, local craft industry, lodging, etc can be retrieved.
- Arts and Culture
All villages have their charm
On the road up the Gave d’Ossau valley, you may go across many small villages located either on the the riverbanks or on the slopes of the hills. I may add more descriptions when I go back and think the make some pictures. . . . Just after Louvie-Juzon, the valley narrows, where the gave carved out his way in the limestone foothills; there are spectacular views of the gave in this little village.
Then, on Km 30, you will see the tower of the Castet castle (Picture 1); a little road going across a bridge allows to visit the village and have a look at the castle.
2 km further, on the right side sit the village of Bilheres (Picture 2), on flank of a moraine hill; there a road goes to the Col de Marie Blanque, a first category pass in the Tour de France race. Two km more and you will see the high cliff above the village of Beon; the cliff is called Falaise aux vautours (Picture 3) (vulture cliff), and you can see these majestic birds circling above the mountains. an information center and a small ecotourism museum is located at the feet of the cliff (http://www.falaise-aux-vautours.com/index.phtml ); in this museum, also displaying local traditional crafts , posters and videos about wildlife, you will see the vultures , their nests their chicks at the right season, thanks to video cameras strategically placed on top of the cliff and around. The people working there know the birds by their name. . .
Then, Aste-Beon, Gere-Belesten, Beost (special mention in next tip) and Assouste (Picture 4) on the right bank. The setting of all these villages is picturesque and I cannot choose which one is the most beautiful.
In all these villages (Picture 5), there is possibility for lodging but reservations have to be made in advance; best is to ask at the Laruns Tourist office (see Laruns tip)
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Les Eaux Bonnes
Aaaaaaah, finally, I arrive at the small thermal resort of Les Eaux Bonnes (the good waters).
This is a tiny village (450 permanent residents) which displays a typical 19th century resort architecture; a wide central square with high buildings around and a bit further big villas and of course the casino.
Two springs are used nowadays; one the old spring (vieille source)comes at 44°C; the other coming at 13°C is called source froide (cold spring). The properties of the Eaux Bonnes waters are known since Roman occupation in the 2nd century A.D.and are since know for therapeutic use in rheumatology and airways (lungs, bronchus. . . ) diseases.
The casino is open during the summer when clients of the bathes are there.
I had a coffee and croissants at the café shown on Picture4.; biking opens appetite and I bike without hurry, and prepare for the last 12 km steep climb.
The main picture shows the village as it appears when you arrive, Picture2. is taken from the high side of the village. The casino with its Moresque style (Picture3). looks a bit strange here, between the snow capped mountains.
If you want to loose some money at the casino, or more simply enjoy the fresh air of this place there is a tourist office in Les Eaux Bonnes: http://www.tourisme.fr/office-de-tourisme/les-eaux-bonnes.htm Tel: 05.59.05.33.08 where it is possible to make reservations for a stay or for any information.
- Arts and Culture
This is a tiny typical béarnaise village, with stone houses, narrow streets, small gardens. . . As it is on a hill the houses built on the slope have often a porch, with the street going under the porch (Picture2). Of course, like in most villages, there is a church; there was one already in the 12th century, but the building we see now has been built in the 16th century . I would call it a “massive gothic” building, with these buttresses (Picture3)., and small narrow windows (probably younger than the original walls). The church was closed when I was there, I could only look at the entrance door where the sculptures are covered with chicken wire. The clock tower is a very massive one (Picture4)., and the general style of this building has a military purpose: buttresses, massive tower with an embrasure and small windows. This church was a rest place for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella, and in the 16th century, people were still using churches as a shelter in case of unrest, brigandage, which happened a lot in Bearn, the robber gangs hiding in the nearby mountains. It is quite relaxing to have a short walk in that kind of village have a look at the roofs (Picture1). , or find some nice perspectives (Picture5).
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Leaving Pau on the RN 134
When you leave Pau southwards you pass the . . . Henri IV bridge, crossing over the Gave and follow the main road; the road if flat, it is easy to go fast ahead, and just have a glimpse left to the castle (picture 1) and right to the river banks (picture 2) where Tony Estanguet twice Olympic gold medal on slalom canoe uses to train. after the bridge is the “Croix du Prince area”, left and right not so nice buildings you are on a hurry to leave for the mountains you can see on the skyline between the buildings (picture 3). Then an industrial and commercial area, where the traffic is dense (picture 4) and you have to take care of the cars (they usually do not take care of you!) until the first hills on the road sides just spoils the view. Getting out you see the first vineyards and the signs (picture 5) indicating the directions for the chateaux were they are produced.
The cheese “factory” of Jurançon
It is not possible to visit the “cheese factory”, and Jurançon is much better known for its wines than for its cheese, but about wine, it will be in another tip. Two kilometres after having left the circular road around Pau you will see on your left, the cheese factory: big inox tanks, trucks unloading milk . . . well not a very nice view if you think (picture 4) of food, but go straight to the little shop at the entrance of the factory. There, lots of milk products are sold, of which is the famous “Chaumes” (picture 2) a soft cheese, and the Etorki, an industrial version of the Basque and béarnaise sheep cheese. There are lots of others (picture 3) but I call them “plastic cheese” and by far prefer to buy and eat traditional cheeses I will tell about later when we will be higher in the valley. The steel containers and the trucks do not really call for appetite. . .
Before the serious climb begins
Before the serious climb begins, better to have a rest in Laruns.
This is the main village of the upper Ossau Valley; the general view on picture 1 shows it is where the real mountain begins; it is at the junction of several creeks which merge as the “Gave d’Ossau”. it is a small resort, winter and summer and this village has kept a very rural character. If you happen to visit it early morning or in the evenings in Summer, the smell of cattle and their leftovers will enchant your senses. The traditional market on Saturdays (which I happened to visit when going skiing, buying ham, sausage, cheese, etc) is very lively. Picture 2 shows that in the upper side of the village the houses begin to get a “resort style”.
As we are close to the mountains, the ham they do here is wonderful, and two very well known (at least in Bearn) pork butchers just keep the tradition. Lahourate (Picture 3) does not make a lot of show-off, but for me he is the best, by far. another one of them (Picture 4) adds a bit of fun on his show window and what is written there in Bearnaise, means “the son of a b***”, which here is not that offensive as in other places, or may be it is only meant for tourists. . . ?
Well, in Laruns is a tourist office (Picture 5) and if you intend to stay around it is here where you may get the best info. There is accommodation possibility from hotel to homestay. Important to know, is that Laruns can be a base camp for skiers gong either west (my biking tour) to the Gourette ski resort or take the road south (direction Col du Pourtalet, Spain) and go to the Artouste-Fabrege ski fields; these two places can be reached by car from Laruns within 20-30 mn.
And now the serious biking begins. . . . .
- Arts and Culture
The road near Rebennacq
If you want to bike in the area (not only “my” tour), you must be aware the road conditions are very changing. There are wide roads with tracks for cyclists like on Picture2, but on other places the road is narrow and the car drivers do not really take care of cyclists; I even experienced a car which prevented me from overtaking when going downhill; he spotted me in the mirror and then “made his best” I could not overtake, he probably was angry a bike could go faster than him. So I waited till downhill and then, of course he went away. . . Best is to take your time and look at the houses and castles on the road side. (Picture1). and even take your time to make some pictures (Picture4). on the roadside, as for instance these typical Pyrenean sheep; in herds of sheep there is always a black one, and that reminds me how life is beautiful when there are breaks in uniformity. . . .ah and (Picture5).reminds you you are entering in the area where bears used to live; the French government re-introduced some recently from Slovenia, but the local shepherds and hunters are against and I am not sure the bears will have a long life in the Pyrenees.
Café at Gourette ski resort before the last climb
Leaving les Eaux Bonnes the road gets steeper and steeper and goes through dense woods (Picture1).; the view sometimes opens and you see the next stop , far above a car parking (Picture2).; this parking is for the cars of people who go skiing for one day in Gourette; generally, if you go for one day you have to park there and buses take you up to the ski station.
Fierce mountains surround this ski resort (Picture3). (I will describe it separately in another page),where most of the ski tracks are on north face, making it a bit a “technical” station, having to ski quite often on ice.
Café Igloo (Picture4). for a last café on this trip, good to have some warm beverage fefore getting to the cold and windy summits.
and the road again (Picture5).. . .
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Pedalling slowly uphill you have plenty of time to look at flowers, here a yellow Tussilage (Tussilago Farfara, bull’s foot) (Picture 1), very tiny and elegant; amateur botanists or simply flower lovers can find lots of flowers in the Pyrenees, and a special field book is necessary for many of the endemic flowers (Tussilago is of course very widespread).The blue spring gentian (Gentiana verna) (Picture 2) is quite common, but I never get bored looking at them, so I had to be careful on the bike. And the campanules (Picture 3), other blue flower, growing on the road side; was a good idea to grow there: I had a reason to stop to admire it and make a picture, so I could have a rest for 5 mn! and biking again, just looking at the snow-capped mountains (Picture 4) gives courage to reach the top which is now close. .
- Arts and Culture
Eglise St Jean
This church has a typical clock tower for the Bearn area, with the clock case fixed above the onion shaped roof. At the entrance of the church is a mosaic, part of a memorial for the victims and heroes of WWI displaying the symbols of Gan (picture 2): the bearnese cows and the gloves (gan(t) means clove in French).
The wooden ceiling makes me understand why the central part of the church is called the ship. (picture 3)
The stained glass windows are recent ones from the beginning of the end 19th - beginning 20th centuries, from the well known (locally at least) Atelier Mauméjean workshop; local or more universal saints are on display as well as biblical scenes. On (picture 5) St Etienne , the first Christian martyr, who had St Paul among his torturers before he this last one found his way on the road to Damascus (well, I learned it when visiting the church, I am not a Christian scholar)
- Arts and Culture
The Col d’Aubisque.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaah, finally, we are on top; I forgot to take a picture of the café on the pass; there is a parking, a café, place for four-wheeled people to have a rest too, because driving up in the curves might not be totally relaxing!
Anyway, I could enjoy the view towards East, on the Arrens valley and see the Pic du Midi de Bigorre (Picture 2), skyline under the cloud.
The snowfields on Picture 3 seldomly fully melt during summer; I love to look at the mountains, the snow, the flowers and that was a nice ride!
Hope you enjoyed!
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