Laruns, France – July 16, 2011
Today my family rode the Stage 13 route of the Tour de France…while I drove them! We left Pau, France and drove to the small town of Lacq. From there we headed to Monein. Just outside of Monein we began the first climb, Cote de Cuqueron. We stopped along the way so I could take some photos. The views were gorgeous! On many of the hills, grapes were growing. While Leslie and I stood outside all we could hear was a rooster crowing in the distance. We both commented on how peaceful it would be to retire there.
We got back in the 4Runner and drove to Lasseubetat and then Rebenacq. After leaving that town, Leslie remarked that she would like to stop in one of the villages to shop and experience more than just riding through the countryside. So, at random, we stopped in the town of Laruns. Much to our surprise, there was an open-air market in progress in the town square. We did a little shopping and then decided to have lunch. We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant called Fleur de Sel (flower of salt), located at 4 Place de la Mairie.
At the restaurant, for water, the server brought us a fish-shaped bottle. Leslie fell in love with it and asked to buy the bottle. The server, who turned out to be one of the owners, said he would have to check with his wife. The wife turned out to be the chef. The owner returned to our table and said he had checked with his wife. He then told Leslie she could just have the bottle. At about that time, the wife came to the table too. We thanked her profusely. When we paid the bill, we left a substantial tip to show our thanks for their kindness.
For lunch, Tyler and I had a crepe that was filled with ground beef, sauteed onions, and an over-easy egg. Wow! I have never had anything remotely like that! It was incredibly delicious! After we finished, we began our climb to the summit of Col d’Aubisque.
Leaving Laruns, we began our climb into the Pyrenees to the Col d’Aubisque. Laruns is at 499 meters (1,637 feet). The Col d’Aubisque is at 1,709 meters (5,606 feet), a vertical climb of 1,210 meters (3,969 feet). Some of the climbs were at as much as a 14% grade! I was not certain my 4Runner was going to make it! I cannot imagine riding a bike up that.
We were in and out of a heavy fog all the way to the summit. That made for some very challenging photography.
When we got to the summit we found there were a couple of buildings that were selling tourist souvenirs, drinks, and food. Needless to say, we bought a few things, including our refrigerator magnet! We also saw numerous wild horses. They did seem to be fairly tame. They were large, stocky horses. Because of the fog, the scene was quite surreal.
I was taken aback by finally standing at the hallowed ground of the Tour de France, at the Col d’Aubisque. Standing at the summit, I could recall the many times I witnessed the famed climb while watching the Tour in the United States. Watching the Tour is something I have religiously done annually since the early 1980s. Over that time, I have seen one finish at the summit and marveled at 17 climbs over the summit. To actually be standing there was nearly overwhelming for me.
All counted, this spot in the Pyrenees has featured in 46 of the past Tours de France!
Both on the climb and on the descent, we were shocked by how narrow the road is, even though it is a two-way road, as evidenced by a center stripe on the pavement. However, when we passed oncoming vehicles, my right side tires were often off of the pavement.
On the way down we saw several cows. We could hear their cowbells as we drove along. Once we made it down to the valley, we made a beeline to Lourdes and then back to our apartment in Pau. We head back to Madrid tomorrow.