Thursday, 25 August 2016

Not Quite Spain

Siant-Savin is really not very far from the Spanish border. There are ways across nearby. In the west, there is the Col du Pourtalet, and in the east, the tunnel near Aragnouet. Directly south of Argeles-Gazost, the roads get close to the border, but don't cross it. We rode one of these, the Cambasque, a couple of days ago. It has a partner, known as the Pont d'Espagne. This stone bridge spans the Gave de Marcadau, a torrent that falls from the Pyrenees in a series of waterfalls.

Pont d'Espagne
The entire area is very popular with tourists. There is a large car park at the end of the climb, and a cable car that takes visitors further up the mountain. It's about as close to Spain as you can get in this area.

Greg, Bianca, Denis and I decided to ride up, with Angela bringing the team car. The route involves traversing Pierrefitte, and then taking the road to Cauterets. When we last rode up this way, temperatures were already in the 30s celsius and rising. This time we were ahead of the sun, and we had shade for virtually the entire climb. The more moderate temperatures meant that we could appreciate the route, rather than hating every moment. It starts in a narrow gorge, with the road hugging the side. later it opens out, and just before Cauterets, it rises in a series of tight hairpin bends, which are reminiscent of Lombard Street in San Francisco.

The hairpin bends just below Cauterets
Soon afterwards, the outskirts of Cauterets are reached. It is quite a big town, with  a number of  'Quartiers', suburbs of houses. The centre of the town is the furthest up the mountain. A cable car leaves from here and takes visitors to the Cambasque.

Negotiating a traffic jam in Cauterets. A truck was unloading.
While we were working our way across Cauterets, we encountered a traffic jam. It turned out that a truck was blocking the road while it unloaded. Undaunted, we took to the pavement, avoiding pedestrians and shoppers as we performed the traffic jam slalom.

 Above Cauterets, the road kicks up and is quite steep all the way to the top. The only major settlement on the route is Cauterets La Raillère, which I quickly nicknamed 'Stink Town'. The foul smell of sulphur compounds is overwhelming on the way through. I hope this  is from the hot springs that have provided spas in the past, rather than the present day drains. Whatever the cause, it's not at all pleasant.

The road continues up with varying gradients, but always close to double figures. The shade and the ever present waterfalls made the whole experience bearable. Angela passed us within a few kilometres of the top, and we regrouped by the team car in the large car park. The bridge itself is only 150 metres or so beyond the parking area. Normally, this is not a problem. When you have a bike and are wearing cleats, drastic action is called for. Bianca and Denis went into cyclocross mode, albeit in their socks, while I remembered that my hiking boots were in the car. Looking rather unusual, we made our way up the trail to the bridge and the nearby cafe.

How cyclists visit a tourist attraction!
 It was worth it. The waterfalls of the Gave de Marcadau are superb.

The Gave de Marcadau near the Pont d'Espagne
They form a great backdrop for photos. Angela, now known as 'One shot wonder' for her ability to get a picture in one take, got this shot of Bianca and Denis.

Bianca and Denis at the Gave de Marcada
And Bianca got this one of us.

The two of us in the same spot

The moon is a daytime feature at the moment

Crepes Service

We decided that crepes would be in order after the ride. We managed to get some chocolate crepes and some bilbury crepes, which were excellent, accompanied with some of the worst customer service we've experienced. The waitress hurled them at us, explaining that it was her lunch break and that there wouldn't be anything else until she'd finished. Later, Angela interrupted her lunch to pay!

The ride up to Pont d'Espagne is available on Garmin Connect.

Back Home

We headed back to Saint-Savin, intending to get back before the heat of the day set in. We pretty much achieved that. The descent from Pont d'Espagne to Cauterets is actually pretty nice. The road surface is poor near the top, but improves lower down. The one way system around Stink Town is a little odd, but all in all, the ride down is pretty good. We had to negotiate lunch time shoppers in Cauterets, but then could return to fast descending. The switchbacks of 'Lombard Street' are a good challenge, and there are some sweeping sections too. And, wonder of wonders, I remembered to change the video battery, so we have footage of the descent.

The descent from Pont d'Espagne is available on Garmin Connect.

A Spot of Lunch and Some Shopping

After showering, we drove into Argeles-Gazost for a spot of lunch, and a little light shopping for things we need to take home. We can report that the duck, the salads and the Sangria were good, but that the Desperados beer (lager with a hint of Tequila) is best avoided. Oh, and some confusion during ordering meant that Bianca had a pizza delivered instead of the sandwich she had ordered. And that since sandwiches were only take away, she wasn't allowed to have the replacement panini until we were paying the bill. Is French Service an oxymoron?


  1. Fantastic blog. Really interested in your review of the ribble (as a fellow ribble rider) and the accommodation (as an.aspiring holiday maker)

  2. Thanks for your kind comments. Glad you like it.