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Trans-Pyrenees Trip late summer 2019

bvddobb

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Second leg: 'green route' through the French nature reserves (part 3)

The Cevennes are a bit higher, rougher, dryer, with more 'maquis' shrubbery in stead of trees. The Grand Causes have an even more mountainous look and can have lots of snow in winter. You see those large poles along the roads, and a ski resort here and there, quiet in Summer. Here we were sometimes enshrouded in clouds:









to be continued
 
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Second leg: 'green route' through the French nature reserves (part 4)

Coming down through the Haute Languedoc the environment is more habitable again. Still somwhat high up, not so hot yet, one sees signs of agricultural activity again, small hils with yellow grassy dales in between, and the reappearance of trees:







And then finally one enters the real mediterranean area, with vines, olive trees, cypress and pine. All in all, a beautiful tour!

And thus, Wednesday 21/9, we arrive in Collioure...
 
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Second leg: 'green route' through the French nature reserves (addendum)

Along the way we found some very nice, charming, small farm or municipal camp sites of the type we love: no canteen, no white whales, no swimming pool, no bingo, no crowds, no animation teams...:

Le Pré du Moulin, Lalouvesc:



La Besorgue d'Ardeche, Aizac:



La Barette, Col de Finiel:



Mas d'Arbousse, Salvagnac, where the goat farmer told us this was the busiest night this year:



 
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Third leg: flight to the mountains...

...and thus we arrived in Collioure...

What a disaster! All clichés about filled-to-the-brim Mediterranean sea resorts were proven true, here. Unbearably hot, noisy, busy, jammed with traffic and agitated sunburnt people, more noise, overflowing camp sites, every square inch packed with tents, cars, caravans and big whites, with hardly a meter of space between them: a downright awful place!
We phoned a few campsites in the near vicinity all the same, but all were fully booked, even at their outrageous prices.

So, we looked at each other, opened the CamperContact app and looked for a place at least an hour-and-a-half's drive from the coast, in the mountains somewhere, and drove there.

Thus, Thursday 22/9 found us at a Spanish campsite in the lower Pyrenees, that happens to be right on the Vibraction trackbook route (see our inspiration map in the top of this thread).

We take a rest day. There are just Spanish and Dutch people here. Today, the campsite is slowly emptying itself: most Dutch people are packing in to return home, because they have to return to work on Monday. Tomorrow, more will leave, we see them packing here and there. Also some Spaniards are leaving. We don't see any newcomers.

And so, the swimming pool is nearly empty. While one of us takes a swim...



...the other works the travel blog!

 
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Third leg: flight to the mountains...

...and thus we arrived in Collioure...

What a disaster! All clichés about filled-to-the-brim Mediterranean sea resorts were proven true, here. Unbearably hot, noisy, busy, jammed with traffic and agitated sunburnt people, more noise, overflowing camp sites, every square inch packed with tents, cars, caravans and big whites, with hardly a meter of space between them: a downright awful place!
We phoned a few campsites in the near vicinity all the same, but all were fully booked, even at their outrageous prices.
Ha ha ha.

After being shagged out after cycling over 28 mountain passes in nine days, I was looking forward to relaxing on the French Mediterranean coast. But it was so hideous that after spending one night there we fled over the Pyrenees once more on our bikes and found a rather nice coastal town on a northern Spanish peninsular. Cadaques - a Spanish gem.

Now lovingly recreated in China!
 
bvddobb

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Fourth leg: mountain tracks from East coast to Andorra

Monday, 26/9
. We have had several days of mountain tracks now, following the Vibraction trackbook (blue route on our inspiration map in the top of this thread. They have been wonderful days!

Most of the tracks were not too difficult a drive. Especially those in the official nature reserves were relatively easy. Outside those reserves they were somewhat more demanding, in one case we decided to 'abort' (see above, about the fifth stage of the Vibraction routes). But stage 6 and 7 were OK, only the last part of stage 7 was rather demanding. On the descent we had lots of large rocks and washed out gullies and then one would wish one had somewhat larger wheels than our 16 inches, even with the larger AT's we have on... It asked for some very careful steering but we came down unscathed!
Slowly, slowly, ever more slowly... :cool:

The surroundings are just beautiful! We put together a little slide show to give an impression:


Today we have a rest day again at a lovely small camp site:



We took a small hike up the mountain this morning, and will be heading for Andorra tomorrow!
 
bvddobb

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Fifth Leg: Andorra to Aragon

Tuesday 27/8.
Andorra was a bit of a disappointment. The main valley is just very busy, filled with ugly buildings, shopping malls, petrol stations, hotels and banks (it is a tax haven, after all). The odd free plot of land is for sale at…: Sotheby’s!! But the high valleys, and especially the little used pass of Port de Cabús to Tor in Spain in the West should be worthwhile to visit.

But here we banged into the limitations posed by mass tourism. The road up to Port de Rat: closed from 08:30 till 17:00. The only way to get up there is to use the expensive cable car up. Queuing with approx. 100 Chinese to get an expensive ticket and then again for a ride… Not!

The way up to Port de Cabús: closed. The road is in too bad a condition, they say. We don’t mind that, but here the locals are fed up with hauling down stuck rental cars every day, so they took a radical measure: total closure. No passage to Tor in Spain, anymore.

So, eventually, after a night at a campsite just North of Ordina, we decided to take the whole long ugly road South back to where we came from, leave Andorra, and drive West on the N-260 (the ‘Route 66’ of the Spanish Pyrenees, quite a lovely drive, actually) to visit the high valleys approaching the French/Spanish border crest (the ‘purple route’ on our inspiration map in the top of this thread).

Yet once there we encounter similar issues. We set up camp in Espot, to drive up to the Parc d’Aigüestortes the next day, to take a hike there. Half way up: road closed! The only way to go up is to walk or to take an expensive mountain taxi. Afterwards we see that more often. We learn that if in a village at the entry of a valley you see a bunch of old white Defenders huddled together, you are not allowed to drive up yourself.

So, no hike, but we drive a beautiful piste through the Parc de l’Alt Pineu, through the Vall del Noguera Pallaresa, passing the old monastery of Montgarri, to Puerto de Beret. A very nice piste, not too difficult, right through the bear habitat (we don’t see any). This piste is NOT closed! But as a result, contrary to all our pistes in the East thus far, terribly busy. Motorists, cyclists in all sorts (whole three-generation families, tour groups), and all sorts of cars. At one point we get stuck behind a 2WD T4 Exclusive that has driven one rear wheel into a gully so that one of the front wheels hangs in the air, spinning idly… With the help of a few passing cyclists we manage to push to car out of the gully and we can continue.

We move on to the Valle de Benasque, hoping to be able to drive up there and hike in the Parc de Postes-Maladeta. We camp on a nice, shady campsite just north of Benasque. To find the next day: one can’t drive up to the hut anymore. If you want to go there you have to park in Benasque and take the mandatory bus up… The same story: people queuing at bus stops, parking overflowing, just awful.

Friday 30/8. We’ve had more than enough of the crowds and the limitations put upon us (perhaps it is better late September) and decide to leave the ‘purple route’ and the higher valleys for what they are and go ‘down’ again to the French ‘blue route’. 30 mins later we have left all the crowds, vultures are circling in the air above us and we are driving along beautiful pistes again, passing deserted and dilapidated villages and churches on mountain tops. We encounter only one other car that afternoon, a German couple in a Landcruiser with a roof tent who overtake us on the piste. Again a bit jealous of the larger wheels…

And thus we enter Aragon!

We have put together another little slide show impression of this leg:

 
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Yesterday we had a resting day on the totally deserted campsite of Nocito in the Sierra de Guara (the night before: one Landy on the same route as ours, the next night one Subaru 4x4 Estate on the same route), and we did a hike nearby to the source of one of the little streams here. And on the way we encountered this natural swimming pool:



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bvddobb

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Sixt Leg: Of Canyons and Vultures

We camp near La Puebla de Roda, in order to visit Roda de Isábena the next day, a little city on a hilltop that has managed to preserve its romanesque air very well. The campsite is nearly deserted, except for a few motorcycle enthusiasts. We soon learn why: BMW has set up a test and enduro training centre on this campsite. A new experience, motorcycle talk in the pub.

Roda de Isábena is very much worth the detour. Built on a hilltop, once the seat of the local count and bishop, who could oversee the whole county and diocese from here because it is a sort of high plain amidst a ring of still higher mountains. The cathedral church and adjacent abbey are very special: seldom have we seen the various stages of extension and building styles through the ages so clearly visible and well preserved as here, from early romanesque through late-gothic, all in one building.

We go a little to the South again, to resume our ‘blue’ route. Over beautiful but sometimes difficult tracks we drive to Liguerre de Cinca to spend the night there. There we misunderstand the directives the campsite gave us about where to pitch our van. As soon as we have set up camp, all around us the sprinklers start spraying the grass… We get a free car wash, much to Marga’s dismay!

Our trackbook next takes us into the Parc Natural de la Sierra y los Cañones de Guara. The tracks entering the park are very challenging: steep climbs, big rocks, deep gullies, we find our van can walk stairs! After this training we would easily climb and descend the Spanish Steps in Rome with it! Once in the park the tracks and roads are beautiful and an easy drive and the surroundings are just beautiful. Over the centuries the rivers have dug big, deep canyons into these mountains. A bit like Arizona’s Grand Canyon. In these canyons, on the steep walls, nest many vultures. It is very quiet here and we have all the time to take in the natural beauty and photograph the vultures.

In this park we camp on the small campsite of Nocito, a small, sleepy community where one family seems to run the show: they manage the campsite, the little café and restaurant and the little grocery shop.

We decide to have a rest day and do some hiking around Nocito the next day. The first night there is just us and an English couple in a Landrover, whom we had met already earlier this week. They are doing the same trackbook route as we are, and they marvel at the off-road capacities of our van, driving these tracks, something we have seen before with Landrover people… “Didn’t know they made them like this…”. They stop here, their holiday time is up, tomorrow they drive from here to Santander to take the ferry back. The second night there is just us and two French women in a Subaru 4x4 estate who do the same route, but then in the other direction as we.

The next day we have a hike up a valley, following a little stream to its source on the flanks of the Guara, the highest mountain in this park. Along the valley we come across this beautiful natural swimming pool (see the entry above). Beautiful little place, but very cold water!

After this we have only one day of mountains left, really, but a wonderful route again. First on quiet backroads and the last bit on a beautiful high track, which, after a somewhat challenging first kilometer, is an easy drive. It passes the Mirador de los Buitros (more vultures!) and stays up high all the way to the Castillo de Loarre. We stay on the beautiful campsite there, eat a very good, very low priced meal in the campsite restaurant, to visit the castle the next day. One is on the very edge of the Pyrenees here, like on a balcony high up, overlooking the plain of Huesca, deep into Aragon.

From here we will go slowly down and South towards the Bardenas Reales. We encounter a few very difficult tracks again, perhaps the most challenging yet, this trip. They are no fun, actually: all through forests with little else to see than trees and leading nowhere than to other challenging tracks through forests with nothing else to see than trees. Perhaps nice for real hardcore off-roaders, but not our cup of tea, so we decide to leave them and turn to ‘normal’ backroads to drive to the Bardenas. Marga is a crack in finding nice little roads on the map, and they are very beautiful as well!

Here an impression of this leg:

 
bvddobb

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Seventh Leg: Navarra and the Bardenas Reales

We enter Navarra and we see the landscape changing slowly. More flat, a lot warmer and looking a lot dryer to our eyes.



Yet we see endless acres of grain (where all the grain has been harvested already). The secret seems to be the numerous irrigation works around, lots of small canals and acquaducts everywhere you look. The irrigation tradition is old, here. We stumble across some archeologists at work in unearthing the remains of a rather large roman settlement, complete with Forum, temples, shops, bath houses and (of course) remnants of a large acquaduct.







Wednesday 4/9 we camp in some sort of green oasis near an artificial lake on Camping Bolaso near Ejea de los Caballeros (sounds like something from a spaghetti-western).

We probably expected too much of the Bardenas Reales. It is a somewhat peculiar, desertlike environment, reminding us of Arizona/Texas/Mexico. Did they film parts of the famous Sergio Leone westerns here? Strangely shaped hills through wind erosion, and deep washed out gullies or small canyons, even. Beautiful in most places, but not really a desert: there are lots of grain fields everywhere, still.

And the natural park is rather small, actually, a bit like the Hoge Veluwe in The Netherlands, and very touristy. Basically, there is just one ring road through it, surrounding the (unaccessible) military area in the middle (we did witness some nice fighter jet maneouvers!) and on it drive a whole parade of big whites and would-be desert vehicles that one encounters twice, once on each half of the ring. A bit surreal.









On the West, in Arguedas, there are some peculiar remnants of rock dwellings left, carved out in the chalk rich hillside. A bit like the pueblos in the US.




 
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Eight Leg: through Navarra back to the Pyrenees and France

Leaving the Bardenas area on Thursday 5/9 we turn North again to slowly return to the Pyrenees and eventually France. Just outside Arguedas we have coffee and cake in a local bar to celebrate Marga’s birthday. We’ll see whether we can dine out somewhere tonight.

The ‘blue route’ slowly takes us back North on a combination of back roads and easy pistes. At one point we notice many vultures in the air (must be a 100) coming our way and landing somewhere in front of us. We try to get closer and find some stable, next to which many vultures land and sit on a little hill top, and also on the roof of the stable. We can’t see exactly what is going on, but there must be some offal or dead animal there. It is impressive from how far off they notice there is something to be had here. Or are they fed here regularly, perhaps?

Slowly we come into a more mountainous area again, we take a break near some old pilgrim’s church and lodgings (totally dilapidated, now) and end up on Camping Iturbero in Lumbier. We have dinner in the camping restaurant for Marga’s birthday, but is is a bit awkward: we are the only diners there.

Next to us on the campsite is an older couple with an enormous and totally equipped off-road beast of a car: safari awning, roof tent, snorkel, winches fore and aft, radio-antennae, aggressive tyres, high-legged, names and blood types of the inhabitants marked on the doors, everything! All very white, very clean and obviously very new. Also to the couple, it seems: they take hours to set up camp and to break up again the next morning, all the time arguing loudly.

Friday 6/9 we start with a walk up the Foz de Lumbier, a local canyon with its own vulture population. It is a beautiful little canyon and an easy walk, following an old railway track through the canyon with a tunnel on the entrance and exit. At the exit is a nice little piece of ‘via ferrata’ to an old bridge, now collapsed.

That afternoon we set out for the last stretches of piste of the blue route, that will take us via Fabrica de Orbaitzeta to Seant-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, where this route officially ends. And then, on the one-but-last stretch of piste, we wreck our left rear tyre… We notice it on the little stretch of normal road between Orbaitzeta and Fabrica de Orbaitzeta, from where the last piste is to take us across the border to France. Shit!

Well, we have done so many bad pistes this trip on this set of tyres (which we have had since our Iceland trip in 2016 and were supposed to be renewed next season, anyway) that it is not so weird that one gives up. And we have our spare on the back, after all! But now comes the really shameful thing: with our gear, we can’t get our wheel nuts loose! We have a wrench of half a meter, Bart gets on it with his full weight of 75 kg, altogether producing some 365 Nm of torque, which should be enough, but no: no movement in any of the nuts… So, we called in for road assistance… We don’t feel very confident: a late Friday afternoon, South of Europe, weekend beginning, somewhere on a mountain top in the Pyrenees… But after some time, lo, here comes an enormous lorry with a mechanic who gets a wrench from his toolbox, tries it, than gets a bigger wrench, tries it, then an even bigger wrench still, and then an additional piece of pipe, and yes, off they come! Then, with his garage jack, the job is finished in 10 minutes. The spare wheel is on, and the wheel with the damaged tyre sits on the back of the van.

Now we need to think hard. It is Friday evening. Before Monday there is no way we can get the damaged tyre repaired. And without a spare we don’t want to venture onto the last stretch of piste, which is reputedly bad. It feels like defeat, but we decide not do any pistes until we have the tyre repaired, and confine ourselves to normal roads until then. Before, we had toyed with the idea to visit the Picos de Europa from here, before returning home. But where we can see ourselves discussing in French with French tyre shop staff about the repair, we don’t see ourselves do that in our non-existent Spanish in Spain. So we decide to weave our way to somewhere in the Bordeaux area over the weekend and try and find a tyre repair shop on Monday in Bordeaux, somewhere.

So, we descend from the mountain looking for a campsite, which we find in Ochagavia, on Camping Ozate. That night the wind gets very strong.

Saturday 7/9 we return to France via de Puerto de Larrau. A beautiful stretch of mountain road with great views and clear sight, thanks to the high wind and low temperature, which has dropped to some 10 degrees Celsius. On the pass we decide to make a little hike along the border crest to a nearby top. With knitted cap, gloves and windbreaker jacket on! Here one finds traces of recent history: little wooden pill boxes all along the crest where Guardia Civil soldiers guarded the border during the Basque ETA troubles.

It is weekend and beautiful weather, so we should have known… It gets very busy on these mountain passes! When we return from our walk, some men are building a party tent on the pass (not easy in the high winds..) preparing some fest, it seems. Going down, we find out what it is about: we encounter a bike race to the top, head on… The next pass, we run into herds of off-road fanatics of all sorts: mountain buggy’s, enduro motorbikes, jeeps, all racing up the mountain on various trial tracks, and down again, and hordes of onlookers, parked everywhere… We find the road we had planned to take is closed until 18:00 hrs, due to this festival. And then they will all return home again!

We decide to flee all this madness and return to the so much quieter Spain again by the first possibility. We end up on the campsite of Baztan. Pfew.

Sunday 8/9 we drive more or less straight to the dune area (what big dunes!) South-West of Bordeaux, partly on the péage. We find a beautiful camping spot on Camping Panorama du Pyla, right by the sea, with a beautiful view. Tomorrow, we will go looking for a tyre repair shop!

 
bvddobb

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Last stage: back home through France

Monday 10/9
we set out to search for a tyre repair shop that can either repair our tyre or deliver a new one within a day. A long story short: the tyre was beyond repair, and no-one had anything in stock nor could deliver anything in our size with two weeks. So, what we did for our Iceland trip was not so weird after all: bring an extra spare tyre for the case we would loose one, because ordering times would have ruined our trip. Next time we do a longer piste trip like this we will bring an extra tyre again!



After the umpteenth tyre shop we have had it and decide to start our journey home without a spare (is that even legal?) and just forget additional pistes. Just regular roads for the rest of the drive home!

We have another week and our idea is to drive right through the middle of France on D backroads again, visiting Oradour-sur-Glane, pass through the nature reserve of the Morvan, to the source of the Meuse river, and then follow that river home.

The first stretch, through the Bordeaux vineyards, is not so much to our liking. Industrial agricultural areas such as these do not make for the nicest landscapes… We are glad when we leave the region and the landscape starts to gently roll a bit again!



Oradour-sur-Glane is/was a small village in the Limousin of which nearly all 650 inhabitants were savagely murdered by the SS on June 10, 1944. The SS machine gunned all the men in small groups, drove the women and children into the church, and then set fire to the town and the church, burning all dead, wounded and dying, and all the women and children in the church. After the war the French decided to leave the village as it was, all in ruins, as a memorial to the massacre. One can now visit the town and walk among the ruins. Rather stunning.


We like the Morvan very much, again some sort of mix of Black Forest and Ardennes, friendly, green. We find many Dutch baby boomers have set up a permanent, second or holiday home here, managing a campsite or a gîte on the side.





We pass through it slowly, there are just too many nice camping, lunching and hiking spots… We will never reach the Meuse river in this tempo! So, we bend to the North before reaching the Meuse, to head home via the Champagne region and the Ardennes.



Friday 13/9 we try to find a campsite in the Champagne region and stumble onto a for us new development: most campsites and camper aires are more or less overflowing with East Europeans who are staying there while looking for harvesting work in the vineyards. They are also setting up gypsy-like wild campsites in fields here and there. We visit several campsites, but we can’t find a decent place until we have more or less left the Champagne. We end up next to Troyes.

Saturday 14/9 we drive through Great War territory towards the Ardennes.







We visit a series of memorials and some fields of honour and finally end up where we started, on Camping Spineuse in Neufchâteau. (this picture without spare tyre...)



We dine in the camping bistrot and Sunday 15/9 we make a straight motorway dash home.

Now we need to sticker the Spanish, Andorran, Catalan and Basque flags onto the back of the van! It has earned them!
 
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bvddobb

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But now comes the really shameful thing: with our gear, we can’t get our wheel nuts loose! We have a wrench of half a meter, Bart gets on it with his full weight of 75 kg, altogether producing some 365 Nm of torque, which should be enough, but no: no movement in any of the bolts…
The wrench one didn't know one needed, has arrived:

IMG_2635.JPG

3/4" truck wrench. It's in our salvage box, now! Glad we raised the total allowed mass of our van... :)
 
bvddobb

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OK, one last post in this thread: an overview of the actual route we did:

Schermafbeelding 2019-10-10 om 12.27.26.png
There is an interactive version of this Google Map available under this link.

We did a lot of the Vibraction roadbook routes, but not all. Those that we have done and thought worthwhile and not really difficult for a Syncro/4Motion van with AT-tyres are indicated in red.
If you are interested, we have attached a .zip-file to this post that holds the .gpx-files for these red stretches.
 

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Wesel

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OK, one last post in this thread: an overview of the actual route we did:

View attachment 51330
There is an interactive version of this Google Map available under this link.

We did a lot of the Vibraction roadbook routes, but not all. Those that we have done and thought worthwhile and not really difficult for a Syncro/4Motion van with AT-tyres are indicated in red.
If you are interested, we have attached a .zip-file to this post that holds the .gpx-files for these red stretches.
Thank you for this beautiful sharing. Those informations will be a source of inspiration for a future trip.
But for next year Norway is in preparation.
 
Wesel

Wesel

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A bit off topic here perhaps, but we also have this for you...



See this thread on this forum. We did a lot of mountain tracks that trip, we have the .gpx of those as well.
Maybe off topic, but certainly not out of interest. Thank you very much, I immediately jump on this topic.
 

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