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Tour Daze France Part 4 – The Pyrenees to Pau, France

By alison - December 1, 2006 (Updated: May 30, 2016)

This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series Tour Daze France 2006.
Not Montserrat but still pretty

Our drive from Barcelona to Pau was one of the most beautiful I have taken (Hmm, how many times have I said that recently?).

We said goodbye to Barcelona and headed into the mountains. We were quickly distracted from the highway by the scenery. In an attempt to find a good photography vantage point, we took a detour that started to lead us to Montserrat, a famous monastery in Catalonia.

We twisted up, up, up a craggy, jagged hillside and passed a small monastery which we mistook for Montserrat at first. As we passed it by, we saw more and more tour buses. Our journey ended at a tollbooth gate. It seems the monks have sold out, and by the look

One of many scenic stops made in the Pyrenees

of the queue of tour buses, they’re doing very well. The photos in the guidebook still make me want to visit, but there wasn’t time that day, as we had mountains to explore. We wound our way back down the cliff and onto the highway where we headed into the Pyrenees.

Our trip through the mountain range leaves me lost for words again. We saw tiny villages and snow-capped peaks. We twisted and turned through some breath-taking views. Oh, and we saw lots and lots of animals.

Remember when I said before that animal sightings were a theme of the trip? It started with a hungry kitty, trying desperately to share our lunch at a truck stop. After lunch I walked across the street to hear a sound that I absolutely love – cow bells:

When we hit the road again, it wasn’t long before we spotted a wizzled old shepherd (who was in reality probably only 40) and his sheep and goats at the roadside.

Note which side of the guardrail he’s on…

Further along the road, we slowed to a crawl behind a huge herd of cattle that were making their way to greener pastures for the winter in a lazy, cow-sort-of way.

Finally there were the horses. These were huge, heavy beasts with gentle faces, taking their time, as well, to cross (or just stand in) the road. These horses dotted the very highest mountains we traversed.

When we finally made it out of the mountains, we headed toward Pau and our destination for the evening – La Benjamine. Before I start gushing, let me explain what we were doing in Pau in the first place.

Way down in the valley.

Pau was the only stop on our trip that wasn’t dictated by a particular tourist destination (although the city itself is lovely) or because of its location on our way to someplace else. Pau was chosen because of its Nova Scotia connection.

A good friend of Helen and Bill has a son (well several sons and a daughter but it is one particular son we are interested in here) who married a lovely French girl. She gave Nova Scotia a go, but after her first winter was thinking that maybe it wasn’t for her (and I can’t say I blame her, especially after seeing where they live now). So they moved to Pau and had two lovely little babies and are in the process of building a (very Nova Scotian) log house. We wanted to drop in and bring them a bit of Nova Scotia.

So that brings us back to La Benjamine. When I was looking for places to stay in the Pau area, there weren’t a lot to choose from on-line. La Benjamine was consistently the highest rated and received glowing reviews. The reviewers were right.

If I was ever going to stay at a B & B, simply to be there and relax and pamper myself, it would be La Benjamine. The inn is a converted farm house that now houses 4 guest rooms, and is home to Cedric (a French chef), Dawn (an English florist) and Mamie (Cedric’s grandmother), oh and a very nice cat. The interior is warm and inviting and every last detail has been seen to. Our bed and bathroom were delicious.

The Kitchen of my dreams

Speaking of delish – the kitchen is to die for, as is Cedric’s cooking, which I’ll get to in a moment. But let me back up a bit…

We had a bit of trouble finding the B & B as it is not actually in Pau. We ended up calling and eventually found our way. We arrived late but were welcomed like long lost friends. Although we hadn’t booked ahead, Cedric offered to cook us supper that night. As we were tired and hungry and it would give us time to visit our friends the following day, we agreed.

We were shown our rooms and allowed to freshen up. Then we met Dawn in the living room for some lovely local wine. Cedric joined us with some amazing appetisers – including Mamie’s headcheese – which I ate… and liked! (If you don’t know what it is, I suggest you Google it.)

View from the B & B

After snacks, we retreated to the kitchen where we got to watch Cedric do his magic. The food was indeed magical but what made it all the more special was that Dawn and Cedric ate with us. They are absolutely charming and truly made the stay wonderful. After four courses and all the wine we could drink, we retired to our very comfy beds.

Fountain in Pau.

The next morning we slept late and were greeted with a breakfast of Cedric’s homemade yogurt, granola and breads. We explored the grounds of the farm and played with the cat in the garden. After a perfect start to the day, we headed in to Pau. As I said earlier, it is a charming town with a castle and the requisite narrow cobbled streets.

After we explored, we set off to meet our friends. We toured their beautiful home and played with their babies while everyone got caught up. Then we all hit the road to walk around the village. When we returned, we sampled more wine and feasted on an amazing Beef Bourguignon. After a lovely relaxing day, we said good-bye and headed back to our beds.

French joke on tourists

The following morning after another great breakfast, we loaded back in the car to head for the Dune du Pyla (which was recommended by both of the French citizens we dealt with in Pau. I am convinced that this is a joke the French play on tourists.)

This is a giant sand dune – which ok, is impressive until they tell you it’s manmade. Then they tell you to climb it, and you do because people have told you how interesting it is – and you believed them. So you elbow your way through all of the tourist-trap shops and make your way to the slanty stairs. Then you walk up and up and up, until you reach the top, where you see sand… Oh and lots of tourists. You attempt to walk on the dune but it’s like walking on, well, sand, so you don’t get very far. You think how the dune is probably really impressive from the beach side where you could see how big it is, but in order

Impressive but … worth the climb?

to do that you’d have to walk all the way down then dune and worse, back up it again. So, you look around and walk back down the rickety stairs, elbow back through the tourist shops and back to the parking lot where they extract three euros from you for the pleasure of parking for an hour while you climb the thing. Good Times.

Stay tuned for more good times in Mont-St-Michel.

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Alison

Alison

Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of Cheeseweb.eu. She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She is currently slow travelling through Europe in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison
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5 comments

  1. Comment by Drew

    Drew December 1, 2006 at 15:23

    Wonderful drive through those mountains… we lucked out with such wonderful weather… I remember as we headed north from Barcelona there were lots of clouds building to the west, but we managed to keep out of their path. As dad said, people there had a fascination with building their houses at the very top of some unforgiving terrains… it was amazing where they decided to put roads… hard to believe people would actually live there. I also remember on our drive on the Costa Brava on one of the pull-outs we watched a police car go by us, sirens screaming… and then we watched it go for the next 10 minutes as it wound it’s way along the shore line and finally around a corner we couldn’t see around anymore. That was kind of funny 🙂 La Benjamine was divine and I would love to go back there to visit… hard to find but harder to leave! As for the dune… well… All I can think of is La Butte du Lion here in Belgium… same deal with the stairs 🙂
    Anyway, wonderful drive, wonderful place to stay, great to visit with friends from back home, and the food was brilliant. When are we going back!?

  2. Comment by christina

    christina December 4, 2006 at 07:33

    Stunning photos! The last time we drove throught the Pyreness was Easter 1991, I think, and we got caught in a snowstorm. Must do it again some time when the weather’s better. 🙂

  3. Comment by Andreea

    Andreea December 7, 2006 at 15:12

    ohhhhhhhhhh – I almost forgot. belgian english speaking/writing bloggers are meeting on saturday for a dirnk at 8:00pm in place luxembourg, o’farrel bar. let me know if you two (more) want to come as well.

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