Tarbes > Cauterets-Cambasque
07/06/2023 - Stage 6 - 145 km - Mountain
On the road
Departments : Ariège, Aude, Aveyron, Gard, Haute-Garonne, Gers, Hérault, Lot, Lozère, Hautes-Pyrénées, Pyrénées-Orientales, Tarn, Tarn-et-Garonne
Population: 5.9 million
Area: 72,724 km2
Specialities: foie gras, cassoulet, aligot, tielle sétoise, brandade de morue, haricots tarbais, garbure, sweet onions, Céret cherries, wines (Pic Saint-Loup, Corbières, Cahors, Costières de Nîmes, blanquette de Limoux, Minervois, Tavel, Madiran). Perrier spring water.
Sports clubs: Stade Toulousain, Castres Olympique, Montpellier HR, USAP Perpignan (rugby union), Montpellier HSC, Nîmes Olympique, Toulouse FC (football), Dragons Catalans (rugby league), Montpellier Handball, Fenix Toulouse, USAM Nîmes-Gard (handball)
Competitions: Tour de France, Open Sud de France (tennis), Route d'Occitanie (cycling).
Economy: aeronautics and space (Airbus, Ariane, Toulouse), defence, information technology, nuclear, agri-food, agriculture (wine, cereals) tourism, pharmaceutical industry. Universities (Montpellier, Toulouse).
Festivals: Nîmes and Béziers férias, Rio Loco (Toulouse), Festival Radio France Montpellier (classical), Comédie du Livre (Montpellier), Electro Beach (Port Barcarès), Jazz in Marciac, Cinémed (Montpellier), Circa Auch, Noir Bookfair in Frontignan.
Sights: Cité de Carcassonne, basilica of Lourdes, Toulouse (Capitole, Saint-Sernin, ville rose), Montpellier (place de la Comédie, Écusson), Pont du Gard, Arènes de Nîmes, Cathar castles, Canal du Midi, cathedrals of Albi, Castres and Rodez. Millau Viaduct, Niaux and Maz d'Azil caves. Valentré Bridge in Cahors. Villages of character. Beaches in the Aude, Gard and Hérault. Ski resorts in the Pyrenees and Ariège.
Prefecture : Tarbes
Subprefectures : Argelès-Gazost, Bagnères-de-Bigorre
Surface area: 4,464 km².
Specialities: Black pig of Bigorre (AOC), Tarbes beans, Wines (Madiran and Pacherenc of Vic Bilh AOC), Barèges-Gavarnie AOC sheep, Trébons onion, Gascony chicken, Garbure, Foie gras, Spit cake...
Sports clubs: Tarbes Pyrénées rugby, TGB (basketball)
Competitions: Downhill World Cup (Lourdes), La Montée du Géant du Tourmalet, Grand Raid des Pyrénées, Pyr'Epic...
Festivals: Gavarnie Festival (Theatre), Tarbes en tango, Equestria festival of equestrian creation (Tarbes), Festival of Sacred Music (Lourdes), Jazz Festival (Luz St Sauveur), Piano Pic in the Grand Tourmalet, Festival of small mountain churches (Louron Valley), Mariolles Festival, Cheese Fair, Madiran Wine Festival, Pyrenean Dogs Festival, Luz St Sauveur Chop Fair, Loudenvielle Traditions Fair.
Major tourist sites: Pic du Midi de Bigorre, Cirque de Gavarnie (Unesco heritage), Cascades du Pont d'Espagne (Cauterets), Pyrenees National Park, Lourdes pilgrimage.
Economy: agri-food, railway industry, aeronautics, hydroelectricity, 4-season tourism, thermalism, etc.
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King Philip the Fair gave the name Tournay to this bastide in the 14th century to celebrate his victory in the Belgian town of the (almost) same name after a long siege. The Benedictine abbey of Notre-Dame de Tournay was established in the village in 1952. On the Place d'Astarac, the main square in the village, is the house of Francis Jammes, where the poet, born in Tournay in 1868, lived. Very influential in his time, Jammes was awarded the Literature Grand Prix by the French Academy in 1917.
Spa specialising in urinary and digestive disorders. Its Sainte-Trinité church, built in the 1960s, has been awarded the "Heritage of the 20th century" label. Several cycling teams take up residence here as they approach the Pyrenees.
A fortified village, Sarrancolin was renowned for its marble, which was used in the construction of the Petit Trianon in Versailles, and later for the Paris Opera House and even the Empire State Building.
The Beyrède marble quarry was used during the reign of Louis XIV and Louis XV to build several fireplaces in the Château de Versailles.
Capital of the Four Valleys of the Aure Valley, its inhabitants are called the Arrois. The commune is a hub on the route to Santiago de Compostela and was an important cloth-making centre until the French Revolution. The 12th-century church of Notre-Dame was built in the Romanesque-Gothic style, with a 16th-century bell tower with geminated bays. It was used to defend the village. In the tower, there was also a weapons room. The slate-roofed village, with its central square, is dominated by its pretty town hall. The square also hosts a market every Thursday under the arcades. The municipal building is relatively recent (1930), but it blends in perfectly with the architectural style of the older houses. While walking around, you will also find some beautiful half-timbered houses.
Château des Nestes
Construction: between the 15th and 18th centuries.
History: built on the enclosure around the northern part of the Neste du Louron district, it served as protection for the neighbouring sanctuary dedicated to St Exupère and was used as a Hospitaller commandery. The north wing was the seat of a court. It took the name of Château de Camou ("land of water") because of the dampness of the place (17th - 18th centuries). The castle was restored in 1989 as part of the major works of President François Mitterrand.
Special features: the museum has a unique curiosity in the region, with a section devoted to the "cagots", untouchables of the medieval period, omnipresent in the region and in Bearn.
They were present throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. The Pyrenean mountains, though a land of refuge, were nevertheless the place where the Cagots phenomenon was the most active. Diverse explanations have been given as to the origin of these outcasts. The term Cagots seems to come from a Bearn word meaning leper, which appears in texts around the year 1300. In the Middle Ages, leprosy referred to various diseases inspiring contagion fears. As a population cursed for life, their condition was mentioned from birth in the baptismal act, celebrated at nightfall, without chimes. They had no family name but a first name followed by the term Chrestiaa, Cagot, Gézitain and were parked in a district outside the village where they worked in the woods. In some churches, they were confined to a special area or used a special font. The imposed isolation had two consequences: consanguinity, which led to degeneration and even cretinism, and the input of outlaws who, braving the contagion, did not risk being chased by the police among them. In some places, cagots had to wear a duck's or goose's foot of red cloth sewn onto their clothes. Once dead, they were buried apart from the 'true Christians' in the same way as they had lived. For more than three centuries, they were bullied and despite trials and the support of the high clergy and princes, they remained outcast by the resistance of the local authorities and the people.
Aspin is one of the most frequent passes on the Tour route, having been ridden by the peloton and the caravan 74 times, and was already on the programme of the first high mountain stage of the Tour in 1910. From Arreau, the climb is 12 km long, with an average gradient of 6.7%. The list of riders who led at the top reads like a Who's Who of great climbers, from Octave Lapize to Richard Virenque, including Jean Robic, Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Louison Bobet, Charly Gaul, Federico Bahamontes and Lucien Van Impe. The last rider to lead on Aspin was Thibaut Pinot in 2022.
It is nicknamed "Little Canada" with its forest, lake and peaceful atmosphere. The lake satisfies both the contemplative and the more active visitors with a wide range of activities: mountain biking, tree climbing, hiking, horse riding, water sports (pedal boats, kayaking, stand up paddle, fishing), cycling (climbing Col d'Aspin or Hourquette d'Ancizan).
At the foot of the Tourmalet, Campan was at the beginning of the 11th century the third most populated town in the Hautes-Pyrénées department with nearly 4,500 inhabitants, who lived off the forest, green marble and livestock. Today, tourism is one of the main resources of a town that has preserved a beautiful 16th century market hall, witness to an important cattle market, and several remarkable religious buildings such as the church of St John the Baptist (16th century) and Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption in Sainte-Marie de Campan. Amongst Campan's celebrities are Dominique Gaye Mariolle, a famous soldier of Napoleon's armies, who was over two-metres tall and renowned for his antics. A statue of Eugène Christophe stands in the square named after him in front of the village church, in tribute to his exploit in 1919, when the “Old Gaul” was forced to repair his pitchfork on the forge in the neighbouring hamlet of Sainte-Marie-de-Campan. In 2016, a stage finish was held at the Lac de Payolle, in the commune of Campan, and won by British rider Stephen Cummings.
It was in this hamlet of Campan that Eugène Christophe was forced to repair his fork at the local blacksmith's. A plaque reminds us of this.
The resort has hosted three stages of the Tour (1970, 2002, 2004) and held World Cup skiing events in 1985. In 1970, for the first finish in the resort, a young rider named Bernard Thévenet revealed himself by winning his first stage in the Tour de France. Eight more were to follow, and two overall victories in Paris. The cable car that climbs to the Pic du Midi de Bigorre (2,872 m) allows you to visit the observatory.
There was one big absentee at the top of the first Tourmalet climb in 1910: Henri Desgrange himself. The creator of the Tour had long hesitated to include the pass on the Tour route, a prospect that had put off many riders, and the 1910 edition had set off with only 110 participants. The Perpignan-Luchon stage and its first Pyrenean climbs confirmed the boss of L'Auto in the belief that the Tour's programme was definitely too heavy... Before the start, he had to face the wrath of some competitors. After the finish in Luchon, he could feel that the morale of the troops, starting with GC leader Octave Lapize, was not very high. Claiming to be sick, Desgrange stayed in Luchon to take the waters and entrusted the keys of the race to Victor Breyer. A great boxing fan, Breyer would have been able to show his fists if necessary. Desgrange was right in his decision to skip the stage. After leading the way at the top of the Tourmalet, and then as a stage winner in Bayonne, Lapize was not happy: "Criminals!” he screamed. Since then, riders have tackled one of the giants of the Tour 84 times and will once again pay tribute to Henri Desgrange's successor, Jacques Goddet, at the foot of the stele dedicated to him. In its long love-hate history with the race, the Tourmalet has already hosted three stage finishes, in 1974 (Jean-Pierre Danguillaume), in 2010 (Andy Schleck) and in 2019 (Thibaut Pinot).
The highest spa town in France, it specialises in the after-effects of joint trauma, sprains, fractures and dislocations and in rheumatology. In 1675, Madame de Maintenon and the young Duke of Maine came to Barèges to treat his claudication. Some farmers in the area had noticed that their cattle wading in the water of certain springs healed easily from their wounds and the waters of Barèges were reputed to heal wounds. In spite of the discomfort of the installations, the frequent floods of the Bastan, the landslides, in spite of the roughness of the places and the people, Barèges became a fashionable thermal spa. Before 1730, the road from Lourdes to Barèges was built to the admiration of contemporaries. Painful diversions via the Tourmalet became unnecessary from 1744. A barracks and a hospital with austere facades were built for the army in 1732 and rebuilt by Napoleon III in 1859. And the emperor signed, on May 6, 1860, the decree ordering the construction of thermal roads, restoring the one from Bagnères-de-Bigorre to Barèges via the Tourmalet. The thermal baths were built between 1861 and 1864. For a long time, a simple thermal hamlet, Barèges became an independent commune in 1946. From 1920, Barèges turned to winter sports. The Ayré funicular was put into service in 1939. Barèges has seen the Tour de France pass through on many occasions due to its proximity to the Tourmalet and even had the right to have its name attached to the grand pass during a stage finish in 2019, won by Thibaut Pinot.
The village of Betpouey, with its wash house and pretty church of Saint-Sébastien (12th and 14th centuries) is the birthplace of Louis Armary, left prop who won 46 caps for the French national rugby union team between 1987 and 1995. "Louisou", who played his entire career for FC Lourdes, took part in the first three editions of the Rugby World Cup and won the Six Nations tournament three times. He became a departmental councillor in 2015.
Construction: 10th century.
Style: medieval castle.
Characteristics: perched on the top of a rock, it served as a fortress for the valley but also as a place of refuge for the population. In ruins.
History: its construction dates from the 10th century by the Counts of Bigorre. In the 14th century, it passed into the hands of the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem and later to the Knights of Malta. The English took it until 1404, when the Count of Clermont, with the help of the inhabitants of the valley commanded by Aougé de Coufitte, drove them out. The castle was then abandoned.
A special feature is that the restoration was undertaken in the 1980s, thus safeguarding one of the most significant relics of the valley's history.
Listed as: historical monument since 1930.
In 1985, the town was the starting point for a half-stage race won by Stephen Roche. There have been nine finishes in the resort of Luz-Ardiden, the last one in 2021, which Tadej Pogacar won. Much earlier, Victor Hugo stayed in Luz and Napoleon III had a monumental bridge built over the Gave de Pau in 1861.
Construction: 1859 to 1963.
History: Napoleon III had this bridge built (1859 to 1863, height 65 m) to thank the inhabitants of Saint Sauveur. The bridge was built during the visit of Empress Eugenie, who was cured of her sterility at the thermal baths of St Sauveur. This bridge allowed the opening of the Gavarnie valley.
Special feature: Victor Hugo left a record of his time in the city. "Three great rays of daylight enter it through the three embrasures of the three mountains. When the Spanish miquelets and smugglers arrived from Aragon by the Breach of Roland and by the black and hideous path of Gavarnie, they suddenly saw at the end of the dark gorge a great brightness, like the door of a cellar to those who are inside. They hurried on and found a large town lit by the sun and alive. This town they called light, Luz.”
Saint Andrew's Church of the Templars
Construction: 13th century.
Style: Romanesque and medieval.
History: the original church was built at the end of the 11th century by the family of Saint Andrew and not by the Templars. It is dedicated to the apostle of that name. In the 14th century, the descendants of the Saint-André family gave the church to the Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem, who had two hospices, one in Gavarnie and another in Héas. They welcomed pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. This right was exercised by the Hospitallers until the revolution of 1789, when they became Knights of Malta. As soon as they arrived, they raised the church and surrounded it with ramparts to protect themselves from the Aragon bandits: the "Miquelets".
Listed as: Historical Monument since 1840.
Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church in Sère
Construction: 12th century.
Characteristics: the church has not undergone any restoration or modification, apart from a window in the choir pierced in the 18th century. The building has three naves vaulted in full barrel vault and separated by two-roll doubleaux, ending in three circular apses. The oeil de boeuf which lights up the nave is decorated with a row of billets between fluted torus. The first bay is preceded by a wide arcade supporting the bell tower, which is accessed by a narrow side staircase leading up between the two walls supporting the bells. In front of the façade is a porch, also from the 12th century, a rare example of such a complete structure. The porch protects a Romanesque portal with five scrolls, one of which is decorated with columns with historiated capitals. The tympanum is adorned with a large Chrism with the Alpha and Omega and two doves and two smaller circles showing the Paschal Lamb carrying the cross and the Pelican also carrying the cross, a very rare symbol of Christ giving his blood to spiritually nourish the faithful.
Listed as: Historical Monument since 1914.
On the French side of the Pyrenees mountains, reaching towards the Atlantic ocean, discover nature at its finest. From the snow-topped ski slopes and majestic waterfalls, to rugged hiking trails and vast stretches of greenery. Whether you choose snow sports, dry land of water-based activities, this invigorating area has plenty to offer adventurers throughout the year. Between the peaks and rivers, you'll find charming French towns steeped in history and local culture. The region's capital, Pau, home to an imperial Château and several museums, is a highlight for lovers of architecture and fine arts. Nearby Tarbes offers something for more modern history buffs, surrounded by equally splendid gardens and riverways.
5 things you must see in the French Pyrenees
1. The picturesque town of Pau
2. Panoramic views from the Pic du Midi
3. The parks and gardens of Tarbes
4. Pilgrimage site, Lourdes, its grotto and basilicas
5. UNESCO World Heritage site, Cirque de Gavarnie
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