Poitou-Charentes & Haute-Pyrénées Journal

These tables on the streets of La Rochelle in Poitou-Charentes, France seemed liked the perfect place to stop and have a glass of wine, made for me in fact. I was surprised to see nobody sat at any of them. We’d already eaten so maybe next time.

There had been a large festival in the town during the day and the streets in the centre were still quite busy with people heading out for the night. Almost every building seems to have an open window with various styles of music loudly playing from them …. oh well if you can’t beat em!

A small cafe bistro on the streets of Poitou-Charentes in France on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Wining and dining on the street

Great first day with a relaxed start, breakfast with Kash and then moving to the Hotel Champlain. We spent the day walking around the market, town and harbour area where we met Sandrine from the Poitou-Charentes Tourist Board. She is a lovely lady very keen to help and ensure we have a pleasant a productive stay.

We joined up with Isabelle, Melvin, Astrid and their young four month old son Titus before leaving for a sailing trip around the harbour are and into the Atlantic. There was some concern that due to some rough weather it would not be suitable for Liltraveldude, however he soon proved everybody wrong by promptly falling asleep, the least affected on the whole voyage.

Afterwards we enjoyed an extremely pleasant meal, some of us fighting our way through an enormous plate of fresh seafood, including oysters, dressed crab, sea snails and langoustines. A wonderful meal which probably took more calories to crack shells and winkle out snails than it actually provided. Certainly an epic meal!

A glorious end to a perfect day was catching this sunset over the Atlantic from our catamarran Kapalouest.  It was a very pleasant evening, we had earlier been warned that it may have been quite rough but in the end it was only a little choppy. The sunset we witnessed made everything worthwhile.

Sailing at sunset near La Rochelle in the Poitou-Charentes, France on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Sunset La Rochelle style

An interesting day started with a tour around the town centre both on foot and the in electric cars which are available for hire within the city. The famous French town is worthy of a visit, with lovely quaint houses lining roads which at times seem from a different time. They are almost never busy at this time of year at least, and the covered, arched are extremely picturesque.

After another special meal we spent the aftenoon in the aquarium which is considered one of the best in Europe, very forward thinking, building other aquiriums and used as the ‘blueprint’ for many others. If I am honest there are one or two better marine displays that it has been my pleasure to visit, but it still kept me interested and ‘off the streets’ for a couple of hours. The displays they are still both fascinating and beautiful, this ocean migrant is in one of the smallest displays but it extremely enchanting.

Dinner was exceptional at Les Carnets which is owned by famous La Rochelle chef Gregory Coutanceau, who owns two other restaurants in the city.

La Marche in La Rochelle, France the market in the Poitou-Charentes city on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

La Marche in La Rochelle

I love markets, they are such great subjects for photography. There is always so much going on to attract the attention of my lens.

Traders and shoppers alike going about their daily business, weaving their way through the various stalls, so much activity, colour and vibrancy, there is always something going on of interest.

La Marche in La Rochelle has an especially wide range of produce, from seafood such as oysters and fish, fruit and vegetables, wines and spirits and of course cheese and crusty baguettes.

I could easily have got lost there, in fact did for awhile as my companions couldn’t find me for sometime while I took dozens of images in less than thrity minutes, prolific even for me.

A tiny jellyfish in the La Rochelle aquarium in Poitou-Charentes, France on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain_Mallory_01196

A tiny ocean traveller

The village of Coulon is situated in Marais Poitevin a wet marshland known as “Green Venice”. It is possible to tour the region in a guided flat bottomed boat winding your way along narrow canals which criss-cross the entire area. The village itself is home to the museum of the wetlands which apart from static displays also provides an extremely informative interactive video.

The marshland is actually divided into three parts, the maritime, dry and wet lands, “Green Venice” is the wet area. A particularly cool and shocking part of the tour was when our guide used an oar to churn up the bottom and was then able to light the escaping methane gas with a lighter!

We then headed over to the island of Île de Ré one of Poitou-Charentes lovely islands. After a quick check-in at the hotel it was off to explore the village which turned out to be so pretty no description could do it justice. Small white-washed houses with green or slate light coloured
shutters and many draped with climbing plants most with delicate and fragrant flowers.

The church was very impressive indeed and dominates the entire village, the steeple provides an excellent point of interest wherever located.

Coulon in Marais Poitevin known as "Green Venice" in Poitou-Charentes, France on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Idle boats waiting for some passengers

This lighthouse is known as the “Lighthouse at the End of the Island” Located on Île de Ré it is possibly one day to be converted into bed and breakfast accommodation. I certainly would not mind staying there if it comes to fruition.

"Lighthouse at the End of the Island" on Île de Ré in Poitou-Charentes in France on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

A patriotic view of the lighthouse

Despite the lack of wind we all enjoyed a morning sand yachting before more great food, mussels and a pretty windmill too. This was followed by a visit to the island capital at St. Martin which was possibly the most picturesque town of all, with a lovely old harbour and winding streets filled with lovely houses. The trip to the lighthouse was well worth the visit with great views over the island.

This is the intrepid Melvin during our sand-yachting adventure on the lovely beach at I’lè de Ré. The wind was not really ideal not strong enough and although it was fine going in one direction but difficult coming back the opposite way. However trust me our fearless adventurer Melvin is going much faster than it may seem.

 Sand yachting on I’lè de Ré in Poitou-Charentes, France on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Melvin racing his sand yacht

One of my favourite images from the few days on Île de Ré the beach was where we spent an hour sand yachting and was strewn with these bouys. The lighthouse dominated the horizon and certainly seemed worthy of a few photos.

The island of I’lè de Ré in the French region of Poitou-Charentes has plenty of attractions that bring the Parisians to visit throughout the summer months. The beaches are one of the many highlights, long expanses of sand which seem to stretch all the way to the horizon.

At the time of my visit in early September they were relatively deserted with only a few people around on any of the beaches I saw.

I’lè de Ré in the French region of Poitou-Charentes on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Finding items of interest on a beach

Finding things of interest to photograph can be a challenge on such places, luckily for me not only was there a lighthouse to feature if wanted but plenty of these bouys lying around. They made perfect subjects for foreground interest and were well worth getting covered in sand to get their best profile.

I’lè de Ré in Poitou-Charentes, France on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Bouy it’s another lighthouse

The final day was spent enjoying a picnic on the beach followed by a trip to Rochefort to visit the “Hermione” and Museum of Naval History. The building of the Hermione is an impressive project that to date has spanned eight years and involved verious nationalities including, Swedish, American and obviously French. It is running a little behind schedule and is unlikely to sail before 2014 but it will surely be a proud and emotional day when it finally sets sail for Boston.

Friday has come around all too quickly and after an early start I was on a train heading towards Tarpes for the Haute-Pyrénées stage of the trip which is almost certainly likely to provide just as much opportunity for adventure.

The weather was not ideal for a trip to the summit of the Pic du Midi in the Haute-Pyrénées however being above the clouds always feels a little exciting and special. The cable car seems to take no time whatsoever to get passengers from the base to the summit and provides some amazing views too.

There is an observatory at the top, and also a museum, restaurant and it is also possible to stay the night although places for this are strictly limited so require booking well in advance.

Cable car to the summit of Pic du Midi in the Haute-Pyrénées on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

This cable car does not hang about

Picking up my fellow travellers from the airport at Lourdes, we grabbed a quick breakfast, dropped of luggage at Les Cimes in Argelès-Gazost and then onto the Val d’Azun and the village of  Arrens-Marsous for the Foire aux cotelettes’ festival. It is a festival with a very long history, celebrating the return of the sheep to the lower pastures and where the local people purchase their meat for the coming winter.

There was plenty going on with a cheese competition, local crafts, impromptu singing groups and musicians of varying backgrounds including a group from an engineering school in Toulouse that were really enjoying themselves.

It included a huge four course lunch with ‘garbure’ a hearty soup, lovely lamb cutlets and all locally produced. Our musical students were in good form, singing as heartily throughout though they recieved stiff competition from the locals.

Transhumance in Val d'Azun near the village of Arrens-Marsous in the French Pyrenees on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

The pied piper of sheep

The transhumance is the movement of sheep within the valleys of the Val d’Azun and regions of the this area of France. The shepherds leave their flock high up in the pastures of the Haute-Pyrénées during the summer where the grazing is best. During the autumn before the weather turns really bad they are returned to the village.

It is a time of celebration and other villagers and tourists join the shepherds in their task, walkin many kilometres in a day, however the main work is still done by one man and his dog.

Evening meal was enjoyed each day in the hotel and it was especially good every time, whether just having one or two courses or trying the full menu.

Pyrenean mountain dog show in the lovely village of Argelès-Gazost in the Pyrenees, France on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

A bevvy Pyrenean mountain dogs

I felt very privileged to visit the Pyrenean mountain dog show in the lovely village of Argelès-Gazost just a ten minute walk from the hotel.

It is the premier event for showing these breeds of dogs in Europe with dog owners from all over Europe and even as far afield as the US and Japan. There is a parade of competitors from the various nations, all running around the main arena with their dogs and a national flag just like in the Olympics.

The dogs are of course what the show is all about with all four breeds both large and small being catered for, the agility competition was especially exciting and often amusing. Meeting the President of the Association and enjoying a particularly large and ‘meaty’ garbune with local singers providing impromptu entertainment was a highlight.

The pretty village of Argelès-Gazost in the Val d'Azun region of the Haute-Pyrénées of France on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

A very pretty, well kept village

The village of Argelès-Gazost situated in the French Haute-Pyrénées is a lovely little village that is extremely well kept. Pretty houses, floral arrangements and surrounded by beautiful mountains it is the perfect place to explore the Val d’Azun and when finished relax in one of the great spas.

Transhumance is not in fact only limited to sheep but also to cattle and even bees, with both being moved around as necessary throughout the seasons. Although the sheep are usually moved down to the lower pastures first the cows soon follow suit.

Some early snow on the higher peaks is an indication that maybe they will be soon on their way down to the pastures closer to the village.

Transhumance in Val d'Azun near the village of Arrens-Marsous in the French Pyrénées n Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Seems they know the way already

Bee keeping is an extremely popular industry throughout the World and particularly in rural communities.

Stumbling across this particular group of hives was something quite special the backdrop was just stunning. The bee keepers of the  French Pyrénées practice transhumance the process of pastoral nomadism where livestock is moved around for better grazing.

This may not appear to make sense for bee keepers at first, but with a little more thought the reason becomes apparent. The bees will feed from the herbs and flowers of the high pastures, they will be organic, therefore the honey produced will be purer and totally natural.

Whatever the reason if it provides views like this one it is fine with me!

Bee transhumance and agritourism in Val d'Azun near the village of Arrens-Marsous in the French Pyrénées on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Beekeeping French Pyrenees style

The Val d’Azun is still one which continues to follow this traditional way of life combining it effectively with tourism allowing visitors to take part in the event which takes place four times each year.

This valley is ideal for all sorts of activities with excellent hiking and moutain biking trails in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. It also appears to have great potential for climbing too.

There are a number of hillside restaurants, hotels and gites as well as mountain refuges which all means it is possible to enjoy a holiday up in the hills without the need to retrn to the villages on the lower slopes.

The Parc des Animalier Pyrénées in Argelès-Gazost is a highly acclaimed zoo, one of the best of its kind in Europe. It is relatively small but is being increased in size all the time, and the animals seem to have some freedom to roam within their compounds.

The animals themselves are all either currently native or originally so including bears, wolves, lynx, otters, marmots and a small cat named a genet, which hid from me. There is an aviary as you enter before experiencing the larger mammmal compounds.

Wolfpack at the Parc des Animalier Pyrénées, Argelès-Gazost in Val d'Azun, Haute-Pyrénées,  France on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Portrait of a wolf

It is a pleasant way to spend a few hours some of the animals are totally captivating, the otters and marmots are particularly enchanting.

The only thing that was a little disappointing was the fake animal displays, they did not appear to be stuffed but just looked totally out of place in there especially the African exhibit.

The weather in the French Pyrénées may not have been exceptional during a recent visit but the landscapes and scenery certainly still were.

Heading down the Val d’Azun in the evening after a day of mixed conditions this particular scene came into view, the mist cleared momentarily and a small chateau came became visible from the other side of the valley.

This particular visit did not allow sufficient time to discover the history and cultural side of the area but it did seem to offer plenty of options with small villages and impressive churches as well as monasteries and castles.

A French Chateau in the Val d'Azun, Haute-Pyrénées, France on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

French chateau in the mist

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      Iain

      Thank you Shirlene, yes some of them are reminiscent of Switzerland. The trip was generally relaxing apart from working until 4am in the morning most nights 😉

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