Summer in the Pyrenees

Greetings from une très chaude France! I’ve retreated to the Pyrenees for the summer, where Mr E and I have a house. A friend and I stayed here first (with the dog), then my husband and more visitors arrived.

The incredible St Jean de la Peña monastery

Mostly I’ve been hard at work editing my WIP in between gardening, walking, cycling, swimming, reading and looking after house guests. We have also driven across the border to Spain through beautiful valleys to the abandoned Canfranc station now being restored and the ancient remote St Jean de la Peña monastery, built under a mountain.

At the new monastery (with vertigo inducing see-through floors)

Sorting the garden

Hardworking husband

The ‘garden’ had become a meadow again on our arrival, which meant long days of grass cutting and raking. I spent days battling the wilderness and now know how to use a strimmer (a vile contraption). 🥵We’re seriously considering getting in some sheep or goats, or buying a tractor!

Book news: Not bubbly-popping news exactly but still pretty ok 😊 While in France I learned that my most recent book Silenced has reached the semi-finals of an international book competition for independently published authors, the 2022 Bookbloggers' Novel of the Year. If it should get any further, I’ll let you know!

Wild swimming 

Here in the Pyrenees Atlantique (not far from Spain) we haven’t escaped the extreme heat, or cannicule as it’s called here. In the first heatwave my friend and I discovered the pleasures of river swimming (icy and fast flowing; you are not meant to swim in them as the water level is prone to rapidly rising without warning). We also swam at a nearby waterfall, and the dog paddled.

My cycling adventure 

The Brompton with battery, where I stopped (ski lifts visible below)

We took two bicycles to France for the first time, including an electric Brompton. In my enthusiasm to try it out on local roads, I cycled most of the way up a local mountain, Col d’Aubisque. (It is on the Tour de France route – the week before I watched the race go through our local town, the first time I’d seen this in person.)

The Tour de France passing through town

To my surprise, I had no problem getting up the mountain using the lowest or second lowest power and only stopped due to cloud descending, 5km from the top. Cycling down was hair-raising though. I couldn’t hear much (eg cars behind me) due to the rush of air past my ears, I was going so fast – and those avalanche tunnels and hairpin bends 😰 The road was narrower than I’d have liked given the steep drops in places. Fortunately, the brakes worked well 🫣 I do love a challenge but this probably wasn’t the safest thing I’ve ever done!

Local traditions 

Traditions are still going strong in our village, usually involving singing and dancing.

Traditional torchlit gathering

My friend and I watched a torchlit procession that passed the house to the local ‘lavoir’ (a small structure surrounding a fountain where the village used to do their washing) at nearly midnight. It was followed by progressively more inebriated singing until the early morning.

Next day I crammed into the back of the village church with the dog and listened to a beautiful sound: eight men singing in Occitan (also known as Langue d’Oc, a traditional language of parts of southern France, Italy and Spain).

Another way of life

Here in our France house we have no TV or WiFi and virtually no radio reception. Thank goodness there’s now a good mobile phone signal, so we can access the internet on our mobiles. (I listen to France Inter via the the app and occasionally Today on Radio 4 if missing home.)

It’s been deeply refreshing to have a total change from our routines at home in London. I love the peace and beauty of these mountains, the clean air and savage thunderstorms, hearing the bells of cows, sheep and goats before dawn as they move to new pastures (the transhumance started one evening a few days ago, where animals are herded through the night to lower pastures), gazing at a night sky thick with stars, watching vultures, buzzards and hawks soaring, sitting in the garden with a beer at the end of the day as the sun dips behind the mountain…

There is so much more I could mention but the church bell is clanging midday (loudly and out of tune) reminding me of time passing, and this is getting long. Next time we visit, I hope the grass won’t have grown so high!

A bientôt, and I hope the summer is being kind to you wherever you are 🇫🇷🚴🏼‍♂️🥖🥐

2 thoughts on “Summer in the Pyrenees

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