We enjoyed staying put so much in Villefranche, that we decided another week in one spot would be a good idea.
During our stay at the Ryan’s in Switzerland, we met David and Peter Appleby, whose parents run a Gite; Le Prielle, in Madiran. Located in the Haute Pyrenees, South West France.
On the way south from Bordeaux we randomly stop for lunch in Labastide-d’Armagnac, as in the brandy.
We have lunch in the Place Royale, a beautiful town square and well preserved example of 13th century architecture – lots of exposed beams and timberwork. It was a charming village and one of those great unexpected discoveries.
The Appleby’s have 4 beautifully restored Gites which have been created from renovated barns, in the grounds of an old Chateau, dating from 1745. The 5 acres of grounds include an ancient chapel, moat & woodlands, as well as modern features such as a swimming pool and BBQ’s.
Paulette and Simon warmly welcome us to Le Prielle and we are treated more as friends, than guests, during our stay.
Keen to continue our cycling efforts, we rent bikes again and do most of our sight seeing on two wheels. The Appleby’s share their wealth of knowledge about the area and provide us with great advice on where to go and what to see.
Most importantly, Simon was more than happy to share with Don, his local wine knowledge and the two went off wine tasting one day. The result was another substantial purchase of local wines – lucky we have a car.
Madiran is hosting a Course Landaise. This is an ancient form of bullfighting, but without bloodshed, well at least not the bulls. Actually, they use cows with mature horns instead of bulls.
It’s a game of bull dodging and leaping, with acrobatic somersaults over the animals and where young Matadors in the making, practice their techniques.
Whilst we are not supporters of bullfighting, this is more of an entertainment spectacle and the animals don’t get hurt. They actually get a few opportunities to inflict some pain and bruise an ego or two!
We made a day circuit through the Pyrenees, taking the Col du Tourmalet, one of the highest roads in the central Pyrenees. The Tourmalet forms part of the Tour de France, it is known on the tour as the ‘circle of death’!
We stopped at the Pic du Midi, where we opted out of the gondola ride to the peak, but enjoyed the menagerie of animals wandering freely around the summit base.
A donkey took particular interest in the tourist office and also joined the queue for the women’s toilets! Horses, sheep and Llama’s happily grazed nearby.
Our last stop for the day is Lourdes. Don is not religious by any stretch of the imagination, so we probably wouldn’t have had Lourdes on our list of ‘must-see’ destinations. But, I have a friend from Coles working here, so we decided to come and say hello.
Every year for the past 6 years, Paula spends part, or all of her annual leave, volunteering in Lourdes.
On the surface, Lourdes appears to be the Catholic’s answer to Disneyland, I probably should point out right now, that I am Catholic. I think this gives me some right to comment as an ‘insider’.
My mother would disagree; she’d ask me when was the last time I went to Mass? Anyway, we can have that debate another day.
The streets of Lourdes are lined with trashy tourist shops selling you every religious piece of paraphernalia that you can think of and some you never even dreamed of. Leave it to the Catholics to master the art of selling candles through vending machines.
I can’t wait to see these in churches – credit cards accepted! I’m sure the collection service will soon offer a ‘tap and pay’ function. Come to think of it, that’s a really good idea!
Even regular shops are marketing under the guise of religion, like the designer shoe shop called ‘Mary’s Sandals’.
What I do like, is that once you cross into the Sanctuary of Our Lady Of Lourdes there is no commercial activity and entry is free.
With Paula’s insight we left with a greater appreciation of Lourdes and enormous respect for what she, and thousands of volunteers like her, do. Over 6 million pilgrims visit Lourdes annually to seek physical and spiritual wellbeing.
Religious or not, you can’t help but be affected by what goes on here. It is an example of real faith, something you may or may not believe in, certainly something you cannot judge.
In between cycling and the odd day trip, we spent the rest of our time relaxing at Le Prielle; we could usually be found on the comfy chairs in the garden catching up on emails.
And yes, me trying the catch-up on the blog. Still failing!
We pointed out to Simon that a little table would be nice, so Simon whipped one up! Tripod the cat, often kept us company. There are a number of cats but she (or he) seemed to hang out with us the most. Real name is Boot’s, but she earned the nickname after she lost a paw in a trap, spent days missing and finally hobbled back home. Gorgeous cat, loads of personality.
Le Prielle was a lovely and we had a wonderful week. It’s in a great location from which to explore the region. The Applebys are wonderful hosts, the gites comfortable and equipped with everything you need – yep, that includes my favourite appliance – a washing machine!