Sunday, July 18, 2010

Soule Valley and Iraty Forest Hike

En Route.

So Green. The Drive Up.

The Drive Up.

The Car is Surrounded!

The Cows!

At the Top.

At the Top.

So Handsome.

Having a Rest.

Rypien's swimming hole - where we stopped on our way down from our hike.


I had passed a sign on my way to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port yesterday indicating that there was a skiing area near by. So when I got home from my little day trip I decided to google it. Turns out the Iraty ski area is open all year round and offers hiking in the summertime. So this morning I packed up some water and dried apricots and told Rypien (yes I talk to my dog) that we were going on a little adventure to the Soule Valley and Iraty Forest.

The sun was shining which made for a beautiful drive, we passed lots of great little towns, corn fields, farms/pastures, and many signs for farm fresh cheese. After passing Larrau, the last town before the Iraty ski area, it was nothing but rolling green mountain pastures. The road up to the ski area was narrow and very windy, but offered some stunning views of the valleys below. Just as we came around a hair-pin turn was a giant herd of cows, all with bells and all standing right in the middle of the road! There was a car stopped in front of me who was surrounded by cows – I don't know how long he'd been waiting there for. I had to wait 15 minutes before the cows decided to edge over just enough for me to squeak by on the shoulder.

The cows worried me for several reasons:
1.The cows have horns and I did not want our nice new rental car torn in to pieces.
2.The cows are bigger than the rental car – we drive a small Volkswagen Polo. I think the cows must have known they were much bigger than us and figured we were no threat to them so why move for us.
3.I had Rypien in the car with all the windows down. He was very alert and interested in the giant cows, the ears were pricked, head out the window and nose working overtime. I immediately closed the windows (thank goodness for power/automatic windows) incase he decided he was feeling brave and wanted to jump out of the car to say hello to the nice cows.
4.I tried giving the cows a little honk but had absolutely no luck. And there was absolutely no way I was getting out of the car to attempt a “Crocodile Dundee” maneuver.

Anyways, we finally made it to the ski area and it was beautiful!. There was a restaurant and a host of chalets scattered throughout the area that were available for rent all year long. There was also hundreds of kilometers of marked trails to choose from, many of which are day hikes and scenic assents, such as the Pic d'Orthy and the Pic des Escaliers. Since I had never been there before I just decided to wing it. We picked a direction and started walking, it was great. A beautiful day with some spectacular views of a diverse landscape of rolling hills, stunning gorges, green pastures and forests. It would no doubt be a spectacular site in winter, as it provides 44km of picturesque cross country skiing between 1200m and 2500m in altitude.

On the drive down we saw lots of people pulled off to the side of the road in park-like areas next to the river enjoying picnicks. It was Sunday, all the shops close Sunday, so everyone must have decided it was picknick day. As we continued on down the mountain we came to a small lake/pond surrounded by green pastures, a herd of horses (also with bells), more cows, and a big white tent full of picknickers and a band playing french folk music. A great spot. We stopped and wondered for a while, Rypien had a couple swims, then we headed for home and food.