The Pyrenees are tempting at any time of year, but if you are a redhead who melts in the mediterranean sun then early October is ideal. Warmish days, often sunny, give way to clear nights full of stars. The proprietor at Les Colomers said it would be best to visit before the 10th however, as it could snow anytime thereafter.
The town of Vielha lies just over the Spanish border, 90 mins drive south west from Toulouse, where you will find family run establishments like Les Colomers with romantic rooms under the rafters as well as larger hotels designed to accomodate the winter ski season.
It’s also an excellent area to explore on foot, since the mountains are scattered with lakes which make good point-to-point navigation tools. Each lake is a joy to discover. Typically, they hide behind a little rise in the hills, so that when you find them they appear below you. The paths are just as tempting and varied. Most are narrow, some are steep, but nothing is impossible and the thought of seeing the next lake is a perfect incentive.
Winding up the hill just outside Salardu, near Vielha, my guide from the Catalan tourist board recounted the terrible damage done by the flooding in June which had destroyed much of the main road through the village. Torrential rain and melting snow cascaded into a very narrow valley surrounded by hills. Even now, repair work is ongoing and the town is still missing a bridge.
A typical lake walk starts at the Bahns de Tredos, a locally famous hotel perched high in the mountains with hot tubs fed by natural thermal springs. The stone track leading to the spa was itself was washed away in several places and the hotel was also badly damaged. You’ll find a car park about a mile above the hotel where a signpost leads away up a steep and stony track. Happily, the mountain paths are well used and they are also linked with signposts indicating both distance and walking time.
After about half an hour of fairly solid climbing, the first lake came into view. Azure blue framed by grey mountains and a blue sky. It looked so tempting. When after another half hour the second lake appeared in the same magical fashion, I was hot enough to dive into anything and could not resist. To imagine the sensation, think of swimming in melted snow. To say it was refreshing would be an understatement.
Afterwards I basked on a rock in the sun, and maybe I spent too long there, because suddenly I noticed that the sun was setting. It was time to head down the mountain and explore the tapas bars of Viehla, leaving another forty-two lakes unexplored. Mañana. After all, why hurry something so good?
Where to stay: The town of Vielha is at low season in October – summer walking is over but it’s too early for snow, so you should find a hotel at a reasonable price.
Les Colomers – Salardu (Viehla 7 km) . It’s worth driving the extra kilometres beyond Viehla to stay at this family run hotel with its 15 character rooms and views of the surrounding hills. The breakfasts offer real Spanish food, omelettes, almond tart, tapas style meat, cheese, salami and tomato relishes, as well as the usual cereals, croissants, fruit and yoghurts for the less adventurous. Each cup of coffee is freshly made by the proprietor!
Bahns de Tredos – Salardu – (Viehla 10km) – Re-opens on 1st December 2013. Currently under restoration, it has a long held reputation for its thermal hot tubs fed by natural springs. Perfectly situated for walking, the lakes are right on its doorstop. Normally open all year round.