Hautes Pyrenées: Mountains of fun in the summer months
- Credit: Archant
St Lucia meets the Cotswolds was my first impression of the Hautes Pyrenées as we drove up the Louren Valley.
Stunning soft-domed sugarloaf peaks, lush with densely packed forest, are interspersed every so often with equally easy-on-the-eye stone villages.
Eventually we pull into the equally postcard-perfect lake-flanked Loudenvielle – and don’t budge until it’s time to leave – because there’s absolutely everything here that you need for a fun-filled jam-packed family holiday.
Wasting no time, our first stop is the Ludéo aqua park, just a few minutes walk over the bridge from the Jardin de Balnéa self-catering flats where we are staying.
The kids have a whale of a time on the water slides, steep enough to amuse my 12-year old twin sons for the whole afternoon. My six year old daughter joins them, running up the steps countless times before whizzing down the flumes – well worth the 19 euro all-day family ticket.
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Everything here is in such close proximity you don’t need to set foot in your car, and right next door to the aqua park you’ll find the kids’ bouncy castle area where little ones can depart on pony rides around the lake, while on the other side of the flumes you can hire out canoes.
The Parcours Aventure du Louren centre is also hidden away in the woods here too, and this provided entertainment for all the children and my fearless 66 year old mum for another whole afternoon, as they zoomed down the zip wires over the pond and balanced on the wobbly wooden steps high above the ground.
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With a simple safety harness which cleverly slots into the metal fixture at the beginning of each course graded into blue, red and black to mark their difficulty, even my six-year old was able to navigate the ropes herself.
Here you can also depart for another adrenaline-filled afternoon on the Trottinettes off-road scooters, and my sons and I were driven up to the Peyragudes ski resort to start our descent down the mountain.
We had tried scooters like this before but on the road, and coming down a steep rocky mountain path was quite another thing altogether.
Ex-Foreign Legion parachutist Jean Luc gave us some top tips like focusing in the distance rather than letting any rocks underneath distract you, and we tried going over a log on the obstacle course to warm up.
My sons were well-away right from the start, and eventually I got into the swing of rushing down without pressing down permanently on the brakes - so by the time we came to the last stretch I wasn’t lagging too far behind them.
By this point I was disappointed to have to get off the bikes, reneging on my feeling at the top it was going to be an ordeal to get the whole 1,000 metres down.
It’s a hiker’s paradise in the Louron Valley, and walks are graded just like ski runs from green to black. We tried out one of the easy family ones, and starting from the tourist office just behind our apartment it took us two hours to walk through the woods, past the waterfall and around the stunning Lac de Genos-Loudenvielle, as my daughter excitedly revelled in nature and the flowers and insects we saw along the way.
The Balnea residences takes its name from the Balnea thermal baths just over the bridge, a huge and relaxing public spa catering for the whole family, split into four themes.
Tots are allowed in the Red Indian section, a pool surrounding a totem pole with little whilrlpools, currents and waterfalls, meaning the Roman, Tibetan and Japanese sections are a little bit calmer. An intriguing jacuzzi pipes music into the water which you can hear if you put your ears under, and the Japanese section has a maze of outdoor baths of varying temperatures getting up to a blissfully hot 40 degrees.
Back at the self-catering Balnea residences, you can buy fantastic local produce at the weekly Monday market in the square just behind.
One night we ate cheese from dairy cows we saw being milked at the farm in Mont, a quaint village 20 minute drive up the mountain, replete with a Medieval church.
There are several charming restaurants in the village including the rustic Chante Coq, where we had a relaxing three-course meal priced at a reasonable 19 € a head, and the great quality local ingredients speak for themselves.
Loudenvielle is a “Mecca” for paragliding, and if the conditions are right the sky is teaming with brightly coloured sails.
Fred, the teacher from Virevolte, makes beginners on a tandem ride feel as though they are in safe hands, for an incredibly peaceful glide around the valley, and a stomach-lurching steep turn around the lake before a gentle landing comes all too soon.
Very much like our jam-packed three days spent in Loudenvielle.