The old spa town of Bagnères-de-Luchon is one of our favourite places in the Pyrenees. The walk from the Hospice de France above Luchon over the Port de Vénasque pass to neighbouring Spain is often described as one of the best walks in the area, and we’ve been keen to try it for months.
The path climbs over 1,000 metres (higher than any mountain in the Lake District) and to walk to Spain and back takes around 5 hours.
Last Wednesday we loaded water, rucksacks, sunscreen, hats, maps, lunch, dog biscuits and the spaniel into the car, and set off to try it for ourselves.
The path is clearly defined, and winds backwards and forwards up the mountain and over the pass. The lower meadows were studded with wild crocuses and as we climbed higher we were surrounded by azaleas and heather. The weather was warm and clear, and we quickly grew too hot as we climbed up and up, pausing to look back at the view towards the Hospice de France.
At the top of the path is a tiny réfuge which offers meals, accommodation and drinks to hikers. It’s only open in the summer and had closed a few days before our expedition. We were taken aback by the size of the building, which was tiny – large groups of guests presumably slept stacked up against the wall of the restaurant, or only slept in shifts.
Monty was delighted by the series of clear mountain tarns at the top of the French side and wasted no time in plunging in for a dip. Once out, he decided to spread the love with a series of vigorous shakes which sent sparkling droplets of water over our legs and lunch.
Once over the pass the Spanish side lay before us, looking subtly different, less verdant and more rocky. We paused to drink in the stunning view here on the top of the world, feeling proud of our achievement as we started the descent back into France. (Our warm glow of pride was later slightly extinguished when we realised that all our fellow hikers were at least 20 years older than we were.)
The descent was much quicker as we followed the steep rocky paths in reverse, and we ended up back at the Hospice de France for a well-earned beer.
It’s possible to make the walk circular by coming back along the Spanish valley instead of retracing your steps, and when Monty has recovered from his subsequent 16 hours of straight sleep we’ll be trying the trek again.