The Final Frontier

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Sep 29, 2009

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Flag of France  , Midi-Pyrénées,
Thursday, April 23, 2009

The drive towards Albi from the Dordogne was very chilled, the weather had picked up considerably and the rain seemed to be behind us, the route was very picturesque, long windy roads, worn away little towns and lonely houses in the middle of nowhere, the terrain was getting generally dryer and barren, it felt like Spain wasn't far away.

We stopped for dinner in St Antonin Noble Val, it didn't look particularly special at first and we only stopped as we saw a point to take on fresh water, but after we had ate we spotted a cycle route map which promised a leisurely trip along the river, right through a deep valley. It didn't disappoint, with the sunny weather in full flow the bike ride really felt like the tour had begun properly, and we would be doing stuff like this for months to come.

We then continued into Albi, again a great little town with a magnificent cathedral, now were not that into churches but we do appreciate good architecture and it was such an imposing building, it just invited you in for a look. Inside the wall's were painted fresco with the most amazing geometric shapes and gothic scenes, the scenes in the fresco were probably the most disturbing images I have ever seen in a church, with hell depicted complete with flesh eating beasts ripping into non believers I guess. Nice to see the church took a balanced view then as well.

We stayed the night in a free stop in Albi as I wanted to see the Toulouse Latrec museum in the next day. His graphic style is as fresh today as it was 150 years ago and he's long been one of my favorite artists. The collection was huge and it was well worth the visit.

After we had one last look around in the amazing weather which was holding out nicely. We the drove towards Toulouse and on to the Pyrenees, we decided against actually going into Toulouse as the traffic seemed very heavy and we'd had our share of culture for the morning. So we carried on down south and not long after we got our first glimpse of the mountains. It was an impressive sight, driving past green fields in hot spring sunshine and as far as the eye could see on the horizon were the jagged snow capped peaks, brilliant.

We found a spot to camp around 4pm just in the foothills, the evening weather was still gorgeous and Sharon suggested we go for a drive. Now we had decided to take a night off drinking as the cheap French wine had been so good we had probably drunk a bit to much. So we picked a spot which didn't seem to far away towards what the map described as a 'scenic route'. It started off pleasant enough we were slowly climbing in the van trough some pretty hill towns and valleys getting closer to the big mountains. Soon we were climbing higher and higher and the road was getting steeper very quickly.

Now anyone who knows me knows I like climbing mountains in the UK and we both have climbed Snowdon at over 1000m, but we now have the surreal honor of actually driving higher than we have both climbed. We were over 1100m driving roads that were testing the van to the limit as well as Sharons nerves which to be honest had given up a long time ago during the accent. Going down hill the brakes were on fire, going uphill the engine was overheating and making some worrying noises, we needed to get back down but there was only mountain passes either way.

So we found a route that might get us down without climbing to much further. But there was no easy escape, we had continued to climb and was now level with the snow, with our ears continuously popping, what had started as a leisurely afternoon drive was quickly turning into a frightening experience. The roads up there defy belief, they are a tourist sight along any of the major buildings in Europe, I have driven the van up UK mountain passes but theses are in another league, some go to over 2500m!! But we now knew the vans limit and just needed to get off in one piece. We eventually found a route down and live to write the tale and more importantly the van in still going, and if thats not an endorsement that given the choice you should stay put and have a drink, I don't know what is!

That night ominously we found a spot next to a little church in the valley overlooked by the mountains. It was still a perfectly clear night and the stars lit up the night with the silhouette of the mountains as a back drop, it was pretty special. We were very quite that night, thankful this show was still on the road and we were relived not to be coming home one way or another!

Looking at the the stars we could see over twenty flashing plane lights at any one time, obviously we were close to the main flight route towards Spain, we would be following them soon but maybe not as high this time!
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