Friday, September 4, 2009

A quick visit to the Pyrenees

One of the wonderful things about Europe these days is that it's easy to hop onto a discount airline and take a short, cheap holiday somewhere really fantastic. Ryanair flies out of Maastricht in the summer with 40 euro fares to Girona, just north of Barcelona along the French-Spanish border. A new adventure in a warm location: what more could one need?

The area packs a lot of variety into a small region. A couple of hours drive can literally pass from mountaintops to coastal harbors, from traditional villages to large cities. The Pyrenees themselves are rugged and cloudy: twisting roads lead up through the stands of trees to break out at crystalline alpine lakes and snowfields. There were lots of late summer hikers and climbers; the chalets are running pre-season specials that include a vast skier's breakfast.
I loved the warning signs ahead of the mountain passes: it was hard to imagine any road that might have more hazards than these...

Carcassone is a vast keep at the foot of the mountains, restored a century ago and now a UNESCO Heritage site. Although filled with tourists and overpriced cafes, the castle itself is wonderfully reconstructed. The cathedral has a Gothic transept attached to a Roman nave, a unique bit of architecture. It's not far from Toulouse,which I thought was a better bet for eating and taking in the local museums.
My favorite piece of art was the scholar in Wilson plaza, studiously absorbed in his books despite the nymph sprawled at his feet...

The villages along the Mediterranean coast are compact and colorful, perfect for relaxing along the waterfront or enjoying the cafes. Collioure is a convenient stopover with a good balance of scenery and attractions: the seafood restaurants and local wines were both excellent.

More pictures on my flickr page.

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