Tayte Pollmann’s Tuesday Trail Tips series of articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte from the wine country of Southern France on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
This week I journey from the French wine country (see last week’s Tuesday Trail Running Tip), into remote areas of the French Pyrénées. Each time I visit the Pyrénées, I become more curious about what it would be like to live in one of its many small villages. The Pyrénées’ village atmosphere is something one can’t find in the United States. Spending time in these remote village settings provides a glimpse into the way of life for the inhabitants which is both unique and intimately connected with nature. Below are three essential characteristics to life in Pyrénées villages.
A Town Where Everybody Knows Your Name
I spent the evening in the 150-person village of Aulus les Bains in the heart of the Pyrénées. I took a walk through the village streets and listened to everyone speak to one another like old friends. I watched plumes of smoke rise from house chimneys built of age-old stone. I heard the chime of ringing bells from the town’s lone church built before our country signed the Declaration of Independence. When the sun fully disappeared below the horizon, the town seemed to go quiet and I knew it was time to go to sleep. Conversely, as soon as the sun rose the next morning, the town was active and I knew it was time to wake up.
Connection to Animals
There were more cows, sheep, and horses in Aulus les Bains than people. I slept near a herd of grazing sheep, falling asleep to the melodic jingle of bells the sheep wore around their necks. Just like the sound of ocean waves, or the rippling waters on river banks, the jingle of sheep bells is something peaceful I can fall asleep to. I also encountered rare Mèrens horses on a hike high above the village. These equines are native to the Pyrénées region and were used in the past as pack animals because of their physical strength and sure-footedness on the rugged mountain terrain. Many animals in the Pyrénées , such as these horses, follow a pattern of seasonal migration where they are moved by herders up to high elevations every June and back lower to the village in October.
I was amazed by the access to trails everywhere in the Pyrénées. Each village has a trail system and there’s always a way to connect to the GR 10 trail, which crosses the entire mountain range from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Many of the locals were happy to share their knowledge with me of the many great hikes in the area and there seemed to always be another peak to climb, or lake to visit.
Some of my favorite trails in the Pyrénées are those that extend beyond 1500 meters. At this elevation, forests are in the foothills below and hiking is often through low-hanging clouds. Likewise, there are climbs along grassy slopes and sharp rocky peaks, and magnificent views of beautiful turquoise lakes.
Tomorrow, October 10, I leave France and the Pyrénées for a new adventure including India and Nepal. I will miss my French life, but I’m excited to experience a new culture on and off the trails!