I saw a beaver! Or was it a platypus? On board the Petit train d'Artouste traveling on one of Europe's highest railway line, I was doubtful that any animals could survive an altitude of over 2,000 m (6,562 ft). Yet here they were, not just one but a whole family of marmots. Later, I found out that marmots are large ground squirrels that generally live in mountainous areas.
This narrow train line stretched for 10 km through the mountain's length -- with a track gauge just centimeters away from the highest drop. We boarded a tￃﾩlￃﾩcabine from a lower station at Artouste-Fabrￃﾨges. The hair-raising excursion lasted just under an hour on a scenic mountain route, where you can admire the panoramic views of the Ossau massif and dizzying viewpoints over the Soussouￃﾩou valley.
When we arrived at the mountain top terminal, a short scrambling up the rocks led us to the pristine Artouste Lake (Lac d'Artouste).
The beauty of the Pyrￃﾩnￃﾩes
The Pyrￃﾩnￃﾩes is a range of mountains which form a natural border between France and Spain, and Andorra is sandwiched in the middle. I've been a very lucky girl to be able to stay in the Hautes-Pyrￃﾩnￃﾩes, which is especially lush -- famous for hiking trails in the summer, cross-country skiing in the winter and the year-round pilgrimage town of Lourdes. A vast majority of land is untouched, and in such a fecund part of the world, you can expect abundances of wild flora, fauna and insects. The pictures say it all but in case you're still curious, this is the land of cattle, dreamy cheeses, foie gras, plenty of organic foods, tasty wild fruits, miles of rejuvenating countryside walks and the Tour de France.
Facing miles of countryside landscape, it is easy for one to find inner peace in this quiet serenity. It is therefore not surprising that one of the world's greatest writers, Paulo Coelho, resides in Tarbes, one of the oldest towns in Hautes-Pyrￃﾩnￃﾩes.
Logistics and accommodation
To get to the Midi-Pyrￃﾩnￃﾩes, flying is the most economical way. Flights to Lourdes, Pau, Biarritz, Toulouse, Carcassone, and Perpignan take less than two hours from London. There are plenty of places to stay in the Midi-Pyrￃﾩnￃﾩes, one of which is the spa town Bagneres-de-Bigorre, which offers many hotels, bed and breakfasts, and inns options. The best way to get around while you are in the Pyrￃﾩnￃﾩes is driving.