The pattern of morning fog continued. It is nice to ride in, not so good for pictures. Our hopes were that the rain would hold back until we were over the mountains.
We had slept in a bit, then dressed for breakfast which we had in the hotel. We then packed and prepared for riding over additional passes, the goal was to cross Col de Peyresourde, then go over Col du Portillon and into Spain. I had figured that this was a bit shorter, both in distance and effort, so had set a goal of making it past Vielha and into the foothills of Port de la Bonaigua, possibly stopping near Arties.
We pulled the bikes from the garage and attached the saddlebags. We rolled through the courtyard and out onto the road to Peyresourde. There was not much of the village past the hotel, so we had decided to look for a pastisserie in one of the smaller villages along the way. The first village, Bordères-Louron, had a store which Sarah checked and bought the last two pastries which we stored in my bar bag. From there it was a pleasant ride under the overcast skies through the valley then up the forested slopes to the pass.
At the top of Col de Peyresourde there was a place advertising crepes at 0,40€ each or 12 for 4€. Sarah did not seem interested so we coasted past down to the sign signifying the top of the pass for the requisite photos. We broke out the pastries, or second breakfast, for a snack and were soon joined by an Australian gentleman who was cycle touring through part of Europe. He had started a month earlier, in Rome, and had crossed through Corsica and then onto Nice and westward. He was doing one pass per day and was going down towards Arreau to camp and rest for his ascent of Tourmalet the next day. A pleasant chat, and we were envious of the time he had for his trip.
The descent down from Peyresourde is long, and the road is covered with lots of leftover writing from the 2004 Tour de France; lots of Basque flags, comments urging in Virenque, Mayo and other local heros as well as some comments about doping by one or more participants. We enjoyed the relatively traffic free roads and relatively smooth pavement. At the bottom we entered Bagnères-du-Luchon, or Luchon for short, and started searching for lunch. We found a restaurant with outdoor seating just as we turned onto a main street through town so we pulled in and parked the bikes. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch of soup and taglietelle carbonara before heading out for Col du Portillon.
As we climbed out of town, on a freshly paved road, and turned towards the road to the pass we mused on how quiet things were; no cyclists, no real traffic. We passed through a park, which seemed to be an entrance to a nature area, and came around the corner to be faced with barricades across the road and a sign stating that the pass was closed. What? How could that be? No real explanation, but it did say that the detour was through St. Béat. We check the map, and the detour will be a loop of twenty plus miles, back through Luchon and down the canyon to Cierp-Gaud then across to St. Béat where we can turn southward and enter Spain on the same road we would have intersected after descending from Portillon. No other good options, so we beat our retreat towards Luchon.
The road south from Luchon was rather easy riding, a slight overall descent and moderately good pavement, so we made good time. We reached Cierp-Gaud, turned right and rode to St. Béat, which turned out to be a lovely little town. With the extra distance, even without all the climbing, we felt pressed and did not give the town the time it deserved, something to rectify on a future trip. In St. Béat we turned right and headed towards Spain on the rather major highway heading towards Vielha and the (5 km long) tunnel. It was not long before we came around a curve to find the now vacant border station, its services unnecessary in the EU framework of free borders. We were in Spain and were quickly following the river towards Vielha. We passed through the town of Bossòst, which was amazingly busy on this Sunday afternoon. My suspicion is that prices are lower on the Spanish side and the hundreds of cars were French shoppers looking to save some money. Just past the town we see the Spanish side of "Eth Portillon", the sign noting that the "Eth" is closed 10km up, and that the French border is 9km up. This at least tells us that the French side is closed pretty much bottom to top and that we might have been foolish to try going around those barricades at the bottom on the French side.
Sarah was wanting some liquid, so a major shopping complex like the one south of Bossòst was a welcome sight. We had to make a left turn, through a maze of traffic, to get to the supermarket but it looked worse than it was in reality. Sarah went in to buy her beverages of choice while I sat outside watching the people ... and listening. I knew it was going to be a problem; whatever these folks were speaking, likely Catalan, bore little resemblance to Spanish. Sarah emerged, Cokes in hand, and we sit down and drink them while discussing the language and the options. With the extra mileage of the detour we decide to start looking for lodging on this side of Vielha.
Our escape from the supermarket parking lot, and left across the highway, was even easier than the entrance. From there it was a pleasant trip through canyon and into the Val d'Aran on our way towards Vielha. After we passed the turnoff to Arros we started to look for places to stay. A couple of kilometers later, at Pont d'Arros, Sarah spotted a hotel on the left so we pulled over to enquire about staying the night. Since this is Spain, by agreement she was to do the inquiries as her experience with Spanish is fresher than mine. The hotel turned out to be closed, but the owner pointed us to the place next door. We rolled across to the second hotel, Hotel Peña, and Sarah entered for her second attempt. It turned out she (a) entered the Restaurant, not the hotel, and (b) encountered the family matriarch who seemed to either not understand Castillean Spanish or refused to acknowledge that she did. Sarah ended up talking to the young grandson who took her to the hotel portion where she was able to check us in. The room keys opened the garage under the hotel where we could store the bikes, so we took care of that before going up to our room.
The hotel seemed busy, but it turned out to be a first communion party for a local family. The major effect of that was it slowed down access to dinner, as by the time the party ended and the restaurant was cleared and reconfigured it was about 9:15PM. That was the latest dinner start we experienced, but it was indicative of our Spanish experience where dinner rarely started before 8:30PM.
The hotel was the nicest of our trip, all newly built or remodeled, all very modern. The bath was all terracotta tile, large on the floor, smaller on the walls, sink, and tub surround. And there was a tub, and that pleased Sarah. There was a flat screen TV in the room, and larger ones in the public areas. A very nicely done place. After settling in we cleaned up, did laundry, and did some reading and resting while waiting for dinner.