Suddenly they were there. I was taking a breath on a rock, talking to the husband when I spotted 5 or 6 enormous flying creatures behind his back, gliding into view. I must admit that my first thought was that they were paragliders… until three of them tipped their wings in unison to get the most of the thermal. Birds! Huge birds! I was pointing and mumbling incoherently, calling out to him to get his camera. (Which I had round my neck… took me a while to realise. That explains how we didn’t get a shot of the formation flying they did.) It was a magnificent sight. So silent, so in charge. We discussed quite a bit what birds they were. Their span was so big that they must have been vultures, plus the wing tips didn’t have that finger thing going that eagles have, but we couldn’t distinguish the tell tale necks/beak from our point of view. Eagles instead of vultures? That beak? Later at home I tried to enlarge the pics we took and found that indeed these were Griffon vultures (gyps fulvus / vale gier). We think…. Our resident bird expert hasn’t seen our pics yet so the final jury is still out ;-)
Downhill again, from the top of Mount Canigou. We started early in the morning, at 8 we were seated in the back of the jeep that took us halfway up the mountain, a 2-hour breathtaking drive. I can tell you I was very happy that we weren’t driving ourselves. This was a 4-wheel drive only road and rightfully so. Steep, unpaved, barely room to pass oncoming cars (if there were any). Brrr. Scary! Might mention there were no safety barriers of course.
Didn’t take any pics because we were too busy holding on to stay seated. On the left you see where we left the car to climb our way up. This was probably the widest part of the road. And the end of the road!
Our backpacks filled with water and snacks, hiking boots tightened and off we went. Early in the morning it promised to be another beautiful day but once we were hiking the temperature went down, wind picking up and we were happy to have our fleece vests. Or.. some of us were happy to have fleece vests and trousers. I think I heard some complaints from one or two that were wearing shorts and long sleeved t-shirts only…. There are times that you should listen to your parents. This was one of them. Really. The summit surprised us a bit, somehow I expected a wide sort of platform but this was a small slab of stone with iron cross. We still could see remnants of the St. Johns day ceremony where they light a bonfire on the top. The view should have been spectacular but the clouds were low and we didn’t have a clear view of the surrounding mountains. All that climbing and then this!
Once we were on our way down, we noticed the clouds were getting lower (see pic above) and the temperature dropping. We made a brief stop for hot chocolate in a mountain hut and then prepared to hurry down so we wouldn’t get trapped in that jeep down that road in not so swell weather conditions. Must admit I wasn’t entirely at ease with that trip down again. But we made it!
Just to assure you we had our share of relaxation as well! Above is Saint Thomas Les Bains, a spa with thermal water (up to 60C when it surfaces, in the pool it’s about 34C). The setting is like a Roman amphitheater in stone. I immediately fell in love with the view of the building when we walked up. There is an indoor hammam and spa with all kinds of treatments but we didn’t go in, just bought a ticket to enjoy the pool and the water. Lovely! We really had the impression that it left our skin soft and rehydrated. Little scratches and some tiny blisters from our hikes definitely looked better after bathing… Maybe it’s just my imagination but I wouldn’t mind doing this on a weekly base!
And finally, yes we did see and swim in the Mediterranean! Just the one day on the beach, lounging, reading, running across the hot soft sand to get to the water. Fun!