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Where I Lay My Hat

Where I Lay My Hat

Where I Lay My Hat

When thinking about re-locating, where one chooses to lay one's hat often involves the long and painful process of research, checking the internet, more research and then some more checking of the internet before even starting to look at property.

Everyone has their "list" of things they want and don't want and most people have a pretty clear view of where they think they are going to end up. 

When I moved to France I had a pretty comprehensive list of “needs/wants” and “don’t need/wants” in terms of house, style, location etc.

I had romantic visions of sitting outside under a sunshade drinking rosé wine and eating the local cheese while admiring breath-taking mountain views. 
One thing that would likely put a wrench in the dream works was that we had to make a living and so compromise was probably going to be necessary.

Where I Lay My Hat

A chilled glass of Rosé was on the list of "wants".

Where I Lay My Hat

Beautiful flowers at Lourdes market.

Where I Lay My Hat

We wanted a property to run a cycling based business from and so location was key.

This time around, the Hautes Pyrènees was where we wanted to be.
We rented a gîte for a few months while we started our journey of looking at properties and quickly found out where we didn’t want to be.

We had been warned by other expats that Lourdes was a horrendous place to go and it was to be avoided at all costs.
It was busy, full of tourists, with tacky tourist "tat" shops. It was ugly, crass and, above all, weird because it was TOO religious. This advice we heeded and believed, we knew no better.

We were told about a property close to Lourdes and I immediately dismissed the idea but my other half was keen to check it out if only to see what one got for one's dollar.
On the way to the property I was adamant that I didn’t want to live there and so we started one of the many "why were we even looking" arguments.

Where I Lay My Hat

"Tacky" Lourdes!

So, it was a bit of a shock that 3 months later, after a lot of compromise and many "discussions", we moved into that very property.
The property that we have lived in for the last 5 years and created a successful cycling business despite the local expat horror of horrors that we should live so close to…..Lourdes.

I should probably say right off the bat that I’m not religious in the slightest and while I respect religion, it’s something that doesn’t enter into my vocabulary often (apart from swearing, which I do a lot of!)
I had no intention what-so-ever of living so close to something that was, to others, such a gross and religiously touristic place.

Where I Lay My Hat

Our house close to Lourdes

The thing is, though, that like it or loathe it, Lourdes works, and on many levels.

There’s the religious thing which brings over 5 million visitors a year and Lourdes has 270 hotels, 2nd only to Paris with bed numbers but it ‘aint so bad.

The other day I had to go to the bank in Lourdes and popped in to see a friend who had opened a shop in the “touristy area” which is an area I rarely go to. To my surprise it was packed full of Brits in brightly colourful outfits, all singing songs and having a great time of it. There may or may not have been alcohol involved but when I asked what was going on I was told that it was English week where volunteers bring disabled or disadvantaged children from the UK to Lourdes for a wonderful fun filled week each year. There were upwards of 5000 in total.
Obviously the volunteers don’t get paid for what they do and many are not even religious but choose to give back by volunteering their time as they do. I was humbled to say the least. The kids in wheel chairs were having a blast, huge smiles on their faces, laughing and giggling as the caregivers led the songs.
Who says Lourdes is crass?

My house sits in a small and quiet village 3 km outside of Lourdes. It’s very traditional without any amenities such as a bar or boulangerie and it’s inhabitants are either farmers or people who work in Lourdes or Tarbes.
The views of the mountains are spectacular and the villagers have a lot of pride in where they have laid their hats.
If we don’t fancy the 3 minute drive into Lourdes for a beer or dinner we can take our bikes for a peaceful 10 minute meander along the back roads and in to the hustle and bustle of downtown Lourdes where there are bars and restaurants to suit everyone.
Admittedly Lourdes isn’t the gastronomical capital of France but there are menus to suit everyone and something is always open even on those days when it’s hard to find a bite to eat in France.
It’s also not the prettiest town in France but I have seen many others much worse looking.

Where I Lay My Hat

The quiet meander into town.

I have to say that my once clouded view of Lourdes has changed dramatically since moving near to it. I am still not religious and don’t have to see that side of it if I don’t want to.
The infrastructure Lourdes offers is complete from doctors, dentists etc to tax offices and all the other jazz that a lot of people often have to travel long distances to use.
The restaurants and bars allow us to be “normal” when we want to and the location of our house allows us tranquillity for the rest of the time.

Lourdes sits at the entrance to what we call the “Argeles” valley, due to a town in it called Argeles Gazost.
It has easy dual carriageway access from the A64 autoroute, an international airport and a TGV station linking to Paris via Bordeaux or Toulouse.
From Lourdes it’s no more than a 30 minute drive to some of the best hiking and biking in France.
The Tour de France passes through the valley every year with climbs like Hautacam, Aubisque, Soulor, Luz Ardiden and Tourmalet on the doorstep.
The Parc National des Pyrenees with places such as Pont d’Espange and the World heritage Site of Gavarnie are here as are many more incredible hiking areas not to mention winter ski areas.
The views are stunning from almost every aspect of the valley.

Where I Lay My hat

Hiking in the National Park

Our business is successful and one can't argue with that.
Our client base is 80% cyclists who prefer our location which, despite it's proximity to Lourdes, is close to the famous cycle routes listed above.
The other 20% are sight seers and some pilgrims who come to Lourdes and prefer to stay away from the melee. 

So, I keep asking myself why everyone told me to steer clear. Have they ever been there?
I can only surmise that they wanted to keep the secret of such a beautiful area to themselves.
I'm joking, but it is a shame that there is that stigma there and that they still believe it. Gosh, imagine all those tourists coming, spending money and keeping business healthy!

Not everyone likes Lourdes, I know it's not for everyone but you don't have to live in it and you can’t deny that as a business model it works.
I, as one who would rather stay in business am happy to utilize all it has to offer. 

During the time that it has taken me to write this the church bells have sounded it's lunchtime peel breaking the silence that is uninterrupted by vehiclular traffic.
Sometimes a tractor will chug past but for the most part it's me, the birdsong and the beautiful Pyrenean views.
So this is where I chose to lay my hat. I do drink rose wine and eat goats cheese while looking at the beautiful mountain views but I also work my butt off to make our business successful so, compromise? Nah!

And to those who see Lourdes on the map and go the other way don’t. There’s a lot more than water that the town and area has to offer.

 

Lou Messugo
Where I Lay My Hat

The view from where I drink my Rosé.

Comments

That is certainly one gorgeous view for rosé drinking and chèvre eating! I must admit to being one of the prejudiced anti-Lourdes camp. I've never been but have heard such awful things. It looks like I should reassess my ideas and come and visit you! Thanks for linking up to #AllAboutFrance again

di's picture

Thanks for hosting the linky Phoebe and yes, you should give it a go sometime, the area surrounding it is beautiful.

Life is full of surprises and often we surprise ourselves with our decisions, don't we? I went to a Catholic grade school and remember hearing about Lourdes at a young age. It's always stuck in my mind as a place I'd like to visit despite the tacky tourist traps. My husband sometimes jokes about going to Lourdes if he's not feeling well or has some sort of injury. Maybe it's time to make that trip and do a little cycling, too. #AllAboutFrance

di's picture

Thanks Catherine, if you do visit remember to fill up your cycling bottles with holy water!

Lovely house and a touching story with the volunteers. You make a compelling case to visit Lourdes and the area. We're glued to Burgundy for a long time due to the works on the place but when is the best time of year to visit? Or is there something in all seasons?

di's picture

Hi Back To Burgundy, September/October is beautiful here although there is something going on all year round. October has to be my favorite month when the mountain colours change, the days are still sunny but it's cool enough to walk.
Although, Burgundy has to be one of my favorite places to visit especially in the autumn. It's definitely at the top of my list!

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