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The Pic du Midi de Bigorre is no ordinary mountain peak. It is home to an impressive scientific observatory studying astronomy and the evolution of the earth. Scientists study the stars including the sun, climatology, meteorology, even botany and cosmology and much more. And it is open to the public.
Le Pic du Midi de Bigorre
Paragliders over Le Pic du Midi de Bigorre
View from Le Pic du Midi de Bigorre
Pic du Midi de Bigorre mini guide
|Department:||South West France > Midi Pyrenees > Hautes-Pyrénées >|
|Location:||The Pic du Midi de Bigorre can only be reached by two cable cars starting from the ski resort of La Mongie|
|Visit owner's personal website:||http://www.picdumidi.com/web/en/136-home.php|
|Quick links to accommodation:||Accommodation near Pic du Midi de Bigorre - Hotels in Pic du Midi de Bigorre|
A Pyreneen mountain summit in the Hautes Pyrenees. A savage, snow covered solitary place, where wolves howl eerily in the blizzards. Or so Louis XIV believed. In fact the people living then were terrified of the Pyrenees and never went anywhere near them. Louis went so far as to claim that he had actually abolished them. Fortunately for us he failed.
Nowadays we can marvel at these majestic forces of nature which make up this most beautiful mountain range which separates southern France from northern Spain. We can dream about what it would be like to stand on the summit and look out from our very own top of the world. Here in the department of the Hautes Pyrenees at the foot of the famous Col de Tourmalet, that dream is a reality because the Pic du Midi de Bigorre is no ordinary mountain peak. It is home to an impressive scientific observatory studying astronomy and the evolution of the earth. Scientists study the stars including the sun, climatology, meteorology, even botany and cosmology and much more. And it is open to the public.
The story really began in 1881 when a small observation platform was built on the Pic by the University of Toulouse. With no cable cars to take the strain all the building materials and equipment had to be physically hauled up the mountain by man and beast. Film was taken of this incredible feat of human courage and endurance. Not just of the building but also of the scientific team manning the small observatory spending month after month marooned in snowy isolation unable to descend the treacherous slopes.
Today there is a new telescope installed in a modern, grand observatory. This is one of the largest in Europe and the work carried out by the scientists is respected worldwide. A few years ago, mainly because of financial expediency, a Musée des Etoiles (Museum of the Stars) was created and opened to the public. There is no need to be a budding astronomer to appreciate this informative and user friendly museum. And if space is not your thing, the panoramic view of the Pyrenees from the terraces is awe inspiring and curiously humbling. And when you’re done and all out of wonder and amazement, have lunch in the restaurant and try to enjoy the typically Pyreneen fare on offer. But be warned. French gourmet cuisine never made it up this mountain.
Even the journey to reach the Pic is exciting and is made by two cable cars starting from the ski resort of La Mongie. The bleak waiting area of the cable car station is soon forgotten as the car starts to rise, gently and smoothly, until it reaches a point where the angle of ascent changes. There is always a collective gasp from the occupants as the car swings backwards and forwards for a few seconds before settling down to continue its smooth ride. Watch La Mongie slip away, replaced by steep mountain slopes, fathomless ravines and sheer drops of emptiness beneath. The car arrives at a station about halfway up where everyone changes to another car for the final ascent to the summit.
The views are breathtaking. On a clear day mountain peaks surround you as far as the eye can see. Sometimes they may be covered by a haze pierced by the strong sun to give a misty, surreal effect. Or they can be covered in clouds like a sea of foam bubbling away into the distance with the higher peaks appearing like islands in this pristine, white world.
There is snow at the summit from October to May. There are still rivulets of snow to be seen in the short summer months at this height. Warm clothing, sensible shoes, sunglasses and sun cream are essential kit.
Having drunk your fill of these indescribable views it is time to enter the museum. This is by way of a lift which in itself is like a mini planetarium which provides an introduction to the Universe during the short journey. Then step out into the museum itself to be greeted by a large model of the building and terraces. Follow the footsteps past numerous display cases containing detailed and sometimes technical data about the universe and the work of the observatory; various scientific instruments used over the years are on display as is the gigantic original telescope which is housed in a room all to itself. There is also a small film studio where a film is continuously run to show the building and history of the observatory. The current working observatory is out of bounds to the public.
Depending on your level of enthusiasm you can spend a Starry Evening (including dinner) to observe sundown and the night sky with the astronomers.
The ultimate is to spend a night on the Pic (Nights at the Summit) but this experience doesn’t come cheap. Accommodation is spartan – the Ritz it is not – dinner and breakfast are included. You will experience sundown, the night sky with the astronomers as your guides, then sunrise over the Pyrenees. The all year round menus are even published on the Pic du Midi website but then food is of the essence. After all this is France
It goes without saying that the weather plays a crucial part in any visit to the Pic. On any planned trip it is worth a phone call before setting out to check the weather. The cable cars do not run if there is a strong wind blowing. In the summer months it is best to visit in the morning because of the haze on the mountain which starts to form around mid day.
It is possible to ski down from the Pic du Midi but a professional will accompany you. It is also possible to ride down on mountain bikes but this is not for the amateur. Both these activities can be dangerous so you need to be an expert in your field or, for the faint hearted, certifiable.
Waxing lyrical for a moment, if you get the chance, do this thing. Climb up to the stars. Experience the top of this world. It is a magical, unforgettable adventure.
Authors note: For more information on this or any part of the Hautes Pyrenees or the Gers that you may be planning to visit please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org I will be pleased to help.
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