We returned home last weekend after spending two wonderful weeks in Biarritz – our third time to holiday there.
The last time we were in Biarritz was in August three years ago and, on one of our many day trips, we came across Le petit train de la Rhune, a train that runs on rack railway, which takes its passengers right up to the summit of the La Rhune mountain on the French/Spanish border. At the time, tourist season was in full swing, the car parks nearby were overflowing, and the train was filled to capacity on each journey, so we abandoned any notion we had of attempting to take a trip on it.
This year, however, we holidayed in June – a great time to holiday in France as everything is so quiet, and Le Petit Train de la Rhune is no exception. We arrived at the small, quaint, oldstyle train station at 10:30 in the morning and had no problems getting parking in the adjacent car park. There was plenty of room on the train and we’d no waiting around as we’d arrived just in time for the 10:30 trip.
Most people had taken up seats on the side of the train opposite the train station, but it doesn’t matter which side of the train you sit on, you’re still assured of some amazing views from the windows….
The train shuffles along at a leisurely 9kph and takes 30 minutes to reach the summit, so there’s plenty of time to admire the scenery.
You also get to stop for a couple of minutes on the way up so the second train can pass – there are two tracks up to this point, and then just one to the top.
We booked ‘single’ tickets so that we could walk back and see a bit more of the mountain. The walk is well worth doing, although you need to be fairly fit. It also gives you a better opportunity to take photos of the scenery (as opposed to taking photos of the back of people’s heads).
The first thing we did when we arrived at the top was to sit and enjoy a drink at one of the bars at the summit while we contemplated our route back.
After some deliberation and a lot of discussion of the different routes available, Bláthnaid made the decision as to which path we’d take:-
No arguing there.
I think this photo gives an idea of the distance back to the station, which is one of those buildings in the centre of the photograph.
We were able to purchase walking sticks in the gift shop at the top of the mountain. They don’t charge any extra for the sticks at the top of the mountain than they do at the bottom, by the way, 😉 , and they have a good variety of them at a range of different prices. The ones we got cost just €4.50 and were a much needed requisite for the descent. Of course I had already purchased a walking stick last year in Kerry which was hanging from a hook in our utility room back in Ireland – fat lot of good it was doing me there. It’s now been added to my camping checklist.
Once we’d sorted the stick situation out, it was time for a few photos before we set off.
It was EXTREMELY breezy at the summit. Poor Bláthnaid’s cap was nearly a gonner at one stage and I’d to chase it around the railway tracks for a while. We kept a close eye out for the train though in case it came hurtling out of nowhere.
I was lucky enough to be able to get the photo above of the girls. Usually when they see the camera they either turn the other way, or run…
….as in the photo below….
I suppose it was about time we’d gotten a move on though, especially as we could see dark clouds in the distance moving towards us.
It had gotten considerably darker up at the summit half an hour later when this next photo was taken.
(John doing his intrepid explorer pose)
It was a lovely walk down, but slow going as it’s quite steep in places. At the same time I can’t deny that there were quite a few older people flying up and down the mountain past us, but I imagine that’s because they all had two walking sticks each and not just one like we had. *cough*
There are Pottok ponies all over the mountain and they’re the most adorable little things. This one came right up to us, probably looking for food.
It seems like I took more pictures of the Pottok ponies than I did of anything else, but I did manage to get a photo of this weird bug.
I also got some photos of mountain vultures but they look like black dots in the sky so there’s no point in posting those. Some day I’ll have a nice lens that I’ll be able to capture vultures at a distance with.
There was still a bit of a distance to go down the mountain and, at this stage, the girls had reckoned that it was better for them to join forces and help each other. Ally took both hers and Bláthnaid’s sticks and led Bláthnaid down the mountain.
On our way down we saw the train making its ascent again with a fresh load of passengers on board.
And only minutes later the other train passed going downhill.
And then, before we knew, it we were at the bottom of the mountain, ourselves.
This is something I’d definitely like to do again, although it would be nice to spend more time up the mountain and maybe walk the different routes.
Tips for the trip:
1. Wear good walking boots. We got away with walking shoes and runners, but the first half of the route is rocky and it would be easy to twist an ankle on the way down.
2. Check the weather (as it says in the photo). On a wet day I’d image the route could get very slippy.
3. Wear suncream and insect repellant and bring extra supplies. There are nasty biting beetles at the top of the mountain.
4. Wear a sunhat and bring layers of clothing. Due to the breeze at the top it can be quite chilly.
5. Bring walking sticks – two if you have them. Not only will they help with balance but they’ll save your legs from a couple of days of agony afterwards if you’re not used to mountain descents.
6. Bring drinks and a packed lunch. There are restaurants at the top but you’ll get thirsty on the way down.