Thursday, March 19, 2015

It's Still Cold Here, so Hot Springs!

It's still cold here.  It's supposed to be spring tomorrow, and that's not happening.  Hate that groundhog.  So, in the interest of still getting out, and the need to stay warm, we're looking in on the Pyrenees Mountains in the Catalan Region of Spain, Andorra, and France.  Specifically, we're looking in on France.  The Pyrenees Mountains are some of the most beautiful in the world.  Matisse is only one of the artists that was fascinated with the area.  Now the area is mostly steeped in tourism, and that covers everything from hiking and biking to skiing.  The Catalan Region is famous for it's ski resorts, and they will not disappoint.  There are tons of resorts in the three countries that are open well into the spring.  The elevation in the area makes them late season hot spots, even though the area is in the south of France.

The mountains will keep any artist or photographer busy.  The resorts are great with all kinds of activities and great food.  There are also little towns dotting the landscape, and they all have ancient history for the history buff in your family.  The Romans were there.  Their architecture is all over the place from buildings to water retention systems, to tunnels, to churches.  If you love history, you will love this area.

The village of Dorres sits in one of the many rural areas of the Catalan Park and Pyrenees Mountains.  The village sits on a plateau hundreds of meters above sea level.  It's a great little village with a couple of hotels and bed and breakfasts, and some restaurants.  The Catalan language is spoken here, so if you thought that little bit of French you picked up might help you...don't count on it.  They do speak some French in this area, but overwhelmingly, they speak Catalan.  I remember my first encounter with Spain.  I thought that by picking up some Spanish I would be all right.  Wrong.  There are several languages spoken in Spain.  There are also several spoken in France, especially in the southern regions.  Andorra almost exclusively speaks Catalan.  So, go prepared travelers.  You need to be able to communicate, if you intend to go out to the small rural villages and soak up the culture.  The Catalan region has it's own language, it's own food, it's own traditions, and they are wildly independent of whichever country they actually belong to.  It's like taking a trip to Brighton Beach in New York City.

Getting to towns in this area is a little tricky.  Hence, the Yellow Train.  This train was designed to give travelers a great view whilst getting them to their destination in the area.  Dorres and some other villages are really off the beaten path, and you will have to catch a cab to those towns, but the train really helps.  It's a difficult drive unless you are familiar with the area, and the train and taxi is a great combination to get you where you need to go.

But, why would you want to visit this land of rebels and separatists?  You can see great Roman churches and other architecture all over Europe.  What's the big deal about Dorres, France?  I do like to get out of the rat race.  I do like to find those out of the way places and check them out.  You know how I am.  Off the beaten path, baby.  But seriously, with all the hiking and the skiing and the climbing and the biking; why would I consider this an Adventure for Anyone?

It's the baths.  Bains de Dorres France is the top of the list when it comes to hot springs, or in Europe, baths.  The baths in Dorres are some of the most visited in the world.  They are carved out of the granite that the area is also famous for, and were reportedly carved by Romans.  In early times there were quarries and stone carvers all over the area.  Today, there are museums.  The baths are famous for righting a number of problems like arthritis and other joint and muscle pains.  People have been taking the sulfur baths since at least the Roman times and many thousands of people have claimed that they have been cured by the waters there.  For me, it's just another way to fight the cold.  Even if you like to ski, snow shoe, glacier walk or whatever; you can thoroughly enjoy the baths to warm up after. 

So, call up Air France and get a flight to Nice or somewhere close by.  Make your way to Bourg Madame or some other town on the railroad map.  Catch the Yellow Train and head into the wilds of the Pyrenees.  Enjoy the skiing.  Enjoy the view.  After you've seen all the other views, go to Bains de Dorres and soak in the baths, surrounded by snow, 4800 feet up in the air on the side of a mountain, gazing at the amazing view of the Pyrenees.  It doesn't get much more magnificent than that.


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