Stage 9: Saint Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre
The Foix to St Girons greenway, an ideal site for a stroll or a ride, provides 42 kms of track for those wishing to take advantage of the Ariege environment, away from the roars of motorised engines. Set over a disused railway track, the greenway winds between the countries of Foix and Couserans, in the heart of Seronais. The Ariege General Council, who founded the works undertaken between 2008 and 2012, held a great celebration in May for the inauguration of the greenway. The track starts from Vernajoul, 3 km from Foix and is both very practical and secure as underpasses have been installed when it crosses roads. Going westwards, at the foot of the Pyrenees, the course starts in the shade and opens up on the valley, offering beautiful views until la Bastide de Serou. Beyond, the greenway follows a pretty valley and crosses two tunnels before heading back towards the valley.
At a crossroads between eighteen different valleys, St Girons has often seen the Tour de France ride past. Luis Leon Sanchez scored a great victory in town in 2009. But St Girons was also often the start of mountain stages in the Pyrenees. In 1995 like in 2003, the roads to Cauterets and Loudenvielle helped Richard Virenque collect points for the polka-dot jersey. Yet the Tour faced a tragedy that day in 1995 when Fabio Casartelli died in the descent of Portet d’Aspet. Expect for the first stage it hosted as a start in 1984 – victory by Pascal Poisson in Blagnac -, St Girons was always a launching pad for climbers as the next three finishes took place in three hot spots of the Pyrenees, Luz Ardiden in 1988 (Laudelino Cubino), Cauterets in 1995 (Richard Virenque) and Loudenvielle in 2003 (Gilberto Simoni).A former yellow jersey holder, Frederic Moncassin, also winner of two stages in 1996, now lives near St Girons where he opened a restaurant named after a road sign he used to relish: “La Flamme rouge”.
Built in 1857 by Auguste Tisne on the site of a 14th century church, of which only the tower remains, it is topped by a spire decorated with wolf heads. Inside can be seen paintings by Spanish artist Alonso Cano.
It is thought to have been built by monks in 1138. Its main portal, placed inside the porch, dates from the time while its tower was built in the 16th century. Inside can be found a sarcophagus in which was buried Valier, the first bishop of Couserans.
The 1900 classroom in the old school of the Jacobins is the reconstitution of a classroom with its wood stove, its tables, geography maps and old books.
The greenway (see link)
Between Saint-Girons and Esterri de Aneu (Spain), the path follows the itinerary used by the refugees feeling to Spain during WWII.
Built in the 9th century, the cathedral of St Lizier houses remarkable Romanesque frescos. The cathedral and the cloister are listed as World Geritage sites by UNESCO as stages on the St James Way.
L'AlamZic brews new sounds Because of a strong demand from the local youth, the Bagneres municipality decided in 2008 to build a hall devoted to amplified music. La Halle aux Grains, the main musical venue in Bagneres, was not adapted to the public and the demands of modern music and works to modernise the place would have been too costly while hampering its use by other forms of music. A new 450-capacity hall, dubbed AlamZic, was created close to the Halle aux Grains to benefit from the previous venue’s facilities in terms of staff and parking space. The new venue, inaugurated in 2012 for a budget of 1.2 million euros, was conceived by architect Philippe Guitton and works hand in hand with another similar venue in La Gespe in order to attract artists with a higher profile. Its copper roof and its round shape make AlamZic a remarkable architectural fixture in town. It also houses boxes for local bands to rehearse.
BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE AND CYCLING
In 1952, Raphael Geminiani won in Bagneres after going solo in Col d’Aspin. Gem was used to win stages after rest days and he said he owed these victories to his wife, who came to visit in those one-day breaks. Eleven years later, Jacques Anquetil, with three Tour victories behind hilm, did not have much to prove on the Tour. However, in a stage between Pau and Bagneres-de-Bigorre with the Aubisque and Tourmalet on the day’s profile, the Frenchman made it a point to show the opposition, and especially Federic Bahamontes, that he was still the boss. Anquetil even sprinted to earn his first stage victory which was not a time trial. Bagneres-de-Bigorre was also the haven in which Laurent Fignon had settled towards the end of his life creating a training centre bearing his name. This year will also mark the 30th anniversary of his first victory in the Tour de France.
PLACES TO SEE
The “Grands Thermes”, in the heart of Bagneres-deBigorre, date from the late 19th century and display the typical thermal architecture of the period, using noble material such as the marble of the Pyrenees. Spacious and equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, including three thermal water pools, the establishment is specialised in cures for rheumatology and respiratory problems.
St Vincent church:
The 14th century church was built on the site of an older shrine. It is in Gothic style for the West façade while the porch is Renaissance.
The Gothic Jacobins tower is a 35-metres-high square belfry in its first two floors, becoming octagonal at the top. It is what remains of the church of the Dominican church destroyed by fire in 1343. The convent and the cloister were demolished in 1793.
Caves of Medous:
The caves of Medous are natural caves without any trace of prehistoric human presence. They were dug by an underground river and are famous for their beautiful natural decoration of stalagmites and stalactites looking like petrified waterfalls. They attracted pilgrims since the 18th century and inside was built a chapel, in which the Virgin Mary appeared to the Lloye widow, warning her that plague would hit the town.