A River Runs Through It
There are many prehistoric caves in France and we’ve explore many of the most famous over the years. The 2018 Tour de France gives us yet another opportunity to discover the country’s important prehistoric sites at Grotte du Mas-d’Azil. Carved by the Arize River and traced by the D119, both linear forms make this cave accessible and beautiful at the same time. In fact, it was the construction of this road that led to the discovery of the archaeological site. Simply approaching the limestone monument cave on either end is an impressive experience. Entering the cave from the north, drivers drive through a narrow portal than seems to transport the visitor to another dimension, one of darkness and mystery. Just inside the southern, larger, gaping entrance is the cave museum, where this underground world truly comes alive. Meandering pathways lead visitors to seemingly stacked and towering rooms where both prehistoric and historic residents lived. The Grotte du Mas d’Azil offers visitors a fantastic opportunity to see how such caves were utilized by various peoples over the course of history, going back to 9,500 BC. Such overlapping history has yielded impressive and significant archaeological artifacts like paleolithic decorated bone discs and wall paintings on par with more familiar and famous cave dwellings in this part of France.
The Calming Waters in Val d’Aran
The 2018 Tour de France takes a brief detour across its border and into the Pyrenean Val d’Aran on its way to the French mountain resort of Luchon. For this reason, visiting the Tour’s sixteen-kilometer journey through Spain is an excellent place to explore Stage 16. While all uphill, the peloton will be dreading the last categorized climb of the day, the Col du Portillon. At the bottom of this 537-meter (1760 foot) climb is the town of Bossòst, on the frontier of Catalunya. Indeed, Bossòst is closer (8-kilometers) to Luchon than to other large Spanish cities. Yet here in the high mountains is a Spanish outpost on the beautiful Garonne River. We’ve explored this river before when the Tour started at Vielha and crossed Spain to Andorra. Inmany ways, however, Bossòst is a fantastic respite from the typical towns that the Tour has visited. It’s location in the high Spanish Pyrenees gives it a magical feel. Whether enjoying the race at home, on the Col du Portillon, or in Bossòst itself, it’s worth taking time to stroll through town, taking note of the French architectural influences, the streaming relaxation of the Garonne as it bisects the village, and the high Pyrenees all around, and a renowned preserved Romanesque church, the Iglesia de la Asuncion de Maria. Along a Tour that can be chaotic, even for spectators, a break in Spanish Bossòst is welcome relief.