The Marble of Sarrancolin
Sarrancolin is the sprint town for the2018 Tour de France Stage 19. For lovers of fine furniture and architecture, it is also renowned for the marble that bears its name. While Sarrancolin marble dates to Roman times, it wasn’t until the 17th century that it became a household name. This was almost entirely due to its use at Versailles. As the most lavish palace in Europe, the materials and objects used at the royal court became sought-after across the continent. Needless to say, Sarrancolin marble, with its strong red flaming patterns, were a particular draw. Even today, museums across the world hold remnants of the Versailles inventory that contain Sarrancolin marble – from bedside tables of oak topped with slabs of Sarrancolin marble to carved and gilded console tables again topped with marble, the exquisite marble accents put the little riverside Pyrenean town on the world map. Sarrancolin Fantistico, with pink-beige hue, has become the most revered type of marble, albeit originally reserved for royal use. The marble continues to be used in spectacular international projects, from the Empire State Building to developers in China, India, and Middle East seeking that extra special something for their luxury buildings. Visiting Sarrancolin today, peer up to the hillsides around the villages of Ilhet and Beyrède and you can still see the quarries at work on both sides of the Aure Valley.
Good Water in Eaux-Bonnes
So many towns and villages in the Pyrenees have a tie to thermal springs, but the village of Eaux-Bonnes mixes a rich past with a still-present resort. Like more familiar resorts such as Bagneres-du-Luchon, Eaux-Bonne was purpose-built as a thermal resort in the 19th century. Even the Roman, who made thermal baths a thing, enjoyed the waters here, but never laid any permanent foundations. The springs were used intermittently over the next millenia until a new spa building was built. This was a modest building (now the town hall) nestled in the narrow valley on the Valentin River. Once word got out, however, this village, Graham Robb describes as “the Paris street wedged into a Pyrenean gorge” swelled by over 2,000% to a population of 6,400 “invalids” seeking its healing waters. With such explosion came commercial success, as indicated by the impressive casino atop a commanding hill at the edge of town. All of a sudden, Eaux-Bonnes became a tourism magnet. That was until World War II, in which such resorts were out of favor with the occupying (and no longer a priority for the occupied) forces. The thermal baths could not make a recovery following the war’s end. Today, much of Eaux-Bonnes looks like a ghost town, although the well-known company Valvitol operates a newer and fancier thermal center dedicated to the benefits of these springs to rheumatism and respiratory tract treatments. This is done with all the modern technology while keeping the traditions of Eaux-Bonnes’ heritage.