A trip to the Mountains in May (Dennis Aubrey)

PJ and I are planning another mammoth photography session in France and Spain this year. We’ll be gone about two months and will photograph most of the southern periphery of France, through the Pyrénées and up through Provence. We will, of course, visit our favorite spots in Chartres, Poitiers, Vézelay and the Souillac, but this is primarily new territory for us. The new stuff begins south of the Dordogne, where we will spend a week between Villeneuve-sur-Lot and Agen. From there, we head to the mountainous border between France and Spain, the Pyrénées, where we will spend a full month.

We begin our trip in virgin Pyrénées territory for us, the extreme southwest of France. In the area around Vic-en-Bigorre ①  we are planning to photograph eight important churches, most of which are part of the Compostella pilgrimage route. We are particularly excited to photograph the mosaics at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption de Lescar.

The Pyrénées section of the trip
The Pyrénées section of the trip

From Vic-en-Bigorre, we head southwest towards the main route into Spain at Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port, but will be using Oloron-Sainte-Marie② as our headquarters. This will be the base as we explore the last French churches on the Compostella route before the Roncesvalles pass.

From Oloron, we make a short drive to Luz-Saint-Sauveur③. The purpose here is to shoot the Église Saint-Savin in Saint Savin and see the Vierge noire des croisades. She is no longer a Black Madonna, but is a compelling vierge romane. In Luz itself is a Templars’ church, Eglise des Templiers de Luz with its own vierge romane.

Next is Bagnères-de-Luchon④ in the Haute-Garonne which we will use to explore a line of six mountain churches in Bonnemazon, Cazaux Frechet, Mont, Saint Aventin, Cazaril-Laspènes and the Spanish town of Bossòst.

Église Saint Julien et Sainte Basilisse, Jujols (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by PJ McKey
Église Saint Julien et Sainte Basilisse, Jujols (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

After Bagnères-de-Luchon, we leave France briefly and drive south to the Val d’Aran⑤ in Spain. This is one of two narrow valleys in the Pyrénées region of Spain with a string of beautiful Romanesque churches. The other, the Vall de Boí, is only about fifteen miles south of here but we don’t have the time to shoot there and we are saving these spectacular churches for a later trip. In the Val d’Aran we shoot nine churches, if possible, arrayed on an approximately twenty mile east-west line. Nine churches is a lot to photograph in three days, but we have been offered the logistics assistance of our very kind AirBnB host in the town of Escunhau.

We then return to France and drive northeast to Saint-Lizier⑥, a town with a population of 1500 souls but boasts two cathedrals that testify past prominence.

Exterior of Eglise à Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines, Saint Genis-des-Fontaines (Pyrénées-Orientales)
Exterior of Eglise à Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines, Saint Genis-des-Fontaines (Pyrénées-Orientales)

From Saint-Lizier we continue southeast to the Ariège⑦. Centered on the town of Luzenac is a cluster of four beautiful Romanesque churches.

After Saint-Lizier we are back in familiar territory, the Pyrénées-Orientales, Catalan country. We stop first in Angoustrine-Villeneuve-des-Escaldes⑧. This is at the west end of the long valley that extends from the Mediterranean coast near Perpignan to the heart of the mountains.

Our next stop is a favorite, Prades⑨, home to the music festival founded by Pablo Casals. The Romanesque heritage in this part of the world is astounding, but one of the highlights is that we will return to the Abbaye de Saint-Martin du Canigou and visit with our friend, Sister Anne-de-Jésus.

PJ and Sister Anne-de-Jésus, Abbaye de Saint-Martin du Canigou, Casteil (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey
PJ and Sister Anne-de-Jésus, Abbaye de Saint-Martin du Canigou, Casteil (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

From Prades we return to Spain for a week. We’ll spend a couple of days relaxing in Cadaqués⑩ on the Mediterranean.

Cadaqués, photo by Covetotop
Cadaqués, photo by Covetotop

We then return to work and head west to the small town of Besalú①①, home to no less than five churches. There are many eminent churches in the region but we are intrigued with La Vall de Bianya, a narrow east-west valley filled with Romanesque churches.

We are particularly excited that we will get to meet our WordPress friend Covetotop, whose blog is the best chronicle of the Catalan countryside that we have found. At his suggestion we will dine at the Restaurant Can Roca in Esponellá, just outside of Besalú.

Restaurant Can Roca, Esponellà. Photo by Covetotop
Restaurant Can Roca, Esponellà. Photo by Covetotop

This will end our month in the Pyrénées and we proceed to the Provence for a week. There we will continue our strict diet of Romanesque churches, fine food, and wonderful local wines.

39 thoughts on “A trip to the Mountains in May (Dennis Aubrey)

    1. Lawrence, so nice to hear from you. Covetotop has been helping us with our Catalan itinerary and every message includes information on another fabulous restaurant. It is getting so that we are starting to think more of our stomachs than we are of our cameras in this lovely area!!!

    1. We have been so busy with the move and some business issues that we took a bit of a hiatus. Back now, planning for the April-May-June trip, and writing again. Makes me happy to have something else to think about other than our disastrous politics.

      1. We are so glad to have you both back. Looking forward to the amazing out put of this new trip,

  1. Dennis, if time permits try to add Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste in St. Jean de Luz to your list. It is not Romanesque, but the tripe galleries running along the walls are unusual. And, sorry, I have not, yet, sent you anything on restoration or on the Downtown Presbyterian in Nashville– life, you know.

    1. Grace, Saint Jean de Luz is a little far for the Oloron-Sainte-Marie jaunt and we have so much to shoot there. We will look to do it another time, though. Looking forward to the Nashville material, though. We are going to prep for this trip by doing churches here in the US, maybe in March (although that is coming so soon!!!)

  2. How fascinating a journey you’re planning and to meet Covetotop as well, luck you. I follow his blog and have enjoyed reading and seeing his photos. Do please give him my regards. I am looking forward to seeing your photos of this trip.

      1. And you will get to see in person some of those beautiful places Covetotop has written about and shared his photos of. I’m sure you will have a marvelous time.

    1. Vann, so nice to hear from you again. Can’t tell you how pleased I am to be “talking” to you all again. PJ and I are happily settled into our Ohio home and ready to start our adventures again!

    1. Trish, we have an incredible trip worked out. Our research this time is probably the best we’ve ever done. We were going to do Norman England and then some France, but decided instead to complete the periphery of France. Next year, we’ll start Norman England and do more of central France.

  3. What a trip! I hope you have good mountaineering boots… Vall d’Aran is a paradise; and the Vall de Boí has the densest concentration of Romanesque architecture in Europe. Not to be missed by Via Lucis (in a future trip) As you may well know, this valley was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. On the other hand, the restaurants I recommended to you are not World Heritage Sites, but world heritage yum-yum. Thank you very much for the totally undeserved mention of my chaotic blog, Dennis 🙂

    1. We follow several blogs, none with more interest than the inimitable Covetotop! We can’t wait to photograph in the Val de Boi, we drove into it a few years ago but didn’t have time to shoot and most of the churches were closed “for the season”. Soon!

  4. What a wonderful tour – you lucky people! My envy is unbounded but of course tempered by the anticipation of your great photographs. We keep meaning to take this area more seriously… but last time we went wandering up the Têt and Tech rivers from the coast we were interrupted by a mortal family crisis as well as being utterly soaked in impenetrable rain at Canigou. We’ll use your images to encourage us again! Meanwhile I’m fascinated by Lescar and its 12C mosaics – of which I’ve never heard. The one picture on Wikipedia is intriguing… but my goodness how crude it seems compared to the Christian north Adriatic so many centuries earlier!
    Bon voyage.

    1. John, great to hear from you. We have always had such perfect weather in the Pyrenees, I guess luck was with us. We’re going to take the small “cab” up the mountain at Canigou because there is no way I could walk it, especially with all the equipment.

  5. We will both be on the road with our camera again. Bill and I are walking the camino, the French Way, again this spring. It was my first camino that lead me to your wonderful blog. It was your blog that helped me to understand and appreciate all the beautiful features of the churches we visited. I look forward to your updates.

      1. Janice, we will be on the same side of France as you. Do you walk back or are you leaving from Spain. We will be in Oloron-Sainte-Marie and Vic-en-Bigorre from May 3 – May 9.

      2. We leave from St. Jean Pied de Port on April 22, heading towards Santiago de Compostela. We plan to take our time, so if you have any churches along the route you would like information on let me know. There is 14 century Gothic Church Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont in St. Jean Pied de Port that I am looking forward to visiting again.

    1. Thanks, Jong-Soung. So glad to be posting again. In the midst of planning the individual churches, which is always fun. And thank you so much for filling the void with your wonderful posts!

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