Hautes-Pyrénées, France: discovering the Aure valley and the Louron valley in a wheechair
In last April I attended a travel blogger convention in France and I met Laurent who works at UNAT Occitanie and we quickly noticed that we share many values. Well, that is not so surprising considering that the UNAT is a charity which aims to develop and promote easier access to vacations, tourism and leisures activities for all. So we rapidly decided to work together and that’s how I ended spending a week in the Hautes-Pyrénées (mountainous part of France in the south) and having a blast. Whether I was in the valley, on mountains crests or in the air, I always had a great time discovering accessible sports and leisure activities.
One blog post will not be enough to tell you about all the activities I tried during this week but I can already tell you there is something to suit everyone and every budget. In my next post I will take you to high summits to enjoy some thrilled experienced but for now, let’s make our way to explore the Aure valley and the Louron valley and discover activities we can do there.
Wheelchair accessible strolls
Enjoying an easy and accessible stroll while admiring the mountains is a good way to start discovering the valleys. To do so you have many options:
- Genos-Loudenvielle lake: In about an hour you can roll all around the lake while looking the Louron valley and admiring the mountains reflexion into the lake if you are lucky. Some parts of the pathway are easy to roll on but others are a bit rocky and make the stroll more difficult for manual wheelchair users. A third wheel or the help of another person is necessary. During high season it is possible to rent paddle boats and kayaks for those who would like and can do it. For the others, like me, it is still possible to indulge ourselves eating a waffle or an ice cream at the dock café.
- Agos outdoor activities centre: This place is fully wheelchair accessible and nice to have a small stroll along a small artificial lake while looking at the mountains slopes. There are playgrounds and picnic tables.
- Moudang educational trail a.k.a. “sentier d’interprétation du Moudang”. This path located in a forest is wheelchair accessible and is designed to teach you about the local wildlife and plants through “interpretation boards”: audio terminal with bird songs, prints mouldings, animals shapes, forest scents, woods sounds. There are picnic tables just near and a disabled parking space right in front of the pathway entrance. Don’t park your car in the main parking but continue through the narrow road and at the other end of it, you will find this disabled parking space.
- Col d’Azet: From the Col d’Azet, reaching 1580 metres, the view on the Aure valley and Louron valley is amazing. Many cyclists challenge themselves and bike to the summit. But, if like me, riding a bike is not a option for you, you can still have fun and thrilled yourself by going back down to the valley paragliding. True story! I will tell you about it in my next post!
Cani-Kart: riding the forest with sled dogs
Animals lovers, you should love this activity! A few kilometres away, at Loudervielle, we met Thierry who turned his passion into his work. He became a musher and opened his “base nordique Sherpa” where he provides different activities in the nature with sled dogs. So Franck and I tested the “cani-kart” activity which is a stroll in the forest, sit in a cart guided by a musher and towed by a sled dogs carriage. We enjoyed the ride in the forest, going up and down the hill really fast or quite slow depending on the dogs will. Indeed they are in control of the speed and adapt it if they want to take it easy or if they want to chase another animal in the woods!
This ride was also the perfect opportunity to exchange with Thierry about the musher profession and the sled dogs (particularly Huskies and Greenland Dogs). We learnt a lot about their personalities, behaviours and function in the pack according to the species. Anyway, one thing is sure: Thierry doesn’t pick them for their cute appearance but for their abilities and natures.
When we were there, we saw a group of kids from a summer camp who were here to do some “cani-rando”. While I can’t do it since it requires to be able to walk, I found that activity quite interesting: the sled dog is tied to a child (or adult) with a harness and they both hike together. The dog helps by pulling the person. It seems that this way people and dogs can share a moment of complicity and, also, children can learn how to behave with sled dogs, take care of them and lead them.
If you would like to try this activities during your vacations in the Pyrénées, you can reach out to Thierry using his website (in French). 20 minutes of “cani-kart” costs 45 euros for an adult and half-a-day of “cani-rando” costs 30 euros.
Disabilities and accessibility:
- “Cani-kart” is not suitable for every disability but it is still possible for many disabled people. For that matter, Thierry is used to welcome people and try to do his best to make this activities accessible for most of people. However you need to be able to transfer from the wheelchair to the cart (or to be carried) and to hold the legs steady while they are bent. Also it is shaky and a bit rough so you have to avoid it if you have serious back aches or pain.
- When you arrive to the Sherpa base, don’t park in the main parking but go forward and park your car just near the first buildings. This way you will avoid to walk or roll for a few minutes in the grass and rocky ground.
- Toilets are really wide but they are not wheelchair friendly. It is composting toilets.
- It is possible to stay at the camp for a night or two and sleep in a hut or tent but these are not wheelchair friendly at all.
Hippotherapy: handicap and horse-riding
Clara is a physiotherapist and also a horse-riding passionate. A few months ago she decided to start to practise hippotherapy for her patients in her riding school twice a week. So when I was offered to meet her and try this rehabilitation method based on neurology and horse-riding I was ecstatic! Two years after my first ride in New Zealand, I was really eager to go back on a horse. Once again, I have been delighted by this moment shared with the horse. Doolyne is such a gentle horse! Plus, Clara and Amandine, the riding instructor, took really good care of me.
When I arrived Clara and Amandine explained me how to prepare the horse, to brush it and clean out the hooves. Then Clara helped me to get on the horse from the ramp. For me that is the most difficult part because it stretches my adductor muscles which are not use to that much! But thanks to Clara gentleness, in a few minutes I was proudly sitting on Doolyne, ready to do some riding exercises. In an hour I learned to guide the horse, order it to stop and start, ride it in a straight line and even weaving through cones! To end the session I could feed Doolyne with bread and Clara gave us a tour of the stables. We even saw a baby pony. I had a really good time during this hippotherapy session. It mades me feel good to share moments with an animal and, of course, I must say that hippotherapy is way more fun that usual physiotherapy!
So if you want to try during your stay in the Hautes-Pyrénées, feel free to have a look at Clara’s website and reach out to her.
Disabilities and accessibility:
- There is a disabled parking space near to the stables. Don’t park your car in the main parking but enter the equestrian centre with your car. At the moment the stable yard ground is covered by gravels so it not easy to roll but Clara already plan to make a concrete pathway for wheelchair users.
Accessibility in Aure valley and Louron valley:
- UCPA de Saint-Lary-Soulan : 11 Rue du Chemin de Sailhan, 65170 Saint-Lary-Soulan. There is a slope to enter the building. There is no disabled parking in front of the UCPA but you can park 200 metres away on disabled parking spaces in a car park in the street called “rue des Chardons”. The room has an adapted bathroom. The room itself is not spacious so you can only access one side of the bed while being in a wheelchair. If the space is too narrow feel free to ask to move the bed closer to the window.
- Centre de montagne de Germ-Louron, 65240 Germ.
- There are two single beds joined together and two bunk beds in the adapted room. It is also equipped with an adapted bathroom. The main entrance of the building has no step but there is a steep street to climb to get there from the disabled parking space located right in front of room entrance. Indeed the room has its own entrance directly from the outside with the disabled parking space right in front of it (the main parking is 200 metres further down, at the end of a very steep road). Unfortunately the disabled parking space is not wide enough to put a wheelchair near the car to transfer. That means wheelchair users need to be with another person who will drop them and their wheelchair, let them go inside the room and then park the car.
- From the room you can go to breakfast and reception floor using a lift. You have to ask for the key during your check-in because the lift won’t start otherwise. Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of this information during my stay so I couldn’t use the lift.
- Saint-Lary-Soulan is a small town which attracts a lot of tourists during the winter (because of its proximity to a ski resort) and the summer. It is a very wheelchair friendly town. Sidewalks are at the same level than the road so there is no difficulty to get onto them. There are adapted restrooms near “la maison du patrimoine” (the door is quite heavy), slopes almost everywhere, some accessible restaurants and shops, disabled parking spaces (one just near the tourist information centre and one at “place de la mairie”).
If you’re planning to travel to France, want to discover more wonderful regions and awesome accessible activities you can have a look at all my posts about travel destinations in France.
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This post has been sponsored by UNAT Occitanie and Hautes-Pyrénées Tourism French Department, as they invited me over. However, opinions expressed here are my own.