Travel notes from the real France. Carnet de Voyage is a weekly personal travel story in France sent in by readers. If you’d like to write a story for Carnet de Voyage, head here for details on how to submit.
That both the Pyrénées Shepherd and Great Pyrénées dog breeds originated in the Pyrénées Mountains might seem obvious, but I was unaware of an annual Fête des Chiens (Dog Festival) to celebrate them until my wife heard an indirect reference to the event and asked me to investigate. We have a Great Pyrenees as a member of our California family, a 100+ pound white sweetheart that neighborhood children sometimes think is a polar bear, so I was motivated to start investigating.
We found that a festival is held every September in Argelès-Gazost at the foot of the Pyrénées Mountains, about 13km from the famous pilgrimage town of Lourdes. Dog lovers from all over Europe bring their Great Pyrénées dogs, commonly called Patou in France, for the show and cultural celebration.
In early September we flew to Bordeaux, rented a car and drove through the historic and picturesque Aquitaine in southwest France to Argelès-Gazost. It is a charming town nestled at the base of the Pyrénées with a wonderful animal park and a splendid parc thermal (thermal baths) where the French come for treatments, massage, etc. The park includes a large lawn with open areas for children to play, pétanque courts (similar to bocce) and a casino, all just steps from the town center.
The next day more than a hundred big white dogs arrived, prancing through the park and town; you could not help but look and smile! Great Pyrenees are by tradition livestock guardian dogs, taking charge when the shepherd had to leave his flock unattended. They are very smart, understand they are in charge and can be ferocious if a predator should approach. But the dogs at this festival all behaved like giant white teddy bears, eagerly accepting attention and pets.
As in many dog shows, there was a best in show event with dogs and their handlers trotting before the judges – serious business for breeders. But there was also a relaxed parade through the town’s main streets that brought the town’s normal hustle briefly to a standstill, much to the pleasure of all. Then we sat with our new dog friend, enjoyed an apéritif and listened to festival performers singing traditional songs.
We stayed at the Hotel Miramont and it was wonderful. The three-star hotel is housed a former Rothchild home, now a small hotel with comfortable accommodations and a great restaurant named Des Petits Pois Sont Rouges. It literally means the green peas are red, but it’s a phonetic joke. When spoken fast in French it sounds like “little goldfish” – Des Petits Poissons Rouges (In French, goldfish are red!) From breakfast through dinner the food was fantastic! After our first meal we eagerly signed up for demi-pension, daily breakfast and dinner, as part of our accommodation.
We took side trips to meet dog breeders at their farms and found hiking trails with spectacular views of the surrounding peaks. The Pyrénées are as beautiful as the Alps, if a little lower in altitude.
Now when we walk our own dog in California, we imagine the reaction a parade of Great Pyrénées would elicit here but are content with our own French polar bear!
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John was introduced to France in the first year of a new program launched by his alma mater, Colby College, Junior Year in Caen (Normandy). Classes were offered in language and culture and included a class in gastronomy where students and faculty enjoyed a memorable gourmet lunch once a month. As often occurs, life’s directions changed and John spent 30 years in the high tech industry in Silicon Valley. His job required significant travel, but, alas, not to France. After retiring in the early 2,000’s he had the pleasure of introducing his wife to the beautiful country he remembered from college days. The trip in this story was their first trip together to France, but not their last!
Lead photo credit : The Fête des Chiens in Argelès-Gazost © John Guislin
By John Guislin
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