Bagnères-de-Bigorre, was made famous by Victorian travelers in search of diversion, healing waters and the fresh air cure. As I walked east across France, I saw in the distance, gleaming in the sunlight, the snow-capped mountain, one of the highest in the Pyrenees at 2,872 meters and the site of a world-reknown observatory.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the population of Bagnères-de-Bigorre was about 12,000 according to Cooks’ 1912 travel guide. Before ski holidays were popular making it a year-round destination, the town swelled during the warm months with over 30,000 annual visitors in search of mountain hikes, gambling, spa cures and social interaction.
The curative waters drew healthy and sick visitors. Cooks’ travel guide reports that the climate of Bagneres-de-Bigorre is: “Mild and humid, invigorating owing to the high elevations.” Other notes in the guide: “Ten bathing establishments. Casino, parks, many hotels. Tour operators offering excursions to Valley of Gripp, Valley Campan, and Pic-du-Midi-de-Bigorre“, then as now, the highest meteorological station in Europe.
A century ago, the climb up the Pic-du-Midi-de-Bigorre consumed the better part of two days, with horses and guides required. Now, you hik or drive a car to a mid-point, then board a funicular that ascends the peak.