The second day of the French Thermal Spa Tour started with a drive through the Pyrenees to the “beaux village” of Saint-Bertrand-De-Comminges.
The road trip from our overnight at L’hostellerie des Cédres to Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges was a brilliant plan, thanks to my trip guide extraordinaire, Nevenka. She knew the view from Villeneuve-de-Rivière along the autoroute would be breathtaking. All along the way autumn colors unfolded before us. One turn in the road was more beautiful than the last. The snow-covered mountains of the Pyrenees were always at our side.
Even the brief time we stopped at a roadway “aire” (rest area) to fill up the gas tank was an adventure. Imagine finding a full-service cafeteria with lovely French cuisine on an interstate highway!
French Spa Tour and a Cure: Saint-Bertrand-De-Comminges
When the French designate a town a “Beaux Village” they mean it. The petite town of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges and its famous Cathedral are truly sights to behold. What is now a UNESCO cited medieval village of only a few hundred inhabitants was once where 30,000 Romans lived.
The colony was founded by General Pompey during the Roman campaign in Spain. By the fourth century the thriving town had its own diocese. Destroyed by the Vandals and again by the Germans, “Comminges” lay deserted for five centuries. The bishopric, nevertheless, was preserved so in the early twelfth century construction of a cathedral was ordered. From that time since the cathedral town has been a stage on the route to Santiago de Compostela.
Arriving on a Sunday during a church service at the Cathedral of Saint-Mary was, perhaps, not the best idea… or maybe it was. The church was closed for Mass. While waiting for the service to end, we had plenty of time to stroll through the courtyard and garden … accompanied by the most beautiful organ music.
As soon as Mass ended we scampered into the sanctuary to view the famous organ inside. The massive organ, considered one of the best classical organs in France and the only one of its kind in Europe, stands over 53 feet tall in a corner beside the entrance. The organ has three keyboards and forty-one pipes — twelve pipes are original from 1523. Across from the organ is a wooden wall that divides the entranceway and organ from the sanctuary. Since the service was just ending, the door on the dividing wall was open to let parishioners depart. We dashed through the door to see what we could before the next service.
Oh, that I could have stayed to discover more. Yet less time in the cathedral left more time to walk through the town.
Our brief visit to Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges was a small preview of what lay ahead in our journey towards the Basque Country of France. Some houses had exteriors with wood and brick facings, others were decorated with strings of red peppers around doors and windows.
Before we knew it, we were running late. Our check-in with the doctor at the spa was at four o’clock. We were off… but not before one last photo.
Next stop the “cure”…stay tuned