It’s 10pm on a Thursday night and the Bouledrome in Cauterets is alive. About 100 men, women and children are packed into the rugged, floodlight patch of land the size of half a football pitch for the weekly boules tournament.
It’s not a sport for the energetic – France’s national pastime is played in jeans and trainers, usually with either a bottle of beer or a cigarette in the the spare hand.
Welcome to Cauterets in the Pyrenees, about 30 miles south – and up – from Lourdes.
It’s a small town of around half-a-dozen pretty streets hugging the mountain river, with plenty of bars and restaurants. There is crazy golf, tennis, play park, a small fairground and amusement arcade and clowns and magicians put on al fresco shows to keep the little ones entertained.
The market in the centre of Cauterets sells complete takeaway meals of fantastic quality – rabbit stew, tartiflette – and the speciality is huge, sweet waffles smothered in chocolate and whipped cream.
Don’t worry, there are plenty of ways to work off those calories – swimming, hiking and especially cycling are popular here.
Bikes are very much in evidence on the mountain’s hairpin climbs and in the town, hanging from lamp-posts and in shop windows, leftovers from the summer’s Tour de France stage that ended in the town.
Cauterets’ must-see attraction is actually a two-for-one, Pont d’Espagne and Lac de Gaube.
The Pont d’Espagne is a stone bridge set in stunning waterfalls and forest trails.
It’s the perfect stop-off on the way to Lac de Gaube, a brilliantly blue mountain lake surrounded by mountain peaks.
Getting to both is easy, using a combination of bubble lift and chair lift from the Pont d’Espagne car park. Once at the top it’s a flat, shady, 20-minute walk to the stunning lake surrounded on all sides by towering peaks.
Once down, head for the Bains du Rocher spa in the middle of Cauterets. It’s the perfect place to unwind with large indoor and outdoor pools with jacuzzis, whirlpools and massaging water jets.
Upstairs there are steam rooms and saunas, and massages are available at an added cost.
Children are very much welcome and a family pass is 48 euros for two hours.
Another great – and cheaper – day of fun in the water can be found at Le Centre Aquatique, in Argelès-Gazost, just 20 minutes’ drive back down the mountain.
The outdoor swimming complex has slides, children’s pool and play area, a beach volleyball court and both indoor and outdoor 25m pools with lanes for for those who take their swimming seriously.
If the sun is out, it’s the perfect way to spend the day stretched out on one of the many loungers admiring the panoramic mountain views – and all for just 20 euros for a family.
The nearby Parc Animalier des Pyrénées lets you get up close and personal with the region’s wildlife – bears, otters, deer – as well as animals from further afield.
If you have ever fancied feeding a marmot, a large sort of ground squirrel native to the region’s mountains, then this is the place. But keep hands flat as your new furry friends swarm over laps to get to their snack, they can definitely nip!
While there is plenty to pack into a few days on foot in Cauterets, it really is worth having a car to appreciate fully the majestic scenery and take advantage of all that is available in this beautiful corner of the Pyrenees in the summer season.
We’ll certainly back to have a look at the rest.
Facts and Figures
Paul’s stay in Cauterets was provided by Pyrenees Collection, which offers seven nights self-catering at the Le Domaine des 100 Lacs for four sharing and including mid-week ferry crossing from £165pp (, 0844 576 0176).
(Prices correct as of August 2015)