Pyrenees: Where nature and friendship flourish
Published: May 09, 2024 08:59 PM
Illustration: Liu Xiangya/GT

Illustration: Liu Xiangya/GT

Following their meeting at the Guangzhou Pine Garden in April 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron recently continued their friendly exchanges in the Pyrenees in France, where they watched a traditional folk dance and took photos together. 

The Pyrenees is a special place for Macron as he spent part of his childhood there. President Macron's grandmother, who passed away in 2013, lived in the Pyrenean town of Bagnères-de-Bigorre. Macron and his grandmother spent a wonderful time there. His grandmother had an important influence on Macron's life. According to Macron, this woman who struggled from the bottom to become the principal of a school, taught him how to work hard and inspired his love for literature. Macron calls his grandmother's resting place his "second home." Arranging a meeting in the Pyrenees shows that Macron attaches great importance to the impact that the head-of-state diplomacy has on elevating China-France relations.

Recently, I also traveled to the Pyrenees to experience the beauty of France's natural environments and the harmony of cultural exchanges. The Pyrenees, which stretches from the Mediterranean Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, has become a popular destination for many outdoor enthusiasts due to its steep peaks and beautiful natural scenery. The unique meeting between the presidents of China and France held here has made this mountain range a place where Eastern and Western civilizations blend together.

Tourmalet Pass, at over 2,000 meters in altitude, is renowned for its association with the Tour de France. It holds the distinction of being the race's most photographed climbing section. This segment represents a grueling challenge on the high-altitude roads of the Pyrenees, earning its status as one of the toughest cycling stages globally. Since its inclusion in the Tour de France route in 1910, Tourmalet Pass has been challenged almost every year, solidifying its reputation as an iconic and formidable test for cyclists. The memorable exclamation of a rider upon reaching the summit for the first time, "You are all assassins!" epitomizes the daunting nature of this road section.

It took us an hour and a half to fly from Orly Airport in Paris to Tarbes, the capital of Hautes-Pyrénées. Tarbes is a city near the Pyrenees. Although the city is relatively large, it is quiet and orderly as the population is small. We took an hour to drive from Tarbes to the Pyrenees. Herds of cattle and sheep could be seen from time to time on both sides of the road, and in the distance I could see the towering peaks of the Pyrenees. We observed that the mountains were still covered with snow. The driver told us that the snow on the mountain has been thicker a week before. Now the snow was melting, filling the waterfalls and streams that gurgle down the mountains.

We drove up the mountain road until we reached Tourmalet Pass. At the mountain pass, it was written that the altitude is 2,115 meters. The wind on the mountain was very strong, the weather changed quickly, and eagles occasionally flew overhead. It was there that we enjoyed the most beautiful scenery the Pyrenees had to offer.

The 2,877-meter-high South Peak is located just above Tourmalet Pass. Against the backdrop of the blue sky, the snow-capped mountains stood tall and majestic, like a magnificent palace in nature. The white snow peaks shone under the sunlight, giving us a sense of sanctity.

From time to time, we saw cyclists arrive at the mountain pass, some from France, some from Spain, and some even from Brazil. These cycling enthusiasts told us how they found the scenery very magnificent, but noted that the mountain roads are difficult to ride and are a big challenge. A cyclist from Brazil told us that this was his second time coming to the Pyrenees, the first time being in 2015. He found the trails a challenge, so he chose to holiday and ride there once again. He knew that the officials of China and France had met there, and noted that the meeting reflected the friendship between the two countries.

Driving from Tourmalet Pass to the bottom of the mountain, about half an hour's drive, we arrived at Bagnères-de-Bigorre. This town was very quiet in the afternoon, but the nearby restaurants were more lively because of the guests dining. A local couple told us that there is a good social atmosphere there because the town is not large, so everyone knows each other. They noted that the town is very lively on Saturdays, but much quieter on Sundays when many shops are closed. There are not many tourists in this town because Paris and the Alps in France are more famous tourism-wise. However, now that Chinese and French officials met at the Pyrenees, Bagnères-de-Bigorre is sure to welcome more tourists.