The Travelling Bag series was originally curated to connect our global community, by passing a bag and a single journal from traveller to traveller, adventure to adventure. It has since become a collection of mindful travel guides, encouraging each owner of The Travelling Bag to delve deeper into the place they're exploring, focusing on travelling against the norm and finding meaningful connections with the places they visit.
On a road trip of the Pyrenees, the Travelling Bag becomes the companion to not one, but three curious travellers. Senne Willems, outdoorsman and photographer, and his partner, find a new joy in the slow route as they embark on a journey with their two-year-old girl, to discover the experience is much more than the destination.
Words & photography by Sennie Willems | @the.randonneur
Biarritz, Basque country – Pyrénées Atlantiques
Driving fourteen hours straight is something we quickly learnt to stop doing right after our little baby girl, now two years old, was born. Nowadays, we travel slower and see that the journey indeed is at least as important as the destination. We planned two overnight stops on our way down south, which gave us the opportunity to test the roof tent that we will be calling home for the next few weeks.
Slowly, we started to feel confident and like experienced road-trippers. When we arrive in Basque Country the landscape unfolds right in front of our eyes to form the perfect background to start our adventure. With a little girl who adores the sea as much as she does ice cream, a mother who enjoys discovering new places and sunny beaches and me, a father, who loves taking photographs as much as I do bird watching, the widespread sand beaches and wind-formed landscape of Biarritz and Bidart turned to be an excellent place to start our family trip.
Biarritz – Ordiarp, Pyrénées Atlantiques
It’s time for the three of us to aim our noses east and trade the flat moist ground for the higher and dryer. After just a handful of minutes driving, hills emerged above the clouds and it didn’t take long for the vultures and kites to appear, keeping us company for a little while. We stopped in the hills near Ordiarp and set up the roof tent watching the most beautiful sundown, and enjoyed well-deserved, and improvised, pasta with local cheese.
The next day I couldn’t help but to rise with the first morning light and couldn’t be happier with doing so. I saw the most magnificent morning light one could ever wish for and because it had been raining for the past few days all the hills and valleys were covered in morning dew.I saw vultures fly above my head, spotted a hoopoe bird and saw my first ever oriole - a rare sighting where I’m from.
With all this beauty we decided to stay here another day and made a trip to some of the nearby canyons, and filled our days with hiking, and our bellies with local cheese and honey.
We did not regret staying.
Ordiarp – Gavarnie, Hautes – Pyrénées
With only good memories to look back on, we left the small village of Ordiarp and turned back to the road for a long drive up to the Hautes Pyrénées. When we arrived to the village of Gavarnie the clouds were getting dark and thick, no time to see the beautiful panoramas that surround us. The clouds suddenly burst open. It turned what appeared to be hiking roads at first into wild flowing rivers that took whatever was on their path with it. Thank god we were installed on firm ground helping us get through the night, comfortable and dry.
Early the next morning, even with the last drops of rain falling, we decided to go for a walk in the mountains. We ended up hiking under clear and golden skies and had one of the most beautiful and spectacular mountain ranges of the Pyrenées, the Cirque de Troumousse ll, to ourselves. There were vultures flying everywhere above our heads, and mountain goats on our path. It was the perfect day to skip stones in the river, have a picnic in the mountains and compete in father-daughter running contests for the rest of the day.
Gavrnie – Col du Tourmlet, Hutes – Pyrénées
Being both a landscape admirer and a bird-nerd, making your way higher up in the mountains is always something that makes the heart-rate go up a little bit. Aiming for higher ground means the small songbirds of the lower meadows trade places for bigger giants. The vultures that accompanied us so far now appear in bigger packs and even the silhouettes of eagles fly close to the mountain ridges
Col D’Agnes – Les Angles
Today we crossed the border between the Pyrénées Ariégeoises and the Pyrénées Orientales - lesser know as the Pyrénées Catalanes. Throughout this trip the landscapes have changed dramatically, from the green hills of Basque Country, to the grey rocks of the Hautes-Pyrénées and the yellow-brown landscapes that unfold today. We drive through towns locked between time and mountains. Riverbeds have run dry and houses look long abandoned, but somehow the whole scene throws a calm sense of peace on the three of us.
Les Angles – Casteil
Past the beautifully conserved ancient town of Villefranche, we drive up the only mountain that is left in front of us. We end up somewhere near the village of Casteil, where peach trees cover the flanks of the Mont Canigou. This is the ultimate spot for historical souls, with monasteries, medieval castles, pre-historical caves and the ruins of other times.
The next morning, driving down this iconic Catalonian mountain, I couldn’t help but be nostalgic, as I realised I would be missing the mountains for quite some time. Also, this would be the last time our little girl will be carried up and around the mountains in the backpack. I will miss her spontaneous kisses on my head, her hands holding onto my hair and how I feel when showing her the beauty of this world. It made me sad. But, realising I will be carrying fifteen kilograms less on my back made me much happier. Next time, she will have to climb her way up by herself, and I know she will do great.
Casteil – Argelés-sur-mer
The last hills on the horizon faded and we get to see a glimpse of open air, meaning we are close to the final destination of our ‘Coast to Côte’ trip. There is a different atmosphere in Argelès-sur-Mer to Biarritz, where we started this trip only a few weeks back. Where there was a natural and loose vibe in the surf-towns of the west, the east is more structured and straight-forward, with sailboats, not surfers, on the horizon.
We’ve made it to our destination. Any tension or pressure has faded and we seem a bit calmer, allowed to enjoy our trip to the fullest. We build castles in the sand, collect sea-glass and have a refreshing dip in the ocean. It’s finally time to let go of the steering wheel and hold our little girl more. We will stay here for another day… or five, to let it all soak in and enjoy being together, looking back on all the incredible things we have seen on our trip so far. They say it’s not the destination that counts but the journey.
I couldn’t be more grateful to my travel crew for being the best ‘compagnons de route’ and for being the sunshine in every day, even when it was raining. I can’t thank them enough for the way they made this trip a success, but I’m going to try with an evening of pizza and ice cream. We might even just eat pizza and ice cream for the rest of the month. They deserve it.