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Stargazing in a ski resort - James Cove, Pic du Midi
Monday April 21, 2014 - Email this article to a friend

We are not talking about spotting Victoria Beckham or cast members from Made in Chelsea. Rather real ones, as seen from the Pic du Midi observatory at 2,890m. PlanetSKI reports.

The first thing that strikes you about the Pic du Midi as the second stage of the cable car takes you to the summit is the building itself.

How on earth did they mange to construct it in the first place?

Construction began in 1878 with everything taken up by mule - blood, sweat and tears were needed in abundance.

It sits on the peak of the highest mountain in the area with seemingly no way up - the film Where Eagle's Dare wasn't shot here, but it should have been; along with many other Hollywood action-adventure films.

Any number of baddies in the James Bond films might have chosen it as their secret lair to plot world domination.

It is a stunning construction.

Pic du MidiPic du Midi












It has though been the scene of far more significant achievements than the backdrop to a film - the exploration of the Universe, the period of rotation of Venus and the planning of the Apollo moon landings.  In 1980 Saturn's moon, named Helene, was discovered.

Galaxies habe been explored and the solar system mapped.

Today it still carries out important scientific work, but it is as much a tourist attraction; and one popular in the winter with skiers and snowboarders.

Each year 110,000 visit the observatory.

It makes a fascinating visit while skiing in the Grand Tourmalet ski area in the Hautes-Pyrenees, that has the resorts of La Mongie and Bareges in its domain.

It is also possible to stay the night - to see the sun go down, gaze at the stars and then watch dawn.

I did exactly that last week, with my 14-year old son, Max.

He started with the smallest telescope on site.

Tourist telescopeTourist telescope











Spectacular scenerySpectacular scenery












Each year 5,000 people stay at the Pic di Midi with the overnight option.

Full moon feverFull moon fever












It was worth it just for the sunset.

























Only bettered by dawn the following morning.





































In between Max and I gazed at the stars through one on the telescopes.

Pic du MidiPic du Midi
























PlanetSKI looks at the planetsPlanetSKI looks at the planets













We also had a tour of the permanent exhibition.

Sadly for us, as non-French speakers, the tour was a bit of a waste of time and though we were given a couple of hand-outs in English there was little real information in them. 

It is best to come with a decent grasp of French or some good English guidebooks.

No real matter though as just being at the Pic du Midi and staying the night was an adventure in itself.

It has a 55 cm telescope, a 60 cm telescope, a 106 cm telescope (Gentilli Dome) dedicated to observations of the solar system and a  2 metre telescope or Bernard Lyot Telescope.

The overnight accommodation was in some of the rooms previously used by researchers and scientists. 

They have been recently renovated, and have some rather good early-morning views.














It is also possible to ski down to the resort of La Mongie the morning - a descent of over 1,000m.

It is a tricky start but then it eases off.

A guide is preferable but not essential, as the area is now a designated freeride area and though the authorities do not carry out controlled avalanches, they do examine the snowpack and declare it safe or un-safe.

It is possible to take the cable car halfway down and then ski an easier route.

We have reported on the new and extensive freeride area in this earlier story on PlanetSKI - it is unique in France and is part of the area's drive to boost its off piste attractions and image.

It has been a big success this winter with numbers up 20% and the resort is looking at linking up with the off piste resorts of Chamonix and La Grave in a marketing exercise.

"We have some of the best freeride terrain in France and the Pic du Midi gives easy access to the landscape here and it is something we will be building on and expand," said the sales manager of the Pic du Midi, Jerome Brun.

It is not just the terrain from the observatory that is good for freeride.

"This is a wonderful area here in La Mongie and the Quatres Temps area across the valley is also rather special with some great hiking and riding opportunities," said our guide down from the Pic du Midi, Manu Bonniot.

Off pisteOff piste













Max motorsMax motors












As we reached the bottom we reflected on the highlight of our trip to the Hautes-Pyrenees.

A night watching the stars at the Pic du Midi followed by a memorable off piste descent. 


That's All FolksWalking out













For further details about the Pic du Midi then see its web site here.

James Cove earlier posted a video snow report on the road trip in the Hautes-Pyrenees with his son, Max. It contains video from their overnight stay at the Pic di Midi.

See below for the report.


The new company, Pyrenees Collection, offers ski holidays in the resorts of the Pyrenees; see here for further details.

Pyrenees Collection can be contacted on 0844 576 0176.

It offers 7 -nights, self-catering from £79pp based on 5 sharing.










For the spirit of the mountains

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