December 5th, 1942. Jeanne Agouau, 22 years old, is a shepherd who lives in Aulus-les-Bains, a small village in the French Pyrenees, near the Spanish border. Her father has agreed to help a group of 9 Jews to cross the Pyrenees into Spain to escape the Nazi occupation of the south of France, where Jews were being deported to concentration camps.
Jeanne’s father needs another guide and Jeanne volunteers. The group, along with Jeanne and her father, leave Aulus-les-Bains at 3:00 am so they will not be discovered by the German army. They started to ascend the Gerbet valley.
At 7:30 am they arrive at the most difficult part of the itinerary, the ice cascade. Surprisingly, they met another group of Jews trying also to escape, led by a guide named Jean-Baptiste Rogalle (Jeanne’s future husband). Jean-Baptiste leads the Henle family, Belgian Jews – a couple, their seven-month-old baby Claude, and the baby’s grandmother. The two groups decide to stay together.
The group led by Jean-Baptiste walks more slowly than Jeanne’s. The mother and grand-mother plead for breaks frequently. The father is also very tired so Jeanne carries Claude, the baby. The route is a struggle; it takes 12 hours to reach the border. Once they arrive the leaders explain how to get to the first Spanish village, and turn back for home. They are not paid; they want to help the Jews escape.
In Spain, before they can reach this village – Tavascan in Catalonia – the group passes the Romedo lakes. There, Meta Weiler, the grandmother, has an accident and cannot continue walking. She stays behind, hiding in a cave.
December 6th. They arrive at Tavascan and are met by the Guardia Civil (Spanish paramilitary police), who cannot believe they have crossed the Pyrenees in such bad weather with a small baby and think the group must have used a plane. They walked back towards France to look for it, and find the grandmother alive in the cave.
In 1944 the Henle family leaves Spain on a boat for Philadelphia, and then moves to Canada.
In July 2004 Jeanne and Claude meet again for the first time in 62 years in Aulus-les-Bains, where Jeanne was awarded the French Légion d’Honneur. To learn more about this story click here.
During our freedom trail walking tour in the Alt Pirineu Natural Park and the Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises, we will follow the same path the Henle family used to escape from Aulus-les-Bains, through alpine landscapes with high-altitude cols (Port de Guiló), lakes in valleys carved by ancient glaciers and year-round snowcaps.
The Alt Pirineu natural park is the biggest natural park in Catalonia, located in the Catalan Pyrenees, east of the famous Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici national park. It is bounded by France to the north, by Andorra to the east, and by the rest of Catalonia to the south and west.
Fly to Barcelona. You will be met on arrival by your guide. Once the whole group has convened, you will transfer to Tavascan; four to five hours driving. Departure from Barcelona no later than 15:00.
We will stay overnight in Tavascan
Distance: 17.3km – Elevation gain: 850m – Elevation lost: 1500m – Duration: about 7.5 hours, including breaks.
We start walking after a 10-minute drive. We will arrive in France at the Tavascan pass (2216m), after passing by the Estany del Port lake. This pass was also used by the Republican soldiers and people who fled from General Franco in 1938 and 1939 at the end of the Spanish Civil War.
There will be a long descent before reaching Bidous, where we will stay overnight.
Distance: 16.6km – Elevation gain: 940m – Elevation lost: 943m – Duration: about 7.25 hours, including breaks.
This is the gentlest leg of thei trek. We will follow the GR 10 and cross some of the most beautiful deciduous woods of the Parc Naturel regional des Pyrénées Ariégoises.
Aulus-les-Bains (750m) is best known for its hot springs. We will try to visit the School of Aulus where the Mémoire et Histoire Vivante d’Aulus-les- Bains is based. This association aims to preserve the memory and promote debates about:
• The French Petain government’s collaboration with the Nazis during WW2
• The Jewish families who were hosted in Aulus and their fates, as well as their escape to Spain crossing the Pyrenees
• The impact of the measures imposed by Germany on Aulus, a small border village geographically isolated, during World War 2
We will stay overnight at Aulus-les-Bains
Distance: 15.7km – Elevation gain: 1720m – Elevation lost: 350m – Duration: about 10.5 hours, including breaks
Undoubtedly, this is the more challenging leg. We won’t walk all the way between Aulus-les-Bains and Tavascan, as the Henle family did, because there is no place to stay overnight before arriving at Tavascan. Trying to walk all the way would make the leg 14-15 hours long.
During the first part of the leg we will cross awesome beech forests full of raspberries. Then, we will arrive at the popular Ars cascade (1340m), which has three falls, the tallest being 110m high. The Russel count, a well-known Pyrenean discoverer of the late 19th century, considered this cascade to be the most beautiful one in the Pyrenees.
We will reach Catalonia at the Port de Guiló pass (2371m). There will be stunning lakes in front of us: they are the Romedo, Senó, Colaix and Guiló lakes.
After a 45-minute drive we will reach Tavascan, where we will stay overnight
After breakfast we transfer back to Barcelona to connect with your flight home
Two nights, full-board, in pretty hotel in Tavascan, run by a local family. The hotel prepares the packed lunches every day.
Single, double or twin-bedded rooms.
The foodies will enjoy the excellent dinners, always accompanied by Catalan wine.
Two nights, full-board, in two French gîtes d’étape. The staff there also prepares the packed lunches for us.
Bespoke trips: let me know the dates that best suit you and/or the changes you would like to do on the trek!