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La Mere Bauche

La Mere Bauche
The Pyreneean valley in which the baths of Vernet are situated is not much known to
English, or indeed to any travellers. Tourists in search of good hotels and picturesque
beauty combined, do not generally extend their journeys to the Eastern Pyrenees. They
rarely get beyond Luchon; and in this they are right, as they thus end their peregrinations
at the most lovely spot among these mountains, and are as a rule so deceived, imposed
on, and bewildered by guides, innkeepers, and horse-owners, at this otherwise delightful
place, as to become undesirous of further travel. Nor do invalids from distant parts
frequent Vernet. People of fashion go to the Eaux Bonnes and to Luchon, and people who
are really ill to Bareges and Cauterets. It is at these places that one meets crowds of
Parisians, and the daughters and wives of rich merchants from Bordeaux, with an
admixture, now by no means inconsiderable, of Englishmen and Englishwomen. But the
Eastern Pyrenees are still unfrequented. And probably they will remain so; for though
there are among them lovely valleys--and of all such the valley of Vernet is perhaps the
most lovely--they cannot compete with the mountain scenery of other tourists-loved
regions in Europe. At the Port de Venasquez and the Breche de Roland in the Western
Pyrenees, or rather, to speak more truly, at spots in the close vicinity of these famous
mountain entrances from France into Spain, one can make comparisons with Switzerland,
Northern Italy, the Tyrol, and Ireland, which will not be injurious to the scenes then
under view. But among the eastern mountains this can rarely be done. The hills do not
stand thickly together so as to group themselves; the passes from one valley to another,
though not wanting in altitude, are not close pressed together with overhanging rocks,
and are deficient in grandeur as well as loveliness. And then, as a natural consequence of
all this, the hotels--are not quite as good as they should be.
But there is one mountain among them which can claim to rank with the Pic du Midi or
the Maledetta. No one can pooh-pooh the stern old Canigou, standing high and solitary,
solemn and grand, between the two roads which run from Perpignan into Spain, the one
by Prades and the other by Le Boulon. Under the Canigou, towards the west, lie the hot
baths of Vernet, in a close secluded valley, which, as I have said before, is, as far as I
know, the sweetest spot in these Eastern Pyrenees.
The frequenters of these baths were a few years back gathered almost entirely from towns
not very far distant, from Perpignan, Narbonne, Carcassonne, and Bezieres, and the baths
were not therefore famous, expensive, or luxurious; but those who believed in them
believed with great faith; and it was certainly the fact that men and women who went
thither worn with toil, sick with excesses, and nervous through over-care, came back
fresh and strong, fit once more to attack the world with all its woes. Their character in
latter days does not seem to have changed, though their circle of admirers may perhaps be
somewhat extended.
In those days, by far the most noted and illustrious person in the village of Vernet was La
Mere Bauche. That there had once been a Pere Bauche was known to the world, for there
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