Parallel and south of the main road from Toulouse to Pau lie the foothills of the Pyrennees, undulating, wooded hillsides slowly rising in height and stature as they buttress up to the impressive main range of peaks.

In these foothills, some 15 kilometres south of St.Gaudens and the same distance north west of St.Girons, lies the village of Arbas, invisible almost beneath the wooded hillsides whcih crowd the valley beneath the Rochers de Pene Blanque, a white limestone cliff which is one of the few reminders, in a veritable sea of foliage, that this is caving country.

Arbas is small, one of a thousand such villages tucked away in the rural folds of these tranquil foothills. There is an air of the past, of a landscape that time forgot. And although there are good roads to access the valley one is not likely to pass more than a couple of vehicles on the drive in from Mauvezin or Aspet, or maybe the odd tractor with its load of hay. Not that this stopped the local Gendarmerie laying a speed trap in Castelbiague, but fortunately they were busy booking some pensioners when I sped through!

If it is an unremarkable landscape, it is all the better for it, the soft, indolent air making for a pleasant, laid-back, unhurried atmosphere, just right for a Red Rose holiday!

Hidden in the trees on the steep wooded slopes, however, adventure awaits!

Hugh St Lawrence

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On the approach to Arbas, Rochers de Pene Blanque and the Coume d'Ournede in the distance


The Setting

The Terrain

The Caves