BY TIM HEDGLEY: Ever been on a holiday in France and marvelled at the night sky? Well here is a real treat for you, sitting at the summit of the Hautes-Pyrénées, the internationally famous observatory – Pic du Midi sits majestically above the clouds waiting for some of the most amazing holidays views ever, to appear each evening.
Officially classified as a national nature site, this amazing structure has been so designated because of the beauty of the landscape upon which it sits and the quite fantastic evenings which are dedicated to astronomical observations.
The Pic du Midi provides an opportunity to enjoy a panorama which encompasses the entire Pyrenean chain – a 300 km range stretched out between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
Anyone with a sense of adventure can book a special package which includes an ascent of the mountain by cable car up to nearly 3,000 metres and overnight accommodation at the mountain summit, truly giving you an opportunity for a night with the stars.
Just imagine after watching the sun set over the Pyrénées, an astronomer will explain the stars and their attributes during a regionally inspired dinner, and if that isn’t enough excitement the following morning, there is an option in winter to ski down the mountain side.
For more than 135 years researchers and astronomers have studied and photographed the skies from this unique site, from the closest planets to the most faraway galaxies.
The Pic du Midi Astronomical Observatory has an international reputation particularly for the study of the sun and our planetary system. The fascinating work of the scientists was once only shared with a handful of privileged visitors, but nowadays it is shared with everybody.
If just gazing at the stars from this truly fantastic place is not enough, simply getting there it like the best Disney ride ever! You reach the Pic by cable car from La Mongie, part of the Domaine du Tourmalet ski area, it takes just 15 minutes to reach the summit at 2877 metres.
The particular geographical position of the Pic du Midi, standing on the edge of the range at nearly 3000m of altitude, means it offers an extraordinary panorama.
From the summit where one can admire just about the whole of the Pyrenean range from the Catalan region to the Basque Country.
From east to west the view offers over 300kms of mountains. From the large viewing terrace the panorama towards the north is over the plains of the south west all the way to the foothills of the Massif Central. Orientation tables help you to identify the principal peaks of the range.
It is the luminosity and the stability of the atmosphere which makes the Pic du Midi unique, due to its geographical situation. The purity of the air allows a rare quality of observation both for the stars and the terrestrial panorama.
The Baillaud dish, which was constructed in 1908, is at the centre of the highest museum in Europe. Visitors can watch a short 20 minute film which explains the history of the Pic with a particular emphasis on the human exploits in first conquering the Pic and then building the Observatory. This a fabulous homage to the pioneers who left their mark on the history of this emblematic site.
You can then get a unique understanding of the instruments of scientific research and observation invented or installed on the Pic.
The Bernard Lyot coronagraph allows one to visualise the characteristics of the solar crown and its flares, which can stretch for many thousands of kilometres and reach 2 million degrees Celsius. You will also be able to see a reproduction of the 106cm diameter telescope installed by NASA in 1963 to map the moon prior to the Apollo missions. Today it is used to observe the planets of our solar system.
In the last of the museum rooms there is a model of the 2 metre telescope (the largest in France), sometimes called the Bernard Lyot telescope, which is used to observe the furthest galaxies with the resulting images being projected onto large screens. It is so powerful and precise that if the earth was not round you would be able to read the time on Big Ben in London!
If that wasn’t enough fun you can even view the sun live! Here you can see an image of the sun, captured by a Siderostat, which projects the sun live onto a large screen. By use of mirrors, lenses and filters one can appreciate this remarkable image.
So as you can see the Pic du Midi is a real treat for stargazing tourists from the world over and it’s a place that will reveal its secrets during the day, the evening or through the night.
2011 is the Year of the Pyrénées. For the first time, all the Pyrenean partners – Spanish, Andorran and French – are getting together to celebrate these magnificent mountains. The aim is to increase the awareness and promote the appeal of the Pyrénées in France and abroad, to increase a sense of pride in the area and to boost collaboration between all Pyrenean tourism partners. A number of events are being planned for autumn 2011 but for the summer some great hiking itineraries have been put in place already.
Nigh visits only opened in 2006 and the following gives an idea of the possibilities Each night is unique, but here is a taste of the program :
Cable car ride until 5.00 PM , visit to the site (terrasses et museum), apéritif, sundown, traditional dinner* , astronomy animation with a professional from la Ferme des Etoiles (Fleurance- Gers), access to the Charvin dome and its new instrument : 400 mm Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.
Then, night at the summit in single room. Sunrise upon the Pyrenees, continental breakfast, visit to scientist domes. Return to La Mongie in the morning.
Prices start from 229 € per person in single room. 349 € for 2 persons in a twin room, (8 twin rooms maximum are available). Sheets and towels are included. Washbasin in each room, showers and toilets on the landing. Those rooms were usually used by scientists and observatory staff.
We totally refurbished the rooms but wanted them very simple, as a testimony of the extraordinary human adventure of the Pic du Midi ! Number of guests is limited to 19. See http://www.picdumidi.com for more …Tags: