Our Assumption Day long weekend got off to a patchy start this year. Too tired after the wedding to plan any big adventure, we decided on a peaceful retreat in the Pyrenees. Ben picked the spot, a spattering of lakes in the Néouvielle National Nature Reserve. We prepared our packs for one night of camping and booked a hotel in La Mongie for the following two nights. Skies were blue en route to the mountains and there was barely anyone on the road that early. It wasn’t until we arrived at the Col du Tourmalet – apparently famous for some Tour de France thing – that the fog appeared, covering pretty much everything and curbing our enthusiasm for the 24 hours ahead. Nevertheless, we set out on our trail, passing plenty of cows and sheep bleating “Beeee(n)” along the way. As if rewarding us for our determination, the weather cleared and, apart from another little episode while we hitched our tent, the fog stayed below us, a pillow-soft cloud to sleep us to sleep over. We got especially lucky at nightfall when Nature gave us the most incredible belated wedding gift: an absolutely epic sunset over the small lake we chose as our home for the evening.
Dinner that night was two sachets of Aptonia Mountain Food: Pasta Bolognese and Pasta with Chicken in Curry Sauce flavors, prepared with hot water from our baby-blue butane burner. Dinner the night after would be rotisserie chicken and pasta purchased in La Mongie, prepared and enjoyed in our little apartment there. And on the last night of the trip, after the third full day of hiking, we decided to indulge in what our bodies needed most after hours of nonstop climbing and descending: a juicy burger and some fries in town.
So we strolled down the hill, our calves and thighs aching to high heaven, and sat for an apero beer at Bocadillo Cafe, with a view of the Tourist Office and the La Mongie Ski Station. For dinner, we crossed over to Le Schuss just nearby and were seated on the terrace. We lucked out, as this place seemed the most full out of all of the restaurants lining La Mongie’s restaurant row. Even the empty tables seemed to have “Réservé” signs on them. They had one free table under the sun, though. Covering our sunburnt shoulders and calves, we took a seat and ordered a big burger each, along with a bottle of wine to pair. We chose Tradition from Domaine Damiens 2016, an organic Madiran blend dominated by Tannat, with some Cabs Franc and Sauv. This ended up being the perfect chilly weather red once the sun set behind the mountains.
Those two “saignant” Pyrenéen cheeseburgers with sides of fries had been exactly what we had been craving after all those freeze-dried powder foods, calorie bars and hastily-made sandwiches. They were simple, yet marvellous. The buns, although basic, were sesame-coated and the interior of each slice was toasted to a crunch, a fact which did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. The meat was wonderfully juicy, perfectly pink inside, charred and smoky on the exterior. A thin slice of semi-hard Tomme melted with ease against the heat of the beef, adding its nutty, salty touch to each mouthful. Finally, a generous smear of some kind of tarragon sauce made this burger particularly memorable, contributing a luscious creamy texture to the already very succulent meat, along with a kind of clean, herby-soapy floral flavor to go with all the smoky, nutty, earthy stuff already there. With the wine and the side of very crunchy, firm fries, this burger was exactly we were hoping for. A very satisfying meal indeed.