Runaway Travel Stories

Day 23: Unexpected generosity 

Refuge de Bassies (1655m) – Siguer (740m)

Distance: 29km
Elevation: 810m

Fuel: cafe au lait (lots), brioche with creme de marron (chestnut cream!), chorizo in hamburger buns, peanuts, chocolate. 

We didn’t want to leave the refuge. Not because of the huge bowls of coffee, the cosy common room or the real toilets. But because of where it isn’t often you wake up surrounded by snowy mountains and sparkling clear lakes. 

We crawled out of the tent at 6.30am, scared to look at the sky. But it was blue blue blue. Not a cloud in sight – whoop!

So, we downed a bowl of coffee and got on the trail before our luck changed. 

Rock hopping through the valley was surreal. After a while, we took a turn deep into the forest and descended steeply into the valley. Before long, we were on a road to Auzat and our second coffee of the day. Two coffees?? Not our usual routine (actually it’s not normally an option!!) but Mat was feeling low on energy (probably because yesterday was our third highest elevation of the trail so far!) so who can blame us for indulging in an extra shot of caffeine or two?


The next part of the day was all about the flow. We zig-zagged up a shady forest into pretty little villages of Olbier and Goulier, perched on a ridge. 


Then, I needed the toilet. 

Now there’s nothing worse than needing the toilet (number two) in the middle of two villages. Chances are there will be locals walking on the trail, which means no nipping into a private bush. Plus, there are more bitey flies around because of the cow dung from cattle moving between the villages (and if you’ve ever considered squatting for a number two while swatting flies, I have some advice for you: DON’T!)

Unlike Aussie cities, French mountain villages don’t offer much in the way of public toilets. So, imagine my surprise when we found one in Goulier – awesome! I grabbed my toilet kit (toilet paper, wet wipes and hand sanitiser) and ran to the door. Locked. 

Nooooooooo! 

Mat followed me as I practically ran through the village searching for somewhere, anywhere, with a toilet. But there were no bars, no cafes, no restaurants, no hotels. The town was shut. 

We eventually found the trail out of the village and, unable to hold on anymore, I squatted in a fly-infested bush. Not even bitey flies could hold me back… Oh the relief! 

With business taken care of, we hiked up the hill, ate some nuts surrounded by cows and continued on an undulating trail around the hill. By 3pm we were at our destination: Siguer. 


Another village that’s ridiculously good looking but with no sign of life. Every door and window shuttered, nobody in the streets except a few curious cats. No special “aire de bivouac”. Where would we sleep?

“There’s meant to be a small gite here somewhere,” I pleaded desperately. It was early but the sun was burning and the thought of climbing straight up for 500m to the next field filled me with dread. At that moment we saw a sign for the gite, which closed permanently in 2016. But next to it there was another sign, one mentioning “randonneurs” and “gratuit”. Hikers get something for free? We followed it and found the most wonderful gift a town could give us: free accommodation. 


The municipality provides a room with bunk beds, blankets, power points, even a microwave, for free. And that’s not all – there’s a hot shower! The Spanish hiker who had found it just before us explained the system: we can stay here for three nights if we want (we don’t want, but it’s nice to have options); there’s a local guy who lives in the village but owns a grocery store in another village and he takes orders if we need anything.


We settled in for the night, chatting with the chemical salesman from San Sebastián and enjoying the indoors. I can’t imagine finding something like this anywhere else in the world. 

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