Heading for the Aneto (II): the Hospice de France

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Hospice de France

Hospice de France

After visiting Bagnères de Luchon, our next stop is the Hospice de France, where we are staying for the night. Reopened in 2009, the building originated as a staging post for pilgrims heading for Santiago de Compostela, then became a hostel for trekkers like us heading for the Aneto and the Maladeta.

Like the museum in Luchon, the hostel contains a poignant relic of the Pyrenees. It is also a question of death, in this case murder. The weapon is on display in the hostel dining room; we have already seen the corpse in Luchon, keeping Barrau company. The weapon is a collar and chain; the victim a bear cub.

The cub (and his sister) were found near the Hospice de France and brought back there “where they were welcomed with a bottle of milk.” (La Dépêche du Midi, 27 May 1952).

“And afterwards they killed them!”

Bear cub in Luchon museum

Bear cub in Luchon museum

The scribbled sentence, at the bottom of the article from the Dépêche du Midi and still visible when I last visited the museum, has since been removed. But it’s true that the bears were killed. At that time nobody knew how to deal with orphaned bear cubs. As a visitor to the Hospice remarked: “The animal [the female], tied up like a farmer’s dog, is bored stiff… She has dug so many holes in the stony earth. She stands up and then hides, morbidly unhappy” (Stéphan Carbonnaux, Le cercle rouge – Voyages naturalistes de Robert Hainard dans les Pyrénées, p. 33). The cubs died soon afterwards.

The treatment of the two bear cubs presaged the treatment of the remaining Pyrenean bears in the wild. They simply died from neglect.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still bears in the Pyrenees. It is just that there are no Pyrenean bears. The introduction of bears from Slovenia in 1996 put paid to the genetic isolate. The Pyrenees have become a showcase for foreign bears. Like the stuffed bear cub in the Luchon museum they are a symbol of the past rather than a hope for the future.


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