Why: Pyrenean Odysseys Ethical Travel

Pyrenean Odysseys uses its members’ expertise and long experience in the  Pyrenees to offer great value holidays to people from all over the world. We love the place we live and work in, and enjoy showing people around it. The philosophy by which we live our lives is reflected in our business – simplicity, community engagement, environmentally and socially responsible living and innovative learning experiences.

As a partnership of professionals we have limited overhead costs and can offer our clients innovative all inclusive packages where different partners each offer one part of the overall service. It’s as simple as that; you deal directly with one of us (generally Sian when you book) but each member of the partnership is legally registered, and insured, in France to undertake the activities they do. Hotel Les Templiers has official ‘Atout France‘ (the national tourist board) tour operator certification with a deposit bond allowing us to take deposits and provide ‘all included’ packages. This means you are insured in the case of business failure during your holiday. All payment passes through Pyrenean Odyssys (SARL Les Templiers) so all holidays are certified under this scheme.

Social Responsibility

Luz School FeteThe partnership arrangement of our business highlights the socially responsible nature of Pyrenean Odysseys. Many tour operators rely largely on seasonal workers from outside to staff chalets and guide walking groups. While seemingly innocuous, providing a ‘working holiday’ for the staff, and English speaking workers, these jobs are what Naomi Klein (No Logo) calls  “McDonalds jobs” – jobs that are inevitably transient, a step on the way to ‘something better’, university or a career change, or simply a career break. They are not meant to be permanent, or provide income that employees can rely on to build a future. They do not help to build the future of the local community either.

Luz market Rue d'OssunShipping in seasonal workers inevitably takes employment opportunities from residents of the tourist destination – perhaps you cannot imagine earning a living from cleaning hotel rooms, or waiting tables, but plenty of people do. It is these people who built their lives in the beautiful places tourists visit, who send their children to the local school, and who ensure banks and postal services remain open in small towns. While selling the idea of an experience, or a career break, in a lovely location, these “McDonalds jobs” provide no long term prospects for either the shipped in staff, or the local inhabitants who live in the tourist location and need to find long term employment in order to remain. The employer pays into no retirement, health insurance or unemployment schemes. While this may allow you to have a relatively cheap holiday, and the tour operator to maintain their margin, it does not build livelihoods for people, or societies, or infrastructure, or schools. In France, where the “social charges” employers pay for employees health, retirement and unemployment benefits add around 50% to the salary it is very tempting, for both employers and employees to opt out and find other solutions.  But this should not, and cannot be, a long term solution.

All staff working for Hotel Les Templiers, and Pyrenean Odysseys, have a French contract, we pay into the French national schemes for retirement, health and unemployment benefits for us and all our staff. In short we contribute to the society in which we live, and from whose resources we benefit.

Environmental Responsibility

Renovation

Front corridorSince arriving at Hotel Les Templiers in 2003 Sian and Laurent have done much to improve the environmental performance of the hotel.  New roof insulation, full wall insulation on the north and east facing external walls, environmentally friendly building materials when renovating the attic and rooms (lime plaster, Farrow and Ball paints, Marmoleum floor covering, decoration from grandmother’s house!), environmentally friendly cleaning products and methods, a mainly organic (otherwise local) breakfast buffet, use of local produce (AOP lamb/mutton, and Porc Noir de Bigorre in particular) in the restaurant, and a general philosophy of the environmental impact being strongly considered in our decisions.

Carbon Emissions

The town of Luz St Sauveur particularly, and France in general, has low carbon emissions for electricity production. All electricity in Luz, and the neighbouring villages of Esquieze-Sere and Esterre, is sourced from the locally owned and operated hydro-electric power plant on the Lys river. All surplus power is sold to EDF. Power in other villages comes from the national grid, as does power for the ski lifts in all three ski areas (Luz Arididen, Grand Tourmalet, Gavarnie-Gèdre). France has a large nuclear power base, which began development after the oil shock of 1974 as a way of ensuring energy self sufficiency for France. Nuclear power was 77.5% of total production in 2014, with hydro 12%, classical thermal (coal/gas) 6.3%, wind 3.1% and solar 1%. So a holiday in the Pyrenees is in generally a low carbon emissions holiday. The nuclear vs coal debate (see Lovelock, Monbiot) is interesting, as all hard issues are. Perhaps the technological advances of solar and wind power will render it obsolete. We can but hope!

As discussed in our transport page, the largest source of carbon emissions in any holiday involves our clients reaching us and then returning home. For this reason we strongly encourage you to contribute to your usual carbon offset scheme, or to contribute to The Converging World. Calculate your carbon offset below.

International Protection Areas

Mont Perdu World Heritage Area

Shepherd_and_flockThe Mont Perdu Area was listed on the World Heritage Register in 1997. It is one of 31 trans-boundary sites in the world, and of these, only one of two that is listed for both cultural and natural values (the other being the Maloti Drakensberg Site between the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of South Africa). So it is a rare and special place, one linking us to traditions dating back thousands of years and to methods of agro-pastoralism that were once common in all European mountain ranges but that are now preserved only here. The commission says “it provides exceptional insights into past European society through its landscape of villages, farms, fields, upland pastures and mountain roads.” On the natural side the commission highlights the two canyons (Anisclo and Ordesa, two of Europe’s largest and deepest) on the Spanish side and the three abrupt glacial cirques on the French side (Gavarnie, Estaubé and Troumouse), along with the unique climate influenced by both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean with dryer (Spanish) and more humid (French) sides. This climatic, and the altitude range means the area supports five vegetation types and a rich plant diversity (3500 species and subspecies, 5% endemic).

Adding to this complexity is the human society that was constructed around these resources. Pastoral, forestry and water resources were shared (after first being fought over) and agreements were made from the 10th century (oral at first, solidifying into writing from the 14th century) onwards between the different valleys of the Mont Perdu area to maintain the peace. One such agreement continues to hold today, with around 1000 cows from the Broto Valley in Spain crossing the border at the end of July each year and spending all of August and September in the Bernatoire Valley in France. The payment is four steers at the end of the summer.

Pic du Midi International Dark Sky Reserve

Dark_Sky_Reserve_Pic_Midi“An IDA International Dark Sky Reserve is a public or private land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment. Reserves consist of a core area meeting minimum criteria for sky quality and natural darkness, and a peripheral area that supports dark sky preservation in the core. Reserves are formed through a partnership of multiple land managers who have recognized the value of the natural night-time environment through regulations and long term planning.”

Oulettes_dark_skyThe Pic du Midi is currently one of nine international dark sky reserves, and its pleasures can be enjoyed not only from the peak itself, but from anywhere around, particularly on our treks which get you out up high overnight. The views from a refuge terrace are difficult to beat. The Oulettes Refuge in particular is connected with the dark sky reserve, its guardian being an astronomy enthusiast, and they have a telescope that can be enjoyed by all those staying in the refuge. So join our HRP3, Marcadau-Gaube, Pyrenees National Park, Foothills-Summits, or our Star Gazing trek to take a closer look at the stars.

Laurent as the mayor of Luz is working with other local councils to improve the quality of the starry nights in Luz village itself. This essentially involves turning out lights, which as can be imagined, results in complaints about tripping over in the streets after dark etc. He continues his educational efforts on the subject!

Pan-European Wildlife Corridor

European_wildlife_corridorJonothan Curruthers Jones, mountain leader and initial website guru to Pyrenean Odysseys, completed his Masters Thesis in 2013 using satellite imagery combined with graph theory to identify and prioritise areas for connecting conservation zones in the Pyrénées. As part of the Wildland Research Institute Jonathan is currently looking at how changes in land use and climate can be incorporated into such models in combination with stakeholder opinions, and how this overall approach can be used to optimise the effectiveness of nature conservation interventions such as species reintroductions. These studies aim to further the implementation of the Pan European Wildlife Corridor project, and Jon has just begun his PhD studies at the University of Leeds. We wish him well, and look forward to the network of national parks, natural reserves and Natura2000 sites in our area of the Pyrénées benefiting from this research.