We, Robert and Emma Mason, are qualified International Mountain Leaders living and working in the Pyrenees year-round. We established our activity holiday company, Mountainbug, in the high Pyrenees over 12 years ago after we both completed degrees in Geology at Bristol University, followed by a Masters in geological engineering (Rob) and PhD in quantum geochemistry (Emma). While we dabbled with the idea of office or laboratory jobs for a while, the lure of the hills was too strong. We decided to give life in the French Pyrenees a try while we had the chance, and never left.
Major parts of the process included gaining our qualifications as International Mountain Leaders, and renovating our own chalet in the mountain village of Bareges. Following two years of serious DIY, extensive exploration of the local area and immersion in French language and culture, we welcomed our first guests to Chalet les Cailloux in 2005. Back then we could never have imagined that Mountainbug would still be going strong and expanding a decade later. Gradually we have added more trips, spreading our reach into the Spanish Pyrenees and the Cathar region of the Eastern Pyrenees, and we plan to add new mountain holidays in other mountainous areas of Europe in the near future.
Our lives have changed a lot during the last seven years with the arrival of our three children, who have given us a new way to appreciate the mountains. We are very proud that our kids are growing up in France, bilingual (already putting us to shame), expert mini-skiers and begging to go out climbing, cycling or swimming at every opportunity. The Pyrenees are a great place to raise a family and keep the youngsters busy!
In the village of Bareges, home of Mountainbug, we have seen people and businesses come and go, but we still feel that we have stumbled across a little “Chamonix of the Pyrenees” that has so much to offer. Sometimes we look for new ideas elsewhere, however we keep coming back to the fact that our corner of paradise here in the Pays Toy, Hautes Pyrenees, may well be the most beautiful, diverse and fascinating place on the planet. We are excited to see Bareges changing and developing, with the planned construction of a new ski lift direct from the village in the next couple of years promising a great future for the village.
We hope that Mountainbug will always remain true to our original ideas – offering guided mountain activity holidays with a personal touch to guests from all over the world.
- At Mountainbug our first goal is to share our passion for the mountains with our clients, in such a way that they can get the maximum enjoyment, whatever their interests and abilities.
- We take safety very seriously and guarantee that all of our activities and walks are led by fully qualified guides. We are qualified mountain walking guides “Accompagnateurs en Montagne” ourselves. You can find out more about the International Mountain Leader guiding qualification at the bottom of this page – or ask our guides when you are here. They’ll be happy to tell you all about their qualifications and the on-going CPD and first aid training they undertake to ensure their qualifications are kept up to date!
- We deliver a personal service with great attention to detail. Our holidays are tailored to your needs, and we are always as flexible as we possibly can be. If you have any special requests or requirements, please do email or call us and we’ll do our very best to help.
- We offer “real” experiences and make our products as clear as possible. There are no surprise extra costs on our holidays, and we hope that our trips will always exceed expectations.
- We see no reason why a holiday cannot combine the very best mountain activities with comfortable and welcoming accommodation. Our own catered lodge, Chalet Les Cailloux is just one of several accommodation options that we offer, depending on your choice of trip, but we are particularly proud that at the chalet you will be able to relax in a sociable, home-from-home environment with a very high standard of cuisine. Les Cailloux is consistently number 1 on Trip Advisor for accommodation in Bareges.
- Our other accommodation options are hand-picked using our local knowledge and experience, to ensure that it is the best available option for you.
- We support local businesses, use local guides and activity providers, feature local specialities on our accommodation menus and are keen to give all of our clients an authentic experience of the culture, food, language and history of the area.
- Our responsible travel policy aims to reduce our ecological impact, increase awareness of the fragile mountain environment, and share our knowledge of the geography, geology, flora and fauna of the mountains with our guests.
- We welcome guests of every age, sex, race and way of life. We have long-since lost count of how many different faces and interesting characters we have met – ambitious children, adults on their adventure of a lifetime, confident or cautious folks in or out-of their comfort zone, people relaxing in style or pushing their limits to the extreme. Guests from all corners of the world, each with a story to tell, and all making us feel privileged that they have found us.
UIMLA & UIAGM
Many countries have Mountain Leader qualifications. In an unusual act of European cooperation a few years ago, virtually all of the EU countries became affiliated and members of UIMLA (Union of International Mountain Leader Associations), with each country modifying its Mountain Leader programme to achieve equivalence. More countries are joining the association each year, and the International Mountain Leader qualification is recognised all over the world. Robert and Emma are both IML qualified as well as being experts in the local fauna and fauna, with the added bonus of also holding Masters and Doctorate degrees from Bristol University in Geology.
It’s surprising to us, and our fellow IMLs, to find so many well known companies are still using un-qualified guides and instructors for their walking and activity holidays. UIMLA and UIAGM (International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations) leaders and Guide de Hautes Montagne are the only people who are insured and qualified to take you out walking in the middle and high mountains. IMLs like ourselves are qualified to lead guided walking holidays on mountainous terrain, where the use of a rope is not foreseen.
An IML has been trained in navigation, security on steep ground, use of ropes, snow hazards, wild camping/snow hole construction and rescue techniques. They also hold a valid first-aid certificate. For Alpine-style mountaineering (crampons, axes, ropes), via ferrata, climbing and off-piste ski guiding you need to look for the UIAGM “Guide de Haute Montagne” qualification.
If you are shopping elsewhere for a holiday in the mountains, PLEASE check the qualifications of the leaders – for your own safety – and indeed whether you are actually even getting a guide.