Highlights of the Pyrenees
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Explore the magnificent landscapes and flora of the Haute Pyrenees on foot
The Pyrenees mountain range follows the border between France and Spain from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean sprinkled with high peaks over 3000m and home to some of the most remote and interesting hiking terrain in Europe. Rich in flora and fauna and with spectacular limestone cirques, terraced meadows and high lakes, it is a walker's paradise. Based in the traditional village of Bareges (1250m), discover the numerous trails through the Pyrenees National Park, including to the famous "Cirque de Gavarnie", Pont d'Espagne and the Vignemale, above Cauterets. In the company of a qualified mountain guide, you will discover the history, language and culture of the region as well as the geology and birdlife. The walks range from introductory (on our "gentle" weeks) to more demanding ("intermediate" weeks) on alternate weeks throughout the walking season.
- Exploring Cirque de Gavarnie, a natural amphitheatre
- Traversing mountain trails across meadows carpeted in wildflowers
- Experiencing alpine hospitality and great cuisine
- Sharing your walking day with a group of like minded travellers
Day 1 Arrive Barèges
Arrive late afternoon. We suggest a leisurely walk around the village and a drink on the terrace before dinner and your Welcome Talk, where we'll go over details about what we'll do over the week. During your Welcome Talk you'll meet your guide for the week. You will have the chance to find out about the week ahead, discuss logistics for it, and ask questions about where you are going and what you'll be doing.
Day 2 Croix de St Justin and the Transarrious Plateau (4hrs)
An interesting introductory walk from the house, giving us a chance to get to know the area and view the stunning setting of Barèges village. Leaving from the house (1250m), we cross the Bastan river and climb steadily to the Transarrious plateau. This glacial platform is a favourate grazing area for the local Barèges-Gavarnie sheep (brebis). We follow a farmers' track through the meadows and past a series of ancient stone barns - built in to the hillside to protect from avalanches. We then move high above the valley through meadows and hazel coppice. The path stays almost level, while the valley drops away beneath us – soon giving us a great vantage point above the village. At the Croix de St. Justin (half an hour from the village) we can enjoy a traditional French snack and a drink in the sunshine at the St. Justin creperie. The restaurant is on an isolated promontory looking out onto the lovely Bastan valley, the village of Barèges and the towering mountains on every side - it can only be accessed on foot. From the promontory, we look down on the ancient village of Sers, and across to the barns and “estives” (summer pastures), getting an insight into the traditional way of life in this area. From the cross, we take an easy walk back towards Barèges through mixed woodlands, with great views of the village and up towards the Col du Tourmalet.
Day 3 Cirque de Gavarnie (5hrs)
A visit to one of the most beautiful cirques in Europe. A UNESCO World Heritage site and winter ski station; the cirque is a natural amphitheatre of towering cliffs and spectacular waterfalls. A lovely drive up the steep-sided valley of the Gave de Gavarnie takes us to the small village of Gavarnie (1365m). Once a traditional farming village, Gavarnie is now famous for its Cirque. We start our day with a steep but steady climb through thin woodland towards the Plateau de Pailla. From here we follow a lovely path that traverses through the woods above the valley floor. At 1570m we meet the main path at the centre of the cirque, now completely surrounded by towering 1000m high cliffs. From here there is an optional climb (a further 200m ascent) to the foot of the Grande Cascade – a spectacular 400m waterfall. We complete our circuit with an easy descent to Gavarnie village along the open valley floor, stopping off for a drink and an ice cream en-route.
Day 4 Explore the valley of Barèges
A fascinating day discovering the history and culture of the valley. Departing on foot from Barèges, we make our way down to Luz-St. Sauveur, visiting several historic villages and important landmarks along the way. A choice of routes either takes us on the south side of the valley, visiting the World War II resistance settlement, Camp Rollot, the flowery meadows of the Plateau de Lumiere and the pretty farming village of Betpouey; or north of Barèges through Sers (the oldest and sunniest village of the valley) and the traditional cobbled streets of Viey. We will walk to the ruins of the Chateau de St. Marie. This ancient lookout above Luz-St. Sauveur was originally constructed in the 10th century. We will then make our way down to the old centre of Luz, including the fortified Templars church. If time allows, there is an optional extension to see the chapel of Solferino and the impressive Pont Napoleon - a single arch bridge spanning 90m above the gorges of Luz.
Day 5 Day free to explore independently or relax in town
This is your free day to use as you please. We suggest you try out the thermal spa in the village of Barèges, visit the Pic du Midi observatory or take the bus to the pretty towns of Luz-St Sauveur or Argelès-Gazost. Here you can stock up on the delicious local sheep’ cheeses and ‘saucissons sec’ (knobbly French salamis). The pilgrimage town of Lourdes is also accessible by public transport (about 1hr by bus). For those who can’t get enough exercise, there are plenty of trails to be explored on foot from Barèges, and we can arrange activities including paragliding, caving, white water rafting, pony trekking, mountain biking, canyoning etc.
Day 6 Cirque de Troumouse (5hrs)
Another visit to the Spanish frontier, and the higher and wilder big brother of the Cirque de Gavarnie. The Cirque de Troumouse is a vast ring of snow-capped limestone peaks, surrounding idyllic green meadows dotted with grazing sheep and cattle, and ice-cold ephemeral lakes. From Luz-St. Sauveur, we drive up to the village of Gedre and then to the Cirque de Troumouse (2000m). We begin the day with a hike to a statue of the Virgin Mary, standing watch over the Cirque. We then follow the ridge down to a superb lookout point across the glacial U-valley of Heas. We will walk across the meadows to find a perfect picnic spot beside the Troumouse Lakes. These ephemeral lakes are fed by melted water from the small glaciers that still cling to the North wall of the cirque. They are too cold for swimming, but great for a refreshing foot-dip! On our return journey to Barèges, we pick a route through fallen limestone blocks. Away from the main path we have a good chance of spotting marmots or Pyrenean chamois (isards), and the wildflowers are truly spectacular in the Spring, from late May to early July.
Day 7 Pont d'Espagne to Lac de Gaube and the Chemin de Cascades (5hrs)
A climb or cable car ride up to the famous Lac de Gaube and a stroll around the lake, then a pretty walk down to the Pont d’Espagne through shady woodland. In the afternoon we take the Chemin de Cascades – following the Gave du Marcadau as it crashes to the valley bottom in a series of waterfalls. An impressive drive through deep, narrow gorges takes us to our neighbouring valley of Cauterets, from where we drive up to the cross-country ski station of the Pont d’Espagne (1496m). We then climb 250m to the Lac de Gaube (1725m), or for an easier option take the chairlift. This is one of the most famous sights of the Pyrenees – an enormous blue glacial lake fed by melted water from the glacier on the North Face of the Vignemale (the highest mountain in the French Pyrenees). After a relaxing stroll beside the lake, we return to the Pont d’Espagne via a zig-zag path through pretty woodland. Now we make our way back towards the town of Cauterets, along the Chemin de Cascades. This 4km path follows the rushing Gave de Marcadau as it plummets over at least five waterfalls. The landscape is one of rounded granite boulders, clear waters and sandy beaches beneath gnarled pine trees. We meet the bus at La Raillère and drive into the lively spa town of Cauterets, where we take an hour to explore the town and sample the cakes at (possibly) the best/only tea-shop in the South of France.
Day 8 Trip concludes
Free morning to pick up some souvenirs and get your postcards sent off. There’s plenty of time for a rejuvenating dip in the thermal spa or a short local walk and lunch in a village restaurant.
- 7 breakfasts, 5 picnic lunches, 6 dinners (does not include drinks) – continental breakfasts are served and usually consist of breads, jams, coffee, tea and juices. Lunch is picnic style. Dinner will consist of 3 courses
- 7 nights accommodation in a comfortable village guest house with large ensuite bedrooms, equipment room, guests lounge, sunny patio, garden, Free Wifi, sauna and afternoon tea (home-made cakes) or alternatively 7 nights in a recently renovated 3 star hotel with free wifi, excellent restaurant and great mountain views
- Experienced English speaking mountain guide to accompany all excursions
- Internal transfers where required
Group Size Min
Group Size Max
The trip is based from in a newly-renovated house in the mountain village of Barèges. The house has a 3-star rating from "Gites de France" with five spacious, characterful and well-appointed bedrooms. Each has an ensuite shower room, and we configured as either a double, twin or family (4 to 6 people sharing) accommodation for up to 14 people. All guests have access to the spacious lounge and games room, with a lovely wood-burning stove, well-stocked bar, coffee bar, big-screen home cinema and a big selection of English books. It also has a large dining room with free Wi-Fi access, a heated equipment room (for coats and boots etc), and a sauna - perfect for relaxing tired muscles after a hard day in the mountains. Barèges is a great base from which to explore the Pyrenees, being situated just on the edge of the Pyrenees National Park and the Neouvielle Nature Reserve - the Pyrenean Lake District. There are lovely walking routes directly from the village, and it is just a short drive from the spectacular Cirque de Gavarnie and the Pont d'Espagne above Cauterets. Bareges is also just below the Col du Tourmalet, so it is perfect for both road cycling and mountain biking, and there are lots of mountain activities such as rafting, paragliding, canyoning and caving available in the local area to try on your day off! Early and late in the walking season, the mountains are quiet. The Spring meadows are strewn with wild flowers, and in Autumn the woods are bright with coloured leaves while the mountain tops are dusted white with new snow.
Wet weather gear, sunscreen, walking boots, warm clothes, day pack and sun hat – walking sticks are recommended.