Walking the Pyrenees the Easy Way

Written by on June 14, 2016 in Midi-Pyrénées, Tours in France

walking-the-pyrenees

The Pyrenees are a natural border separating France and Spain and, although the highest peaks reach over 3000m, there’s some beautiful hiking between villages, keeping mainly to the valleys.

I’ve long wanted to visit the Pyrenees, attracted by the mountains and lured by the promise of good food and wine. Even better I’ve opted for a week’s walking, staying at three comfortable hotels, with my baggage transported between them, so nothing too strenuous. Getting here  from the UK is relatively easy – a flight to Toulouse, a two hour train ride to Tarbes, then 45 minutes in a taxi up the valley to Lesponne.  I’ll be here for two nights and the next day I set out on the first walk.  It’s a fairly easy climb up to Lac d’Ourrec at almost 1700m and then it’s more or less back down the same way. By the lake there are stunning views of the mountains and on my way down I get a tantalising glimpse of the Pic du Midi, through the trees.

Next day I take a taxi to the cable car station just outside Lourdes and am whisked up to the 940m Pic du Jer with no effort. I’m rewarded with a view over the town, but storm clouds are moving in and I realise I have to get a move on if I’m not going to get wet.  It’s a reasonably leisurely downhill walk across the valleys to the attractive spa town of Argeles-Gazost, complete with an English Park and a casino. In fact, the mineral-rich waters attracted the first tourists to the Pyrenees and for years the French government funded the treatments and even allowed licensed gambling.

Argeles-Gazost has a famous Tuesday market, but it’s distinctly soggy this morning as the rain has set in and it’s not worth lingering. Clad head to toe in my weatherproofs, I climb into the mist, wondering whether I might be better off spending my day at the gaming tables, but the rain clears at the village of Saint-Savin.  This once had a thriving monastery, but these days only the 12th century Abbey church remains. It’s still enough to attract pilgrims, though, and I spot a busload, obviously on a side trip from Lourdes.  The village itself is delightfully medieval, centred around a square with half-timbered houses, and there’s an attractive café where I stop to revive my spirits.

hiking-in-the-pyrenees

Overnight the weather worsens and morning dawns dark, with low cloud hugging the mountains.  I take a trail from Soulom, hugging the hillside, once the only way along the valley and it passes the attractive small villages of Viscos and Sazos, looming out of the mist. I arrive at Luz-Saint Saveur just after lunch and have time to explore. There’s a fortified church, a ruined castle on a hill and of course a spa in the twinned village of Saint Saveur. Napoléon III stayed here for 23 days in 1859 with his empress Eugenie and she supposedly conceived her only son during her holiday. Her husband ordered the construction of the Pont Napoleon to link the two villages, and was an essential part of the road construction to Gavernie which is tomorrow’s destination.

I take the bus in the rain, passing Napoleon’s bridge and, within an hour, I’m in Gavernie. My goal is the Grande Cascade, a waterfall with a vertical drop of 422m, making it the highest in Europe. Of course I can’t see a thing but, since my bus isn’t for another four hours, I decide that at least it’s something to aim for.  I trudge upwards over scree, not even sure what I’m aiming for, but suddenly the mist begins to list and I catch sight of the bottom of the waterfall. As I get closer, visibility gets better and finally the entire cascade is revealed. The sun even comes out in the valley and I suddenly feel that the whole walk has been worthwhile. Next morning, as I prepare to take the train back from Lourdes, the clouds have lifted and I feel sun for the first time.  Even better I can see the mountain peaks and realise what I’ve been missing…

Read the full article in The Good Life France Magazine – free to read, download and subscribe to.

Headwater’s Heart of the Pyrenees Walk offers seven nights, self-guided hiking, staying at comfortable three star hotels.

The Tourist Office website: Midi-Pyrénées has information about the region

Related Articles

The very best south of France Tours

If you think it’s not possible to “do” southern France in 9 days in a truly meaningful, authentic and fabulous way – think again! If you know the right people and go to the right places, it really is possible to experience the very best of the south of France in just over a week. […]

Continue Reading

The best tours of Normandy | Visit like a local not a tourist

Normandy is a land of lush meadows, gorgeous beaches, bucolic countryside, picturesque villages, grand monuments and historic sites. It’s famous for its apples and cheese, delicious gastronomy and friendly people. It is the perfect place to get to know real, authentic France and there’s no better way to do that than with a local guide […]

Continue Reading

Best short tours of Alsace

Colmar, Strasbourg, fairy tale towns like Riquewihr, magical castles like Koenigsgbourg, a beautiful and delicious wine route, amazing gastronomy – Alsace has it all. And then some. If you want to discover the real Alsace, the most enchanting towns, the secrets of its cities, the Christmas markets, how to make famous flammekueche (the most scrumptious […]

Continue Reading

The best tours of Dordogne

The Dordogne Valley in south west France is special. It’s the sort of place that you go to once and always long to return. Luscious landscapes, rivers and forests, vineyards and orchards peppered with the prettiest of villages and historic towns like medieval Sarlat and lofty Rocamadour. There’s no better way to discover the very […]

Continue Reading

How to spend one day in Toulouse

Capital of the newly-reconfigured Occitanie region, la Ville Rose as Toulouse is affectionately called after the colour of its brickwork really needs far more time than one day. But if that’s all you have, here’s how to spend one day in Toulouse by a local. You’ll find it wont be enough though, and you’ll definitely […]

Continue Reading

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.

Top