Stunning scenery, wildlife, authenticity & no crowds
The Pyrénées is a natural wilderness accredited with National Park status.
Mountains, lakes and forests combine to create a landscape which nature and wildlife enthusiasts will admire.
Tourism is evolving - there are plenty of outdoor acitivties to choose from - but it is far less developed than the Alps and this is one of its greatest attractions.
And if you do fancy a little culture and sophistication, Pau is a genteel, gem of a city. There are many market towns and villagesto explore too.
5. Visit the Pic du Midi observatory on a starry night
Moountains are not traditionally a place for beach lovers but the Pyrénées are unusual in that you are never too far from the sand even when you're halfway up a mountain! If you want to maximise the blend of mountains and ocean, however French Basque Country is the better option. The Pyrénées is for those who want the fresh air, scenery and wildlife of this breathtaking land. Unsurprisingly, therefore, activites are geared towards enjoying the outdoors.
Cauterets, Gourette and La Mongie are the principal ski stations in the Western Pyrénées. Our local friends tell us these stations are far less busy than their Alpine counterparts and the aprés-ski is just as vibrant.
Why walk in the mountains when you could climb up them, absail down them or parascend over them? Come on, where's your outdoor spirit? There's a number of organisations based here who can get your adrenalin pumping. If you want to get wet as well as scared, there are numerous white-water rafting and canyoning centres - there are links on the Pyrénées Tourist Office website (external link) including Rafting 64.
The famous GR10 trail winds its way through the mountains and there are hundreds of shorter alternatives whether it's a few hours, a day or a week of walking that you're looking for.
Treks through the Pyrénéan foothills including overnight camps and special 'junior' excursions.
The mountain streams are well-stocked with plump freshwater fish. International salmon and trout fishing tournaments are regularly hosted here.
The Pyrénées is one of Europe's last natural habitats for golden eagles and there is a Pyrenees Vulture Look-out Centre. Watching these birds of prey gliding in the mountain currents is quite awe-inspiring.
The Tour de France carves a particularly sadistic route through the Pyrénées. Tthe Étape de Tour regularly takes place here. Road racing is a popular pastime in this area, as is mountain biking or VTT as it's known in France.
For a round of quality holiday golf, continental Europe's oldest course is located at Pau and celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2006. It's a beautiful course with great views too.
The fertile foothills south of Pau are home to the excellent Jurançon vineyards, highly-reputed in France and a rare find in UK restaurants and supermarkets.. Whites and rosés are the main attraction - the sweet white is an excellent alternative to the more famous Sauternes, also of south west France. Rioja country is not far over the border into Spain.
PLACES & SIGHTS TO SEE
Historic Orthez and Oloron-Ste-Marie are also worth a visit especially on market day. Client tip from the Owens (2010) - "Oloron is a fascinating place- it's divided into 3 different districts, and each deserves at least a full day's exploration. (The town) has a compelling history - it makes it so much more interesting if you read the history before you start. The cathedral in Oloron Ste Marie is a must, and there are cafés i the square outside where you can sit and have a lovely meal or just a drink and take in the atmosphere...."
If you find yourself in Haux on Easter Monday, you will witness the unforgettable spectacle of the villagers cooking a giant omelette on a wood fire in the town square. About 4500 eggs are used, and the omelette, which measures nearly 9 feet across, is shared by about 1000 people!
Across the border into the Pays Basque, Cambo-les-Bains and St-Jean-Pied-de-Port are both attractive towns to visit; at Cambo, visit the beautiful Villa Arnaga, home of Edmond Rostand, author of Cyrano de Bergerac.
For the Catholic faithful and the plain curious, the mecca of Lourdes makes for an interesting spectacle!
Pamplona is just over the border and also Rioja country, San Sebastian and Bilbao.
The cuisine of the Pyrénées is dominated by its Gascon roots, and what could loosely be described as "country cooking". Thus, garlic, stews, game and poultry are ubiquitous, complemented by liberal doses of Jurançon and Béarnais reds.
Legend has it that King Henri's grandfather smudged the lips of the newborn Henri with a little garlic and Jurançon wine just to make sure he started life as a true Gascon. If there is one dish that typifies the region it is King Henri's favourite,Poule au Pot - essentially a chicken stew.
The mountains of course have their impact on the region's cuisine. Cheese, in particular. Fromages de brebis or sheep's milk cheeses are the norm.
Restaurant recommendation (from Patricia Michelson, one of Britain's top chefs): L'Hostellerie L'Horizon, just south of Pau..."one of my favourite hideaways in the foothills of the Pyrenees. In the summer you can dine on the terrace with the family cat and dog for company. All the produce is local, including Bayonne ham, Ossau cheese and Jurançon wine. Bliss".
And a visit to the Gateau Basque Musuem in Sare - a gorgeous village - is well worth it!
OFFICES DE TOURISME:
RAFTING & CANYONING COMPANIES:
Rafting 64 - Cocktail Aventure - Loisirs 64 - Gaia Aventure - Evasion 64 - Arteka
ACTIVITIES & VISITS:
Betharram Grottos - Mountain Tourist Train d'Artouste - Pau Golf Club - Pau Parachuting Centre - Pau Vintage Grand Prix - Pic du Midi Observatory - Salies-de-Béarn Spa Centre - Ski-ing in the Western Pyrénées - Vulture Look-Out Centre - Walking in the Pyrenees
FOOD AND DRINK:
Guide to Jurançon Vineyards - Musee du Gateau Basque