Pyrenees Region Guide


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.


Pont d'Espagne
Pyrenees Vallee Aure

St Jean Pied de Port
 
 

OUR PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS

1. Hiking the beautiful river valleys, Gave d’Ossau and Gave d’Aspe
 
2. The view at Lescun of the Cirque de Lescun and the Pic d’Anie
 
3. A gentle stroll around fortified Sauveterre-de-Béarn
 
4. A day trip to Pau for shopping and the views from the Boulevard des Pyrénées

5. Visit the Pic du Midi observatory on a starry night

 
Cauterets
Pyrenees

ACTIVITIES

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.

Ski-ing
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. 

Mountain pursuits
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.

Hiking
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. 

Horse-trekking
Treks through the Pyrénéan foothills including overnight camps and special 'junior' excursions.

Fishing
The mountain streams are well-stocked with plump freshwater fish. International salmon and trout fishing tournaments are regularly hosted here.

Birdwatching
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.

Cycling
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

Golf
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. 

Wine-tasting
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


Haut-Béarn
This is the main attraction and incorporates the spectacularly scenic Parc National des Pyrénées. Mountain peaks, forests, lakes and river valleys combine to create a natural paradise. 

The vallées Aspe and Ossau are the two most spectacular. Lescun is a favourite location for mountain lovers - from here you can see the famous Les Aiguilles (needles) d'Ansabère rock formation. 

Laruns is another scenic mountain base with a good tourist office for advice on hiking routes, etc. There's also great views in summer at the cols Somport and Aubisque

Bird-lovers will enjoy the Falaise aux Vautours at Aste-Béon, a protected colony for native brids of prey incuding kites, falcons, kestrels and vultures. 

The scenic train Le Petit Train d'Artouste is a good way to take in the landscape if you have younger kids or you simply don't fancy the long walks! 

Another worthwhile visit is the Pic du Midi Observatory. A cable car takes you to the 2877m summit and the views are incredible. 

It hardly seems appropriate to go underground but the Grottes de Betharram near Lourdes are an option if it's wet outside.

Pau
Somehow Pau (pronounced "Po") is barely known to those living outside of France. It's a compact, cultured, scenic and historical city worthy itself of a weekend break. 

Pau hosts international golf, equestrian and motor-racing tournaments - the Pau Vintage Grand Prix each May brings thousands of people to the city. 

If a day-trip is all you can manage, there are lovely boutiques to shop, tea-shops for refreshments, the castle of Gascon king, Henri IV, to visit and the spectacular Boulevard des Pyrénées to roam. 

Pau - like much of Aquitaine - has strong historical links with Britain. Wellington's troops used the city as a station and after the war, many British remained in Pau. Golf and horse-racing were introduced by the British and many of the leafy streets and grand villas were built by British and American families, seduced by Pau's genteel lifestyle and climate.

Béarnais villages
Arguably, pretty villages are in shorter supply than in the Basque Country. However, you should not miss out onSauveterre-de-Béarn or Salies-de-Béarn. Fortified Sauveterre benefits from elevated views of the Gave d'Oloron. It's only a small village but has an air of history plus some interesting architecture. Salies is a very pretty spa town whose thermal cure station remains active today.

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 BasqueCambo-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.

Lourdes
For the Catholic faithful and the plain curious, the mecca of Lourdes makes for an interesting spectacle! 

Spain 
Pamplona is just over the border and also Rioja country, San Sebastian and Bilbao.
 

CUISINE


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!

Bon appetit!

 

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