Many hikers are drawn to the stunning Hautes-Pyrénées region of France; with its sweeping valleys, high mountains, dramatic canyons, lakes and waterfalls – it has everything the discerning mountaineer and sightseer can possibly want.
A walking holiday through the area will take you through the beautiful Lesponne Valley; past the Pic du Midi, one of the highest mountain peaks in the Pyrenees; on to the dramatic cliffs and canyons of the Cirque de Gavarnie; and no trip would be complete without a visit to some typically French towns and villages.
The Lesponne Valley
The Lesponne Valley is one of the most beautiful and untouched valleys in the Pyrenees. With only 54 people per square kilometre – half the national average of France – a holiday through this vast, unspoilt wilderness is the perfect place for gentle climbs, engaging conversation, and quiet contemplation.
While traversing the Lesponne Valley, you are surrounded by sharp, towering peaks; and greeted by sleepy towns and villages, and the spectres of mediaeval fortifications that still cling to the mountainsides. Because this region has so many unique opportunities to explore, you may never want to leave.
The Pic du Midi
Views from the Pic du Midi de Bigorre, an impressive mountain that towers over the murky blue waters of Lac d’Oncet, are what most often draw visitors to the region. Famous for its world-class astronomical observatory, the 2,800-metre-high peak overlooks some of the most breathtaking views. Streaks of snow grace these sky-scraping mountains throughout much of the year. Journey above the clouds by taking a gondola to the top, and look out upon the natural wonder of the Pyrenees.
The Cirque de Gavarnie
The Cirque de Gavarnie is a picturesque marvel that rivals Pic du Midi, and it is a favourite of many visitors to the area. This UNESCO Heritage Site, located on the border of France and Spain, is a testament to the striking beauty of the Pyrenees. The giant natural bowl was carved out from advancing glaciers during the last ice age, and is so magnificent that Victor Hugo once referred to it as “the Colosseum of nature.” At five kilometres in diameter, the Cirque de Gavarnie provides ample opportunity to observe the flora, fauna, and landscape of this exceptional place. While you’re there, be sure to take in the view of the Grande Cascade de Gavarnie (Gavarnie Falls). This 422-metre-high waterfall is the tallest in France.
Along with an abundance of natural sites, there are also many villages to explore in the area. Because they’re all connected by numerous heavily-trafficked walking paths, you’ll be able to see them at your leisure. Wander through rugged and winding mountain trails, up rocky slopes, and through lush, mossy woodlands. As you explore the towns nestled in the valley, you’ll be transported back to a simpler time.
Luz-Saint-Saveur is one of the largest and most central settlements you’ll encounter in the region. As you venture over Napoleon’s Bridge and cross into town, dare to look down at the Gave du Pau stream. This 63-metre high bridge, finished in 1863, is a popular spot for bungee jumping. Perhaps you’ll even see a group of thrill-seekers as you cross!
The town itself provides walkers with a myriad of activities to allow them to rest up and catch their breath. Treat yourself to a self-guided tour of l’Eglise des Templiers, a stunning example of French Romanesque architecture. Afterwards, enjoy a short walk to Chateau Sainte-Marie, where you can explore this C10 castle against the backdrop of the Pyrenees. It’s also a great photo stop.
Argeles-Gazost is at a crossroads of activity in the area. Walk through the narrow streets of this picturesque village and sample the fare at local cafes. With numerous spas taking from the warm thermal waters under the town, Argeles-Gazost is a great place to rest your aching muscles after a long day of walking.
With its high peaks, charming hamlets, lazy streams, and cascading waterfalls, you’ll never want to stop exploring everything the Hautes-Pyrénées region has to offer. A walking holiday is certainly an adventurous and rewarding journey into this historic and miraculously-preserved region.
Find out more about Headwater’s Heart of the Pyrenees walking tour; prices from £908pp for 7 nights, all breakfasts and evening meals included.
You can discover ways to save money on your walking holiday equipment at LoveMyVouchers.co.uk.