[GÈDRE, FRANCE] — As I finally figured out after all these years, the Pyrénées aren’t just a single group of mountains, but a bunch of groups of Pyrénées spread all along the French/Spanish border. So when you think, as I stupidly did, “Oh I’ll just go hike in the Pyrénées” you’re instantly in over your head when you finally try to Google it and figure out where to go.

There’s the Pyrénées-Orientales in French Catalonia (which I wrote briefly about in another earlier post), the Pyrénées-Atlantiques in Basque country near San Sebastian, the Midi-Pyrénées, the Haute-Pyrénées and several other subparts. And then there’s the complementary Spanish Pyrénées on the very other side and their varying local Catalan, Spanish and Basque dialects: Pirenèus, Pirineos, Pirineus and a host of other spellings. All almost used interchangeably. It can fry your brain.

So I thought I’d just drive there and figure it all out.

I’d already dipped my toe into the Spanish Pyrénées in Catalunya, then slept through the Pyrénées-Orientales without even a single hike, but the hotel was nice. Then I spent a month in Provence before trying to take another run at it. That’s how I ended up here. I just dove in.

I thought I’d just head for the mid-part, find a nice hotel and then just start hacking away at it. Little did I know, I picked exactly the right spot. The best of the best parts. The most spectacular (and surprisingly easiest) hikes I could imagine. So here’s what I found and where you should go.

Midi-Pyrénées map

The Midi-Phyrénées are aptly named, right in the middle of the mountainous action. Just south and west of the famous shrine-town of Lourdes, I found the perfect town of Gèdre to base my operations. A sleepy place, but with a cool little hotel, perfectly situated at the crossroads to hit all the major sites of the Pyrénées National Park.


So here’s what’s awesome about this part of the Haute-Pyrénées: From your base in Gèdre (in the lower right hand corner) or nearby Gavarnie, you can easily reach three UNESCO registered high mountain cirques that butt right up to the peaky border with Spain. In fact, you can even hike over the divide to Spain. Not to mention a half dozen other National Geographic-worthy valleys that rival pristine Switzerland.

The three major cirques of Pyrénées National Park


It doesn’t get any better than this. Each cirque is a great circular valley that’s like a deep topographical depression in the mountains; rich in green green grass, thick with sheep and ringed with 180 degrees of drop-dead gorgeous snow-capped peaks.

Where I live in popular Colorado, usually you have to trek up three hours to get to something really spectacular, wrangling with chocked-full parking lots and shuttle buses just to manage the hoard. (I swear, the US National Park service’s mantra seems to be “All you people shouldn’t be here.” so they make it difficult to manage the hoards.)  Here, there was nobody around and everything’s 30-40 minutes away and you’re smack into the Good Stuff. You can even drive right up to the coolest spots and you’re right there.

You can even hit a couple of cirques in a day and be home early for a nap. Made me laugh when the map guide said: “It’s a two hour hike up to the killer Cirque de Troumouse. Or you may take a small toll road that takes you right to the base, but you must pay 10e.” Ha. I think you know what choice I made.

Here follows a slide show of what it looks like so you can go here. Click on a pick and follow the slideshow.



Here are some great resources to check out:  A Fodor’s guide on the Pyrenees. The French side of Basque country in the NYTimes. The Spanish Pyrenees in the NYTimes. and another on the French Catalonia Pyrenees in the NYTimes.  The really excellent tourism site for the Midi-Pyrenees, this is deep with lots of great info. Another couple short articles in the UK Conde Nast Traveller. Sheep Walking in Travel & Leisure. A small Pyrenees travel guide in Travel & Leisure. The Pyrenees National Park in National Geographic.

Here’s my awesome hotel in Gèdre, La Breche de Roland hotel.


Last visited June 2015

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  • Amazing photos!!

    I’m planning a trip to Spanish Basque Country and the south of France and want to spend a few days doing day-hikes in the Pyrenees. I see that you wrote this in April, but is that when these photos were taken?? Our trip is also in April and I worry the snow will make hiking tricky.


    • Hey Caitlin! Thanks for writing. I took these in the very first weeks in June. In winter the whole area turns into ski resorts, including where I was. So I’m guessing it might be a little too snowy, or worse, slushy and muddy. If you’re in Basque Country, google Pico di Europa. I’ve never been there, but have wanted to for a long time. It looks amazing and there might be a bunch of hikes you can do since I think it is lower elevation. I can’t wait to go there. Or check out this awesome huge dune, between Spain and Bordeaux. You can run up and down that and the views and food are just incredible. http://ysgh.wpengine.com/2016/04/stay-in-a-hip-hotel-on-an-ocean-cliff-right-next-to-eupopes-tallest-sand-dune/

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