[GÈDRE, FRANCE] — I always wanted to go on some great hikes in the French Pyrénées, but I could never figure out where. 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 in Languedoc-Roussillion, the Haute-Pyrénées and several other sub-parts. And then there’s the complementary Spanish Pyrénées on the very other side and their varying local Catalan (which I also wrote about in another post), 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.

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 better in 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 Midi-Pyrenees in France map

So here’s what I found and where you should go.

Three Great Hikes in the Hautes-Pyrénées

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.

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.

Cirque de Troumouse

Cirque de Troumouse mountain

Watch this quick clip to see what it’s like in person:

When you first drive up (you can hike up here in two hours, if you want) you reach the first parking area. A gorgeous spot that you think is the end. It might be if it is crowded, but you can pay a 10e toll and keep driving up further to reach the Cirque de Troumouse. If it’s crowded up top, you may have to hike.

But this is a lovely spot. I just couldn’t believe it. My dumb luck won again. It was early in the morning, so they weren’t taking any tolls yet, but as I zigzagged up the upper parking lot, I shrieked when I saw that there was absolutely no-one else there. Just TWO cars. The world was mine…

empty parking lot Cirque de Troumouse
Cirque de Troumouse lake
This looks like that one scene in The Deer Hunter where Robert DeNiro misses the shot with the deer.

When I was in Gèdre, the whole town was socked in. I debated whether to hike that day. Glad I did, because it was sunny up top. Then as I was up there, gorgeously creepy clouds started creeping in. Like fingers of death, except they were heaven. If you look at that map above, this will make more sense. 180 degrees of pristine mountains. And not another person in sight. And this is only 20 minutes from where I parked the car. Ridiculous.

best hike Cirque de Troumouse
If you look at that map above, this will make more sense. 180 degrees of pristine mountains. And not another person in sight. And this is only 20 minutes from where I parked the car. Ridiculous
curious sheep Cirque de Troumouse
funny sheep Cirque de Troumouse
Sheep are funny. Not Goat Funny, but funny.
cloudy trail Cirque de Troumouse

Hike to the Cirque d’Estaubé

Cirque d'Estaubé best hike

The Cirque d’Estaubé is the next cirque over from Troumouse. An easy hike up, you can actually trek to Troumouse in the morning and then hike up here the same day for lunch. Looks like Scotland, but it’s France. Spain is right over that big wall of mountains.

river on trail Cirque d'Estaubé

To get to the Cirque d’Estaubé you must first walk across the elegant Gloriettes dam. I’ve always been fascinated with dams ever since building them as science projects as a kid. Not sure how tall these falls are but the concrete rail at the top is about chest high, so you can do the math all the way to the bottom. This one is pretty, very skinny and deep, holding back a flat turquoise green lake. A great place for a picnic.

This trail humps up and over that ridge there for another hour and you drop into a deep valley, surrounded on all sides by a theater of steep mountains, so close I couldn’t ever get a good picture of it all. I saw only five people on this trail over four hours, including an 84 year old Belgian man who, after knowing nods, stopped me in the trail to ask me where was from. Then he promptly thanked me for WWII and saving Belgium.

The third and most impressive (and most well-known) of the hikes is the Cirque de Gavarnie. A massive wall of granite and waterfalls looming over the very touristy town of Gavernie, which is the base for the whole area.

This is an easy hike. About one hour up to the best views and another other to keep going further to those falls. It is incredible.


Trail leading to Cirque de Gavarnie

A few years ago I was reading the weekend Wall Street Journal and in the corner of a travel article near the gutter was a small picture of exactly this spot (except sunnier). “Wait, whaaaat? Where is this place? The Pyrénées. Holy cow, I gotta go there!”

As I typically do, I cut it out and buried it in a scruffy, thick folder scrawled “France” and filed it in a four drawer file cabinet — there just for such purposes — and put it on my forgetful mental Must See List.

I was on my laptop in the south of France, trying to figure out where to go next. A whole country to explore. And then that foggy memory hit me. What was that one place? Where did I see that? I googled it. Cirque de Gavarnie. So that’s how I ended up here. Right here. Just like I remembered it.

You first head out of the village of Gavarnie on a main track, there are loads of mule trains taking less inclined hikers. You can see the cirque, looming over the whole valley.

The Cirque de Gavarnie is one the most popular hikes in the Haute-Pyrénées. All I read about was the crowds, so I was dreading a long slog with lots of people. I only had two days of hiking planned before moving on. Both days I woke up with equal dread in my cool little hotel in Gèdre; the clouds were socked in, no mountains to be seen. Crowds or not, I was bummed about missing a hike. But as my dear friend Barbara MacFarlane says: “There’s no bad weather, only proper clothing.” So off I went, climbing into the clouds.

Cirque de Gavarnie from afar

It’s the roar that gets you. Even from miles away. That distinct sound of giant waterfall… times six.

trail along river Cirque de Gavarnie
Cirque de Gavarnie far view
view of Cirque de Gavarnie
hotel on trail to Cirque de Gavarnie
Look, there’s a Beer Stop along the way! ” You can stay at this cool little hotel about halfway up the trail. Or stop first for coffee in the morning, then a beer on the way down.

The cirque is so popular — and a UNESCO World Heritage Site— because of its great 1000m granite wall, a full kilometer long, with the highest waterfall in France (some say Europe) cascading down its flank.

This is the view from that hotel, looking in the other direction:

Cirque de Gavarnie waterfall from hotel
This is why I love Europe. A nice hike up to one the most jaw-dropping views in France and you can stop for a beer and have a look at what you just did. Very civilized.

Most people hike up to this hotel and stop here for the view. But definitely keep pushing on to the base to get a real feel for how gigantic that wall o’ water really is. Almost all the crowds peel off here. (Although on this day last June, there couldn’t have been more than twenty people, so hardly the 6 train). It’s about an hour to the base of the cascade… that distance is deceiving and there’s a lot of UP. It was a wall of clouds.

About an hour in, I could hear the roar of the falls. Rounded a corner into the great valley and…. clouds. I could hear everything, see… nothing. A giant Wall of White. I wondered if this would be worth it that day.

mountains in clouds Cirque de Gavarnie

But there was a lone guy up ahead, penetrating the white curtain, I might as well, too.

hiker fog Cirque de Gavarnie

I kept following him, that beacon in red, into the clouds, heading for The Roar. Up, up, we went. The trail getting steeper. The sound, louder. Walking into a cloud.

And then, suddenly you could see it. Actually, feel it, too. A thundering roar, deafening. And the dreaded crowds? Nobody else around. Our own private, gigantic waterfall. The tallest in France. Just wish we could see it… and then, as if on cue, beams of sun came piercing through the clouds.

It’s so huge and overpowering, distances are distorted. You thing “Oh I’ll just hike over to that waterfall.” Forty five minutes later, you’re still walking UP.

Cirque de Gavarnie wide view
Cirque de Gavarnie all the waterfalls
main waterfall Cirque de Gavarnie
Check out how giant this double waterfall is on this quick clip.
main waterfall Cirque de Gavarnie
Man in red on left-bottom used for scale.
beer overlooking Cirque de Gavarnie

Hotel Brèche de Roland — the Perfect Little Base to Hike The French Pyrénées

The sleepy mountain town of Gédre is mostly boarded up. There’s not much going on in town, but it’s right at the crossroads of several roads that’ll take you nearly everywhere into the Pyrénées national park. But there is a great little hotel (and that’s about it).

The Hotel Brèche de Roland was one of my favorite hotel finds of my long trip. Small and traditional; spotless and surprisingly modern rooms, with more outlets per metre than an Ibis by CDG. Great family run hotel with its own restaurant. Lovely, friendly place. And they’ll even pack a picnic lunch for you each day.

Hôtel la Brèche de Roland exterior
sunny view Hôtel la Brèche de Roland
The view from your room at Hôtel la Brèche de Roland.

Gèdre is quiet and mostly boarded up, at least the early summer I was there, so no need to go anywhere else in town to eat, the hotel restaurant is just what you want, serving great traditional mountain food, especially certified lamb raised in those gorgeous green mountains. There’s so much to do around the area, I under-planned with three nights, which meant only two days of hiking, could easily have stayed for a week and still not tapped out on all the amazing hikes and scenery around here, so book accordingly.

Everyone raves about hiking up to the hotel’s namesake, La Brèche de Roland, which is a great gash in the mountains where you can dip into Spain and the amazing-looking Ordessa valley. Google it. Looks cool. For a stunning movie trailer-like video of this whole area, check out the Hautes-Pyrénées tourist website.

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

Other Travel Resources for the French Pyrenees

Here are some great resources to check out:  Here’s the official Gavarnie tourism website and a page about hikes to the three UNESCO World Heritage Sites I describe above. 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 Hautes-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. And the guide to this area in the always-helpful France This Way.

Last visited June 2015, Post Updated June 2024 –

6 Discussions on
  • 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.

  • Thanks for all your info! I took your advice and did four days of hiking in the area. I stayed at an Airbnb in Gedre which I would not do again. Next time I would stay in Gavarnie. Gedre had one tiny grocery store which was closed the entire time I was there (four days!). I had to eat apples from a tree that I luckily passed by on a hike, and the chocolate I luckily had with me. Also, it wasn’t a very friendly village at all. But aside from Gedre itself the hiking was lovely. Stay away from a pizza restaurant called Grotte something on the main drag. Worst pizza ever. (This was also the airbnb I stayed at above the restaurant. The people were super weird with a ton of rules.)

    • Sorry I missed this earlier, Laurie, my site was down for a while. Sorry to hear about your bad stay in Gedre. I only stayed at the hotel and ate there, La Breche de Roland, which was surprisingly nice, great food and nice owners. But everything else seemed closed or empty in Gedre, so I can see that must have been sucky. The hiking was spectacular. I was there in early summer and it was hardly busy at all, but I can see how Gavarnie would be nuts in peak summer.

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