THREE GREAT HIKES IN THE STUNNING MIDI-PYRÉNÉES IN FRANCE

THE MIDI-PYRÉNÉES | FRANCE

[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, 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’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.

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

The Midi-Pyrenees in France map

Three Great Hikes in the Midi-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.

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

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. Awesome old classic movie, back before he just did pantomime. You should rent it, or come here for the 3D IMAX version. The surround sound is perfect. I’m thinking of filming a sequel here, called … The Lamb Hunter. 🐑. .. . …

 

Cirque de Troumouse Tight Cabin

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.

Hike to the Cirque d’Estaubé

Cirque d'Estaubé trek

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. 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. Just a solid wall of Mountain Good. 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. I told him I wasn’t born yet, but I’d thank my dad, probably sitting with his TV remote and drinking martinis in his big lounge chair in the sky.

 

 

Hiking to the Popular Cirque de Gavarnie

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 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.

__________________________________________________

A few years ago I was reading the newly revamped weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal and its pretty decent lifestyle section. In the corner of a travel article near the gutter was a small picture of exactly this spot. “Wait, whaaaat? Where is this place?” The Pyrénées. Holy 🐂 !

Cirque de Gavarnie main trail

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 down.

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. (You should see my kitchen counter, loaded with torn scraps of articles from every source, waiting to be never-filed. An Old School mess.)

Anyway… here 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? The memory not working, I googled it. Cirque de Gavarnie. So that’s how I ended up here. Right here. Just like I remembered it.

Cirque de Gavarnie from YouShouldGoHere on Vimeo.

 

Cirque de Gavarnie hotel

“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.

This is the view from the 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.

 

 

Gèdre — the Perfect Base to Hike The French Pyrénées

The sleepy mountain town of Gédre is a great central base to explore the Haute-Pyrénées. 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.

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.

Hotel Brèche de Roland

Gèdre is quiet and kinda boarded up, but no need to go anywhere else 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 Midi-Pyrénées tourist website. The video is very Lord of the Rings meets Game of Thrones. http://www.tourism-midi-pyrenees.co.uk

Other Travel Resources for the French Pyrenees

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

1
Fields marked with an * are required
2 Discussions on
“THREE GREAT HIKES IN THE STUNNING MIDI-PYRÉNÉES IN FRANCE”
  • 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.

    Thanks!

    • 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/

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow Us on Instagram @youshouldgohere