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Tourist information for the Pyrenees

The western foothills of the Pyrennes begin in Aquitaine, in Basque country within sight of the Atlantic, rising to majestic peaks in the Midi-Pyrenees, and ending close to the Mediterranean in Languedoc-Rousillon. They separate France from Spain. The scenery and views are spectacular. There is an extensive network of long distance and local footpaths suitable for all levels of walkers and the whole area is very popular with climbers. Ski facilities are being developed and offer uncrowded slopes with easy access to the valley towns. Less busy than the Alps it is the perfect mountain break in summer or winter. The Pays Basque has green, gentle lower slopes with nearby seaside resorts perfect for families and more spectacular forests and gorges as you go inland. The Central Pyrenees are composed of much higher mountain peaks with waterfalls, glaciers, mountain lakes and meadows full of flowers in early summer. The Eastern Pyrenees are drier, hotter and more Mediterranean, and the meadows of the high pastures give way to the vineyards of the lower slopes. The towns of this area have a strong Catalan influence. Nestled between the Eastern and Central Pyrenees is Andorra, worth a visit to take advantage of its duty free shopping.

Activities in the Pyrenees:
Walking, trekking, horse riding, skiing, climbing, caving, hang-gliding, sea-sports including surfing in the west.

Special attractions:
Summer meadows, spa towns, spectacular gorges and waterfalls.

Towns in the Pyrenees:
Pays Basque:

Bayonne. Old town with half-timbered houses, narrow streets around the quay and a Gothic cathedral. There is a jazz festival in July.

Biarritz. Grand old Atlantic resort with a spectacular coastline and extensive sandy beaches dominated by the Atlantic swell. Small harbour with bars and restaurants. Casino for those interested.

St. Jean de Luz. Excellent sandy beach resort. Very attractive natural harbour which prospered in the 17th and 18th centuries but is still a working fish port. It features half-timbered houses, pretty streets and Basque churches.
st jean de luz

St. Jean Pied de Port. This was an important pilgrim centre for those on the way to Compostela in Spain. Topped by a fortress, its narrow sloping streets and ancient houses invite strolling and require it as cars are banned during the day. Walking in the vicinity is relatively gentle with green mountain slopes and cool air, but easy access to higher regions of forests, ridges and meadows

Central Pyrenees:

Cauterets. Spa town and good walking, ski and mountaineering centre, surrounded by 3000 metre peaks, lakes, torrents and forests.

Gavarnie. Close to Europes highest waterfall and giving access to the wild and desolate surrounding mountains.

Lourdes. Centre of Catholic pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes who appeared to a young girl, St. Bernadette in 1858. Particularly sought as a place of healing for the sick and disabled, it is usually packed with visitors hoping for a miracle.

Pau. Chateau with excellent views of surrounding mountains and a good centre for exploring the central Pyrenees by car, particularly the beautiful valleys of the Aspe and Ossau.

Eastern Pyrenees:

Ax-les Thermes. Sleepy little spa town set in a valley surrounded by mountains, it is an excellent base for walking in summer or skiing in winter. There are cross-country ski paths in this area. At the end of a hard day join the locals and soak your feet in the natural hot pool in the centre of town.

Ceret. Excellent museum of modern art - Matisse, Picasso, Chagal, etc - in a pleasant traditional town.
Perpignan. Lively outdoor city with warm charm, interesting buildings, pedestrianised old town and a strong Spanish influence. The coast in this area is flat and unremarkable but the beaches are sandy and extensive and the nearby Canet-Plage is reasonable for a bit of sea and sun.