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.
Summer meadows, spa towns, spectacular gorges and waterfalls.
Towns in the Pyrenees:
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 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
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.
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.