Key points about this information item A guide to Hautes-Pyrenees, Midi-PyreneesInformation Description:
Geography and climate
The department of Haute-Pyrenees is located along the central Pyrenees and was created in 1790 during the French revolution from what was previously the territory of Bigorre and parts of Gascony. There are three distinct areas of the department. Near the Spanish border, it is high mountain peaks such Vignemale and Pic du Midi, slightly further north there are rolling hills known as the Baronnies and the northern part is mainly flat agricultural land.
In the mountainous southern area of the department, the climate is very cold in the winter with plenty of snow and then warm wet summers. Lower down, the summers are very hot with mild winters and plenty of rain in the spring.
There are two major tourist draws to the area. Firstly the Pyrenees Mountains with there ski resorts and multitude of outdoor activities and secondly, Lourdes for the pilgrimage sites.
The Hautes-Pyrenees has the eleven ski resorts, the most of any Midi-Pyrenees department, catering for alpine and cross-country plus snow-shoeing and tobogganing. Have a look at the Hautes-Pyrenees ski resorts.
Lourdes has the second highest number of hotels of ant city in France, with Paris having the most. The pilgrimage season sees an estimated five million people visit the town every year and numbers are continuing to rise. Our Lourdes guide pages
give more information.
Other towns to visit include Bagneres de Bigorre, which is a spa resort and also provides a base for exploring the Pyrenees range and Argeles Gazost that again has a spa and is close to ski resorts. Other spa towns of note include Cauterets and Luz Saint Saveur.
A large area of the department is within the Pyrenees National Park and provides a haven for many species of wildlife and flora. It is also extremely popular with walkers, mountain bikers and day trippers looking for fresh air, peace and quiet. Well known attractions such as the Cirque de Gavarnie and Pont d'Espagne can become very busy during the peak French holiday season of August.
The Col de Tourmalet is renowned the world over as one of the passes featured in the Tour de France almost every year, along with the Col de Aubisque and Col d'Aspin. If you are thinking of watching the race from there, plan well ahead as it is extremely popular.
Tourism is replacing the traditional farming and craft industries as the main source of income for the department. With Lourdes attracting such huge numbers of visitors and the highest number of ski resorts in the Midi-Pyrenees region it is not hard to see why. In addition, the spa resorts still attract large numbers but they are not as popular as in their heyday.
Garbure is a typical soup of the region, made with haricots tarbais, cabbage and potatoes amongst other ingredients. Each chef has his own version of the recipe. Porc Noir is not a recipe but a breed of pig, black from head to tail, that is left to roam free and totally naturally and is sold under the Noir de Bigorre label.
A popular dessert for the area, often seen at fetes is the Gateau a la broche. It kind of resembles a huge stack of round waffles. A mixture of flour, eggs, butter, rum and vanilla is poured a little at a time into a mould that is slowly rotated over an open fire. Delicious and ideal for sharing.
The Hautes-Pyrenees has its own regional airport at Tarbes-Lourdes, but the majority of flights are charters for the pilgrimage tours to Lourdes. Just over the border in Aquitaine is Pau which Ryanair use to fly to Bristol and Stansted. This makes access to the region very easy. For more choice, Toulouse is only ninety minutes away and gives a greater choice of destinations.
For driving, the A64 motorway runs from east to west right through the centre of the department, connecting Biarritz to Toulouse and beyond. Once away from the motorway the roads are normally quiet, but if heading south in to the mountains many of the roads are narrow and twisty making progress much slower than expected.
The region is well served by the TGV with stations at Lourdes and Tarbes. However, once there don't expect much in the way of public transport. In the winter, shuttle busses run to and from the ski resorts but the busses are few and far between otherwise. To really get in to the mountains requires a car, bicycle if you are fit or lots of walking.
Have a look at our Midi-Pyrenees travel information for more detail.
Holiday accommodation in the Hautes-Pyrenees.
Property for sale in the Hautes-Pyrenees.
Online plant sales, based in Escanecrabe, Midi-Pyrenees, France