Key points about this information item Cirque de Gavarnie, Hautes-Pyrenees, South West FranceInformation Description: Cirque de Gavarnie, Pyrenees Mountains, Hautes-Pyrenees
The Cirque de Gavarnie is a huge amphitheatre that was scoured out by a glacier, leaving a 1700 metre high rock face stretching up from the 1500 metre base in three separate terraces to over 3200 metres. It is part of the Pyrenees National Park, which has prevented any further development in the area and forms the border between France and Spain. The Cirque de Gavarnie has been listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
The only access to the Cirque is on foot or horseback and the path from Gavarnie to the Cirque is about 4 km long, well maintained and easy, allowing a return trip for the whole family to be completed in about 3 hours. For generations, local families have been taking visitors up and down on horse back, but this seems to be aimed mainly at children now. The main path is on the East bank of the river, while a more secluded and quieter route is along the Western side. For a little peace and tranquillity, it is recommended to do the walk either early morning or mid afternoon on long sunny days to avoid the crowds.
Following the East bank path brings you to the jardin botanique and then on to the Plateau de la Prade, where the Festival de Gavarnie is held in late July in an open air theatre. From here it is a short and fairly steep climb to the Hotel de Cirque et la Cascade, just in the bowl of the Cirque de Gavarnie.
The Hotel has no rooms but provides meals and drinks and can get very busy during the summer season. The majority of tourists will go no further, but just a 30 min climb from here takes you to the base of the Grande Cascade, source of the Gave de Gavarnie. At a height of 423 m, it is the longest falls in Europe and if you are there in spring, the water can fall the entire length without touching the rocks. As summer progresses and the snow melt subsides, the fall reverts to being made up of several smaller waterfalls.
The panorama from the Hotel de Cirque is around 4 km from East to West and you can see fragments of the once huge glaciers that used to cover all of Gavarnie. Near the centre of the Cirque is the huge gash called the Breche de Roland.
It is possible to walk to the top of the Cirque and go through the Breche de Roland into Spain, but it is a climb best left to experienced walkers. Some of the walking / climbing can be difficult and crampons and ice axe are usually advisable.
Instead of returning by the same route, use the beautiful path cut into rock that leads to the Refuge des Espugettes and from there back to Gavarnie. The refuge is open daily during the summer period and offers drinks and snacks. The route gives spectacular views of both the Cirque and the Breche de Roland and is well worth the effort.
An alternative is to drive to the col de Tentes, located on the eastern side of the Cirque. There is parking at the end of the road and from here there is a hiking path into Spain and great views of the Cirque. This is also a common starting point for the hike to the Refuge de Sarradets ou de la Breche, which is used as a base to explore the Breche de Roland and the wide variety of paths and peaks in the area both sides of the border.
There are a number of routes to and from the Cirque and beyond and it is best to consult the Tourist Information Office or a dedicated walking website for more information. If you are heading away from the main route to the Cirque, remember to take a map and a mobile phone and leave your planned route and details with somebody.
Take a look at the Gavanie webcam to check the weather
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