Pyrenees National Park, South West France

Category: Midi-Pyrenees - Mountains

Key points about this information item Pyrenees National Park, South West France




Pyrenees National Park, Midi-Pyrenees


The Pyrenees National Park was created in 1967 and encompasses a large part of the central Pyrenees Mountain range bordering Spain in the south west of France.  The vision of the park was to create an area that is totally free of fences or barriers, allowing the wildlife to roam free.  The park is split into two distinct areas; the central zone covers an area of 45,705 hectares, is almost uninhabited and is strictly controlled, while the outer area has 86 villages and 40,000 inhabitants.


The Park stretches for around 100 km from east to west and includes six valleys running from north to south.  The Aspe valley and its vast forests, last stronghold for the bears, the neighbouring Ossau valley, main valley for pastoralism, the Azun valley or Arrens valley, overlooked by the Balaitous (3144 m), the Cauterets valley with its spectacular waterfalls, the Luz-Gavarnie valley and its world famous cirques and the Aure valley and the Neouvielle Nature Reserve, furthest to the East, with the highest mountain pine forests in Europe.


In the Midi Pyrenees, Cauterets and Gavarnie are two of the most popular towns to begin exploring the area, but there are many small villages in the area to choose from with accommodation.


The park has many impressive sights, but one of the best known is the Cirque de Gavarnie, a spectacular curved wall of stone separating France from Spain.  Also impressive is the Cirque de Troumouse, which is bigger than Gavarnie and arguably more dramatic.  It is certainly less busy than Gavarnie.


For walkers, there are plenty of marked routes, but the two most interesting are the Haute Randonnee Pyreneenne (HRP) and the Grande Randonee 10 (GR10).  Both routes traverse the Pyrenees Mountain range from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, but the HRP is much more demanding, with the 500 km length expected to be completed in about 45 days.  It is mostly at a high level, following the line of the border and the accommodation is in refuges and mountain huts.  The GR10 is at a lower level, all on the French side, about 300 km longer and most nights can be spent in village accommodation or gites d'etape.


With the protected status, wildlife thrives in the park.  The Brown bear, recently reintroduced, amongst much local objection, is just about holding on and you are unlikely to see one.  The Marmots are fairly common and can be seen if approached quietly. The Isard is the symbol of the National Park and the image of its head is used on signs to denote the boundaries of the Park. Many species of birds of prey are present in the park, including the rare lammergeier, griffon vultures, and golden eagles. 


A visit to the National Park is a must if you are travelling in this area.  There is so much to see and do that you could spend several holidays here and not see it all.  The Pyrenees National Park website has a great more detail on the wildlife and hiking opportunities, along with other details, facts and ideas for things to do.


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