12 Amazing Adventures in
the High Pyrenees
by Robert and Emma Mason
(High Pyrenees, France/Spain)
Rafting in the Pyrenees – family trip on the “Gave de Pau” river
Stretching 450km from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees form a natural mountainous border between France and Spain. Unlike some of its European counterparts, there are few roads criss-crossing these mountains, so there are areas of untouched wilderness, which with a bit of effort, are surprisingly easy to access.
If you want adventure and action in summer or winter, then a trip to the High Pyrenees is a must. Decide what activity you want to do, how you want to do it and where you want to do it. You can stay above ground, go underground, be on, or in, a river, use your own two feet or get a machine or beast of burden to help you – the possibilities seem endless. If it’s the right season for your activity, then go for it!
Hiking and walking
The Pyrenees are a hiker’s heaven. From the 45 day GR10 route across the whole length, to the HRP (High Pyrenean Route) hopping from peak to peak, to easy afternoon jaunts and UNESCO World Heritage sites like the Cirque Du Gavarnie, walkers and hikers can find something for every level, ability and taste.
If you like flowers, June is the best time with the meadows and mountains bursting with colour. For wildlife enthusiasts the summer is the time to see marmots, shy isards (mountain gazelles), eagles and maybe, just maybe, a paw print of the elusive Pyrenean brown bear.
For something adventurous, come in June when the snow-melt swells the river. Families often prefer something a little more kid-friendly like rafting and in July or August – when the river has warmed up a bit – is a perfect time of fun for everyone.
Get down that river anyway you can! Abseil, climb, jump, slide, swim, wade... get up close and personal with a spot of canyoning.
Enjoy paddling down the rivers while keeping an eye out for brown trout, or even a rare otter, and navigating the odd rapid before flopping on a bank for a tasty picnic lunch in the sun.
The Pyrenees are as spectacular underground as they are above ground. Climb, wriggle and crawl your way through a labyrinth of caves and tunnels before emerging while blinking when you emerge into the sunlight again.
Do your brakes work? Good! Because the High Pyrenees have chair lifts, cable cars and winding ski roads to get you and your bike to the top of the mountains, and then there’s only one way down! Miles of marked trails will lead you through forests, meadows and sleepy mountain villages with routes that have all grades from easy cross-country trails to steep single-track.
The High Pyrenees are true Tour de France country. Cycle famous Tour de France finishes like the Col du Tourmalet, Luz-Ardiden and Hautacam. Enjoy the sweeping switchbacks, and see if you can be as fast as Lance Armstrong or Cadell Evans.
The thermals in the High Pyrenees mean you could be soaring like a bird for up to an hour. This is a great way to see the mountains in a more relaxed and serene manner – either in tandem with a qualified instructor, or joining a week-long class to work your way towards your own pilot’s licence. Rock-climbing
With granite slabs, limestone cirques and world class rock and ice in the winter months, climbing here is a joy. Whatever your level or preference – bolted sports climbs, trad routes or Alpine-style mountaineering ascents, you will find something to give you a thrill whilst enjoying a great view and the chance to end your climb with a refreshing plunge into a cool mountain lake! Skiing & Snowboarding
Shhh! It’s not well known, but the Pyrenees have an extensive range of ski-resorts, and typically receive more snow annually than the Alps! The biggest ski area is the “Grand Tourmalet”, also known as Bareges-La Mongie after the two villages it encompasses. With over 100km of runs, 70 pistes and 42 ski lifts, and a long season running from the beginning of December to mid-April, it is ideal for beginners and experts alike. Off-piste & ski-touring
For adventurous, or expert, skiers the legendary descent from the Pic du Midi de Bigorre is one of the most celebrated off-piste routes in Europe. Ski-touring is also a dream here. Spend a day skiing on virgin snow without seeing any other person and get that “me and the mountains” feeling, or head out for a hut-to-hut expedition in the true wilderness of the Pyrenees National Park – literally miles from the nearest road or ski lift.Snow-shoeing
Get away from civilisation and visit high ridges, dramatic cirques, rounded peaks and frozen lakes. Follow the trails of hares and isards, and make your own tracks in the snow-laden pine forest on snow-shoes. The Pyrenees are a winter wonderland!
Robert and Emma Mason are qualified British International Mountain Leaders (IMLs), living and working in France full time. Both are passionate about the outdoors and mountain activities, and love to share this enthusiasm with others.
In 2004 they came to the remote French mountain village of Bareges and established an outdoor activity holiday company, Mountainbug. For more than seven years they have been sharing this amazing region of the High Pyrenees with guests from all over the world while accommodating them at their beautiful 18th Century chalet-style accommodation.
For anything mountain-related, contact Rob or Emma, and they will put together a holiday to suit you.
Robert and Emma Mason - International Mountain Leaders & founders of Mountainbug Activity Holidays.
email: [email protected]