Vacations in the French Pyrenees

The French Pyrenees might have been designed specifically for activity vacations, so varied and dramatic is the terrain here. In the western, Basque section of the range the vegetation is deep green and lush. In the Catalan east the landscape is hot and dry, with a sublime Mediterranean vibe. And in the centre, where you’ll find the Pyrenees National Park spanning the Hautes-Pyrénées and Pyrénées-Atlantiques departments, the highest mountains in the range form a serrated, white-tipped backdrop to plunging gorges, waterfalls, lakes and rivers. Here you can hike iconic trails such as the GR10, cycle over steep passes that follow the Tour de France route, scramble over rocks and leap off cliffs in canyoning expeditions, and in the winter months traverse pristine snowbound forests on snow shoes or cross country skis.
Your adventures will take place for the most part at high altitude – the French side of the Pyrenees has little in the way of foothills – through picturesque mountain communes and scenery that has inspired writers such as Victor Hugo, and artists from Matisse to Picasso. You can focus on a single activity, or opt for a multi activity vacation that is especially suited to families. You can throw in some cultural visits; spa towns with hot springs abound, as do religious sites such as those of Lourdes and the abbey of Arles-sur-Tech. You can join a guided small group tour, make your own way around with detailed route notes, or simply opt for an accommodation only trip, with the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want. In the French Pyrenees there’s a palpable sense of losing your shackles.

Highlights of the French Pyrenees

Barèges

Barèges

An excellent base for walking, multi activity and winter vacations, the busy resort of Barèges has got it all. You can stay in a lovely old farmhouse here, with abundant hiking trails nearby including the famous GR 10, and with the Pyrenees National Park, Cirque de Gavarnie and beautiful Neouvielle nature reserve right on your doorstep. This is also a spa town, with some excellent thermal baths in the vicinity.
Cirque de Gavarnie

Cirque de Gavarnie

This immense, glacier-formed valley ringed with steep granite cliffs was once described by Victor Hugo as ‘a colosseum of nature’, and it really is an awe inspiring sight, especially in summer with the Grande Cascade in full flow.
Vallespir Valley

Vallespir Valley

An ideal location for families looking for a peaceful retreat with plenty of nearby activities, the Vallespir Valley is at a fairly low elevation close to the Spanish border. It’s just a short drive from the Mediterranean coast, so you can have beach, mountains and town all in the same vacation, and even in the height of summer the evenings are pleasantly cool.

Activities in the French Pyrenees

Walking in the French Pyrenees

Walking in the French Pyrenees

Perhaps the best way to experience the French Pyrenees is on foot. You can opt for centre based walking vacations where you’ll return to the same accommodation every night, a type of trip that works well in Barèges, on the edge of the Pyrenees National Park, or Bolquère. Alternatively, you can tackle a more ambitious point-to-point route such as a section of the classic Grande Randonnée 10 which runs the length of the range. Small group trips will see you quickly bonding with other walkers of similar abilities and fitness levels, while you can also find tailor made walking vacations that can be adapted to take you into more challenging, high altitude terrain. While there’s much to be said for the independence that a self guided trip gives you, exploring with a local guide frees you up to enjoy the scenery, and can give what you’re seeing far more depth.
Cycling

Cycling

The French Pyrenees have really developed as a destination for cycling in recent years. Infrastructure is well developed, and there is a solid network of routes that offer different levels of challenge. Families might choose to base themselves around Barèges where there are a number of excellent mountain biking trails that can be incorporated into a multi activity vacation, while for more advanced riders there is the opportunity of cycling from coast to coast, over 11 steep cols on a section of the Pyrenees used by the Tour de France. For those that prefer a more laidback time in the saddle, there is the option of scenic cycling combined with wine tasting in the Midi-Pyrenees, roaming tranquil valleys and hills, medieval towns and chateaux.
Multi activity vacations

Multi activity vacations

Why limit yourself to just one activity, when you can try a whole range of different experiences all in the same place? Besides days spent walking or mountain biking, a multi activity vacation in the French Pyrenees might feature white water rafting, treetop rope courses, paragliding, horse riding or traversing a via ferrata. This is also the perfect place for any daredevils wanting to try the exhilarating sport of canyoning, where you scramble up cliffs, abseil down waterfalls and jump from rocks into the river. For families with children, activities can be tailored to different ages from eight up. Again, central Pyrenees destinations such as Barèges are great bases for this kind of trip.
Winter vacations in the French Pyrenees

Winter vacations in the French Pyrenees

In the French Pyrenees the onset of winter doesn’t spoil the fun, it doubles it. Strap on a pair of snow shoes and head out to explore the heart of the mountains. You might see the Grande Cascade, Europe’s tallest waterfall, frozen in place in the Cirque de Gavarnie; enjoy a wintery picnic overlooking the Neouvielle Nature Reserve; or follow the tracks of ermine, white hare and deer through immaculate forests. Ski touring and cross country skiing vacations are also very popular in the French Pyrenees, best suited to those with some experience under their belts already, with bespoke itineraries available. Bolquère and Barèges are both good bases for winter activities.

Our top France Vacation

Pyrenees cross country skiing in France

Pyrenees cross country skiing in France

Cross-country skiing and beautiful views of the Pyrenean mountains

From US $1785 to US $1855 8 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2019: 19 Jan, 2 Feb
2020: 18 Jan, 25 Jan, 1 Feb
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Hello. If you'd like to chat about France or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.

Accommodation in the French Pyrenees

From remote mountain refuges that make a welcome sight on long distance hikes, to beautifully renovated gites and charming self-catering cottages that are ideal for families, there is plenty of choice available in the French Pyrenees. We suggest looking at local, family run places where your hosts double up as your tour guides, ensuring that you have a relaxed, home-away-from-home stay while also gaining a thorough cultural and environmental immersion.

Best time to go to the French Pyrenees

The French Pyrenees are very much a year round destination. By May and late spring, the hillsides are carpeted in beautiful wild flowers, while rivers swollen by melting snow offer fantastic conditions for rafting and canyoning. The summer months are peak season of course, but even in July and August the French Pyrenees see nowhere near the crowds you would expect in the Alps, outside major destinations such as Lourdes. Thunderstorms frequently punctuate the afternoons and evenings during summer.
Autumn is another great time for activity vacations in the mountains, with some of the driest months of the year and long, warm days to be expected. Snowfall sees many walking and cycling routes at higher altitudes closed off from around November onwards. As winter sets in, the French Pyrenees become perfect terrain for those interested in an alternative to downhill skiing, with abundant cross-country routes available, as well as snow shoeing through pristine frozen landscapes.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: arenysam] [Topbox: Kitty Terwolbeck] [Arles-sur-Tech: Enric Rubio Ros] [Bareges: JLPC] [Cirque de Gavarnie: Pedro] [Vallespir Valley: Albert] [Walking: Kitty Terwolbeck] [Cycling: Cat Burston] [Mult activity - paragliding: claudia] [Winter vacations: Nicolas guionnet] [Accommodation: Richard Allaway] [Best time to go: Jorge Franganillo] [Autumn: Jorge Franganillo]
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