The Pyrenees is a heaven for outdoor enthusiasts, with a wealth of activities available in and around the mountains. The Pyrenees is exceptional hiking country, with enough variety of great walks to fill a lifetime. Rock climbing is also popular with many local sites, some of which have been used for national and international competitions. With the onset of winter, the Pyrenees offers some fine terrain for cross-country skiing.
Local Sites of Historical Interest
Visit the delightful medieval hill-top village of St-Bertrand-de-Comminges. Best described as a land locked Mont St Michel, the village is dwarfed beneath the imposing Sainte-Marie Cathedral and has many old houses, sloping alleyways, museum and craft shops that add to its charm. There are a number of bars and restaurants offering excellent local cuisine. At the foot of the village, lie the remains of the Roman town, Lugdunum Convenarum, founded by Pompey in 72BC.
A short distance from St-Bertrand-de-Comminges lies the beautiful Romanesque church of Saint-Just. The church contains numerous fragments of architecture and sculptures emanating from Lugdunum Convenarum within its walls. It is the re-use of these materials that provides the basilica with its undeniable originality.
For a unique gastronomic experience, visit Le Lugdunum where you can sample the cuisine of ancient Rome. All the dishes are based on recipes taken from a book written by the famous epicurean Marcus Gavius Apicius some 2,000 years ago - the book being found amongst the ruins of Lugdunum.
A few kilometres from the Barousse Valley, you will find the prehistoric caves of Gargas, dating back 27,000 years. The walls of the caves have numerous paintings and carvings of many animals as well as more than two hundred paintings of mutilated hands, the meaning of which is still being researched by historians today. Were the hands mutilated because of a ritual, or perhaps the result of severe frost bite?
The Gouffre d’Esparros is a protected site rich in aragonite concretions situated in the Baronnies. Visit halls containing gypsum needles, calcite lined walls and aragonite concretions creating a unique mineral garden which has developed over thousands of years through the movement of water against limestone rock.
Spa Town of Luchon
Luchon is the largest and most fashionable Pyrenean spa resort, known as the “Queen of the Pyrenees”. Luchon is a major centre for all year round outdoor activities, including parascending, downhill skiing, rafting and canyonning.
Here you can relax in the natural thermal spa and Vaporarium - a unique steam room in a 160m long underground rock gallery, a great way to soothe tired muscles. Filtering through rock walls, the thermal water creates a natural soft and wet heat with an average temperature of 37 degrees that helps to:
- lose weight;
- cleanses the skin;
- eliminates toxins;
- relaxes muscles and
- improves the respiratory tract.
There is also a relaxing pool, heated to 32 degrees and loungers.
Afterwards, why not take a drink in one of the many cafes lining the central avenue and watch the world go by.
During July and August, the cable car runs daily from Luchon to Superbagneres. From here, there are many walking possibilities as well as numerous sign-posted mountain bike routes back to Luchon.
Pic du Midi Observatory
For an introduction to astronomy, head to the Observatory at the Pic du Midi (2, 877m altitude) via the cable car from La Mongie.
Here you will find the 'Museum of the Stars' which houses a two metre long telescope - perfect for star gazing (organised trips available). The view from the summit is unique, where, on a clear day you can see the Pyrenees mountain range and the plains of the South of France up to the foothills of the Massif Central.
The City of Toulouse
Toulouse, the capital of the Midi-Pyrenees and the fourth largest city in France has been dubbed “la ville en rose” because of its pink brick buildings. Toulouse is a lively city where there is a wealth of rich architecture, museums and art galleries displaying rare and prestigious collections of art. Explore the historic centre, stroll along the banks of the Garonne or Canal du Midi, enjoy the tranquility of the numerous gardens and open spaces or simply watch the world go by at one of the many cafes whose terraces spill out onto the streets. For retail therapy, all the major fashion houses can be found in Toulouse, alongside small, chic boutiques. For those hunting for bargains, try one of the daily open-air and covered markets.
Cite de l’Espace, three miles from Toulouse, is an impressive celebration of the city’s position at the centre of the European Space Programme.
Toulouse is also the home of Airbus. You can take a tour of the enormous Airbus assembly floor.
One of the most significant religious shrines in Europe, Lourdes attracts five million visitors each year. Pilgrims seek miracle cures for ailments and disabilities. Lourdes was once a small market town until 1858, when Bernadette Soubirous saw a number of apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the Grotte de Massabielle. Bernadette dug in the grotto, releasing a gush of water from a spot where no spring had flowed before. Since then, pilgrims have thronged to the Massabielle rock to take the healing waters.
Consider crossing the border to Spain, 25km from us, to visit the beautiful green and wooded Vall d'Aran and experience the culture of the Aranese people. If you are seeking solitude, it is possible to escape to wilder and more remote areas on the many way-marked walking and mountain bike tracks.
For a little self-indulgence, visit the Thermes at Les, about 5km from the border crossing. The thermal springs have been used since Roman times and were visited by Pompey. The sulphurous waters are rich in silica and have therapeutic powers for the following conditions: arthritis, rheumatism, circulatory system, respiratory tract and skin problems. Indulge in the vaporarium, sauna, ice cabin, jacuzzi and warm marble room. Other beauty treatments and manual therapy are available.