The French Pyrenees are among the most beautiful regions in France. High mountain peaks, green valleys, stunning waterfalls, dramatic gorges, and little towns dotting the valleys – the French Pyrenees offer a photo op around every corner. In the winter months, there are plenty of ski areas, and in the summer, there is a vast network of hiking trails to be explored. To give you an idea of what to see in this mountainous area of France, I put together eight stunning places you shouldn’t miss on your Pyrenees holidays, ranging from world-famous destinations to lesser known hidden gems:
Pay a visit to The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes
The small town of Lourdes is one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage destinations in the entire world, thanks to its famous healing shrine. The miraculous cures that have been said to occur after a visit to the Lady attract around six million visitors every year.
Indulge In A Luxurious Spa Treatment In Ax-les-Thermes
Ax-les-Thermes is a small town nestled in the Ariege upper valley right in the heart of the Pyrenees, close to Andorra and the border with Spain. It is famous for its thermal baths and recreational spa, but the town itself has plenty of architectural gems to offer, such as the belle-époque Casino and several medieval fountains. The nearby Orlu Valley is worth visiting for its picturesque villages and the Réserve Nationale de Faune Sauvage, a national wildlife reserve.
Marvel at the Fortress of Montségur
The ruins of the Château de Montségur, a Cathar castle perched at the top of a 3,900 feet high rock formation, are a magnificent sight, and should not be missed by anyone interested in the historic Cathar castles. Many people claim that this the most remarkable Cathar Castle.
Wander The Lush Meadows Of Col du Puymorens
The Col de Puymorens is a famous Tour de France climb in the France – Spain – Andorra triangle. Even though the climb, which was first used for the famous bike race in 1913, hasn’t been used for the Tour de France since 1993, it is still a popular place with cycle tourists and road trippers. You can start the drive in Ax-les-Thermes, and if you take a right turn 2.8 kilometers before the summit, you reach the Port d’Envalira, a scenic high road in the Pyrenees.
Explore historic Foix – a gem of the French Pyrenees
Foix is a medieval town that dates back to 849, and its castle, the focal point of the town’s history, was even built before then. The stunning chateau sits on top of a hill looking over Foix, and is one of the most impressive historic castles in this part of France. Read more about Foix here.
Free Your Mind On A Walk Through The Green Aston Valley
The small town of Aston is famous for a number of reasons: Gudanes, a majestic château dating from the time of Louis XIV, nestled among the mountains of the Aston Valley, is the most striking sight in the Aston Valley, but the lush green valley itself, flanked by the Pyrenees and covered in wildflowers in the summer months, makes for a memorable hike. And then there is the Grotte de Lombrives, the largest cave in Europe in terms of volume, with a length of 39 kilometers, which was formed more than 20 million years ago. The caves have an immense geological and historical value, with an incredible karst network which was shaped by long glacial periods.
Marvel at the Rock Church Of Vals
Just a short 45-minute drive from Aston you find the historic village of Vals. When you approach Vals, a tiny hamlet with a population of only 86 people, you wouldn’t think that this village is home to one of the most treasured pieces of religious architecture of the Middle Ages. The church is partly carved into a giant rock and dates back to the 10th century. There are several noteworthy frescoes on the ceiling, and the third level of the church, a chapel dedicated to Saint Michel, lies in a defense tower built in the 14th century. Don’t miss the breathtaking vistas over the Pyrenees from the terrace here.
Climb the Roc of Scaramus For The Stunning Panoramic Views
This hike up to the top of the Scaramus Rock is challenging, but the panoramic mountain views over the Pyrenees make the climb worth it. When you reach the top, you’ll get to enjoy some of the most scenic views over the Pyrenees. The entire round-trip is just over six miles and can be done in about six hours, starting near the Col De Marmare cycling route. Note that this is a strenuous trek – not necessarily for beginners.
If you are planning a trip to the French Pyrenees, head to France-Voyage.com and create your own personalized itinerary. You can easily add all or some of the places listed above to your itinerary, or simply find more information and travel inspiration for the French Pyrenees and other regions of France, or find vacation rentals for your trip!
Photo Credit: All images used via Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. (1) Lourdes by Bren Buenaluz; (2) Ax-Les-Thermes by Richard Allaway; (3) Col Du Puymorens by Jean-Marie Pival; (4) French Pyrenees by Richard Allaway