A Traveller's Guide to the French Pyrenees
Forming a natural border between France and Spain, the Pyrenees Mountains span an area of 305 miles across southwest Europe, separating the Iberian Peninsula from continental Europe.
Around two thirds of the range falls within France. The French Pyrenees encompasses the following departments: Pyrénées-Orientales, Aude, Ariège, Haute-Garonne, Hautes-Pyrénées, and Pyrénées-Atlantiques. On the other side of the border, provinces Girona, Barcelona, Lleida, Huesca, Navarra, and Guipúzcoa form the Spanish Pyrenees. In the eastern portion of the mountain range, the tiny principality of Andorra is sandwiched between the Spanish and French portions.
The major cities in the French Pyrenees are Bayonne on the Atlantic coast, the cities of Pau, Lourdes and Toulouse in the central region and Perpignan on the Mediterranean coast. Use one of these cities as your base for further exploration or as stopping points as you make your way from one end of the range to the other.
Getting To and Around the French Pyrenees
Domestic and international flights, TGV high speed rail, regional train connections and bus services all run between these cities and other regional centers. There is also an excellent public transport infrastructure throughout the range. The Pyrenees are also easily accessible by road.
Things To See and Do in the French Pyrenees
Nature and outdoor sports lovers flock to the Pyrenees throughout the year. During the warmer months, the region offers an enticing blend of ocean and mountain life, with La Côte Basque in the Spanish Pyrenees especially popular with beach-goers.
The Tour de France runs through the French Pyrénées each year, and the area is as a popular training ground for professional road racers as well as amateur cyclists and mountain bikers.
Bird-watching is another popular activity in the Pyrenees, with the range offering one of the largest untouched natural habitats left in Europe.
Golf is another draw-card for the region, with continental Europe's oldest course based in Pau.
Also around Pau as well as in Rioja country over the French border, vineyards are in abundance offering wine tasting tours, with whites and rosés the main specialties.
Hiking is also another great way to enjoy the stunning scenery and the beautiful flora and fauna of the Pyrenees. With numerous trails of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty, there really is something available for everyone. Horse-back trekking is also a popular way to explore the foothills, with overnight expeditions and youth excursions available.
For the more adventurous among us, there are an array of adrenaline-pumping activities on offer throughout the Pyrenees including white-water rafting, abseiling, mountain climbing and paragliding.
Then, of course, once the cooler weather arrives the Pyrenees becomes a playground for the snow bunnies. Skiers and snowboarders flock to the major stations in the Western Pyrenees, in particular Cauterets, Gourette and La Mongie. These runs are comparable to those in the Alps but are far less congested.