Photo: Lourdes Basilica viewed from the château by Père Igor (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 / Wikimedia Commons
From sacred city to natural wonders
In between the action, you’ll no doubt want to visit some of the region’s landmark tourist attractions.
Lourdes is just 25km away. The town’s famous shrine of St-Bernadette attracts millions of visitors and pilgrims each year.
In February 1858, Bernadette Soubirous saw the first of 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary in a riverside grotto near Lourdes. Over time this grotto has become one of the most important shrines of the Catholic Church and Lourdes now welcomes over 5 million visitors a year.
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was built close to the site of the grotto and stands within an area known as the Sanctuaries. There are 22 places of worship in the Sanctuaries, with the grotto as its focal point.
At 9pm every evening, there is a torchlight procession which is followed by the last Mass of the day conducted at the Grotto of the Apparition.
As well as the religious sites, Lourdes has a fortified castle dating from the 11th century, a number of museums and a recently refurbished covered market. There is also a funicular railway to the top of the Pic du Jer with superb views of the town and the surrounding mountains.
Parc Animalier, Argelès-Gazost
The Pyrenees is home to a wide variety of wildlife and the Parc Animalier des Pyrénées is a great way to see many of these wonderful species and to learn more about them. Wolves, bears, lynx, ocelot, deer, ibex, otter and raccoon are among the park’s resident animals.
For more info, visit the Parc Animalier website
Annual Festivals and Events in the Val d’Azun
The Val d’Azun hosts a number of annual festivals and events – the most famous being the Tour de France, which visits the region every July. There are also many traditional local fêtes where guests can experience the culture and traditions of the area, as well as buy various local produce such as jam, honey, confit de canard and foie gras.
In June, the Transhumance (when the local livestock is moved to their summer grazing on the mountain tops) travels through Estaing, passing Le Bégué. This is a great local festival accompanied by local traditional singing, a blessing and finally a celebratory meal.
Tour de France riders pass through the Val d’Azun
Moving livestock to the mountain top
Traditional singing during la transhumance
A typical Pyrenean village in summertime
Exploring the Pyrénées
Cirque de Gavarnie and Cirque de Troumouse
One of the most popular tourist sites in the Pyrénées is the World Heritage site of the Cirque de Gavarnie. The top of the Cirque reaches 3000m and with an overall drop of 422m the waterfall down its face is the highest in France. In contrast to Gavarnie the neighbouring Cirque de Troumouse has not been commercialised and also offers spectacular views and an abundance of wildlife.
Cirque de Gavernie. Photo by Benh LIEU SONG CC BY-SA 2.0 / Wikimedia Commons
Pic du Midi Observatory
Recommended places to visit include the observatory perched on the Pic-du-Midi. At 2877m this is reached by cable car from La Mongie and on a clear day it is possible to see 300km and one-fifth of France. You can even spend the night here to observe the stars.
The Pic du Midi Observatory as seen from the ascending cable car. Photo by Serge Ottaviani (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons
Pont d’Espagne, Lac de Gaube and the Marcadau valley
Beyond Cauterets is the Pont d’Espagne which is one of the entry points for the Pyrénées National Park and has some great walks to Lac de Gaube and beyond towards the Vignemale (3298m).
Alternatively you can follow the Marcadau valley which climbs towards the Spanish border.
The underground caverns at Bétharram, near Lourdes, are some of the largest in France and include an underground train and boat as part of the viewing trip.
There are also many local museums giving an insight into Pyrenean traditions and life in past times as well as the wildlife and fauna of the area. One of the most popular is the Château Fort Musée Pyrénéen in Lourdes.