The French Pyrénées are a mountain range unlike any other. Situated along the French-Spanish border, these mountains have a distinct medieval history. Although they are less famous than their eastern sisters the Alps, their relative obscurity gives the Pyrénées a distinct peace. In the Pays-Basque, located in the lower Atlantic facing the Pyrénées, the unusual Basque language, considered by many the most unique and complex in the world, is spoken rather than either French or Spanish. In so many ways the Pyrénées are a truly individual mountain range – and in mountains unlike any other, there are adventures unlike any other!
Journey from the Sea into the Mountains
The journey between Saint-Jean-de-Luz, an Atlantic port town, and the Refuge de Baysellance, a high mountain hut, takes you through multiple alpine biomes. Begin beachside along the Atlantic and plains surrounding the historically infamous Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Saint-Jean-de-Luz was originally referred to as the port of vipers. Our journey takes us upward through rolling hills and herding villages. The villages have whitewashed walls with painted shutters and orange roofs. It provides a distinct sense of the combination of Alpine villages and coastal ones.
As we climb higher the terrain becomes rougher and the boulder fields and granite summits of the Haute Pyrénées become more prominent before finally, we ascend to walk among the magnificent peaks themselves. The journey through these environmentally and culturally distinct regions gives a sense of experiencing a true adventure, one grounded both in history and personal accomplishment!
Explore the Forgotten Alpine Majesty of Gavarnie
The Alpine village of Gavarnie is located in the Haute Pyrénées, the high mountains bordering Spain and France. On our Pyrénées tour, you will spend the night far above treeline at the lonely Refuge de Bayssellance. Enjoy the quiet company of the majestic peaks around you. The next morning we descend back into the forests, down the Gavarnie valley. It is marked by a small forgotten settlement of the same name. The descent from the mountains takes you above towering cliffs and past thundering waterfalls. The desolate alpine landscape gives way to verdant forest.
Step into History at the Walled City of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a medieval walled city that sits at the base of the Haute Pyrénées. Originally known as Saint-Jean-le-Vieux, the original city was raised by the legendary warrior-king, Sir Richard the Lionheart. The city’s walls were reconstructed in a slightly different location due to the regions strategic importance. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port was the last place to rest before endeavoring in the rigorous crossing of the Pyrénées. Today, we use the city for a similar purpose. We rest here for the night before setting out on our own journey over the high mountains.
Experience Alpine Basque Culture
The Pyrénées-Atlantiques are located in the heart of Basque country in the French Pyrénées. The Basque people have been known throughout history as being staunchly unique. They have a revolutionary spirit, a mix of cultural influences, and their own traditions and language. When hiking through the French Pyrénées you get to experience all that Basque culture has to offer. There is much about Basque culture that will immediately stand out from other herding villages and traditional farming practices.
The Basque language is an ancient language of mysterious origin and is one of the few isolated languages in the world. It cannot be linguistically traced back to any of the other ancient languages of mainland Europe. Additionally, Basque food is a special event. It often involves meats such as lamb roasted over hot coals. In particular, Basque food has a more fiery flair than the fare from other Alpine regions. This is due to the popularity of paprika in Basque cooking. The rural Pays Basque in the French Pyrénées is truly a unique place. It can only truly be experienced by taking on the rustic Pyrénées mountains!
Learn more about Ryder-Walker’s Pays Basque & The French Pyrénées trip here, and start planning your next adventure.