Hike from the Basque low country the highest summits of Southern France
"It was a nice mix of scenery. While we've always enjoyed being in the mountains, the rolling hills and cozy villages of the Pays Basque were a nice change of pace for a couple of days. Aside from the transport day, it generally felt like we had a nice, solid day of hiking each day. Overall I thought the standard of accommodation and food were as high, or higher, on this trip than they've been on any of our trips. And it was probably the best guiding team we've had on any of our trips. We were really impressed with the guides. We've had Ken as a guide several times before and have always considered him to be the gold standard. Chris was new to us and we were really impressed with him as well. And the chemistry between Ken and Chris was perfect. They both have exactly the right sort of personality for guiding. Very capable, very helpful, very informative. We couldn't have asked for better guides."- Scott Yonts
Relish the family spirit of the Basque people, with their warm hospitality and colorful cheer.
Sample traditional Basque cuisine exploding with flavors from the mountains and the sea.
Hike along the Pyrenees National Park, a nature reserve that shares a border with France and Spain.
Experience a range of accommodations, from prestigious Relais & Chateau hotels to an overnight at the highest mountain hut in the Pyrenees.
Immerse yourself in an ancient corner of France known as the Pays Basque and the Pyrenees. Desended from Western Europe’s first inhabitants, the Basque people will enchant you with delicious food, colorful villages, and a mysterious dialect that is uniquely their own. Rugged, deep, and rivaling the Alps in grandeur and terrain, the Pyreneen mountain ranges will beguile you with their wild, wind-swept summits, steep trails and lush valleys.
Beginning in Saint-Jean-de-Luz , France, famous for its striking position along the Atlantic coast, you’ll wander inland through the Pyrenees-Atlantiques, a pastoral landscape of rolling hills, gentle summits, sheep-filled meadows and tiny, whitewashed cottages with painted shutters and red tiled roofs. You’ll visit authentic Basque villages like Sare, Ainhoa and St. Etienne de Baigorry, the last one known for it’s verdant surroundings, colorful festivals, and Romanesque architecture. You’ll enjoy the medieval atmosphere of St. Jean Pied de Port, (a walled city), but not before you train your eyes on the summits of the Haute Pyrenees, the high mountains that share the border between France and Spain.
Spend a few days hiking in the Haute Pyrenees, then bed down above treeline at the Refuge de Bayssellance. Prepare to be awestruck as you step out of your mountain hut and descend past massive rock walls and enormous waterfalls to the tiny hamlet of Gavarnie.
Transfer independently to the seaside tourist resort of Saint Jean de Luz. Check into your hotel then hit the beach on the Atlantic Coast. You’ll feel relaxed and refreshed before meeting your guides and group for cocktails and orientation at 7:00 pm.
We’ll begin the day with a quick van ride to “le petit train.” The “petit train” is a tiny cog rail train that delivers us to a secret stop midway to the top of La Rhune summit. Descend La Rhune and follow unpaved rural roads through charming Basque hamlets. We’ll arrive in the magical village of Ainhoa, famous for its whitewashed homes and bright red rooftops that are unique to the Basque region. Overnight in an excellent hotel.
Today we’ll enter the Bas Navarre, a collection of beautiful green valleys in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Hike to the village of St. Etienne de Baigorry where the river Nive des Aldudes flows beneath the Pont Romain, a Romanesque bridge built in 1661.
A short transfer delivers us to the village of St. Etienne de Baigorry. Once again, the way from St. Etienne de Baigorry to St. Jean Pied de Port is full of pastoral variety. Our path connects old farm roads, fields, passes and gentle summits to a fascinating walled Basque village. Arriving on the route of St. Jacques de Compostelle, “St. James Way,” a thousand year-old pilgrimage route, we’ll delight in the medieval atmosphere and our lovely hotel and internationally acclaimed restaurant. We’ll sleep well this night, knowing that the mountain pass to the south of our hotel, the Col de Ronceveaux, leads directly into Spain.
This day marks our segue into the Haute Pyrenees, the highest peaks of the region, southern France, and of northern Spain. We’ll travel by van to the ancient spa town of Cauterets. (The transfer takes about 4 hours.) Also a major ski station in the Pyrenees, Cauterets bustles with life and an ambiance of times long passed. Cauterets boasts numerous shops and is a good stocking up point for the next two days, which we’ll spend in the biggest peaks of the range including an overnight hut stay. Relax in a fine but simpler hotel in the center of the town. Dine at a superb local restaurant.
We’ll exit the village to the south on fun and ancient trails over the Pont d’Espagne “the Spanish bridge,” lying on the ancient mule route to Spain. We’ll ascend toward the Vignemale, the highest peak in the Pyrenees and the border with Spain. A lunchstop at the idyllic Lac Gaube and the Refuge Oulettes is unforgettable. The most challenging ascent of the trip follows to the flanks of the Petit Vignemale and the Refuge Baysellance (2651 m), our home for the night and the highest refuge in the Pyrenees. No luggage access on this night. Note* This is a very basic mountain hut.
We’ll get up early today, and snap photos from our treeless perch above the clouds. The views are amazing today! Descend quickly into a steep, glacial drainage, snapping more photos and following a river all the way into the mountain hamlet of Gavarnie. Overnight in a historic castle-like hotel.
Our last day’s hike will take us into the spectacular Cirque du Gavarnie, a massive rock amphitheater ringed with multi-tiered cascades (waterfalls) and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Given agreeable weather, we’ll have a chance to hike to the base of the grandest waterfall in the Cirque, La Grande Cascade, a mesmerizing tiered waterfall. Following the short loop finish, we’ll wander back to Gavarnie for our final night and dinner at a favorite local restaurant.
Awaken to a Pyreneean breakfast then depart. Lourdes is the convenient gateway for other destinations in France and Europe. Note: It is a full day’s travel back to Paris, so same day flights from there are not possible.