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Central Pyrenees - Gavarnie
  Walter S.
  The most coveted hikes around Gavarnie
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  The area of Gavarnie is the centre for mountain-activities in the French Central Pyrenees. It is situated right on the French-Spanish border and is an ideal start-point for hikes in the mountains along the border. From Gavarnie you can reach all three of the best-known destinations of the Central Pyrenees - the Cirque de Gavarnie, the Brèche de Roland and Mont Perdu (in Spanish: Monte Perdido)

Assisted by a lot of photos this album provides a compilation of the most coveted hikes around Gavarnie, that can be done during a one or two-week stay. The following is a quick overview of the hikes in this tour album.

The Cirque de Gavarnie is a world-famous natural circus with huge and extremely steep 1200 metre-high cliffs. In the middle of the circus, the Grand Cascade waterfall plunges 400m down the cliff-face.
The Brèche de Roland is a a giant breach in the rock and according to an ancient saga, was carved open by Durandel, the indestructible sword of the legendary Roland. After Roland had been mortally wounded by the enemy Saracens, he threw his sword against the rock so that it wouldn't fall into the hands of the enemy. The sword shattered the rock and consequently created the breach.
In conjunction with the Brèche de Roland many people like to encompass the Taillon, a relatively easy 3000m+ summit with wonderful views in all directions from the top.
Mont Perdu (in Spanish Monte Perdido) assumes a kind of cult status in the Central Pyrenees; it's a mountain that every walker feels they simply have to have climbed. Mont Perdu is on the Spanish side of the border in the Ordesa National Park. The ascent of Mont Perdu from the French side is regarded as the King of all hikes in the Ordesa National Park.
From Gavarnie you can also climb the highest mountain in the French Pyrenees, the Grand Vignemale, also known as the Pique Longue. This hike over the Glacier d'Ossoue is one of the most challenging climbs in the whole Pyrenees. The little brother of the Grand Vignemale, the Petit Vignemale, is a relatively easy high-alpine 3000m+ peak which can be enjoyed if you're staying for more than just a day in the Vignemale Massive.
A real must for any visitor to the Pyrenees, and entirely physically undemanding, is the peak of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre. There's a cable-car going up to the top of this one! Very ambitious hikers can also go by foot. At the summit of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre there is an observatory and a viewing platform, which offers a unique panoramic view of the whole Pyrenees.

Strictly speaking, camping in the mountains is forbidden. In reality, when the weather's good, you'll likely meet more campers than 'normal' hikers. Tents are often erected around the mountain refuges. Some refuges even offer campers a small kitchen-area, including pots and pans! If you come across such generosity as a camper, you should show your thanks with a generous tip to the refuge staff.

It's generally worthwhile setting out hiking early. The morning presents the most likely period for good weather. Cumulonimbus clouds often gather in the afternoon, either engulfing the summit or even bringing heat-storms with them. Almost all of the hiking routes are at high altitude and so, depending on the time of year, there may be snow to be reckoned with. You should therefore be suitably equipped for this. The mountain range along the border constitutes a meteorological divide. It can be the case that on one side the hikers' spirits are being warmed by bright sunshine and on the other a sea of clouds is enveloping the summit.

In the mountains there are a multitude of marmots and free-roaming birds of prey. You can even find that an eagle will land right next to you. The eagles have a wing-span of 2.5 metres! Beware: do not approach them! There are even seven brown bears according to figures from summer 2005. As the bears are very shy, however, you hardly ever catch a glimpse of them.

If you take a walking holiday in Gavarnie, you should also allow yourself to take in a little culture. You can visit, amongst others, the (allegedly) most beautiful village in France, Saint Bertrand, underground grottos, for example the Grottes de Bétharram and the Grotte de Gargas, or the world-famous pilgrimage-site of Lourdes.

So then, have fun discovering, planning and experiencing the much-coveted walks around Gavarnie!
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