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The Pyrenees Travel Guide

  • Photo: Matyas Arvai / Shutterstock

Plan Your Pyrenees Vacation

Separating the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of the European continent, the snowcapped Pyrenees have always been a special realm, a source of legend and superstition. To explore the Pyrenees fully—the flora and fauna, the local cuisine, the remote glacial lakes and streams, the Romanesque art in a thousand hermitages—could take a lifetime.

Each Pyrenean mountain system is drained

by one or more rivers, forming some three dozen valleys between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic; these valleys were all but completely isolated until around the 10th century. Local languages still abound, with Castilian Spanish and Euskera (Basque) in upper Navarra; Grausín, Belsetán, Chistavino, Ansotano, Cheso, and Patués (Benasqués) in Aragón; Aranés, a dialect of Gascon French, in the Vall d'Aran; and Catalan at the eastern end of the chain from Ribagorça to the Mediterranean.

Throughout history, the Pyrenees were a strategic barrier and stronghold to be reckoned with. The Romans never completely subdued Los Vascones (as Greek historian Strabo [63–21 BC] called the Basques) in the western Pyrenean highlands. Charlemagne lost Roland and his rear guard at Roncesvalles in 778, and his Frankish heirs lost all of Catalonia in 988. Napoléon Bonaparte never completed his conquest of the peninsula, largely because of communications and supply problems posed by the Pyrenees, and Adolf Hitler, whether for geographical or political reasons, decided not to use post–Civil War Spain to launch his African campaign in 1941. A D-Day option to make a landing on the beaches of northern Spain was scrapped because the Pyrenees looked too easily defendable (you can still see the south-facing German bunkers on the southern flanks of the western Pyrenean foothills). Meanwhile, the mountainous barrier provided a path to freedom for downed pilots, Jewish refugees, and POWs fleeing the Nazis, just as it later meant freedom for political refugees running north from the Franco regime.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Appreciate the Romanesque Stop at Taüll and see the exquisite Romanesque churches and mural paintings of the Noguera de Tor Valley.
  2. Explore Spain's Grand Canyon The Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido has stunning scenery, along with marmots and mountain goats.
  3. Hike the highlands Explore the verdant Basque highlands of the Baztán Valley and follow the Bidasoa River down to colorful Hondarribia and the Bay of Biscay.
  4. Venture off the highway Discover the enchanting medieval town of Alquézar, where the impressive citadel, dating back to the 9th century, keeps watch over the Sierra y Cañones de Guara Natural Park and its prehistoric cave paintings.
  5. Ride the cogwheel train at Ribes de Freser, near Ripoll Ascend the gorge to the sanctuary and ski station at Vall de Núria, then hike to the remote highland valley and refuge of Coma de Vaca.

When To Go

When to Go

If you're a hiker, stick to the summer (June to September, especially July), when the weather is better and there's less chance of a serious...

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