French Pyrenees Itinerary advice

Old Mar 11th, 2018, 03:42 PM
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French Pyrenees Itinerary advice

I am trying to plot a drive with my husband from Barcelona to San Sebastian through the French Pyrenees. I am using the book Backroads France to help with the planning, but I don't have time for the full week driving tour they recommend.
For you who know the area, would this be a possible itinerary? I know there's a lot of driving here but I'm hoping we also have time to enjoy some good walks, great food, and great sights along the way.
Day 1- Drive from Barcelona to Tarascon-sur-Ariege, stopping in Carcassonne along the way. 4.5 hours of driving, not including stops. Stay at Chambres d'hotes Belle Occitane
Day 2- 3-Drive from T-sur-A to Cauterets, 3 hours not including stops. Stay 2 nights at Hotel le Lion D'Or
Day 4- Drive to San Sebastian
I would appreciate any suggestions. Thanks in advance for your help!
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Old Mar 11th, 2018, 05:15 PM
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Carcassonne is pretty far out of the way.

Here is something I wrote a while ago about driving through the Pyrenees from the Pays Basque to Perpignan. If you would like more info about the Pays Basque & also the Perpignan area - let me know.

Drive through the Pyrenees
The stars (*,**,***) indicate the rating given to the site by the Michelin Green Guide - which I recommend you purchase. In some sections of the following, I did not look up the star ratings. You'll need the guide for the Atlantic Coast and Languedoc. You will also need Michelin maps # 342, 344, and 343

French Pays Basque.
Visit the La Rhune rack railway***. Plan on 2 ½ hrs – 45 mins up, & 1 hr on top. Do this on a clear sunny day, and get to the rack railway as early in the morning as possible (10:00) so the sun will not be in your face for the view of Bayonne, Biarritz, & St Jean de Luz. Don’t do this on a Sun or Mon morning when shops close.


Then take the D4 to Ainhoa* & visit. Then the D20 to Espelette* & visit. You really can't park in town, so look for parking lots at either end of town. Everything is well marked.


Deeper into the Pyrenees and on to your next location

Leave the Basque area and head east to St Jean Pied du Port* in France. St Jean is a major stop on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Campestela. You'll see lots of "shell" signs everywhere. St Jean is a tad touristy. It has one of our favorite restaurants in France - Les Pyrenees - which is also a hotel if you decide to spend the night. It's a quite an interesting village.


The following route is through "free grazing" areas - so watch out for cows & other animals on the road. They have the right-of-way - and know it!!

From St Jean Pied du Port, take the very pretty D18/D19 southeast over the Col Bagargui. Continue on the D19 then the D26. Continue on the D26 towards Tardets-Sorholus. When the D26 hits the D918 before Tardets, take the D918 east until it ends at the N134. Take the N134 south toward Lescun for a visit if there is enough time left in the day. Explore Lescun*, and take a walk if you encounter a dirt path (we found it). Then back on the N134 north and take the D294 heading east. This is a very scenic stretch of road. Perhaps visit Bielle* where the D294 hits the larger D934. Then head south on the D934 to the D918 where you head east. Now you're encountering serious Tour de France climbs. This is the famous Col d'Aubisque*** (pics in book). It's quite dramatic. We stayed on the "other" side of this Col in the village of Gaillagos for 2 weeks in '12. My wife enjoyed the "old" hotels in Eaux-Bonne at the west end of the Col.

Continue on to Argeles Gazost and stay overnight in the "Haute Pyrenees". This is your chance for the "stay in one of those lovely, picturesque little villages" . We dined at two very nice restaurants, which are also hotels in the Vercos mountain region in the Pyrenees. They are close to each other - both just south of Argeles Gazost. The first one is La Grange aux Marmottes in Viscos (population 44). La Grange aux Marmottes | Hôtel*** et Restaurant situé à Viscos dans les Hautes-Pyrénées | Hôtel de charme avec Piscine dans les Pyrénées | Restaurant gastronomique Hautes-Pyrénées | . The second one is Les Viscos in St Savin (population 372). Le Viscos - Hôtel Restaurant à Saint-Savin .



Visit the fantastic Pont d'Espagne*** don't miss . This is a remarkable site.


Donjon des Aigles birds of prey show around a crumbling castle. This was fabulous - we've seen several of these in Europe - and this was the best.


The most famous Col in the Pyrenees is the Col du Tourmalet**. Head west over the Col. After Tourmalet, head east over to the equally scenic Col d'Aspin***. At the east end of the Col d'Aspin, Arreau is a nice village to walk around & perhaps have lunch. Then take the D618 to Bagneres de Luchon. Don't stop in Bagneres de Luchon* - we found it to be a bit too touristy for our tastes. Head north on the D125/D44 to St Beat. Perhaps wander in St Beat if you have the time. Head east on the scenic D44 , then the D85 north, then the D618 to Audressein. The D618 to St Girons is ugly, so at Audressein take the D4 south to the D17 and then the D17 through the Vallee de Bethmale* to Seix, and then the D3 past Oust, and connect with the D618 again heading east toward (but short of) Massat. Prior to Massat, take the D18 northeast, and then the D72/D17 over the Sommet de Portal**, Col de Peguere, Col des Marrous - all on the famous Route Verte**. This is the route the TdF took past our gite - near St Pierre de Riviere. Continue on to Foix.


There are not any hotels that I would recommend in Foix. I think I would stay in Tarascon sur Ariege at the new Historic Hotel/Restaurant le Manoir d'Agnes (pics in book). We had a very nice meal there. Hotel Manoir d'Agnes SITE OFFICIEL Tarascon sur Ariege, Hotel 3 etoiles Ariege .

Stuff to do & see around Foix
The first thing next morning, visit the Parc de la Prehistoric **. Open 10-8 Closed Monday???. The Parc Prehistoric is fantastic - we spent several hours there. don't miss. When you get to the ticket booth at the Parc, reserve an English tour (one English tour per day) for the Grotte de Niaux**. There is a discount for both the Parc Prehistoric and the Grotte.

Here are two interesting places to visit.
Underground river of Labouiche* 9:30-4:30 1 ¼ hr boat tour. This was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be.

Les Forges de Pyrene* 10-7 This has many medieval tools - quite interesting.

The fort in Foix is not worth a visit.

Take the D117 east to Quillan, Then continue on the scenic D117 to St Paul Fenouillet. At St Paul take the D7 north and the D14 east to the Cathars Castle of Peyrepertuse***. Read about the Cathars and their plight. We walked to & around the castle ruins, and found the footing to be difficult. I fell twice and I usually don't ever fall. Perhaps it is best just to view it from the road - especially after you pass it on the D14 heading for Chateau de Queribus (another Cathars castle ruin). Continue on the D117 east to the A9 Autoroute - and then into Spain.

Stu Dudley
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Old Mar 11th, 2018, 08:32 PM
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You'll want to drive over the Col du Tourmalet, take a day to hike to the Cirque de Gavarnie, and possibly take the cable car and little train in the Pic du Midi d'Ossau (another full day). In the western part of the Pyrénées you might want to visit the town of Espelette, Sare and Ainhoa (don't miss the interior of the churches if possible). Take the La Rhune cog railway to the top of the mountain (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca...7627163616289/ and subsequent pictures). And here are our pictures of things to see in the Pyrénées: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca...7623717915043/ Mont-Louis is a Vauban fortified town, now a UNESCO site. Most of my pictures are geotagged, so you can locate them on a map. Get the Michelin Green Guide and the Michelin map of the area to finalize your itinerary.
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Old Mar 13th, 2018, 04:42 AM
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The best thing I've ever seen in the Pyrénées are the gorges of Kakuetta.

The Gorges of Kakuetta | Any Port in a Storm

The Pic du Midi is also outstanding.

The Tourmalet pass comes in a distant 3rd, basically because I've done just about all of the great passes in the Alps and the Pyrénées and frankly, after about 20 or so, they tend to start looking the same.
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Old Mar 14th, 2018, 06:36 AM
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Thank you, Stu Dudley. I will look into this helpful information. I'm definitely getting the maps because 2 years ago when we drove from Switzerland to Italy though the mountains using GPS it was more of an adventure than I was looking for!

Google maps takes us from Barcelona through Carcassonne on the way to Tarascon-sur-Ariege. I assume your path is a more scenic route?

I'm wondering about changing my hotel plan from the one in Cauterets to your suggestion of La Grange aux Marmottes Hotel in Viscos. The locations look similar for a base to stay 2 nights. Do you know if one is more convenient for exploring than the other? Would there be any advantage being in the town of Cauterets rather than a tiny village? I'm tempted by the "half-board" opportunity at the Marmottes.
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Old Mar 14th, 2018, 06:44 AM
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Thank for your suggestions, Michael. I'm hoping our stay in Cauterets will be a good base for the hike to Cirque de Gavarnie. I need to do more research, but how long a hike is that? Did you have a base from which you visited these places?

Your photos are gorgeous! They remind me of our trip 2 years ago to Switzerland, especially the places that were away from the crowds.
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Old Mar 14th, 2018, 06:47 AM
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Wow, the Gorges of Kakuetta looks incredible! How long did it take you? My husband has some trouble with paths with steep drop-offs so I'm not sure he would like this one. Was there much of an change in elevation on the hike?
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Old Mar 14th, 2018, 09:21 AM
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Originally Posted by mhutch196 View Post
Wow, the Gorges of Kakuetta looks incredible! How long did it take you? My husband has some trouble with paths with steep drop-offs so I'm not sure he would like this one. Was there much of an change in elevation on the hike?
Well, I am over the age of 60 and have never been particularly athletic. On the day I went, the only real difficulty that I found was the first hill near the start which you have to go over to get to the beginning of the gorge, and the only reason it was difficult was because it was a damp morning and there was slippery clay. That's why I immediately regretting not having bought one of those walking sticks. The rest, as you can see from the photos, was relatively straightforward. Sometimes there were steps up or down due to the terrain and some of the uneven areas demanded careful attention to choose the place to walk, but basically the gorge was pretty much all on the same level. Going towards the final cave, I did not have an impression of having really "climbed" at all.

As I wrote in my report, it took me an hour and a half to reach the terminus from my starting point. The return journey was much somewhat faster because there was less gawking at the spendor of the area and much less hesitation about the path to choose since I had already done it once. Basically, the main thing that slowed me down was taking pictures.
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Old Mar 14th, 2018, 09:25 AM
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The two locations have a completely different look & feel. Viscos is in a small village/hamlet in th mountains and only has a few people living there - plus a lovely hotel. Cauterets has a population of 1,000 and is next to a river that runs between higher mountains. Cauterets is a nice village to roam around in - but completely different from Vercos. We had a nice dinner in Cauterets. Cauterets is next to the Pont d'Espagne - which is perhaps our favorite site in the area. But to get to any other site, you must head north on the only road that accesses that region. Vercous is perhaps more centrally located. You can head north to Argeles-Gazost and the sites branching from there, or east over the Col du Tourmalet and Col d'Aspin. Or even south to Cedre & some pretty views from there.

For a 2 night trip - I would stay in Vercos to experience something "different" - unless you currently live in a small mountain village.

Stu Dudley
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Old Mar 14th, 2018, 09:46 AM
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If interested in local lore, visit the chateau in Lourdes.
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Old Mar 14th, 2018, 10:03 AM
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Agree with Michael. Unless you want to visit Lourdes for religious reasons - no reason to go - except for the Chateau which we enjoyed a lot more that we thought we would.

Stu Dudley
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Old Mar 14th, 2018, 10:08 AM
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Frankly, I am not the least bit religious, which is why Lourdres fascinated me even more! I find it incredibly odd how many people think it should be avoided.

The lowdown on Lourdes | Any Port in a Storm
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Old Mar 14th, 2018, 10:10 AM
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(The edit function seems to be out of order -- otherwise there would not be those typos in my messages.) Lourdes !
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Old Mar 14th, 2018, 11:17 AM
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The Pic du Midi is also outstanding.

There are two: Pic du Midi de Bigorre and Pic du Midi d'Ossau; the former is up a dirt road from the Col du Tourmalet and has the observatory.
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Old Mar 14th, 2018, 11:47 AM
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We took the Gondola lift up to the Pic de Midi de Bigorre from La Mongie. Dined at a restaurant on top. Don't go unless the weather is clear.

Stu Dudley
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