The Basque Country, Gascony, and Hautes-Pyrenees

We’ve compiled the best of the best in The Basque Country, Gascony, and Hautes-Pyrenees - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Brèche de Roland

    One dramatic sight is 12 km (7 miles) west of the village of Gavarnie. Take D923 up to the Col des Tentes, where you can park and walk five hours up to the Brèche de Roland Glacier (you cross it during the last two hours of the hike). For a taste of mountain life, have lunch high up at the Club Alpin Français's Refuge la Brèche de Roland–Sarradets. This is a serious climb, only feasible from mid-June to mid-September, for which you need (at least) good hiking shoes and sound physical conditioning. Crampons and ice axes can be rented in Gavarnie.

    Gavarnie, Occitania, 65188, France
  • 2. Cirque de Gavarnie

    A spectacular natural amphitheater, the Cirque de Gavarnie has been dubbed the "Colosseum of Nature" and inspired many writers, including Victor Hugo. At its foot is the village of Gavarnie, a good base for exploring the region's mountains. Thanks to glacial erosion, the Cirque is a Cinerama wall of peaks and a daunting challenge to mountaineers. Horses and donkeys, rented in the village, are the traditional way to reach the head of the valley (though walking is preferable). When the upper snows melt, numerous streams tumble down from the cliffs to form spectacular waterfalls; the greatest of them, the Grande Cascade, drops nearly 1,400 feet.

    Gavarnie, Occitania, 65188, France
  • 3. Grotte de Massabielle

    Lourdes wouldn't even be on the map if it weren't for this deep grotto near the Gave de Pau where 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous first claimed to see visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858. Church authorities initially reacted with skepticism: it took four years for the miracle to be authenticated by Rome and a sanctuary erected over the grotto. In 1864 the first organized procession was held, and now there are six official annual pilgrimages between Easter and All Saints' Day, the most important being on August 15. In fall and winter there are far fewer visitors—a plus for those seeking tranquility.

    Lourdes, Occitania, 65100, France
  • 4. Musée National du Château de Pau

    Pau's regal past is commemorated at its Musée National du Château de Pau, begun in the 14th century by Gaston Phoebus, the flamboyant count of Béarn. The building was transformed into a Renaissance palace in the 16th century by Marguerite d'Angoulême, sister of François I. A woman of diverse gifts, she wrote pastorals, many performed in the château's sumptuous gardens. Her bawdy Heptameron—written at age 60—furnishes as much sly merriment today as it did when read by her doting kingly brother. Marguerite's grandson, the future king of France Henri IV, was born in the château in 1553. Exhibits connected to Henri's life and times are displayed regularly, along with portraits of the most significant of his alleged 57 lovers and mistresses. His cradle, a giant turtle shell, is on exhibit in his bedroom, one of the sumptuous, tapestry-lined royal apartments.

    Rue du Château, Pau, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 64000, France

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    Rate Includes: €7
  • 5. Musée Pyrénéen

    The château on the hill above town is reached from the ticket office via escalator or 131 steps. Once a prison, the castle now contains the Musée Pyrénéen, a provincial museum devoted to the popular customs, arts, and history of the Pyrénées. There are splendid views over the rooftops of Lourdes and the sanctuary area.

    25 rue du Fort, Lourdes, Occitania, 65100, France

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    Rate Includes: €7.50
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  • 6. Petit Train de la Rhune

    Not much on the Petit Train has changed since its inaugural voyage to the peak of La Rhune on June 30, 1924. Today's passengers are still enthralled by the incredible views of the Bay of Biscay and the grassy Basque farmlands below as they ascend—at the less-than-dizzying speed of 8 kph (5 mph)—in the original varnished cars made of pine and chestnut from Pyrenean forests. This high-climbing cogwheel train (one of only three in France) departs from Col de St-Ignace, 3½ km (2¼ miles) west of Sare.

    Sare, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 64320, France

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    Rate Includes: €22
  • 7. Basilique Souterraine St-Pie X

    Lourdes celebrated the centenary of Bernadette Soubirous's visions by building the world's largest underground church, the Basilique Souterraine St-Pie X, with space for 20,000 people—more than the town's permanent population. The Basilique Supérieure (1871), tall and white, hulks nearby.

    97 bd. Rémi Sempé, Lourdes, Occitania, 65100, France
  • 8. Boulevard des Pyrénées

    There are splendid views of the peaks of the Pyrénées all the way along this promenade, just under a mile long, which extends from the Château to the Palais Beaumont. A free funicular, with its top station in the middle of the boulevard, connects the city center with the railroad station beneath.

    Bd. des Pyrénées, Pau, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 64000, France
  • 9. Cachot

    The cachot, a tiny room where, in extreme poverty, Bernadette and her family took refuge in 1856, can be visited.

    15 rue des Petits-Fossés, Lourdes, Occitania, 65100, France

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    Rate Includes: Free
  • 10. Casino de Biarritz

    At the glitzy Casino de Biarritz you can play the slots and blackjack or just chill while channeling your inner James Bond. It's open daily from 9 am until 4 am.

    1 av. Edouard-VII, Biarritz, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 64200, France
  • 11. Cathédrale

    Built mainly in the 13th century, the Cathédrale (called both Ste-Marie and Notre-Dame) is one of France's southernmost examples of Gothic architecture. Its 13th- to 14th-century cloisters are among its best features.

    Bayonne, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 64100, France

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    Rate Includes: Free
  • 12. Église Orthodoxe de Biarritz

    Eugénie and her Carlist compatriots weren’t the only exiled royals to arrive in Biarritz. White Russians found refuge, too, turning the city into their Yalta-by-the-Atlantic. Witness the Église Orthodoxe Russe, a Byzantine-style church they built adjacent to the Grand Plage in the early 1890s. Note that opening hours can be irregular.

    8 rue de l'Impératrice, Biarritz, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 64200, France

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    Rate Includes: Closed Mon.–Wed. and Fri.
  • 13. Église Saint-Martin de Sare

    One of the Labourd province's prettiest churches was built in the 16th century and enlarged in the 17th with a triple-decker set of galleries. Parish priest Pierre Axular ranks among the great early authors in the Basque language. His tomb is under the bell tower with an epitaph by Prince Bonaparte: "Every hour wounds; the last sends you to your tomb."

    Le Bourg, Sare, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 64310, France

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    Rate Includes: Free
  • 14. Église St-Jean-Baptiste

    The marriage of the Sun King and the Infanta took place in 1660 in the church of St-Jean-Baptiste. The marriage tied the knot, so to speak, on the Pyrénées Treaty signed by French chief minister Mazarin on November 7, 1659, ending Spanish hegemony in Europe. Note the church's unusual wooden galleries lining the walls, creating a theaterlike effect. Fittingly, St-Jean-Baptiste hosts a "Musique en Côte Basque" festival of early and Baroque music during the first two weeks of September.

    St-Jean-de-Luz, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 64500, France
  • 15. Grottes de Sare

    Follow the Sare Valley up to the panoramic Col de Lizarrieta and the Grottes de Sare. Just outside these huge caves, you can learn about the Basque region's culture and millennia-long history at the Musée Ethnographique (Ethnographic Museum). Then take a multilingual, guided tour that leads 1 km (½ mile) underground to see a son-et-lumière show.

    Sare, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 64310, France

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    Rate Includes: €10
  • 16. La Chapelle Impériale

    If you wish to pay your respects to the Empress Eugénie, visit La Chapelle Impériale, which she had built in 1864 to venerate a figure of a Mexican Black Virgin from Guadalupe (and perhaps to expiate her sins for furthering her husband's tragic folly of putting Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlotta on the "throne" of Mexico). The style is a charming hybrid of Roman-Byzantine and Hispano-Mauresque. Entry is by guided tour only, and open days and hours are changeable, so call ahead.

    Rue des Cents Gardes, Biarritz, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 64200, France

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    Rate Includes: €6
  • 17. La Grande Plage

    Biarritz's urban beaches are understandably popular—particularly the fine, sandy strands of La Grande Plage and the neighboring Plage Miramar, both set amid craggy natural beauty. A walk along the seaside promenade gives a view of the foaming breakers that beat constantly upon the sands, giving the name Côte d'Argent (Silver Coast) to this part of France’s Basque Coast. As you drink in that view, try to imagine the gilded days when the fashionable set used to stroll here in Worth gowns and picture hats.

    Biarritz, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 64100, France
  • 18. Les Bains du Rocher

    The naturally heated sulfur water here was particularly popular among 19th-century aristocrats who arrived in Cauterets to "take the cure." Today, it’s still used to alleviate rheumatism and respiratory maladies (three-week treatments can even be covered by national health insurance). In keeping with modern trends, however, the station thermale now caters to guests who simply want to relax. Les Bains du Rocher has a genuine spa aesthetic and offers massages, facials, aqua-gym sessions, and, of course, soaks in hot healing pools both inside and outside.

    Av. du Dr. Domer, Cauterets, Occitania, 65110, France
  • 19. Maison Louis-XIV

    Take a tour of the twin-tower Maison Louis-XIV. Built as the Château Lohobiague, it housed the French king during his nuptials and is austerely decorated in 17th-century Basque fashion.

    Pl. Louis XIV, St-Jean-de-Luz, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 64500, France

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €7, Closed Tues. and Nov.–Easter
  • 20. Moulin de Boly

    Across the river is the Boly Mill, where Bernadette was born on January 7, 1844.

    12 rue Bernadette-Soubirous, Lourdes, Occitania, 65100, France

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    Rate Includes: Free

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