What you will discover, and how
Favorite thing: What has been written in the previous tip is to say that the national park is to be visited with the respect it deserves, on feet; there are wonderful hikes to a lake, a waterfall or a low summit for a few hours, along which small kids may discover the marmots, the isards, look at the vultures gliding above, taste the wild raspberries, look at the wonderful colours of some of the endemic flowers.
Then are longer hikes above the alpine meadows, where only rocks, ice, and a few courageous little flowers occupy the scene. And of course, there is the famous GR 10 (Sentier de Grande Randonnée, Long Trek Trail 10) linking high passes, huts and villages (more about in other tips), which can be walked on parts, not necessarily as a whole as it goes to villages (access).
And finally the high unmarked trails, parts of the HRP, (Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne, or Haute Route Pyrénéenne, High Pyrenean Trail), not an “official” trail, but a number of trails which follow more or less the crest line from East to West of the Pyrénées (even in mid summer parts of these trails are under ice or snow); the HRP too, can be walked in parts, but some dare to walk it from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea (40-50days!!!).
the official website
Fondest memory: Here is the official website of the National Park;
there is (in French, sorry) a lot of information about how to get there, what to visit, what to do and not do, etc. . . . . A presentation of the National Park.
A multilingual website (English, Dutch, German, French) gives general information about the Pyrénées; “commercial”, but it is a good introduction to the mountains and the surroundings; you may find information about treks, mountain guides, flights to reach the area, accommodation, . . . . . well a comprehensive website, lots of information! I do not know the people who run this website, it is not publicity, but they are a commercial organisation; nevertheless, browsing through the site may give ideas. . . . . .
Here are two web links (French and English) to general information about the Pyrénées, and what to do there:
Just a general presentation
Favorite thing: The central area of the Parc National des Pyrénées Occidentales is located on the highest areas of the Western French Pyrénées, (map: picture 2) in the so-called axial zone of the mountain chain. The elevations vary from about 900m to 3298m (Pic du Vignemale), which is not a very high mountain, but the slopes are rather steep in average, and within few kilometres, you go from 900 to 1800m on some roads (on roads, you are not in the park, but two roads linking France to Spain go through the Park at the Somport Pass near the western end of the Park, and at the Pourtalet Pass, in more central situation; these are the only roads, and when you walk on the roadside, the Park rules apply).
The park has been created in 1967, mainly to preserve a natural environment which was endangered at the time; since, things have improved and many mammals, reptiles, plants have been “saved” from “hunters and gatherers”.
Very strict rules apply for the visitors: no cars, even no bicycles are allowed in the National Park; only shoes! No pets are allowed in the area (Don’t do what this lady, here, on picture 4 does, it could cost up to 1000 Euros fine!), and only local cattle, horses or sheep can graze on the high meadows. It is possible to camp there, but only between 7 pm and 9 am; at 9 am, the tents must be folded, everything clean! If rangers awake you there at 9 am, you may have to pay quite high fines! This is justified, as the park administration wants the environment clean, and in real natural state. The main rules are reminded on picture 5. The only permanent human “settlements” there are huts (which were built for hikers, trekkers or Alpinists (Pyrénéists!) before 1967 by several alpine clubs) and a few shepherds’ shelters.
Of course, nature has to be preserved, and hunting, flower picking, fruit gathering, rock sampling are not allowed! This seems a bit drastic rules, but what more than enjoying the sceneries, the songs of the birds (or the wind), the perfume of the flowers, the fresh grass on which we can have a sit or even a short sleep, the taste of a few blueberries (picking just a few, for taste!), yes, what more do we need in that beautiful nature?
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