About the trails. . .
Getting around in Parc National des Pyrénées? By car you will go around, literally, as you cannot drive inside, except on the two roads going to Spain.
So, what is needed to get around here is:
Good walking shoes
Maps, compass, altimeter and that sort of things if you intend to walk of the beaten paths and trails.
Trails or hikes guides.
And now seriously: good shoes (English speaking people call them boots) are compulsory if you want to enjoy the trails which are often stony.
Depending on what you want to visit, you may prepare your itineraries with guides; I have a few, but they are in French, and I feel a bit helpless what concerns English language guides; the main low and mid altitude trails are drawn on the (excellent!) French topo maps; the 1/25000 maps of the area can be purchased in local bookstores and even news stands in Cauterets or Lourdes.
IGN (Institut Geographique National) sells now Georando (trade mark) maps to download, compatible with GPS navigation, presenting lots of features, (aerial photographs, 3D images,. . ), which may be fun, and even helpful, but I go the old fashioned way: topo map and compass.
1547OT, 1647OT, 1748OT, 1748ET; these four maps cover the Parc National; they cost 9.5 Euro each; the trails are marked on the maps. They can be ordered at IGN who also sells recto-verso maps (same area for half paper weight!); check website.
A list of guides (from easy walks like “Les sentiers d’Emilie” to parts of the HRP (Georges Véron), can be found in this weblink.
But for day hikes, the tourist offices provide flyers with trail descriptions.
Most of the trails are generally marked; the famous red and white signs you see on rocks or trees, for the GR and the little trails are well marked; you cannot get lost, and many people walk the easy trails in summer; once you find the trail head, just walk, and be careful! The HRP is trickier, only cairns, few “esoteric” signs; a compass and a map are compulsory.
Here in VT I will give short descriptions of four types of trails, according to natural environment (which more or less follows the elevation):
Forest trails (picture1): light plays in the Gave de Marcadau (Cauterets)
Alpine meadows trails (picture2): Autumn colours on the high Gave de Bious (Pic du Midi d’Ossau)
High elevation trails (picture3): snow, ice, rocks, above Circo de Pineta (Spain, Ordesa)
Other beautiful hikes can also be done between the villages, at lower elevation (picture4, village of Viey, Luz St Sauveur); except the high elevation trails, the other types of trails can be accessed by road, and short (2-6 hours) round tours can be done.
On picture5, is an excerpt of the 1/25.000 IGN map of Gavarnie (1748OT), showing details of topography, depicting main trails (red), roads, special places, and the boundary of the Parc National; if you know to read a map, you won’t get lost!
Many possibilities to get there
There are many options to arrive to the Pyrénées!
By plane you can arrive to Biarritz, Pau, Tarbes or Toulouse; if you arrive from overseas you may go to Paris (Roissy-CDG or Orly) then take a connecting flight;
For Biarritz, if you also want to visit Basque land, there are a few international connections: see map and website.
For Pau, check this list and the website. Landing at Pau, with fine weather, you have a first look at the mountains (picture 1).
Tarbes, which is close to the National park has a few flights to Paris-Orly; if you go to Lourdes, it is the same airport.
Toulouse has the best international connections to Europe.
Lots of people arrive from Europe by car. They use maps and follow the roads to the big cities of southern France, then may use more detailed maps.
The train is a good option, as Lourdes, Pau, Tarbes are not very far from the mountains and are well served by trains (SNCF).
To get to the National Park, you may either use a car or public transportation, the “thing” being to go to the park borders: Gavarnie and Cauterets are the villages you may need to reach; there are few other options and in that case you have a good map and know where you go!
Cauterets can be reached by bus from Lourdes (SNCF bus); this bus goes a few times per day (tél. : 05.62.92.53.70) (SNCF)
Gavarnie: There are SNCF buses departing from Lourdes; lots of tourist buses go there, better to look with travel agencies (I do not use, and cannot publicize).
Transportation information can also be found on this website: http://www.pyrenees-pireneus.com/Transports_Pyrenees.htm#65
Well, the area may look a bit like being at the end of the world; so you may need some patience if you use public transportation. Good option may be to rent a car at an airport or a train station.
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