Foix The 11th – 15th century castle of the Counts of Foix is made up of three superbly, dissimilar towers from different eras. They create a dramatic view from any angle. The château today is a museum of exhibits of the Ariège across the centuries.
St Girons occupies a unique spot at the confluence of eighteen little Pyrenean valleys. Situated on the rapids of the River Salat, the Pont-Vieux points you into the old commercial centre of the town on the right bank, where there are intriguing old-fashioned shops, whose fronts and fittings have remained unchanged for generations. The nearby hilltop town of St Lizier is certainly worth a detour as it is a walled town with arcades, cobbled streets, pretty half-timbered houses and two small cathedrals.
Martres Tolasane, situated on the left bank of the Garonne river has an old town which is circular in shape with half-timbered houses made of stone and bricks. It is also famous as a pottery centre and for its biscuit factory.
Auch is the capital of Gascony. This former Gallo-Roman city contains a monumental staircase (370 steps) leading from the lower to the upper town, where the visitor comes face to face with a statue of the local hero D’Artagnan, the famous musketeer.
Condom is a town of seven churches and the former Bishop’s Palace of Bossuet, where the 16th century cathedral, flamboyant cloister and ancient town houses are of particular interest.
La Romieu an ancient walled town on the road to Santiago de Compostella has one architectural gem, a 14th century collegiate church with a mysterious past and rich Gothic paintings.
Lectoure, once a flourishing city in the Gallo-Roman age, then a military town that became the stronghold of the Counts of Armagnac. Lectoure was embellished with large religious buildings and mansions throughout the 15th and 16th centuries and now offers a rich architectural heritage.
Le Parc National des Pyrénées extends over some 120,000 acres, from the Néouvielle massif and nature reserve at the eastern end to the Aspe Valley in the west. The highest peak is the Vignemal summit at 3,298m. Wild mountain goats called izards can be spotted roaming the mountains. Various species of buzzards, eagles and falcons patrol the skies along with vultures including the bearded vulture or lammergeier the largest bird of prey in Europe. A wide variety of Pyrenean flora and wild plants can also be seen on walks in these magnificent mountains. Wild cats, martens and marmots all survive in healthy numbers due to the splendid isolation of the much of the high country.
Hundreds of miles of paths run through the park with refuges to accommodate hikers and mountaineers. They range from the 150km GR10 path which links the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and runs through the park from East to West, to 2-, 3- and 4-hour walks among the peaks, tarns, cirques and corries. Walkers will discover a wealth of wildlife, pure mountain streams, magnificent beech and pine forests and above all glorious views.
Places with access to the mountains include Luz St Sauveur, Les Cauterets, Saint Lary and Arrens-Marsous. It is also a superb area to go white-water rafting and canoeing.
Cirque de Gavarnie is a magnificent glacial cirque, rising to over 1,400m and has been scoured by the ice into a near-perfect semi-circle. It is 800m wide at its lowest point and about 3000m wide at the top. It can be reached via the village of Gavarnie, on foot, by donkey or on horseback. The view on to the Cirque is splendid, steep rock, snow capped peaks and the great waterfall reached by a sign-posted footpath. There is an impressive view from above this waterfall (420m), which is the highest in Europe, over the waters of the ice-covered Lake of Mont Perdu.
Pic du Midi de Bigorre is an extraordinary mountain dominating the neighbouring peaks for miles around, and is a protected heritage site. The observatory was set up in 1878 at 2,878m to take advantage of the clear pure air which is vital for the study of cosmic rays. It can be visited via le Col du Tourmalet either on foot or using a cable car and offers unique views over the whole chain. The steep walk up the mountainside is highly recommended.
The Road over the Passes Numerous passes in the Pyrénées are well known because of the “Tour de France” bike race, including Aspin, Tourmalet, Peyresoude. These mountain roads that run from valley to valley reveal an ever changing landscape at every bend. The Pic du Midi gives way to the Arbizon Massif. You then overlook the valleys of the Upper Adour, Aure and Louron with splendid panoramic views from each pass.
Lourdes ceremonies and processions attract thousands of pilgrims every year particularly during the summer months. The most important place of pilgrimage is the Massabieille grotto where the Virgin Mary appeared on 18 occasions to local peasant Bernadette Soubirous. In the holy city, you can visit the underground basilica of Saint-Pius-X, one of the largest sanctuaries in the world. Nearby there is the basilica of the Rosary and the Upper Basilica dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. The fortified castle on a rocky cliff overlooking the city now houses a museum of customs, craft and folklore central to the Pyrénées.
Donjon des Aigles, at Beaucens just outside Argelès-Gazost. This “Eagles’ Keep” in the grounds of the château offers in-flight displays of Pyrenean birds of prey including falcons, vultures etc.
Gargas Caves, near St Bertrand-de-Comminges are classified as a national heritage monument and rank among the foremost European prehistoric sites. The caves feature the intriguing and unique spectacle of a series of over 200 mutilated hands in silhouette as well as remarkable engravings of deer, antelope, buffalo and other prehistoric animals.
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