From the Boulevard des Pyrénées in Pau, the panorama over the mountains unfolds in wide-screen cinematic effect. This grandiose landscape transcends the Béarnese city. It is like a blockbuster film and was described by French poet Lamartine as the “world's most beautiful view of the earth”.
Your eyes are fixated by this panorama set against an immense blue sky. The peaks of the mountain chain rise up in the distance, from the observatory on the Pic du Midi de Bigorre to the symbolic Pic du Midi d'Ossau. The relief softens closer to the city with expanses of woods and vineyards, while the Gave de Pau river flows gently at the foot of Henri IV's castle.
Before leaving Pau to explore this wonderful landscape, pay a visit to the Cité des Pyrénées. This place, with a courtyard resembling a canyon, has everything you need to know about the mountains; you can pick up invaluable information on hiking near to Pau from its mountain pros.
With your map in your pocket, set up base camp at the Clos Mirabel in the village of Jurançon. Ann and André provide bed and breakfast accommodation in their 18th-century manor house set in the middle of a six-hectare estate with uninterrupted views over the mountains and the hills of Jurançon.
Cité des Pyrénées
29 bis rue Berlioz
+33 (0)5 59 14 01 14
276 avenue des Frères Barthélemy
+33 (0)5 59 06 32 83
A warm-up at Lac du Gabas
It is one of the largest lakes in the region. Situated 23 kilometres to the east of Pau, this location is perfect for country walks and family hikes against a mountain backdrop. Enjoy a stroll around the lake, lulled by the sounds of nature all around you. Keep your noise down though to not frighten the migratory birds. This protected area is a refuge for egrets, herons and ducks, as well as common cranes and wild geese during the migration season. Then, follow the signs on the discovery trail to the fishing lake. Peace and quiet reign supreme in this place, while in the distance, fishing boats bob gently on the great expanse of water.
Lac du Gabas
Picnicking on prime grazing lands
Hit the road to the Ossau Valley which is found in the Haut-Béarn region. Head through the village of Bilhères-en-Ossau and then on to the Plateau de Roland. The Marie Blanque pass, at 1,035 metres high, cuts through the Plateau du Bénou Laruns. Here, farms and barns dot the Ossalais landscape. With your walking stick in hand, begin your journey in search of shepherds with their flocks of sheep. Spread your picnic blanket out on these high-altitude grasslands which are used as summer pastures. A feeling of freedom comes over you as you gaze around the open countryside with towering mountains all around.
Plateau du Bénou Laruns
Dizzying natural heights of the Pyrenees
Let us now climb further up towards the summits. From Laruns, a small road leads you to the edge of the Pyrenees National Park. Located 1,416 metres above sea level and also accessible by car, the Lac de Bious Artigues is a special place for an easy ride. Put on your hiking boots and pick up your water bottle. All you need to do then is walk along the lake on the short 4.5-kilometre path that leads to a dam. You are surrounded on all sides by enchanting natural scenery, in sight of the majestic Pic du Midi d'Ossau, the highest peak in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
Lac de Bious Artigues
Majestic waterfall and marmots
Experienced walkers will want to hike towards the border with Spain to admire what writer Victor Hugo described as the “colosseum of nature”. Granted UNESCO World Heritage status for its landscapes and cultural treasures, the Cirque de Gavarnie invites you to take a five-hour path on a circular route via the Plateau de Bellevue.
As you walk along the path dotted with thousands of endemic plants and flowers, you might be lucky enough to spot marmots, chamois or golden eagles. The Pyrenees are also home to the last bears in France. With just one glance, you can take in the whole of this grandiose scene, dominated by several peaks rising to over 3,000 metres in height. At the end of the path, the highest waterfall in Europe is a just reward for your efforts, rounding off your unforgettable stay in the Pau region.
Cirque de Gavarnie