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Pyrenees

There are 9,946 named mountains in Pyrenees. The highest and the most prominent mountain is Pico de Aneto at 3404m.

The Pyrénées form a natural border between France and Spain. The mountain range is divided into three sections: the Western, Central and Eastern Pyrénées. In France the Pyrénées are located in the Occitania and Nouvelle-Aquitaine regions and Aragon and Catalonia in Spain.The elevation of the mountains gradually increased from west to east with the most prominent peaks situated in Occitania.

The principality of Andorra is also situated within the Pyrénées. It is the sixth-smallest nation in Europe (16th smallest in the world) with an area of 468km². The capital city of Andorra la Vella is the highest capital city in Europe at an elevation of 1023m.

There are several important features which distinguish the Pyrénees from the Alps:

  • The Pyrénees are older than the Alps at around 100 to 150 million years old.
  • An absence of great lakes, such as Lake Geneva (France/Switzerland) and Lake Garda (Italy) which were formed from glacial action.
  • The large number of mountain torrents (second only to Norway in Europe), which form cascading waterfalls.
  • There are fewer high mountain passes which traverse the peaks.
  • High frequency of the upper end of a valley ending in a semicircle of cliffs, referred to as a cirque. This explains why there are so few high mountain passes, as their construction would be difficult.

Cirque de Gavarnie

Cirque de Gavarnie

The principal routes traversing the Pyrénées from north to south are located at the eastern and western extremities near the coastal regions.

The highest peak is Aneto at 3,404m which is situated on the Spanish side. The highest peak in the French Pyrénées is also the highest peak in Occitania: the Massif de Vignemale at 3,298m. It is located on the border between France and Spain and shares its peak with the Spanish region of Aragon. On the northern face on the Vignemale there are several difficult ascent routes which require a high level of skill. The mountain refuge des Oulettes de Gaube is situated at the bottom of the Gaude valley at the foot of the northern face. It is an ideal basecamp for ascending one of the highest peaks in the Pyrénées mountain range.

Natural parks

There is a combined total of 5 regional natural and national parks across the Pyrénées, with a combined area of around 4600 km².

France

  • Parc National des Pyrénées (457 km²)
  • Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises (2 465 km²)
  • Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Catalanes (1 371 km²)

Midi d'Ossau Peak

Pic du Midi d'Ossau reflected in Gentau lake

Spain

  • Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park (141 km²)
  • Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park (156 km²)

Ordesa

Major Cities

There are a number of major and minor cities in the Pyrénées.

Andorra

Andorra la Vella - The Capital city of the principality of Andorra. The city is also a ski-resort in the Grandvalira skiing area.

France

  • Lourdes - Despite being the smallest cities on this list - Lourdes is one of the most reknown. It is one of the most important sites of religious tourism and pilgrimage. Lourdes welcomes over 6 million visitors each year, second only to Paris.
  • Perpignan - Situated in the south-east of the Occitania region, it is the last major French city on the Mediterranean coast before the border to Spain.
  • Toulouse - Although 100km north of the Pyrénées range, Toulouse is the largest of the cities in close proximity to the Pyrénées. Both the capital of the Haute-Garonne and the Occitania region. Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France. Many of Toulouse’s historic buildings are made from a pink terracotta brick - resulting in the nickname of ‘La Ville Rose’ (the Pink city).

Spain

  • Pamplona - The second largest city in the Basque cultural region - it is famous for the running of the bulls during the annual San Fermin festival.
  • Figueres - Situated in the province of Girona - the town is the birthplace of Salvador Dali.
  • Girona - One of the main Catalan cities, it is popular with professional cyclists due to the temperate climate and hilly terrain. In popular culture, the cathedral of Girona has featured in Game of Thrones.

Access

Most of the larger cities in the region have airports - the largest being that of Toulouse. The region is well catered to by an extensive train network. Equally access to the mediterranean sea is possible along the coast.

Fauna and flora

The Pyrénées region has some of the most varied flora in Europe. There are around 2,500 species of flowers and plants. Depending on the season, there is always something to see.

The fauna is equally as diverse with over 4,000 species of animals in the region. The animals which are specific to the Pyrénées are the bearded vulture, the Pyrenean desman and the brown bear. In the high mountains the marmottes and ibex can be found, the latter being recently reintroduced into the area.

As a result of the higher levels of precipitation in the western half of the Pyrénées (a result of the proximity to the North Atlantic ocean) there are large swathes of woodland. Moving east there are fewer forests. The vegetation changes beyond the central Pyrénées with the terrain becoming decidedly Mediterranean in appearance.

Hiking routes

Plo del Naou - Starting from the parking at the summit of the Col d’Aspin, this 6.2km hike is ideal for beginners. There is 320m of vertical elevation along the ridge taking you to the summit at 1754m. From the peak you will have access to 360 panoramic views across the surrounding valleys. Est time 2hrs.

La Brèche de Roland - A natural gap in the mountain ridge, 40m across and 100m high. Legend has it that the gap was created in in 778 AD by Count Roland, a Frankish military leader of Charlemagne, as he cut into the mountain with his sword. The gap can be reached from the parking at the summit of the Col de Tentes. From here there is a 5.5km climb to the gap. The route back is the same, resulting in a total distance of 11km and 604m of elevation up to. Depending on the time of year there could be snow covering this peak - it is best to be well prepared for any eventuality. From the summit there are views into Spain and the Pico de Millaris. This hike is best suited to intermediate to experienced hikers. Est time 4hrs.

Monte Perdido - Located in the Ordesa y Monte Perdido national park, the summit of Monte Perdido is the third highest summit in the Pyrénées at 3355m. With canyons, valleys and majestic peaks heavily featured, it is a fantastic hiking destination. Starting from the Pradera bus stop, this 22km hike is of moderate difficulty, however due to its length it would be best suited to intermediate to advanced hikers. Est time 9hrs.

Roc del Dui - Found in the heart of Catalonia in north east Pyrénées. The hike to the summit of the Roc del Dui at 2102m altitude provides splendid views of the surrounding peaks such as the Puigmal at 2909m. The hike is a 20km loop starting from Querabs at the end of the El Freser valley. There is a total of 1030m of elevation gain. This hike is recommended for intermediate hikers looking for a challenge. The rocky terrain and length should provide a challenge. Est time 8hrs.

Pic du Midi de Bigorre

Pic du Midi de Bigorre