Pyrénées & French Basque Country

By Marcia Reynolds
This item appears on page 14 of the February 2021 issue.
Path to Cirque de Gavarnie in the French Pyrénées. Photos by Marcia Reynolds

When my husband, Roger, and I visited the Pyrénées for 10 days in late September 2019, we flew in and out of Barcelona, Spain. Upon arriving in the morning, we drove directly to Montserrat, where we stayed in one of the few hotels on site.

Attractions in Montserrat included a monastery and a stunning basilica housing a Black Madonna. There was also a funicular to the top of the mountain for wonderful views. It was a good stop for our first day.

Our drive to and through Andorra was filled with beautiful scenery. We stopped briefly in the capital, Andorra la Vella, to stroll up the main street. As retired skiers, we were dreaming of what a wonderful place it would have been to ski!

We zigzagged our way over more and more beautiful scenery into France, encountering cows and sheep along the way. Many of the passes we crossed had been included in the Tour de France. It’s amazing anyone can bicycle up those mountains!

We spent a couple of nights in Luz-Saint-Sauveur for two highlights of the trip. The first was riding the cable car to the top of Pic du Midi for amazing views of the Pyrénées and the historic Pic du Midi Observatory. The second was the walk/hike to see the Cirque de Gavarnie, a huge natural amphitheater, and Gavarnie Falls. The path was lovely and the Cirque, massive.

Nearby was the stone bridge Pont d’Espagne, where there was an impressive waterfall, cable cars, a lake for hiking and more stunning scenery. If we had allowed ourselves enough time, we could have spent an entire day there.

Street in Ainsa in the Spanish Pyrenees.

We spent two nights in riverfront Bayonne, a pretty town with a large pedestrian area. As the capital of French Basque Country, the town is home to Bayonne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We drove into the countryside to see the Basque village of Espelette. It was touristy but charming, filled with white buildings decorated with red shutters and with chili peppers hanging to dry on all of them.

We also wandered around Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, which for centuries has been the starting point for pilgrims in France heading to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. There we found attractive cobbled streets and stone buildings with interesting little shops.

After seeing a historic, richly decorated Basque church in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, we circled back through Spain, with a stay in San Sebastián, which we loved, and back to Barcelona.

Our last stop was Ainsa in the Spanish Pyrenees, another beautifully cobblestoned town with stone buildings and amazing panoramic views. We wished we could have spent the night.

If you love mountain scenery, hiking and pretty villages, give the Pyrénées a try.

Orange, CA