Saturday, 28 June 2014

The wonderful Pyrenees in early summer (Intro & Day 1 15/06/14)

OUR summer holiday this year was in the Pyrenees in French France.  Our choice of location was inspired by Bob Gibbons' Wildflower Wonders of the World book, which I highly recommend to anyone with even the vaguest interest in international floras.

We based ourselves in a lovely little Gite near Argeles-Gazost in the southern part of the country and visited a number of places including the Pic du Midi de Bigore, the area near the Cirque de Gavarnie, as well as two of the Tour de France routes via the Col du Tourmalet.  It was a wonderful holiday in a landscape full of wildlife.

Cirque de Gavarnie from the north (at 2000m)
The region is of course at altitude (up to 6000ft) with snow still lying in patches on the ground above a certain height.  In the valleys, early summer was in full swing with huge flowery meadows, some just being cut for their hay, whilst on the mountain tops it could be quite cool with bulbs emerging from beneath an icy covering on the grazed pastures.

Soaring Griffon Vultures
The area is famous for its vultures, and other birds of prey, as well as some larger mammals, even the odd bear.  It also hosts a wide range of butterflies, including swallowtails (seen but not photographed), plus a healthy population of reptiles.

Some mountains are used for skiing in the winter as is evident in certain locations by the lifts and some hideous buildings - but these are few and far between and don't detract from the wonderful overall experience.

DAY 1.

We took it fairly easy on our first day having had a long journey due to flight delays but were instantly captivated by the landscape and fantastic flora, and explored the area by car.  We drove towards the Pont d'Espagne via Cauterets, where we lunched in a square admiring the slightly faded charm of this spa town.  The valley that we traveled up was packed with views and interesting plants.

The river thundered down, cascading between rocks where the ground was steep.

Rhododendrons - wild in the Pyrenees
Composite photo of this glacial river valley
All sorts of news flower species were seen, many of which are specialists to the Pyrenees, such as Gouan's buttercup, with its noticeably larger yellow flowers:

The Pyrenees has around 200 endemic plant species - now there's a challenge!

  1. Book: The Alpine Flowers of Britain and Europe - Wilson & Blamey. Pub. Collins
  2. Book: Wildflower Wonders of the World - Bob Gibbons Pub. New Holland
  3. Book: Pyrenees 2 French Central Pyrenees: Arrens - Seix - Roger Budeler. Pub: Rother
  4. Map: Michelin 432: Hautes-Pyrenees, Pyrenees Atlantiques 1:150 000 (useful for a local overview - but not for detailed walking at that scale unless obvious routes)


  1. I had a fortnight in that area some twenty-five years ago - hope it hasn't changed too much as it was absolutely wonderful then.

  2. Not too sure but cant see how it could have been better, bar the ski resort.


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