Explore the Cirque de Gavarnie, a natural wonder of the Hautes-Pyrénées

Gavarnie-Gèdre
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Bristling with peaks, crowned with snow-capped peaks and hollowed out by majestic cirques, the Pyrenees mountains offer a concentration of breathtaking landscapes. It is in the mountainous heart of this territory of character that it is advisable to venture to discover, round eye and ready for the big thrill, the Cirque of Gavarnie : an immense natural sanctuary classified as world heritage of humanity by the 'UNESCO . On foot, the visitor takes in the measure of the grandiose and chaotic relief of this geological setting drawn by steep ramparts with vertiginous verticality.

Gavarnie, a hotspot for mountain tourism in the Pyrenees

Circus of Gavarnie

No need to fly away to distant lands at the end of the world to be blown away by a magnificent nature: France is full of treks and spectacular hikes. Straddling the Franco-Spanish border, the Pyrenees Natural Park reserves a variety of landscapes for lovers of nature and the great outdoors: high snow-capped ridges, wild forests, lunar valleys and green gorges.


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Circus of Gavarnie


Among the most beautiful Pyrenean adventures to experience in any season, the glacial cirque of Gavarnie appears as a world apart. This veritable monumental natural amphitheater , nestled in the hollow northern slope of the line of ridges marking the border with Spain, has aroused the curiosity and fascination of men for centuries. Cradle of what is called " Pyreneanism ", the reputation of the Cirque de Gavarnie was forged by the various explorations carried out by scientists, geologists, botanists, topographers from the 18th century ... Its beauty seduces many painters , writers - such as Victor Hugo who qualifies it as a “ colosseum of nature ” -, poets and photographers who, through their works, introduce this site to the general public. In the XIXth century, the conquests of summits animate the spirits and the arrival of walking tourists generates new vocations of guides and carriers. This natural wonder becomes the meeting point for " Pyrenees ". This new term inspired by " mountaineers " designates the physical experience of the mountain as inseparable from the aesthetic and romantic emotion that emanates from the Pyrenees.

The history of Gavanie and the Pyrenean circuses

50 million years ago, fluvial and glacial erosions shaped the Pyrenees and brought about the emergence of a set of natural cirques including the majestic Gavarnie, framed by its two accomplices, the Cirques de Troumouse , the largest of all, and the Cirque d'Estaubé , the wildest. More recently, 20,000 years ago, there was a glacier that descended from Gavarnie to Lourdes, in other words, the current Vallée de Gavarnie crossed by the Gave de Pau. This enormous mass of ice is at the origin of the formation of the steep-sided valley through which we reach the site. The toponymy of the circus is there to recall the history of the place.


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Circus of Gavarnie hikes: which option to choose?

From Luz-Saint-Sauveur , via Gèdre , the road leading to Gavarnie is winding, punctuated by narrow passages which make overtaking dangerous. Vigilance is essential, whatever the season. With a dense network of hiking trails, only walking allows you to fully discover the Gavarnie site. There are two options to achieve this. The first is accessible to all by the bottom of the valley from the village of Gavarnie . The second, reserved for experienced hikers, is via the Sarradets ladder , an ascent of 1300 meters over stony terrain allowing you to reach the Roland Brèche refuge via one of the rocky bars of the Gavarnie cirque.

Circus of Gavarnie

Circus of Gavarnie


We opt for the first option achievable in half a day from the paid public parking at the entrance to the village of Gavarnie (€ 5 per vehicle, € 8 for motorhomes from May 1 to October 31, for a period of 24 hours ). The hike to the circus is practiced from this car park, first crossing this charming little village where you can find a mini-market, a few shops, hotels and restaurants. On the main street, equestrian centers with superb horses and ponies offer between May and November horseback rides to the Hôtel du Cirque.

Gavarnie is very easy to access (and free!) Which explains, in addition to the beauty of the place, its high attendance in summer. Ideal for children and families , hiking is practiced on relatively flat, marked terrain, with very low vertical drop. In winter, the road leading to the end of the village is open and allows you to admire the circus from afar. Ideally accompanied by an experienced mountain guide, walks are possible on snowshoes or ski touring to get as close as possible to the circus. However, be aware that it can be difficult, even extremely dangerous (and impossible!) To access it in the event of heavy snow because of avalanches . Spring and autumn offer perfect visiting conditions, far from the crowds.


Circus of Gavarnie

An easy ride for children

Storming wild spaces!

Circus of Gavarnie

Circus of Gavarnie


We follow the path that runs along the river on both banks before arriving at a picturesque stone bridge. The landscapes follow one another before reaching the circus: plains, forests, rocks… with the majestic walls of the ridges as a backdrop… We can turn and turn around, everywhere our gaze stumbles on the snow-capped peaks of the Gavarnie circus!

Circus of Gavarnie

Circus of Gavarnie


After an hour and a half of walking, we arrived at the Hôtel du Cirque, in front of this prodigious circular wall 1500 meters high , with a circumference of 6.5 kilometers . Before our eyes, this spectacle, unique in the world, is of an astonishing symmetry and a remarkable perspective: the Mont-Perdu massif stands at an altitude of 3352m, the Grand Pic d'Astazou at 3012m, the Pic du Marboré at 3248m, the peaks of the Cascade Orientale , the Tour de Gavarnie, the Helmet de Gavarnie, the Pic du Taillon at 3144m and the very famous glacial notch the Brèche de Roland culminates at 2807m, marking the border with Spain. In this striking location, immense waterfalls spring from the walls, including the spectacular Gavarnie waterfall , the highest in France with its 413 meters of free fall . A path allows you to continue the hike by crossing the river in order to get closer to the waterfall.

Circus of Gavarnie


Circus of Gavarnie Circus of Gavarnie

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A rich biodiversity to be preserved

In this magical mineral setting made up of rocks, scree and bushy vegetation , the local flora and fauna are particularly abundant. Among more than 200 species of endemic plants listed , edelweiss, lily, blue thistle, saxifrage and butterwort color the trails of this wild paradise. On the wildlife side, the hiker can also have the chance to see marmots , chamois , hares and raptors such as the golden eagle , the griffon vulture or the Egyptian vulture .

Circus of Gavarnie

Magical encounters with the locals

Circus of Gavarnie

Edelweiss

A few guidelines must be observed to preserve this unique environment. The path does not have any garbage to respect the authenticity of the place. So take all your waste with you. To protect the flora and fauna, do not pick anything and do not interact with wild animals . Our four-legged friends are not allowed in the National Park but tolerated allowed on the main road between the village and the circus.





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Article and photos prepared by Lesley Williamson


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