A fascinating trip following the Meridian Way, a route that closely follows the International Greenwich Meridian through the French département of the Hautes Pyrénées. Starting in the attractive foothills the route builds up to a climax at Gavarnie in the heart of the mountains with a visit to the dramatic Cirque de Gavarnie, a World Heritage site. Some of the route follows part of the famous long distance trail GR10, a 700kms route from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. When the Greenwich Meridian was agreed upon as the international standard in 1884 the fact that it passed through some of the most impressive scenery in the French Pyrénées was probably not a major consideration. However the new Meridian Way allows us to explore this spectacular area. Our trip starts at the famous pilgrimage town of Lourdes from where we take a funicular railway to the summit of the Pic du Jer (890m) where there are excellent views looking back over the town. From the summit we follow a network of paths and tracks above the east side of the main river, the Gave du Pau, before dropping down to the attractive spa town of Argelès-Gazost for the second night. The following day we climb old shepherds' tracks to the picturesque village of St Savin where there is a 12th Century abbey church. We continue along the valley side before dropping down to Pierrefitte Nestalas where a bus ride takes us up through the narrow gorge to Luz St. Sauveur with time to visit the town and fortified "Templar" church. Two nights are spent here giving the option of a rest day and time to visit the local spa facilities or take a short bus ride to the village of Barèges for a delightful walk down the Bastan valley back to Luz St. Sauveur mainly following the GR10. The next day we again follow the GR10 to Gèdre, a small village in a magnificent location with soaring mountains on three sides. Heading south from Gèdre we approach Gavarnie via footpaths crossing high summer pastures before descending into the village. Two nights at Gavarnie give time for a visit to the Cirque de Gavarnie, a natural amphitheatre some 1400 metres from top to bottom, and the Grande Cascade with a 423 metre drop – the longest in Europe. Local transport can be arranged to the Col des Tentes for the fitter to visit the famous Brêche de Roland (2807m) a 100 metre by 40 metre "doorway" into Spain and then walk down to the Cirque de Gavarnie.
This is a very subjective matter on this tour. Sherpa walking grades presume a certain standard common to similar tours and an individual’s perception of their own fitness in relation to a grading will vary. (Grade 4) The walking on this tour is varies between moderate and quite challenging. A reasonable level of fitness, a reasonable head for heights and an ability to cope on rocky paths is required on some days. You need good boots throughout the tour: The trails are generally good, but on occasion there are steep or winding sections of loose limestone shingle. Carry plenty of drinking water and adequate protection against the sun, including a sun hat. There are steep ascents / descents sometimes in hot weather. You will need to take care walking on this tour. Day stages: In the region of 12km to 20km per day with average altitude gains of 500m (maximum 800 m). 5 to 6 hours walking per day for most people. Slow walkers will take longer.
Make your own way to Lourdes. Try and find time to explore this extraordinary pilgrimage town and the area around the grotto where Bernadette is reported to have seen the apparitions of the Virgin Mary on many occasions. Lourdes is the largest Catholic pilgrimage destination in France and one of the most popular Catholic shrines in the world. The small town of only 17,000 inhabitants receives more than 5 million pilgrims and tourists each year. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes incorporates 52 hectares of property and 22 places of worship, including a sacred grotto, two basilicas, and a variety of buildings for pilgrims and the sick. Outside the sanctuary, many pilgrims also visit the home of the young visionary, St. Bernadette.
Accommodation: Your first night is spent in a 3 star hotel in a quiet area of the town not far from the Gave du Pau River.
From the hotel it is a short walk across to the lower station of the funicular railway that takes you up almost to the summit of the Pic de Jer (890m) from where there are excellent views looking back over the town. From the summit follow a network of paths and tracks above the East side of the main river, the Gave du Pau. After passing through a number of typically Pyrenean villages, drop down to the attractive spa town of Argelès-Gazost.
Accommodation: Our 2 star hotel has a pleasant garden area and a large and popular restaurant.
From the hotel it is a short walk to the edge of the town from where a path climbs through the mixed deciduous forest to reach the grazing land above. A combination of easy tracks and quiet roads take you through to the cobbled main street of St Savin where it is possible to visit the impressive 12th Century abbey church and perhaps enjoy a drink at the café opposite the Post Office. The route continues past the Chapelle de Piétat where there are excellent views back to St Savin and then climbs again to a former hermitage the Chapelle de Poueyaspé. Descending through the forest of mainly beech the route arrives at a cycle way, which you follow through a tunnel to the town of Pierrefitte. From here you catch a bus to take you through the narrow gorge to Luz St Sauveur.
Accommodation: Spend two nights in a traditional family run 2 star hotel.
With two nights at Luz St. Sauveur it is possible to have a day off and enjoy the town which has plenty of shops, cafés and restaurants. The ruined castle of Sainte-Marie can be visited as well as the unusual fortified 12th Century "Templar" church of Saint André. The spa facilities may also tempt those with aching legs! For those who prefer a more energetic day a short bus ride up to the village of Barèges takes you to the start of a lovely walk mainly following the GR10 through the Bastan valley back to Luz.
Within half an hour of leaving the hotel at Luz the route following the GR10 takes you over the impressive Pont Napoleon, which in one graceful arch spans the gorge and river 66 metres below. After climbing through the forest and past a series of waterfalls the route reaches the Croix de Sia on a promontory overlooking the valley. From here follow the GR10 up the valley for another 1.5 hours before using a combination of tracks and quiet roads to reach the village of Gèdre.
Accommodation: The night is spent in a 3 star hotel which is one of the oldest dwellings in the village with mountain views from most of the bedrooms.
A quiet road, which becomes a dirt track leads you away from Gèdre back to the GR10. The route then climbs through a beech & fir forest to reach high summer pasture land with stunning views in all directions. The route crosses the Plateau de Saugé with views ahead of the Cirque de Gavarnie growing larger by the minute. The final descent into the village of Gavarnie ends a memorable day best rounded off with a cold drink on the terrace of one of the several cafés. The shorter walking option takes a more direct route from Gèdre to the Plateau de Saugé.
Accommodation: Your last two nights are spent in a comfortable 2 star hotel located in the heart of the village facing the cirque.
You have a full day to explore this spectacular area. Detailed route notes are provided for four alternative walks. An excellent circular walk taking in the Cirque de Gavarnie and the slopes above both sides of the valley not only crosses the Greenwich Meridian twice but has a couple of shortcut option too. 12km – 18 km/ 660m – 930m ascent/ 4 - 5.5 h. Alternatively it is possible to hire a taxi to the Col de Tentes (2208m) and walk back to the village of Gavarnie taking in the famous Brêche de Roland or more directly by the delightful Pouey Aspé valley. 16 kms/ 660m or 500m ascent/1400m or 1300m descent/ 6 hrs or 5.5 h.
Depart Gavarnie after breakfast
Per Person, Twin Share