South America Adventure Travel

Trekking the Pyrenees
Pyrenees range, Spain and France

Like a jeweled crown on the Spanish-French border, the dazzling Pyrenees mountain range is a magnet for hikers and adventurers. Its enchanting landscape of flower-filled alpine meadows, turquoise mountain lakes, spectacular mountain cirques, and ancient passes steeped in smugglers' lore, together with its challenging terrain, makes it a rewarding destination for serious hikers.

Beginning in Spain at the hot springs above the ski town of Panticosa, we cross the border into France, trekking through deep valleys, skirting icy glaciers and spectacular mountain cirques viewing wondrous waterfalls, and making an optional climb to Petit Vignemale. We then hike through the pass of Bujaruelo (7,491'), an old smuggler's pass, and once again find ourselves in Spain, descending through floral-carpetlike meadows and high pastures to the beautiful Ordesa Valley.

After a visit to Benasque, with its winding alleys lined with old stately mansions, we climb to the summit of Aneto (11,168'), the highest peak of the Pyrenees. We then travel to Montserrat, sacred mountain of the Catalans, for a hike in a mystical landscape of towering pillars and fantastic smooth pinnacles. We end our adventure in Barcelona, with its engaging mixture of architectural styles and busy streets humming with activity.

This is an ideal trip for those who want a short, strenuous trek with a taste of Basque, Aragon and Catalan culture. Each day we'll hike approximately six to ten hours on rugged trails, ending at picturesque country inns situated in small mountain villages. The fine, hearty food and wine of northern Spain will delight and sustain us in our mountain forays. Baggage will be transported separately by van or bus.

Trekking the Pyrenees Trip Details

  • Skill level: Strong experienced hikers in excellent physical condition. Rocky terrain above tree line, travel on glaciers and snow. 7 to 8 hours every day, 10 hours on Aneto climb.
  • Location: Pyrenees range, Spain and France
  • Length: 10 days
  • Climber/guide ratio: 7:1
  • Capacity: 15
  • Prerequisites: Excellent physical condition, trekking experience recommended.
  • Cost: $3,950
  • Departure dates:
    • 9/18/16
  • Accommodations (all three-star hotels except in Gavarnie and Alquezar which are two stars).
  • One night in a mountain hut.
  • Breakfasts, picnic lunches and dinners as noted.
  • Leadership and ground transportation by van.
Not included
  • International airfare, flights between Spain or other transportation to Hondarribia or from Barcelona.
  • Airport transfers.
  • Items of personal nature such as liquor and other beverages.
  • Meals not noted in the itinerary.
  • Insurance of any kind (evacuation, medical, trip)
  • Personal gear (see the Trekking the Pyrenees Equipment List)

Trekking the Pyrenees Trip Itinerary

Day 1 Fuenterrabia. Fuenterrabia, an old stronghold against French and pirate invasions, is today a picturesque fishing village. On the northeast coast near the border with France, it is easily reached by short flight from Madrid or Barcelona, or by train from Paris. There will be an orientation with the tour leader in the late afternoon. Afterwards, we'll have time to stroll the narrow streets of the old quarter before having a "welcome" dinner with popular Basque cuisine.
Day 2 Panticosa. Depart Hondarribia and drive through the green valley of the Bidasoa River on the border between France and Spain. We begin hiking with a four-hour warm-up hike in the birch forest and shepherds' pastures of the Sierra of Sayoa. After lunch, a three-hour drive through the old kingdoms of Navarra and Aragon brings us to the heart of the Pyrenees and into the resort ski town of Panticosa. Overnight in Panticosa. B. L. D.
Day 3 Cross the border into France. A short drive along the hidden Escalar Gorge with the Rio Gallego tributary running through its depths takes us to the old-fashioned hot springs of Panticosa (5,250') from where we begin our trek. (Because we have a long day of hiking we set off shortly before daylight.) We ascend through pines forests to alpine meadows inhabited by sarrios, the Pyrenees mountain goat, to Brazato Pass at 8,460'. We descend to the valley below (6,930') then traverse along the Ara River and go up about 1,620 feet to Mulets Pass (8,550'), crossing the French boundary in full view of the magnificent Vignemale Cirque. A steep descent brings us to Oulettes Refuge (7000') where we overnight at this traditional European-style mountain hut with dormitory-style accommodations. B. L. D.
Day 4 To Gavarnie. We leave the Gaube Valley with its impressive North faces of limestone peaks that are popular with local climbers looking for adventure. The trail switchbacks upward to the Oulettes d'Ossoue Valley. Those who wish can make an optional climb of Petit Vignemale (10,005'), an easy hour from the col, with magnificent views of the hanging glacier. A long, gradual descent through the river valley eventually brings us to the charming French village of Gavarnie (4,450'), a favorite destination for Pyrenees lovers. Overnight at hotel. B. L. D.
Day 5 Cross a smugglers' pass back into Spain. After breakfast, our hike begins in the birch and pine forests. Reaching alpine pastures, we behold with a bird's eye view the majestic and enormous stone amphitheater of Gavarnie with spuming waterfalls pouring off the 3000' walls. Up to the Pass of Bujaruelo, we end our 3,000' climb for the day, crossing the Spanish border. A long, gradual descent through flower-filled meadows and high pastures brings us to San Nicholas de Bujaruelo. Here we'll cross an old bridge, the remains of the medieval road between Torla and Gavarnie. Continue the descent along the left bank of the River Ara, a beautiful hike winding through more beech and pine forests to Torla. Overnight in Torla, a stately and well-preserved Pyrenean village of slate-roofed houses at the entrance to the National Park of Ordesa. Hiking time: approximately 7 hours. B. L.
Day 6 Sierra de Guara with optional adventure. Early departure to the Sierra de Guara. This region is characterized by different elements such as geological formations (60 canyons in less than 16 miles), medieval villages perched on top of the hills, prehistoric cave paintings and the richness of its fauna and flora. Two hour descend to the canyon of the Vero River By walking, sliding, floating and jumping through turquoise pools, we will arrive inside a labyrinthine canyon opened by the flow of water through the limestone mass. This sculptured gorge is a kingdom of lights and semi-darkness that goes on for 5 miles opening up at the medieval bridge of Villacantal, where one can find the remains of an old road to the fortified town of Alquezar. Overnight in Alquezar, a medieval village grown under the fortress protection and which preserves the old essence with narrow streets, arcades, old mansions with the coat of arms and an outstanding plaza with the Arabic soak. On the top of hill the XVI century collegiate church dominates the town, place of an old IX century Moorish castle. B. L.
Day 7 Benasque. We leave Alquezar and drive through the serene countryside of the Esera River valley to the town of Benasque. Overnight at hotel. B. L. D.
Day 8 Benasque. Climb the highest peak of the Pyrenees. We have an early departure for the trailhead for our climb of Aneto (11,168'), highest peak of the Pyrenees. We pass the Renclusa Refuge, continue to the Aneto Glacier and end at the Pass of Mahoma. On the summit of Aneto we'll see abrupt crests with stacked granite blocks emerging from the white snow and blue alpine lakes. We descend through the Valley of Vallivierna among pristine lakes and pine forest to Benasque. Overnight again at our charming hotel in Benasque. B. L. D.

Note: If weather or other conditions make the climb unsafe or unsuitable, an alternate hike will be made.
Day 9 To Barcelona. A four-hour drive through the gorge of the Esera River, mountain pastures scattered with crops, feudal walled cities and terraces of grapes (destined to became champagne) brings us to Monserrat, sacred mountain of the Catalans. This famous mountain range, the setting of Wagner's opera Parsifal, is a mystical landsape of towering pillars and fantastic smooth pinnacles. No doubt we'll see a few rock climbers edging their way up to the pillars. Monserrat is also the site of the 9th century Benedictine monastery and shrine of the Black Madonna. We'll take an afternoon hike in Monserrat before continuing on to Barcelona. Farewell Catalan dinner in the Gothic quarter. B. L. D.
Day 10 Flight home. Transfer on your own to the airport and connect with homeward bound flights. B.

NOTE: We highly recommend days on your own in Madrid, San Sebastian before the trip and in Barcelona after the trip especially if you have not been to Spain before.

: Although we do our best to follow the schedule listed, this itinerary is subject to change for numerous reasons beyond our control.

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