Day Hike in the French Pyrenees & Basque Country
Hiking in French Basque Country
Google searches, in my opinion, are main indicators of how a person likes to travel. When I research for a trip, I rarely search "Tripadvisor's top 10" or Google "what museums should I see in Lisbon/Madrid/Edinburg,etc?" Those search queries are for the wonderful, beautiful museum people of our world. I'm not one of them.
I'm of another breed - a self-proclaimed outside adventurer. My Google searches look more like this: "what are the best hikes near XX city" or "what hikes are closest to European airports?"
After living in Paris for 7 months, I've realized there is a lack of information on the web regarding European hiking. The big treks have enough information online, like the Tour du Mont Blanc. Yet these incredible hidden gems within rugged Europe have little-to-none information on the web in English (though plethora of local language guides). As these "off-the-beaten-paths" show the real side of my splendid continent, I hope my writing convinces other trekking lovers (or those who just love nature) to get out there and explore the world!
Charming Villages & Unlimited Hiking One Hour from Pau, France
An hour flight from Paris, Pau is a city in Southwest France, close to the Spanish boarder known for it's spectacular views of the Pyrenees and proximity to hiking, trekking, mountain biking, rafting and skiing. So... basically everything outdoorsy. Plus, Pau is a perfect sized city for a weekend. Wonderful squares, with mountainous views, terraces soaked in golden sun and quintessential quaint French architecture. Oh and to top it all off, it's about an hour from the beach. Literally my dream, wrapped into one city.
We rented a car from the Pau airport, which was the easiest rental and airport situation we've found in all of Europe (beautiful and empty!) and drove into town to absorb the splendid views and great food. Parking was a breeze and the town did not disappoint. Pau is a great base point for your outdoor adventure if you prefer city living, as it's only an hour from some good hikes. We could have stayed for the entire weekend but fast-access hiking was on our mind, so we headed south of Pau towards the Pyrenees. Note: other nearby airports include Biarritz or Toulouse; you can also reach this area via train from Paris!
Hiking in the Valle d'Ossau from Laruns, France
While the Valle d'Ossau and Basque Country have tens of thousands of hikes, we decided to go to the picture perfect Laruns, France as our base for hiking. Just 45 minutes south of Pau, you enter a world full of rolling, wild green, with medieval churches guiding you towards the snowcapped peaks of the Pyrenees. This world takes you back into time, where tourism and trade take a backseat to the raw nature of peaceful, beauty.
Though we didn't stay in Laruns over the weekend, I would highly recommend using this location as your hiking base. When we go back (which we 100% will), we will stay in Laruns next time giving us great access to more hikes, including the trek to Pic du Midi d'Ossau.
It's rare to find others on any particular hike you take, even though paths are well-maintained and marked. The solidarity in nature seems dumbfounding and magnificent to me - an American used to fighting my way through popular National Park trails now finds herself completely immersed in rugged beauty. In a place like this, you can truly be at one with nature without the rush of crowds or selfie sticks. The towns are small here, with drivers waving as they pass and locals greeting you with "bonjour." And hiking really is at your fingertips - driving in the valley between the mountain ranges, you visibly see dozens of hikes and switchbacks in all directions.
Raw beauty lives here, a place where people value nature over economy, a territory almost visceral.
Circuit de Cinq Monts Hike
For those looking for a day hike, medium difficulty, Circuit des Cinq Monts is a great choice. Only 5 minutes from the Laruns city city by car (also accessible by foot), this 2.5 hour hike is a great morning trek that puts you back in Laruns before lunch. Climbing over 600 meters (~1,800 feet), you have vantage points of the valley and snow-capped Pyrenees all while traversing waterfalls, creeks and green lush.
Getting to the the Cinq Monts trailhead
Start: 42°59'50.7"N 0°25'38.1"W (Unnamed road but the locals can point you in the right direction). A small parking area is at the start of the path.
Follow: Signs for Circuit des Cinq Monts. Yellow dash means you are following the trail, while a yellow X signifies "wrong way." These markings are typical for most European hikes.
Caution: If it is raining or has just rained, I would avoid this hike or wear good hiking boots. We crossed at least 8 sections of running water and it hadn't rained in a few days (though it was spring and snow was melting). While Brent walked in tennis shoes, there were a few slippery areas and I may have fallen down once or twice even in hiking shoes (oops)!