The Pyrenees National Park was established in 1967 and forms an expanse of some 457sqkm. It was established to safeguard and preserve the natural heritage of one of the last remaining wild landscapes in Europe. It makes it one of the most beautiful and peaceful places to walk or hike in the Pyrenees.
The National Park Pyrenees has six distinct mountain valleys and elevations, with Vignemale marking the highest peak in the park (3,298m). The glacial amphitheatres of Gavarnie, Estaube and Troumouse are found at the centre of the National Park.
The Pyrenees National Park also takes in a peripheral area of a further 2,063sqkm, which encompasses 86 villages (and their 40,000 inhabitants). The inclusion of this area was intended to try to preserve the ancient pastoral way of mountain life.
The Ossau Nature Reserve, famous for its ewe’s cheese, lies within this peripheral area.
An army of rangers manage the Park, monitoring the flora and fauna and leading hikes.
The Maisons du Parc in Etsaut and Laruns house exhibitions on the park, providing visitors with a rich body of information to start them on the exploration of the scenery, wildlife and habitat to be found.
Hiking is the most popular activity through the park. Tourists and residents alike also enjoy rock climbing, horse riding, mountain biking, fishing and vulture spotting in the national park. The Arudy Museum and Borce animal centre are popular destinations.
Highest train track in Europe
The Pyrenees National Park is also home to Europe’s highest train track. Built to transport workers building the hydroelectric dams at Artouste in the 1920s, the train travels 10km from the peak of La Sagette to the 2,000m high Artouste Lake.
Drive to Fabreges in the Pyrenees Atlantiques (near Laruns and 60 minutes south of Pau). Catch La Sagette cable car to the Sagette ski station (a 15-minute ride). The train leaves from the ski station and takes some 50 minutes to reach the destination. Lake Artouste is a 20-minute walk from the train station. It’s the ideal spot for a picnic, before heading off for a trek or back down to catch the return train. The Petit Train D’Artouste is a great way to get into the heart of the Pyrenees National Park if you have young children or your walking legs weren’t quite what they used to be.
Trains leave every half hour between 9am and 7pm in the height of the summer season. 2013 prices start at 76 euros for a family of five or 23 euros for an individual.