Exploring the French Pyrenees

With a lovely train ride, mountain lakes, easy hiking, and lots of animals

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The Pyrenees peaks mark the southernmost tip of France. Hiking is definitely a good option. With some luck maybe I’ll spot some wildlife on this trip. There is also a train that was once built for a dam, but now takes tourists through the mountains. But first, I want to feel the rush of adrenaline.

Ziplining at Laruns

Ziplining at Laruns.

A roadside sign piques my interest. It depicts a photograph of a person soaring across a canyon. The name is Tyrolienne du Hourat. This zipline is becoming famous rapidly. You fly, or glide to the opposite side while hanging on to the cable. There are a total of 18 ziplines, all of which are located above a river in a steep valley. Now, that's something I love to try.

In this sort of adventure activity, safety requirements are extremely important. Due to the safety aspects the guide takes his job very seriously. He shows you how to utilise the various cables. The harnesses are designed in such a manner that you are always attached securely to the safety lines.

Flying through the canyon. ©Corno van den Berg

The longest zipline on this course gives you the sensation of flying through the air, with the wind in your hair. However, for many individuals, the jump from a stairway to a vacuum is still a gigantic moment. You gain speed quickly. It's great fun. And soon I get this lovely feeling. Can I go again?

Falaise aux Vautours 

Falaise aux Vautours is a wildlife museum in Aste-Béon. It is dedicated to the numerous types of vultures that inhabit the area. The surrounding nature reserve is one of the few places in France where these impressive animals may be found. The creatures can be seen directly beneath the rocks. The magnificent birds may be seen on a live webcam, and also by using special binoculars and telescopes. Their wingspan is more than six feet wide. I also see a lot of them on the cliffs nearby.

Petit Train d’Artouste

A trip with the Petit Train d'Artouste. ©Corno van den Berg

The Artouste Train was built in 1924 for the construction of a dam in the mountains. After the dam was completed, the building materials made way for tourists. It is narrow gauge and the train is noticeably much smaller than normal trains. The track also sways a lot more than usual trains do. You ride through the Parc National des Pyrénées, where you have plenty of time to look around and appreciate Mother Nature.

The journey with this train takes an hour, each way. I enjoyed every minute of it. Take the cliff side seats if you dare. It's spectacular. These seats are also ideal for photography, especially early in the morning and at the end of the day. But remember the gorge is always close, very close.

The lovely landscape and the Train d'Artouste. ©Corno van den Berg

I'm riding through Soussouéou's green valley, through cliffs and across fields. Some alpine marmots have come out of their burrows to see which tourists show up today. The terminus station is close to the islands of Cézy and Arcizette, as well as the artificial lake. The restaurant is convenient for a quick lunch, and I order my sandwich upon arrival. My first goal is to look for a path of tranquility, which is not hard to find in the mountains.

A hiker along the artificial lake. ©Corno van den Berg

You can walk around the area and then catch any train back later. That's my plan for now. Soon I am away from the others. Even though I am a very tall Dutch guy I feel small between the mountain peaks. I have missed having this feeling over the past months, actually almost years.

Read my tips for Petit Train d’Artouste

Sheep on the road

I was awakened by a weird noise late at night. A herd of sheep crosses the valley's single road, close to the mountain lodge where I slept. The bells around their necks make a beautiful sound. When the shepherd sees me enjoying the moment through the window, he waves and says hello. The cattle are on their way to a new pasture, and the road is the quickest route. Those moments are what make my journey so memorable.

Pic de Midi d’Ossau

Pic de Midi d'Ossau is the most well-known point in the French Pyrenees. The French side's most recognisable icon is this steep mountain with a height of 2,884 meters. The top receives the first rays of sunlight early in the morning. As a result, I arrive early. However, it's foggy, or are those low-hanging clouds? I can't even see my hand in front of my face, let alone a distant mountain. Although, according to Google Maps, I am extremely near.

Sheep and a waterfall around Pic de Midi d'Ossau. ©Corno van den Berg

Two days later I return in the afternoon. It’s a little more challenging now that it's raining. And even more challenging because of the clouds. This time I can't see the peaks again. However, cows and sheep can be found in the lower areas. A herd of sheep stand peacefully by a waterfall. What a gorgeous shot. In fact, when I was a kid, that's how I imagined the French Pyrenees. And I'll have to return for the Pic de Midi d'Ossau. That is the allure of travelling.