The Pyrenees, between France and Spain, abounds with destinations that will enchant hikers of all levels, from beginners setting off with children, a water bottle and rucksack, to professionals in trekking, cross-country skiing and other snowshoes explorers. In summer and winter alike, discover signposted paths or wild trails, through undergrowth, clearings, meadows and mountain lakes of astonishing colours.

    Flood your Instagram with fabulous photos of green valleys, roaring waterfalls, towering cirques surrounded by mountain peaks and gorges flowing lazily across the plains. From the Basque Country to the Roussillon, these landscapes are perfect to get away from it all and relax, to spend time on an excursion with your family, as a couple or alone. Discover the 10 must-do hikes in the Pyrenees.

    1

    A hike to Lac d'Iraty and its dam

    Hiking in the open air between forest and mountain lake

    Hiking the Lac d'Iraty - or Irabia - takes you around a beautiful artificial lake located in the Basque Country, at the foot of the Pyrenees. Discover it on a unique hike of about 3 hours and 10 km, between France and Spain, up to its dam which overlooks the green valley. This walk is ideal for beginners and families with children.

    It offers a gentle gradient and a pleasant, cool track through the trees along the turquoise lake, where you can take a dip at the end of the walk. Head off from the Egurguy ford or the dam car park (Spanish side), but before you do so, don't forget to grab a bite in an Iraty hostel or treat yourself to a sheep's cheese in a local stone hut known as a cayolar.

    2

    Hiking to the Pic du Midi d'Ossau

    Panoramic view in the Pyrenees National Park for expert hikers

    The Pic du Midi d'Ossau, Located in the heart of the Pyrenees National Park, is the unmissable destination for hiking enthusiasts in the region. This ancient volcano dominates the Béarn valleys at an altitude of 2,884 metres near the French-Spanish border.

    Climbing to the summit of the Pic du Midi d'Ossau will provide you with a sensational panoramic view, but this unmarked T6 (difficult alpine hike) route requires excellent physical preparation and adequate equipment, including an abseiling rope. The loop is about 17 km long, lasts at least 6 hours and has an altitude difference of almost 1,100 metres. Set off in summer or autumn, accompanied by a mountain guide (from Bious-Artigues car park).

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    photo by Myrabella (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    3

    Trekking in the Cirque de Gavarnie

    The Cirque de Gavarnie, nature's colossus

    The Cirque de Gavarnie is an hour's drive from Lourdes, at the foot of the Mont-Perdu massif, stands an imposing 1,700 metre high limestone wall described as "Nature's Colossus" by Victor Hugo. Formed by the melting of ancient glaciers, Gavarnie is the most famous of the cirques in the Hautes-Pyrénées, a unique preserved area, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.

    Around 90 minutes on foot or on horseback are enough, if you set off from village of Gavarnie, to reach the foot of this wall with its regular concentric terraces, surrounded by majestic peaks and a 400 m high waterfall. This pretty route of about 8 km along the Gave river is suitable for families.

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    4

    Trekking in the Gouffre and Ru d'Enfer

    Dazzling panoramic view of the Gouffre d'Enfer

    Trekking the Gouffre d'Enfer offers stunning waterfalls and landscape views. You can reach Gouffre d'Enfer from Bagnères-de-Luchon, in the Lys valley. You'll also see its iconic Ru, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the whole of the Haute-Garonne. Equip yourself with sturdy mountain boots and a hiking stick to walk this 11 km long, winding trail, which is pretty steep, but in the shade of beech and fir trees.

    Your efforts will be rewarded on arrival at the lookout, as you'll get the chance to take striking photos of the Gouffre d’Enfer, before reaching its 70 m high waterfall which rumbles in the distance, lost in a magnificent forest landscape. If you are travelling by car, take the opportunity to visit the charming village of Oô on your way back.

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    5

    Trekking in the Cirque de la Glère

    Explore the Cirque de la Glère and its dozens of waterfalls

    Trekking in the Glère cirque is a treat, but it is a challenge. It reaches an altitude of 1,585 metres if you find yourself in the Haute Garonne between May and October, so be sure you're not afraid of heights. Take the Empress' path from the hospice de France, and follow its varied paths through beech forests and crossing streams.

    Allow between 2 and 4 hours of walking to reach the cirque, a verdant and windy plain at the foot of the peaks of La Montagnette, La Glère and Sacraux. Remember your windproof jacket! The view of the dozens of waterfalls running down the slopes is worth the diversion alone. This hike is of medium difficulty, as the paths can be quite narrow and steep, but some have handrails.

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    6

    Trekking to the lac d’Oô

    Swimming and picnics for the whole family at Lake Oô

    Hiking Lake Oô ( lac d’Oô) near Luchon in the Haute-Garonne offers a slice of paradise where you can seek coolness in summer and breathtakingly beautiful landscapes in spring and autumn. The paths leading to it are not flat, but accessible.

    It will take you about 80 minutes to get there and an easy hour to get down again. The maximum altitude is 1,500 metres and what a view! You can see over the artificial lake, but also waterfalls and the whole surrounding valley. And the promise of a lakeside picnic at the end, a swim or an fishing session will help keep your children motivated along the way.

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    7

    Trek to the Pic des 3 Seigneurs

    The Pic des Trois Seigneurs, a true classic of the Ariege Pyrenees

    The Pic des Trois Seigneurs, located near Vicdessos, is a classic route, well known to hikers in the Ariege Pyrenees and the highest point in the canton of Massat. From its summit at an altitude of 2,199 metres, it offers a breathtaking view of the Monts d'Olmes to the east to Mont Valier to the west.

    Drive to Port de Lers, before continuing on foot along the long south-western ridge. The loop, of moderate difficulty, covers almost 11 km and it'll take you about 3 hours on the outward journey and 2 hours 30 minutes on the return, not counting a stop at the Étang d'Arbu. After hitting the road again, take a look at the lovely stone and slate hamlets of the region.

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    8

    Trek in the Néouvielle Reserve

    Tour of the Route des Lacs des Pyrénées

    Trek in the Néouvielle nature reserve (la réserve naturelle de Néouviell) if you dream of the lakes of the Pyrenees. After following the Route des Lacs from Saint-Lary-Soulan, then the D177 towards Lake Orédon (lac d’Orédon), park your car and walk north along the lakeshore to Lake Laquettes (Lac des Laquettes).

    You'll pass through pine forests and picturesque waterfalls, until you reach the Lake Aubert (Lac d'Aubert) dam, then Lake Aumar (Lac d'Aumar), to follow its north shore. To avoid the return descent to Lake Orédon (lac d’Orédon) from the Col d'Estoudou, which is very steep, you can take the Néouvielle shuttle bus. This day-long trek, whose loop encompasses several beautiful mountain lakes with numerous swimming spots, is perfect for families with children.

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    9

    Trekking in the Marcadau Valley

    Discover the flora of the Pyrenees

    Hiking the Marcadau valley (la Vallée du Marcadau) begins with setting off from Pont d'Espagne, easily accessible from the town of Cauterets, on this beautiful, gently sloping 16-km trek. It will take you to the Refuge Wallon (4 hrs 15 in total). Wild flower lovers will be able to spot characteristic specimens of this part of the Hautes-Pyrénées while crossing varied landscapes, at an altitude of 1,865 metres, through pine forests, flowery meadows and passing torrents, within the Marcadau Valley (la Vallée du Marcadau).

    In winter, the Cayan plateau offers several cross-country ski trails and is an ideal starting point for snowshoe hikers or cross country skiers who need to climb the forest trail to reach the refuge.

    photo by Tadpole9 (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    10

    Hike to Lac Bleu

    Discover the most beautiful artificial lake in the Pyrenees

    Lac Bleu, perched at an altitude of 2,258 metres, is accessible from Bagnères-de-Bigorre by an easy path starting at the bottom of the Lys valley and climbing up to the Honorine dam. This artificial lake, one of the most beautiful in the Pyrenees, is the result of numerous waterfalls from the meltwater of the Boum glacier.

    Surprisingly, its waters change from royal blue to deep emerald green. You can see the winter sports resort of Superbagnères in the distance. More experienced hikers can try out an ambitious route around the 4 lakes: Lac Vert, Lac Bleu, Lac Charles and Lac Célinda.

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