Awe-inspiring! How else could we describe the Cirque de Gavarnie? The great Pyrenean limestone cirques owe their existence to the work of huge glaciers that have long since disappeared. Gavarnie, in Hautes-Pyrénées, is the most celebrated of them all.
At the gates of Lourdes…
First, imagine the scenery… You are in the heart of the Pyrenees National Park. There, astride the French-Spanish border, is the massif of Mont-Perdu that rises to over 3,000m in altitude. To the south are the extraordinary canyons of Ordesa, Anisclo and Pineta. To their north, the land of cirques with the majestic Gavarnie, Troumouse, the biggest of them all, and Estaubé, the wildest. In 1997, this expanse of over 30,000 hectares was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in recognition of its natural and cultural riches alike.
Birthplace of Pyreneism
Gavarnie has long inspired amazement. Its reputation is built on the various explorations it has inspired. Botanists, scientists, romantics, painters, poets and mountaineers in search of exploits or sensations have, since the 16th century, made Gavarnie the birthplace of what is known as “Pyreneism”.
The cirque became legend when Victor Hugo, in his illustrious poem “Dieu”, described it as an “impossible and extraordinary object”, “the Colosseum of nature”. The Pyrenean Museum based in the Château-fort de Lourdes tells the story of Pyreneism.
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Did you know?
The Cirque de Gavarnie is a place of extravagant proportions. There you can see one of Europe’s highest waterfalls, where meltwater spills down from a height of 413 m. The rock wall is 1,700 metres tall with a circumference of 14 kilometres. This strikingly symmetrical arrangement of concentric terraces is framed by a succession of giants: Mont Perdu (3,352m), Pic du Marboré (3,248m), Taillon (3,144m) and the famous Brèche de Roland pass, the setting for many a legend.
Gavarnie is easy to reach. On arrival at the village, you are in front of the rock wall and in 1.5 hours of easy walking, you will be at the foot of the cirque, where the old inn can be found. You can follow this route on foot or horseback: when Gavarnie appears, it truly is a dramatic sight to behold. Less well-known but just as impressive, the cirques of Estaube and Troumouse are accessible to all. From the family walk to a quest for sensation, there is something for everyone.
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You can also discover the spirit of the place at the Millaris Discovery Museum in Gèdre, or by attending the Gavarnie Festival. This one-of-a-kind theatre show with songs takes place in the open air at the foot of the Cirque, on the Courade plain. As a stage on the routes to Santiago de Compostela, the village of Gavarnie is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its parish church.