Cirque de gavarnie
Firstly, 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 over 3,000m in altitude. To the south are the extraordinary canyons of Ordesa, Aniscle and Pineta. To their north, the land of cirques with the majestic Gavarnie and Troumouse, the greatest of all, and Estaube, the wildest.
In 1997, this ensemble of more than 30,000 hectares was given UNESCO’s World Heritage Site award, for both natural and cultural reasons. Only 27 sites in the world have received such an award to date.
Gavarnie has long been a source of astonishment. Its reputation comes from 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 cradle 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”, a “colosseum of nature”.
Now it is your turn to confront the prodigious wall 1,700 metres high and 14 kilometres in circumference. This orchestration of concentric terraces of an amazing symmetry is framed by a succession of giants: Mont Perdu (3352m), Marboré Peak (3284m), Taillon (3144m) and the highly renowned Brèche de Roland, the place of so many legends.
There you can see Europe’s greatest waterfall with its 413 m vertical drop.
Access to Gavarnie is simple. On arrival at the village you are in front of the 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. The walk may be done on foot or horseback: it gives a truly theatrical dimension to the appearance of Gavarnie.
Less well known but equally impressive, the Estaube and Troumouse cirques are accessible to all. From the family walk to a quest for sensation, there is something for everyone.
Keys to discovery
For the more courageous, don’t stop at the foot of the Cirque de Gavarnie. Climb up to the Brèche de Roland, one of the most symbolic places in the Pyrenees. The legend says that this gigantic opening between two walls, on the French-Spanish border, was made by the sword of Roland de Roncevaux.
Consider Gavarnie for your next winter holiday. There are 33 ski trails at Gavarnie-Gèdre in exceptional natural scenery. On the programme: cross-country skiing and snow-shoe hikes.
Discover too the spirit of the area at the Millaris Open-air Museum in Gèdre, or by attending the Festival of Gavarnie. This unique show of drama and music is performed 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.