Hautes-Pyrenees: tourism & sightseeing
Visit Hautes-Pyrenees (Midi-Pyrenees, France)
In the north of the Hautes-Pyrenees you can visit the world famous pilgrimage town of Lourdes, then travel south to the mountains to discover the beauty of the mountain scenery in this spectacular department
The Hautes-Pyrenees department is situated along the French border with Spain, and includes the central area of the Pyreneean mountains. The department is part of the Midi-Pyrenees region of France.
Most of the scenic highlights are in the high mountains to the south, and the pilgrimage town at Lourdes is the most important of the places to visit towards the north.
The department is quite different in character in the north around Tarbes and Lourdes with much flatter landscapes and to the south in the high mountains of the Pyrenees National Park, with the mountainous region being found to the south of Lourdes.
Near the border with Spain you can follow the 'route des cols' across the famous mountain passes of the region.
We have reviewed the three principal areas separately below to make your planning easier.
Note: despite the name of the department meaning 'High Pyrenees' only the southern half of the Hautes-Pyrenees is mountainous - so if you don't plan carefully you could book a visit to the department and not see a mountain!
North and central Hautes-Pyrenees and Lourdes
The north of the department has several towns that are not major destinations in themselves but are worth visiting if you are in the region. In the far north of the Hautes-Pyrenees department these include the market town of Maubourguet.
Travelling south en-route for the mountains via Vic-en-Bigorre you reach another popular detour at the town at Tarbes. One of the most impressive castles in the Hautes-Pyrenees is south-east of Tarbes at the Chateau de Mauvezin.
By the time you reach Tarbes the mountains are beginning to become visible in the distance.
In the centre of the department you can visit Lourdes, a town that attracts millions of visitors from around the world each year and has more hotels than any other city in France except Paris!
It is of course as a pilgrimage site and source of miracles based on the 19th century appearance of the Virgin Mary to a local girl called Bernadette that Lourdes is best known.
A visit to Lourdes means different things to different people, and you can see the town as an important spiritual and religious centre, or as a very overdeveloped tourist industry. In reality it is both, but whatever your personal beliefs a visit to the sanctuary area with the basilica and grotte is interesting. See Lourdes for details.
France This way suggest: unless you have a particular reason to be in Lourdes early in the morning or late in the evening we recommend that you visit Lourdes as a day trip from somewhere further south rather than actually stay in the town itself
Other places to visit
South-east of Lourdes the town of Bagneres-de-Bigorre is a long established Pyreneean spa town with belle epoque architecture which is also pleasant to visit, while to the south-west of Lourdes you can visit the spa town of Argeles-Gazost.
Close to Bagneres-de-Bigorre at Asté you can visit the Grotte de medous, a cave system where you can take a boat trip on an underground river and discover numerous stalagtites and stalagmites.
For most visitors it is the mountains and dramatic scenery to the south that hold much of the attraction of the Hautes-Pyrenees, with outdoor sports in the mountain region such as hiking, cycling and rafting being especially popular.The highest mountains and mountain passes are found closer to the border with Spain.
The guide below follows a route travelling from the west towards the east visiting the best known scenic highlights but of course the direction you follow is not too important!
We started our visit at the small village of Saint-Savin, about 15 kilometres south of Lourdes. South of here you can easily reach Cauterets and the Pont d'Espagne, which is one of the best known beauty spots in the Pyrenees.
Cauterets is a spa town and well placed to discover other scenic highlights in the Hautes-Pyrenees such as the gave de Jéret, the gave de Lutour, and the waterfalls of Lutour and Cerisay.
From Cauterets you can also hike or take a cable car to the Lac de Gaube, a lovely blue lake surrounded by high mountain peaks.
To the east of here you can explore the town of Luz-Saint-Sauveur, a pleasant town for a stroll that is centred around an unusual fortified church, and a good starting point to visit the dramatic cirque de Gavarnie and Mont Perdu and the Cirque de Troumouse, among other natural highlights here near the border with Spain.
We strongly recommend that when you visit Gavarnie village you bring walking shoes for the walk to the cirque itself (about a three kilometres walk). The cirque is a very impressive sight and one of a small selection of locations across the country that have been designated as Grand Sites of France.
Gavarnie is also a good starting point for hikers exploring the region. The adventurous can even venture to Mont Perdu in the Pyrenees on the Spanish border, a listed world heritage site behind the Cirque de Gavarnie.
High mountains and passes - the Route des Cols
To the east of Gavarnie you can follow the series of cols (mountain passes) through the Hautes-Pyrenees that have been made famous by the mountain climbs of the Tour de France.
The familiar names such as the Col du Tourmalet, the Col d'Aspin and the Col de Peyresourde each follow in quick succession and are all very scenic - from a car even if you are not a cycling enthusiast - and the 'route des cols' is a lovely way to discover some of the most attractive scenery in the Pyrenees.
A particular scenic highlight as you follow the 'route des cols' is the Pic du Midi de Bigorre. This mountain peak is visible from many places in the region, and at an altitude of 2877 metres it has stunning views across the surrounding mountains.
You can reach the Pic du Midi by cable car from the ski station at La Mongie, a few kilometres from the Col du Tourmalet. The cable car is open all year but is unfortunately quite expensive at 34 euros per adult or 88 euros for a family of four.
Continuing along the road that follows the mountain passes be sure to take a detour to visit Arreau between the Col d'Aspin and the Col de Peyresourde. This is one of our favourite small towns in the Hautes-Pyrenees and the Pyrenees National Park.
The Col d'Aspin is just one of several very scenic routes that can be followed from near Arreau, with the Aure Valley further east in the department also recommended.
Ski resorts and outdoor activities
With skiing in winter and walking and cycling in summer the Pyrenees are clearly very much an outdoors destination, and almost all outdoor sports such as paragliding and rock-climbing are also available. Among the popular ski stations in this part of the Pyrenees are Cauterets, Saint-Lary-Soulan, Tourmalet, Luz-Ardiden (near Luz-Saint-Sauveur) and Hautacam.
Map of Hautes-Pyrenees and places nearby
See more places, tourist attractions and local markets at visiting Hautes-Pyrenees
See an index of all Hautes-Pyrenees communes
French version: Hautes-Pyrenees (Francais)