The Hautes-Pyrénées is a department in south-western France and is part of the Midi-Pyrénées region. The department consists of several distinct geographical areas; the southern portion consists of mountains such as the Vignemale, the Pic du Midi and the Neouvielle and Arbizon ranges. The Northern part of the department consists of largely flat agricultural land. A third area consists of low-altitude rolling hills.
The largest ski resort in the whole of the Pyrénées. “Grand Tourmalet” is made up of La Mongie and Barèges and has 100km of pistes. Other Hautes-Pyrénées ski resorts of note are Luz-Ardiden (Luz Saint Sauveur), Peyragudes, Saint-Lary-Soulan and the snow sure Cauterets.
There is an abundance of activities in the Hautes-Pyrénées in winter time. As mentioned skiing and snowboarding is a top winter past time here but as well as this there are many other snow based activities such as husky sleigh rides, sledging, snow tubing, piste-basher rides, , snow-mobiling, night-skiing, snow-buggy, Laserball and the formidable free-riding down from Pic Du Midi (see individual resort pages)!
The Nordic sports of cross country skiing and snow shoeing are very popular in most Pyrenean resort and most of them have dedicated Nordic areas. The most famous of these is “Pont D’Espagne” in Cauterets and Campan-Payolle (near la Mongie and the smaller valley resorts of Lesponne and Bagnères-de-Bigorre).
The Hautes-Pyrénées has a wealth of natural and historical attractions. With over 300 lakes, 2,600 km of rivers, 150,000 sheep, 1,600 hectares of vineyards and 600 churches and chapels there is plenty to do in this area.
The Pyrénées National Park covers an area of 45,700 hectares and includes well-known attractions such as the famous “Pont d'Espagne” near Cauterets and the UNESCO listed Cirque de Gavarnie near Luz saint Sauveur. Gavarnie is the birthplace of Pyrenean Mountaineering and the entire area of the National Park is a favourite destination for hikers and mountain enthusiasts.
The area is perhaps historically renowned for its hot springs. Several towns were built around these, most notably Cauterets, Luz-Saint-Sauveur and Bagnères-de-Bigorre. The thermal spas rose to prominence in the 19th century and are famed for the medicinal properties of their mineral rich waters. A visit to the Hautes-Pyrénées would not be complete without a visit to one of the many spas.
Spas are not the only waters that are regarded as having healing properties. The spring water in the pilgrimage town of Lourdes is claimed to have healed the sick. Lourdes is now a mecca for pilgrims and tourists alike. The torchlight procession set against the backdrop of the Gothic style basilica is a wonderful experience to witness.
For those who err more towards the scientific, the Pic du Midi Observatory, set above the ski resort of La Mongie, offers star gazing set high above the mountain tops from what appears to be an impossibly perched platform. The views are amazing and give a 'top of the world' feel.
Festival abound in the department over the summer and winter months, celebrating the rich cultural and natural heritage. Tarbes hosts an annual horse festival, Equestria, and a Tango festival, Tarbes en Tango, but perhaps the most notable festival is the region's premier avant-garde jazz festival is held each year in Luz-Saint-Sauveur: Jazz a Luz.
The Hautes-Pyrénées fact file: