There are three main trails to hike through the Pyrenees. First the GR10, which goes from Banyuls-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean Sea to Hendaye on the Atlantic coast on the French side of the frontier. Second the GR11, also called Ruta Transpirenaica in Spain, is more or less parallel to the GR10 but on the Spanish side of the border. Third the Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne (HRP), which is said to be more challenging than the GR10 or GR11, follows the border through mountains and passes.
Hiking across the French Pyrenées on the GR10
The GR10 is one of France’s most challenging hiking path. It goes through the Pyrenees, the mountain range at the border between France and Spain from Atlantic Ocean to Mediterranean Sea.
Far from big cities and major roads, the French Pyrenees remains an authentic and wild destination in France. From West to East, the path goes through a variety of landscape, culture and heritage: the French Basque Country, the Bearn, the Ariege and the Rousillon.
The GR10 is around 1 100 kilometers long. It takes usually 50 days for the entire trail. However, some optional sections or shortcuts may increase or reduce the distance. You can do it in one time or by sections each year, like many people do.
Best time to go is in summer. As in any mountains, weather may be treacherous. Early summer is better to observe flowers but the risk for snow remains on peaks and passes is higher. End of summer, storms could be more frequent. From July, 15 to August, 15, some sections may be more crowded, especially around highlights. But still very acceptable.
Most of the hikers starts their trip from Hendaye on the Atlantic coast. Probably because the guidebooks detail the itinerary from West to East. However, you can start from Banyuls on the Mediterranean coast for a more lonesome trip.
Starting from Hendaye on the Atlantic coast, the hiker first crosses the green landscapes of the French Basque Country. As he starts climbing the Pyrenees, he will notice lively cultural traditions in a territory marked by a kind of spirit of independence.
After Saint-Engrace (approx. km 172), the hiker enters the Bearn, where the path become rockier, sometimes lunar. At Arrens-Marsous (approx.. km 260), the trail enters the Bigorre passing by the famous Cirque de Gavarnie, one of the GR10’s highlight.
From Melles, the hiker will then enters the Ariege and the Roussillon. Stepping towards the Sea, he will enjoy a Mediterranean blue sky and dry landscapes of garrigues.
As for any multiple-day hiking trip, you have different choices concerning your sleeping. But if you choose not to carry your bivouac equipment, then you will (most of the time) find on your way many shelters, huts, manned or non-manned refuges. A useful interactive website can help you find the accommodation you are looking for. Moreover, the French topoguides give the list of refuges and hostels you may encounter.
If you choose to carry your own equipment, the GR10’s association give you a list of bivouac and camp sites along the path.
The GR10 crosses many protected area, among them 3 Natural Parks: the Pyrenees National Park, the Ariege Natural Regional Park and the Catalan Natural Regional Park.
The Pyrenees National Park covers 100 kilometers and 6 valleys. The Heart of the Park stays above 1000 masl and is preserved to the highest possible degree . The GR10 enters the associated area of the National Park after Arette-la-Pierre-St-Martin, and the protected Heart near Etsaut. The path leaves the Park near Piau-Engaly. Specific regulations apply inside the Park, including specific bivouac rules.
After the National Park, the GR10 passes through two Regional Natural Parks:
- the Ariege Natural Park between Eylie and Siguer.
- the Catalan Natural Park between Estany de Lanos and Vernet-les-Bains.
Within the Pyrenees National Park, the Cirque de Gavarnie is included in the UNESCO World Heritage site Pyrénées – Mont Perdu. It is an impressive canyon-like end of valley. Very famous in France.
Roland’s Breach is a 100-metres high gap in the mountain. A legend taught to every French schoolchild tells that Roland, one of Charlemagne’s count, cut the breach in an attempt to destroy his famous sword Durandal as he was about to be defeated at the battle of Ronceveaux pass. Read an English translation of the Song of Roland.
Le Chemin de la Mâture is an impressive 1200-metres path carved into the rock. Located near the village of Etsaut, it was completed in 1772 to transport timber from the Pyrenean forests to the ocean for ship construction.
In the Pyrenees, bears are a similar issue than wolves in the Mercantour. Especially for sheeps. However, there is not more than 30 bears in the Pyrenees and it is very unlikely you see one of them. They live mainly in Central Pyrenees.
Prepare the GR10
To help you prepare your next hiking adventure across the Pyrenees, I would advise you to get the four topoguides edited by the French hiking federation. They are in French but will help you with maps, tips and pieces of information concerning hiking times, accommodation and transportation.
- 1086 – Pyrénées Occidentales
- 1091 – Pyrénées Centrales
- 1090 – Pyrénées Ariégeoises
- 1092 – Pyrénées Orientales
A Cicerone guide-book has been edited for the ones who prefered it in english.
Alternatively you can use the 1/25000 IGN maps. But it is not useful nor convenient if you only follow the GR10 markings.
Pictures © CRT Occitanie/P_THEBAULT/P_MEYER-OT_Gavarnie/H_ORRIOLS