Self-guided hiking in the Pyrenees

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of April 23-29, 1998
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Self-guided hiking in the Pyrenees
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Self-guided hiking in the Pyrenees
Question: We're interested in doing a self-guided hiking trip, without luggage, in the French Pyrenees. Having done this on well-organized trips in Austria and Switzerland, we're wondering if it's available in the Pyrenees on well-marked trails?

Colin Bailey
Halstead, Kansas

Adventure Adviser: Stretching east to west across France and Spain, this region is a fine choice for a self-guided hiking trip and boasts some of Europe's best walking. Don't worry for a minute about getting lost in the Pyrenees. Much of the range is crossed with foot paths that are extremely well-marked and well-maintained by both private and governmental organizations. Walks in the Pyrenees range from 300-mile coast-to-coast treks to shorter three- to seven-day circuits, known as Tours.. More-traveled routes are easily identified with red-and-white paint bars, and many are equipped with gites d'etape (huts or village accommodations) or refuges en route. One word of caution: some trails have been reworked and remarked over recent years. As locals aren't always aware of these changes, be wary of asking villagers for directions. Better to consult your maps.

For self-guided tours, here are two options. Although you specify the French Pyrenees, I'm including information on trips that also dip into the Spanish side as well. Ontario-based Sherpa Expeditions (416-360-6603) offers two different eight-day itineraries through the Catalan Pyrenees. Just east of Andorra on the French side, this dry and sunny region is incised with valleys. Sherpa's Cerdagne Adventure is a wildflower-covered amble along the Train Jaune, linking La Tour de Carol with the coast at Perpignan. Their Summits to the Sea itinerary is organized around the upper part of the Vallespir Valley, which is full of wild forests and deep ravines and stretches between the Canigou Massif and the Spanish border. Pick a departure date any time from early June through mid-October, and Sherpa will prebook your accommodations, arrange for all luggage transfers, and send you detailed walking notes and maps. The $1175/per person price tag also includes all breakfasts and some dinners. Call to request a dossier and itinerary.

Himalayan Travel in Stamford, Connecticut (800-225-2380) offers an eight-day self-guided itinerary through the Alto Aragon in the Spanish Pyrenees, with an extended 10-day option. Their loop will take you to the high ridges and passes of the Monte Perdido National Park, and through historic towns still gleaning with Moorish influences. Depart any time May through October, and stay at small hotels, hostales and guest houses, with one night in a mountain refuge. Before and after transfers are included in the price of $850, as are all breakfasts and four dinners. You may also want to check in with a European-based tour company, such as England's Ramblers Holidays (0707/320226), which has a good reputation as a walking holiday specialist.

Since numerous outfitters offer fully guided trips through the Pyrenees, you could also piece together your own trip by taking a look at their itineraries. Some to check out: Wilderness Travel's (800-368-2794) 12-day trip through the heart of the Pyrenees, and Mountain Travel Sobek's Basque Pyrenees trip (1-888-mtsobek). If you go this route, be sure to pick up some Randonnees Pyreneennes maps of your chosen area.

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