Neouvielle walking holiday; the Pyrenean Lake District
Discoverer – Neouvielle Lake District
This Discoverer level guided walking holiday is based in the French High Pyrenees and includes two nights out in catered mountain refuges to see the heart of the Neouviele nature reserve, the lake land of the Pyrenees. It includes two day hikes, one of which will visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Cirque de Gavarnie, and a three day (two night) mini-trek exploring the very heart of the wild and unspoilt Neouvielle Nature Reserve.
This week is based in the traditional French mountain village of Barèges, with accommodation at our lovely chalet “Les Cailloux”. During the Neouville Nature Reserve mini-trek, we spend two nights in different refuges.
The Refuge de l’Oule at 1820m altitude, has 10-man dormitories with bunk beds. It’s just beside the Lac de l’Oule, a dammed lake at the entrance to the Neouvielle Nature Reserve.
The Refuge Bastan, at 2230m, is very remote and has limited facilities (but an unbeatable location and great food!). There’s a communal dormitory with sleeping platforms, or the exterior tent, which has bunk beds. There is an outside spring for washing and a composting toilet. You may like to freshen up at the end of the day with a dip in the warm, shallow lake beside the refuge.
The refuges provide blankets but we recommend bringing a sheet sleeping bag liner and head torch for the evenings. Meals are also provided.
What the price includes
The price shown for an Discoverer guided mountain walking week includes:
- Ensuite accommodation in the chalet, Les Cailloux during your time in Barèges
- Communal dormitory accommodation at mountain refuges
- Half-board (continental breakfasts, afternoon tea & cakes, three course evening meals and after-dinner coffee in Bareges)
- Packed lunch for each walking day
- Transport to and from the beginning and end of walks
- A qualified, experienced International Mountain Leader for all of your walks.
Please note: drinks and extra snacks are not included. You should also budget for one evening meal out in Bareges on the staff day off.
As with all mountain environments, the Pyrenean weather can be varied. Normally we have clear skies and sunny days over the Summer walking period but it can equally rain, snow, or be foggy. Evenings can also be chilly at the high mountain refuges. We advise our guests to come prepared for any weather by bringing lots of layers. A walk that begins in rain can end in glorious sunshine and vice-versa. Because of the terrain you’ll be walking on and the way the weather can affect it, we always recommend you wear broken in, sturdy walking boots.
Your guide will plan your walks to make the most of the weather, which is why our itinerary isn’t totally fixed.
Please read our Kit List for more information on what we’d advise you bring with you.
A typical week’s itinerary:
Saturday – Arrival and settling in
We suggest a stroll round the village before dinner and your Welcome Talk, where we’ll go over details about what we’ll do over the week.
Sunday – Montagne Fleuri circuit
An introductory walk from the village of Barèges, giving you a chance to get to know the area and view the week’s destinations from on high. We walk across plateaux covered in flowers, through woods, along ridges, and above hidden cirques.
Leaving Barèges(1250m), we cross the Bastan river and head uphill. A nice warm-up through the ancient valley farms takes us to the meadows of the Transarrious plateau. From here we take the Montagne Fleuri path, zig zagging up through mixed woodland before traversing around above Barèges.
We have lunch at the top, 1900m, with spectacular views looking right across to the Spanish frontier, the Cirque de Gavarnie and the famous Brèche de Roland.
We then descend along a rounded ridge, looking down into a hidden cirque, strewn with ancient cabins and bergers’ paths, before zig-zagging back down to the plateau. From here we have an optional detour (well worthwhile!) for a cheeky crepe at St. Justin.
Monday – Cirque de Gavarnie and the Grande Cascade
Today we take a trip south to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Cirque de Gavarnie. Leaving the tourists behind, we will walk on an airy cliff-side balcony path into the cirque before scrambling up to shower in the spray of the Grande Cascade – the highest free-hanging waterfall in Europe.
A 45 minute vehicle transfer takes us to the village of Gavarnie, 1365m, nestling at the mouth of the great Cirque de Gavarnie. This is a popular tourist destination, but with a little local knowledge we can easily avoid the crowds.
We soon leave the main trail behind us, climbing up through woodland to reach the Cabane de Pailla, 1800m, in a peaceful grassy valley where we’re sure to see grazing sheep and cattle. The view from here is wonderful – looking across hazy peaks to the West, where we can see the mighty Vignemale (highest peak in the French Pyrenees) and the Glacier d’Ossoue.
After scouting about amongst the rocks for a glimpse of some cheeky marmots, we walk back towards the cirque, and head back into the woods. The trail clings to the cliff-side, first taking us beneath some rocky overhangs, where we can see rare Pyrenean plants such as Ramondia and long-leafed Saxifrage. Then as the valley opens out, we follow the path round a natural ledge in the cliff wall. We’re guaranteed spectacular views down into the valley, and we might spot a wall creeper flitting about on the limestone crags.
After a picnic lunch, we walk into the cirque itself, 1584m, climbing steadily to the back of the cirque, where there is the option to scramble up to the foot of the Grande Cascade, 1789m. On a hot day the billowing spray and cool breeze off the waterfall are wonderfully refreshing.
Heading back down the valley now, we take a secret path down onto the La Prade meadows – dotted with many different types of orchid during the spring and early summer. With fabulous views back towards the waterfall and the 1000m walls of the cirque, this is a great place to stop for a feet-dip in the icy Gave de Gavarnie – fed directly by melt waters from the glaciers above.
Tuesday – Free day
This is your free day to use as you please.
We suggest you try out the thermal spa in the village of Barèges, visit the Pic du Midi observatory or take the bus to the pretty towns of Luz St. Sauveur or Argelès-Gazost. Here you can stock up on the delicious local sheep’ cheeses and ‘saucissons sec’ (knobbly French salamis).
The pilgrimage town of Lourdes is also accessible by public transport (about 1hr by bus). For those who can’t get enough exercise, there are plenty of trails to be explored on foot from Barèges, and we can arrange activities including paragliding, rafting, pony trekking, mountain biking, canyoning etc.
Wednesday – Trek Day 1: Pont de la Gaubie to the Refuge de l’Oule
Today we begin our 3-day expedition into the Neouvielle Nature Reserve. We do some ascents to see our first lakes, and use wild, little paths to take in a couple of Cols for some spectacular views across the lake-strewn granite massif of the Neouvielle. Finally our hiking day end at the Lac de l’Oule, where we’ll spend the night.
Our 3 day mini-trek begins at the Pont de la Gaubie, 1538m, just five minutes from Barèges.
We head into the Neouvielle Nature Reserve on a steep but steady zig-zag path to the Lac d’Ets Coubous, 2041m. From now on the landscape is very wild and unspoilt – a vast chaos of granite boulders and gnarled miniature pine trees.
A section of boulder-hopping takes us to Lac Nere (black lake). We then make our way up to the Col de Tracens on a little-used path. Reaching 2500m, we have awe-inspiring views out to the dragon’s back ridges and glistening blue lakes of the nature reserve – stretching away in all directions.
We then rejoin the GR10 trail at the Col de Madamette, 2509m – the highest point on the GR10 long distance route – and follow the path down to the vast Lac d’Aumar, 2200m. Sticking to the GR10, we traverse high above Lac d’Oredon to reach the Col d’Estoudou at 2260m, then descend steeply to the Lac de L’Oule and our night’s accommodation at the Chalet Refuge de L’Oule, 1820m.
Thursday – Trek Day 2: Refuge de l’Oule to the Refuge Bastan
After breakfast overlooking the Lac de L’Oule, today we do a grand tour of the Port Bielh lakes, culminating with an ascent of the airy Pic de Bastan. This craggy peak has 360 degree views of the Neouvielle Lake District. We then spend tonight at the Bastan Refuge.
Setting out from the Refuge de l’Oule, 1819m, we make our way along the bank of the Lac de l’Oule and into the woodland of the Sapiniere de Bastanet. The path climbs steadily north along the valley bottom, leaving the trees at the Lacquet de Coste Queillere, 2100m.
Now back in the familiar chaos of granite boulders and grassy meadows, we ascend past the Lacquets de Port Bielh to the vast Lac de Port Bielh. From here we can see all the way down to the Lac de l’Oule, backed by the distant frontier peaks of the Crete du Moudang.
After lunch beside the lake, we ascend to the Hourquette de Caderolles, 2495m, and skirt round to the Col de Bastanet to catch our first glimpse of the Refuge Bastan in the valley below. Those with a head for heights have the option to ascend the Pic de Bastan – an airy pyramidal peak with a hands-on scramble to the summit at 2718m.
With our hard work for the day done, we descend steadily to the tiny Refuge de Bastan, 2230m – nestling beside its own idyllic blue lake. The refuge has little in the way of facilities, but has an unbeatable location, cool beers and the chance of a swim in the lake before a hearty dinner.
Friday – Trek Day 3: Refuge Bastan to Pont de la Gaubie
A wild day beginning with a tour of the Lacs de Bastanet, then climbing to the Hourquette Nere at 2465m. We then head back into home territory, steadily descending past more isolated lakes to reach the vallee d’Aygues Cluses, before heading home to the Pont de la Gaubie and Barèges.
With an early start from Refuge Bastanet ,we pass a string of lakes – each gleaming a different colour in the morning light.
We reach the Lac de Port Bielh, and strike West, climbing steadily to the Hourquette Nere, 2465m – our high point of the day and last chance to survey all of the lakes lying behind us.
Crossing the watershed, our route takes us down to the Lac d’Agalops and we rejoin the GR10 at the Cabane d’Aygues Cluses. Now we follow the main trail down the Aygues Cluses (clear waters) valley, where we may see crossbills and coal tits feeding amongst the crochet pines.
The path leaves the trees to cross a beautiful Alpine meadow, where the stream meanders lazily before disappearing amongst vast granite boulders. After a refreshing foot dip in this icy stream, we make our way down the valley to the Pont de la Gaubie and Barèges, where tea and cake await!
Saturday – Free morning
The time is yours before you leave by mid-morning to make your way home.
Please note this is a typical itinerary and the final programme may vary depending on conditions such as the weather and the fitness, interests and abilities of the group. Your guide, a qualified International Mountain Leader, will adapt the walking to ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable holiday.
Please check individual holiday descriptions to find out what the price includes. In some cases discounts are available for groups or family rooms. For some holidays accommodation is provided in mountain refuges, or by 3rd party suppliers – please see individual holiday descriptions for details.
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