A french friend of mine, Guillaume, often tells stories of hiking through the French Pyrénées as a child with his family. These stories left an impression on me, as they would on any hiker, and I finally got to experience the jagged, majestic peaks myself, when the two of us went on an overnight hiking trip to the Cirque de Gavarnie.
Gavarnie is a small village located in the central French Pyrénées in the south west of France, almost on the border of Spain. As with many French villages, history is preserved in the architecture. Today, the town consists of a few small hotels, restaurants and shops. In the winter season, many of these businesses are closed.
Gavarnie is known for easy access to some of the most impressive sights within the Pyrénées National Park, including: Cirque de Gavarnie, Gavarnie Falls, Pic du Midi d’Ossau and Gaube Lake. The village is an excellent home base for day hikes, or multi-day and overnight trekking trips.
Our Overnight Trip in the French Pyrénées
Guillaume and I arrived in Gavarnie at 11am in the morning. Most of the shops were closed, due to the low season, but we were able to find one deli open. I was determined to immerse myself in everything French (especially the food), so we stocked up on a few baguettes, French cheese, and a bottle of Jurançon (Guillaume’s father wrote a book about this wine). Then we began our hike up the mountain.
The short climb to our overnight hut was accessible by a well marked trail in the center of town. The hike switchbacked up 300 meters in elevation. Several times during the hike I glanced back down at the shrinking town of Gavarnie, until it eventually vanished in the trees. Guillaume recounted stories from his youth, including one of his aunt sledding down the steep snowy hillside on her bottom, as we marched under a canopy of trees.
After 45 minutes, we emerged to a spectacular vista. The trees cleared at the top of the mountain, and the views were astounding! The Cirque De Gavarnie sparkled in the distance, as the sun was fading behind its back. In the foreground, was our rustic overnight accommodation.
*Tip: If you want to see the Cirque De Gavarnie bathed in sunshine, visit in the morning.
A stone hut used by a local boy scout troop was our shelter for the evening. It sat, unassuming, on the hillside overlooking the Cirque. The setting was so angelic, I could almost hear music as we approached the cabin. It was paradise.
Off-grid luxury in the mountains!
A small solar panel and hydro-turbine powered the hut’s interior lights. A wood stove provided heat and a propane kitchen stove was available for cooking. To my surprise, there was a relatively modern toilet located next to the hut. Toilet water was fed by the creek, and drinking water was gravity fed from a mountain spring. A septic tank took care of the waste. The hut featured a long dining table, bench and a few folding chairs. The top floor was equipped with sleeping mattresses.
But the best part was the jaw-dropping view!
That evening Guillaume and I watched the sun set over the Cirque de Gavarnie. It’s such an impressive sight, and it’s daunting to think Spain is waiting just over that ridge. If you ever find yourself in the area, I highly suggest taking a hike to view Cirque de Gavarnie. It’s an unforgettable experience.
Our quick overnight trip could easily be done as a day trip, using the village of Gavarnie as your home base. For more information on hiking from Gavarnie, click here.