The Pyrenees

Forming a natural frontier between France and Spain, and stretching more than 400 km (250 miles) from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees is Europe's second great mountain chain west of the Caucasus.

For the walker, trekker and climber, the range has just about everything.

There are three national parks and several other protected regions. There are scores of accessible summits over 3000 m (10,000 ft) high, wonderful uninhabited valleys to explore, deep limestone gorges and remote plateaux of granite, the richest alpine flora in Europe, and more than a thousand lakes and tarns left behind by the last Ice Age to turn the mountains on their heads and add much to the region's grandeur.

"The principal charm of the Pyrenees consists in the unrivalled scenery," wrote Charles Packe, the great 19th century explorer, while his friend Henry Russell added: "It is to the Pyrenees that the smiles of the artist and the heart of the poet will always turn."

Having fallen under their spell back in the 1960s, I've been drawn back to these mountains on more than two dozen occasions. I guess I'm hooked.

WALKS? Every valley has a wealth of routes that tease you deeper into realms of enchantment. Routes that reward an hour or so's exercise; or half a day, full-day or multi-day epics that cross one ridge after another on journeys of delight.

TREKS? How long do you have? You could try the trans-Pyrenean GR10 which crosses from Atlantic to Mediterranean along the northern flank. But you'll need about 50 days to complete it! Or perhaps the Spanish side appeals; in which case there's GR11 (La Senda) - another seven week jaunt. (Cicerone Press has guides to both these long routes by Paul Lucia, if you're interested.)

Or the toughest of the lot, the Pyrenean High Route which traces the frontier ridge wherever possible, picks out the most remote and challenging lines and rarely has contact with habitation. But what a trek that is! (WALKS & CLIMBS IN THE PYRENEES describes the most dramatic stages of this route through the Central Pyrenees, from the Cirque de Lescun to Andorra.)

There are, of course, numerous shorter treks to be made. From hut to hut, or camp to camp, all in landscapes of great charm and beauty.

CLIMBS? Rock climbs abound, in all grades of difficulty, and without the queues associated with the more popular routes of the Alps. Here in the Pyrenees you can spend a lifetime ticking off the most amazing routes that remain unknown to all but a relatively few aficionados. Perhaps that is how climbing should be! (See Rock Climbs in the Pyrenees by Derek L Walker - published by Cicerone Press.)

ASCENTS? With only a few fast-shrinking glaciers, and little in the way of permanent snow, the hill-walker with some scrambling ability and experience of British mountains in all seasons, can gain numerous high summits in the Pyrenees without the need for technical climbing skills. Dozens of
3000 m peaks are accessible within a few hours of a roadhead village or mountain refuge. Uncrowded summits with astonishing panoramic views over scenes of uncluttered perfection.

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