The Pyrenees are a wild mountain range, which make up the divide between France and Spain. Many people are surprised to find that the Pyrenees are real mountains, with towering peaks, stunning vistas and fantastic walking and skiing. The Pyrenees are special because they retain a traditional culture and way of life. They are less-visited than the Alps (particularly by the British) and therefore remain unspoiled and quiet.

 In the "Haute Pyrenees", the mountain culture is best appreciated by a stay in a traditional mountain village. Tiny stone-built houses and barns cling to the steep-sided valleys. Amongst the narrow, cobbled streets you will find tinkling strreams rushing to fill the ancient "laveries" - wash houses originally used for laundry, miniature watermills used to grind millet, fortified churches - a last refuge for besieged villagers, and pretty houses with heavy gates, wooden balconies and trailing baskets of colourful flowers. In the most remote villages, the local people still speak the traditional "Occitan" language - a tongue completely unlike French.

A typical mountain village  

The landscape of the "Haute Pyrenees" is one of lush green valleys, backed by craggy snow-topped peaks. The mainstay of the mountains is still agriculture, and throughout the Summer you will see people working in the fields - a back-breaking job of mowing, raking and turning the hay by hand in the steepest meadows; often still using the original hand-made wooden rakes and scythes. The meadows are scattered with animals - sheep, ponies and cattle, all with the clanging bells so typical of the Pyrenees. The animals graze the lower pastures in Spring and Autumn, but can be found up in the highest meadows during the Summer months.

 The mountains have a simple but delicious menu - typically  "garbure" - a hearty soup of cabbage, white beans and cured ham, followed by grilled lamb, such as the special "Bareges-Gavarnie" AOC cutlet, or roasted "confit de canard" (duck is a speciality of the south west of France), and for desert perhaps a slice of wild bilberry "myrtilles" tart.

   

The "Pays Toys" area (South of Lourdes) is a particularly beautiful area to visit, with some of the most varied walking routes, and the largest ski resort of the French Pyrenees (Tourmalet or Bareges-La Mongie). The village of Bareges, with its historical thermal spa, and walking, skiing and cycling right from the door,  is an excellent base from which to explore the mountains.