Hiking the GR10 in the French Pyrenees
In August 2018, we went on an indescribably beautiful hike in the French Pyrenees. We followed part of the popular GR10 trail, starting in Cauterets and ending in Bagnères-de-Luchon.
The entire GR10 trail is 950 km long and runs just north of the Spanish-French border from the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean coast. As we didn’t have time to do the whole trek, we decided to walk a section that we expected to be exceptionally spectacular and mountainous. It goes through the High Pyrénées from Cauterets to Bagnères-de-Luchon and covers approx. 160 km including numerous demanding ascents and descents.
The GR10 trail is described in details in Cicerone’s GR10 trekking guide that we used throughout our trek. Our distance corresponds to Stage 18-25 in the guidebook. See also Getting our gear right for the GR10.
On a beautiful and sunny day at the beginning of August we arrived in Toulouse by plane from Copenhagen. From Toulouse we took on a local train to Lourdes and from there continued by bus to the cozy mountain town of Cauterets. We had not booked a hotel in advance but quickly found one, Hotel Edelweiss. Then it was time to get a good night’s sleep, so we were fit to start the hike the next day.
Day 1: Cauterets → Refuge des Oulètes de Gaube
Distance: 16 km (stage 18 in the Cicerone guide)
Total ascent/descent: 1400 m up – 100 m down
We enjoyed a solid breakfast at the hotel and it was almost 10 before we were ready to start our journey. Cauterets is located at an altitude of 900 meters, and today’s stage consists of many elevation meters to be overcome. Just outside town, a pleasant walk took us through wild-growing forest, mostly on gently rising ground, while we also came across great views of Cauteres.
After just over an hour we reached the beautiful waterfall at La Raillère, after which the ascent became steeper. We walked through more forest, occasionally superseded by stretches of grassland and meadows with lots of colourful flowers and different butterflies.
Around lunchtime we reached the famous stone bridge, Pont d’Espagne, which formerly served as a border crossing between Spain and France. Here we took a well-deserved rest while we had the best view to yet another impressive waterfall.
From there on the trail took us up, up and up for a few hours until we reached the large lake, Lac de Gaube (1725 m). We continued along the west side of the lake until we reached its southern tip. From there we continued up through a beautiful valley with such rich flora, including various orchids. Several times we crossed streams over small bridges.
In the late afternoon, we arrived at the refuge at Oulètes de Gaube (2150 m), where we pitched our tent on a grassy field in front of the refuge. They had bunk beds available, but we prefered our tent. And most importanly, the refuge had nice cold beer!
From our tent we had the most spectacular view of the 3298 m high Vignemale and the glacier tongues that end in colossal moraine deposits of stone and gravel. In the valley itself there are green meadows with grazing sheep. We were really tired after this first day’s hike. It was not extremely difficult terrain, but there were just so many altitude meters to ascend.
Day 2: Oulètes de Gaube → Chalet la Grange de Holle
Distance: 21 km (stage 19 in the Cicerone guide)
Total ascent/descent: 800 m up – 1400 m down
Ahead of us awaits a really adventurous day as we will walk through some of the most beautiful and wildest mountain landscapes that the Pyrenees can offer. First, we had to climb about 600 meters up along a stony path with many hairpin turns. The weather was really nice and sunny, and the view of Vignemale and the green valley below was certainly not amiss.
It became a bit of a struggle with the long ascent and the baking sun. We also had to cross some old snow tongues from last winter, but it was actually wonderfully refreshing with the cold snow.
Finally, we reached the highest point of the GR10 trail, the pass Hourquette d’Ossoue (2734 m). From here one can take a detour to Petit Vignemale (3032 m), but we were satisfied enogh just enjoying the marvelous view from the pass. Also, we still had a long day of hiking ahead of us.
From the Hourquette d’Ossoue pass we could look east down to the refuge of Bayssellance, which would be our next stop. It shouldn’t take much more than half an hour to get down there, but since we constantly wanted to stop to look at these funny and playful marmots, it took us a little longer. Several of the marmots didn’t seem to bother much of humans and we also saw them running around near the refuge where we had our lunch.
From Bayssellance we continued in a south/southeast direction. The path took us down quite steeply and we zig-zagged all the way down through the valley landscape. It was incredibly nice. Further down the valley, we came across several patches of snow that we had to walk over, and we also met boulder fields that were a bit difficult to walk over. But the trail was well marked with cairns and colour symbols, and there were also clear traces in the snow where other hikers had walked.
In the next few hours, we moved on to the next valley, and yet another valley. The terrain became flatter and more accessible. After a very long afternoon we arrived at our final destination, the Chalet/Refuge la Grange de Holle (1480 m). The refuge is a fine stone house and in front we found a green lawn where we pitched our tent.
Day 3: Chalet la Grange de Holle → Luz-Saint-Sauveur
Distance: 26 km (stage 20 in the Cicerone guide)
Total ascent/descent: 700 m up – 1500 m down
Today’s stage is a full 26 km long, but since a large part takes place in downhill terrain, we reckoned that the stage would not be too strenuous. On the other hand, it was incredibly hot, and the sun shone from an almost cloudless sky.
We didn’t take that many notes from this day. We found that it was generally a comfortable stage, where we walked on the west side of the long Gavarnie Valley. We went both through forest (nice to be in the shade) and more open parts, along forest paths and dirt roads, and often we had a fantastic view down to the valley and to the river, the main road and the small villages.
It was already eight in the evening before we reached the bridge Pont Napoleon. At this point we knew that we only had a few km left to walk until reaching the end goal of today’s stage, the small town of Luz-Saint-Sauveur. We crossed the Napoleon bridge and soon after we passed the Chapelle Solférino, which was beautifully lit in the evening sun.
Finally we reached Luz-Saint-Sauveur (720 m) and we hurried to find the first and best public campsite, which we did find and they offered us their very last pitch.
Day 4: Luz-Saint-Sauveur → Baréges
Distance: 12 km (stage 21 in the Cicerone guide)
Total ascent/descent: 800 m up – 300 m down
On top of yesterday’s long stage, where we didn’t arrive until late in the evening, it was certainly good to have a short and relatively easy stage today. We were also both struggling with blisters on our feet, so it was nice to chill and take some time off. We ended up spending over half the day in Luz-Saint-Sauveur, which turned out to be a really nice town with great (outdoor) shops and cozy cafes.
At 3 pm we set off, and we started out with a rather steep ascent until, after about two hours we reached 1300 meters altitude on the north-facing side of the Soum de la Courbe mountain. We were again blessed with great views of the valley and the mountains. On our way we both came through forests and open terrain with a multitude of flowers.
After about four hours of walking, we arrived at the small tourist town of Baréges (1240 m).
Day 5: Baréges → Lac de l’Oule
Distance: 22 km (stage 22 in the Cicerone guide)
Total ascent/descent: 1300 m up – 700 m down
The first checkpoint on this long stage is the Col de Madamète pass at 2509 meters. We set off early in the morning, and ahead of us we had about 13 km to the pass.
The path went steadily upwards most of the way, and we walked through idyllic farmland with green meadows and quite many free-ranging livestock. We also passed ski resorts, especially at Tournaboup, which were certainly not that exciting in terms of nature and beauty. But it was relatively easy terrain, even though we had many meters of altitude to pass.
The closer we got to the Col de Madamète, the more alpine and rugged the landscape became. After five hours we finally reached the pass in great style, and once again we were captivated by splendid views in all directions.
Of course, we also wanted to go straight up to the nearest peak, Pic de Madamète (2657 m). Here the view was – if possible – even better than from the pass. It’s just a 10-15 minutes climb to get up there.
We left the pass and headed down. After 10-15 minutes we passed a small lake on the left, after which we walked for half an hour before reaching the larger lake, Lac d’Aumar. We followed the southern shore until we reached the end of the lake. From there it went a bit up and down for a while before we had a slightly steep climb up towards the last pass of the day, Cap d’Estoudou (2260 m).
Then followed a half-hour descent along a rather steep path before we reached the west side of the lake Lac de l’Oule (1821 m). As it was getting late, we decided to pitch our tent by the lake. We found a suitable, grassy spot that didn’t slope too much. It was only the next day that we realised that camping was probably not allowed here, becuse it’s within a nature reserve. On the north side of Lac de l’Oule, however, camping is permitted.
Day 6: Lac de l’Oule → Vielle-Aure (Saint-Lary-Soulan)
Distance: 16 km (stage 23 in the Cicerone guide)
Total ascent/descent: 400 m up – 1400 m down
After breakfast at the tent, we set off – first north of Lac de l’Oule, then we followed a path opposite the lake that went up the green mountain slope of Pichalay. It was really nice, but eventually we reached a huge ski resort area, where the landscape became somewhat monotonous with open, treeless areas effectively grazed by cows and sheep, while cables and installations marred the view. Above us, vultures soared, and on the steep, hairpin winding asphalt roads, we saw cyclists fighting their way up.
The sun was baking in the bare landscape with no shade, so we were well toasted when we reached the highest point of the day, the Col de Portet (2215 m). From there it was basically only downhill, first through more ski sports area, then farmland alternating with a bit of forest, before we reached the village of Vielle-Aure (800 m) after about two hours walking.
We had difficulty finding an available campsite, but we managed to get a spot at Camping d’Autun, which is located just south of Vielle-Aure in the slightly larger ski resort town of Saint-Lary-Soulan.
Day 7: Vielle-Aure → Germ
Distance: 13 km (stage 24 in the Cicerone guide)
Total ascent/descent: 1200 m up – 700 m down
From our campsite in Saint-Lary-Soulan, we returned to the GR10 trail in Vielle-Aure and continued towards the next village, Bourisp. From there we continued on slightly rising terrain past Azet and through grassland with hundreds if not thousands of cows until we reached the highest point of the stage, the Col d’Azet (1600 m).
Then it went downhill. We followed a relatively steep descent to the idyllic town of Loudenvielle. Here we stopped at a nice café and had lunch and ice-cold refreshments.
Afterwards we shopped in the local supermarket before continuing out of town. After a while, a steep ascent began before we reached the village of Germ (1339 m) late in the afternoon. Here we found a small hotel, Center de Montagne de Germ, where we could pitch our tent on some grass in front. Germ is a really cozy little village with old houses and winding roads.
Day 8: Germ → Granges d’Astau
Distance: 13 km (stage 25 in the Cicerone guide but the last 3 km)
Total ascent/descent: 900 m up – 1000 m down
We started the day out with relatively easy hiking towards the Val d’Aube valley. At one point we passed a spot with hundreds of butterflies, including the Arctic blue, sitting on the wet ground and on rocks to drink water. We no longer had numbers on how many different butterfly species we had seen on the trek, but it must have been at least 30. All in all, we had experienced an incredibly rich and varied flower and insect life on our hike.
We got further into the Val d’Aube valley and past a lot of grassland and farmland, and then it really started to go uphill. It was tiring, but we had gradually gotten more fit over the past days so before long we reached the summit of Couret d’Esquierry (2131 m).
We continued pretty much without stopping, as we wanted to get as far as possible on this day. The terrain became more or less steeply downhill, and at 2 pm we arrived at Granges d’Astou (1140 m), where we took a break at the Auberge d’Astou.
Unfortunately, it had started to rain. It was the first time on our hike that we actually had bad weather, otherwise it was mostly dry and sunny. The rain eventually developed into a real storm and we heard a lot of thunder in the distance.
So, it looked like we couldn’t hike any further for the time being, and the locals warned us and other hikers not to continue because of the storm. We waited in vain for improvement, but rather it got worse. Towards evening we unfortunately had to give up walking further, and after missing the local minibus, there was a French family who were kind enough to give us a lift to the nearby town of Bagnères-de-Luchon. This was the town that we otherwise were supposed to hike to the following day.
Our hike on the GR10 therefore ended a day earlier than planned. But that doesn’t change the fact that it had been an absolutely wonderful experience, at times physically challenging but never too difficult. We had witnessed some of Europe’s most beautiful nature with one breathtaking landscape after another. The Pyrenees are simply world-class, and we can only heartily recommend others to set out on the GR10, and not least to walk the part of the trail that we walked.