24 Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit in the French Pyrenees
With its heavenly natural setting and sacred pilgrimage sites, the Pyrenees is a soul-inspiring place. The gorgeous landscape includes forested mountains, green valleys, dramatic gorges, pristine lakes, and rushing waterfalls, with important towns along the rivers. The Pyrenees region encompasses two distinct areas: the high-altitude Hautes-Pyrénées terrain, with many hiking trails and ski areas, and the Pyrénées-Bernaises, the historic Béarn province, where vine-covered rolling hills are dotted with storybook villages and castles. Every corner of the Pyrenees is worth exploring, from the alpine peaks to the ancient Romanesque churches.
Plan your travels with our list of the top attractions and places to visit in the French Pyrenees.
Top Sites of the Hautes-Pyrénées (Pyrenees Mountains)
1. Cirque de Gavarnie
Nature's version of a cathedral, the Cirque de Gavarnie is a circular ring of mountainous granite walls that enclose the valley as if it were the gigantic nave of a church. The sheer rock walls of the Cirque were formed by the erosion of glaciers millions of years ago. The highest summits are the Pics du Marboré au Taillon, rising to over 3,000 meters. Adding to the tranquility is a gurgling stream that rushes down the valley, crossed by small footbridges, and numerous waterfalls. The Grande Cascade is the highest waterfall in Europe, with a drop of 422 meters.
There is a gentle walking path that begins in Gavarnie village, runs past the Hôtel du Cirque, and follows the stream to the head of the valley. The idyllic scenery is filled with little chirping birds, small alpine chalets, and grazing goats on the green hills, with the Cirque's soaring snow-dusted peaks in the background. Advanced hikers will appreciate the more challenging trail at the Brèche de Roland. The Cirque de Gavarnie is part of the Parc National des Pyrénées (National Park of the Pyrenees Mountains), one of France's ten national parks.
For the faithful, Lourdes is a glorious sight. Pilgrims have come to Lourdes for over a century to see where Saint Bernadette received her visions of the Virgin Mary and where the town's healing waters reputedly healed illnesses. The Catholic Church documents the official miracles after a thorough process of investigation, and so far, 70 miracles have been validated. Every year, millions of visitors come to Lourdes. Some visit to bathe in the Lourdes waters in hopes of a miracle cure. Others come to pray or to volunteer to help the sick and disabled pilgrims.
The sacred waters of Lourdes flow freely from spigots outside the basilica. Visitors may take the waters home in bottles. The holiest site at Lourdes is the Grotto where Bernadette received her visions, and mass is held here. Another place of worship is the 19th-century Basilique du Rosaire with Marian chapels featuring exquisite Venetian-style mosaics. From April through October, candlelit Marian processions take place daily in front of the basilica at 9pm in the evenings.
Every year, millions of pilgrims participate in the spiritual activities at Lourdes, which makes it one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage destinations in the world.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Lourdes
Official site: https://www.lourdes-france.org/en/
3. Saint-Bertrand de Comminges
In a quiet pastoral landscape, this medieval hilltop town stands above the site of an ancient Roman town. Excavations have revealed the forum, a temple, baths, a theater, an amphitheater, and many other buildings. The Musée Archéologique (open May through September) displays artifacts uncovered at the local archaeological site. During the Middle Ages, the town's church was on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de la Compostela in Spain.
Built between the 12th and 14th centuries, the UNESCO-listed Cathédrale Sainte-Marie de Saint-Bertrand de Comminges blends Romanesque and Gothic elements and has a serene cloister that overlooks the Pyrenees foothills.
The village hosts a prestigious series of music concerts, the Festival du Comminges, held on Sunday afternoons from July through September. The annual festival focuses on sacred music such as Baroque, choral songs, organ concerts, and Gregorian chants. Performance venues include the Cathédrale de Saint-Bertrand de Comminges and the Basilique Saint-Just de Valcabrère, a splendid 12th-century Romanesque church, as well as other historic churches in the area.
The peaks of the Hautes-Pyrénées preside over this delightful alpine village. In the 19th century, Cauterets became in vogue as a spa town. Belle Epoque hotels are testimony to the town's fashionable past. This heritage continues at the Bains du Rocher thermal spa, which is open year-round. This upscale and modern spa facility includes a hammam, indoor pools, a sauna, and jacuzzis. For those seeking more active things to do, the Bains du Rocher offers fitness programs and beauty treatments.
In winter, Cauterets is a favorite skiing destination since it's near ski resorts such as the Cirque du Lys ski area. In summer, the town is a perfect base for outdoor activities in the Parc National des Pyrénéese, with its spectacular nature sites: the Pont d'Espagne waterfall; the picture-perfect Lac de Gaube; the pine forests of the Vallee du Marcadau; and the glistening Lac d'Estom (Lake of Estom). These areas are great for hiking or leisurely jaunts in the refreshing alpine environment.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cauterets
5. Grotte du Mas d'Azil: Prehistoric Cave and Museum
The Mas d'Azil Cave is a prehistoric cave found in the limestone mountains at an altitude of 310 meters. The Ariège River flows through the immense 50-kilometer-wide cave, and the entrance to the cave is a vast 100-meter-wide terrace. A road runs through the cave, winding around the impressive 410-meter-long structure. (It's possible to drive right through the cave.) Visitors can discover the cave on a guided tour, which features geology and paleontology presentations in multiple galleries. Prehistoric drawings have been found in the cave, but these areas are off limits to ensure their preservation.
A ticket to the Mas d'Azil Cave includes entry to the Musée de la Préhistoire (Prehistory Museum) in the village of Le Mas-d'Azil (two kilometers away), where visitors can view reproductions of the prehistoric cave paintings and engravings. The museum also has an extensive collection of prehistoric artifacts found in the Mas d'Azil Cave, such as weapons, tools, and engraved art objects. Be sure to see the famous Faon aux Oiseaux (Fawn with Birds) throwing stick, considered to be a masterpiece of Paleolithic art.
Praised for its sunny weather, Font-Romeu draws many tourists in summertime for outdoor activities and in wintertime for skiing. This area has unspoiled alpine scenery and lush forests, which make for scenic nature walks and hikes, as well as picturesque ski slopes. A family-friendly skiing destination, the Font Romeu ski resort caters to many different skiers with its wide range of terrain. In addition, Font-Romeu has an excellent selection of modern hotels and lodges, camping sites, and other types of accommodations.
Besides its splendid natural surroundings, Font-Romeu has an interesting religious heritage. Nestled in the woods, the chapel of the Ermitage de Font-Romeu (hermitage) contains a famous statue of the Virgin Mary that has been said to bring miracles. There are annual pilgrimages to venerate this statue. Nearby is a Calvary on a site that offers outstanding views of the Pyrenees Mountains.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Font Romeu
In the Vallée du Haut Adour (about 20 kilometers from Lourdes) with the majestic Pyrenees Mountains in the background, Bagnères-de-Bigorre is a place to rejuvenate the body and spirit. In the center of the town at the Place des Thermes is the acclaimed health spa, the Grands Thermes. This state-of-the-art modern spa facility has three mineral water pools that are said to cure various medical afflictions (for example, rheumatology, respiratory conditions, and fibromyalgia). The Grands Thermes offers three-week healing programs, such as quietude retreats and stress reduction courses.
Right next to the spa, the Musée des Beaux-Arts Salies features noteworthy pieces by the "Petits Maîtres Barbizonniers" (Barbizon Painters) who specialized in country landscape scenes. Bagnères-de-Bigorre also has a quaint old town with must-see sights such as 15th-century Tour des Jacobins; the ruins of the 12th-century Cloître Saint-Jean (a classified Historical Monument); and the 15th-16th-century Eglise Saint-Vincent (another Historical Monument) that blends Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles. About two kilometers from Bagnères-de-Bigorre is the Grotte de Médous, discovered in 1948, with stunning stalactites and stalagmites.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bagnères-de-Bigorre
Saint Savin is a sleepy village (15 kilometers from Lourdes) in the Vallée des Gaves, surrounded by hillside pastures where sheep graze below the Montagnes de Lavedan. This tiny rural town consists of a main square with a fountain, a few streets of old houses, a post office, and the Café de la Poste. The main attraction is the Eglise Saint-Savin-en-Lavedan, a 12th-century Romanesque church. Open year-round, the church celebrates the Feast of Saint Savin on October 9th. A festival on August 15th entertains crowds with lively games, dancing, and a banquet.
Another reason to visit is to dine at Le Viscos restaurant, renowned by locals and French travelers who are willing to drive out of their way just for a meal here. The chef Jean-Pierre Saint-Martin is one of the "Maitres Cuisiniers de France" (Master Chefs of France). He prepares traditional French cuisine of the terroir based on seasonal ingredients. In the spring, summer, and early fall, guests may sit out on the restaurant terrace that overlooks the Pyrenees Mountains. Le Viscos is also a small boutique hotel that has been run by the same family for generations.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Saint-Savin
9. Luz Saint-Sauveur
Luz Saint-Sauveur (about 30 kilometers from Lourdes) is just past the Pont Napoléon, a breathtaking bridge that spans a deep ravine where the Pyrenees begin to ascend into high-mountain terrain on the route up to Gavarnie. There are three nearby ski areas: the Luz Ardiden resort, the slopes at Gavarnie/Gèdre, and the Grand Tourmalet.
Luz Saint-Sauveur is also one of the best places to visit for a spa vacation. The town's sleek modern facility, Luzéa, has a thermal pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, hammam, and floor-to-ceiling windows with wonderful views. The therapeutic waters are said to help cure lymphatic, respiratory, and gynecological conditions.
Luz Saint-Sauveur is a historic town that boasts an interesting fortified church, the Eglise St-André. Built by the Hospitaliers de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem (Knights of Malta), this 12th- to 14th-century church features an ornate Romanesque doorway, an exquisitely decorated interior, and a 17th-century chapel that houses a small museum. The collection includes religious paintings such as the 18th-century Annunciation and Assumption piece from the Duchess of Angoulème.
Bagnères-de-Luchon sits high in the Pyrenees Mountains less than 20 kilometers from the border with Spain. With its gardens and fountains, this historic spa town is a relaxing place to visit. The springs of Bagnères-de-Luchon were frequented in Roman times, and three ancient Roman baths have been excavated. In the 17th-century, the town's spa was made popular by Cardinal Richelieu. Today, visitors can still take advantage of the healing waters at the Hôtel & Spa Les Lilas, as well as at the Vaporarium, a natural hammam with thermal baths.
Just outside of Bagnères-de-Luchon (seven kilometers away) is a noteworthy 11th-century Romanesque church, the Eglise Saint-Aventin, with two impressive towers and intricate carved sculpting around the doorway.
Bagnères-de-Luchon is also an excellent base for discovering the scenic Vallée du Lys (14 kilometers away), which has many hiking trails, as well as mountain biking and fishing opportunities. Alpine skiers can challenge themselves on the powdery slopes of the Superbagnères ski resort located 19 kilometers away.
In the Pyrenees Mountains (near Andorra) on the Ariège River, Tarascon-sur-Ariège is surrounded by the Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises (natural park). Tarascon-sur-Ariège has a fascinating Vieille Ville (Old Town) that was fortified during the Middle Ages and is brimming with atmospheric streets, half-timbered houses, and architectural treasures.
Three churches are classified as Historical Monuments: the 14th-century Gothic Eglise Saint-Michel; the 12th-century Romanesque Chapelle de Notre-Dame de Sabart; and the 16th-century Notre-Dame de la Daurade, which is used as a venue for music concerts.
12. Grotte de Niaux: Prehistoric Caves
A 15-minute drive along country roads from Tarascon-sur-Ariège, the incredible Grotte de Niaux is a worthwhile detour. A famous tourist attraction of the area, the Grotte de Niaux is a two-kilometer-long prehistoric cave with Paleolithic cave paintings from the Magdalenian period (15,000-12,000 BC). The paintings are surprisingly detailed and beautifully rendered. The Grotte de Niaux is open to the public for guided visits; advanced reservations are recommended (the number of visitors is limited). Wear warm clothes and sturdy shoes.
Families with kids can learn more about the prehistoric era at the Parc de la Préhistoire de Tarascon-sur-Ariège (Park of Prehistory), less than 10 kilometers from the Grotte de Niaux). This amusement park educates visitors about the prehistoric era, the Ice Age, and Magdalenian ancestors, with realistic representations of prehistoric dwellings and activities of everyday life. The area around Tarascon-sur-Ariège also has other prehistoric caves including the Grotte de Bédeilhac, the Grotte de Lombrives, and the Grotte de la Vache.
Perched on a formidable crag, an imposing castle dominates this ancient town at the edge of the Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises. Located about 17 kilometers from Tarascon-sur-Ariège, this town was the capital of the historic County of Foix. There are three remaining towers of the Château de Foix; the free-standing round tower now houses the Musée de l'Ariège. An interesting pilgrimage church, the 12th- to 15th-century Eglise Saint-Volusien has a simple Romanesque facade, intricate carved details, and lovely choir stalls. Near the church are many handsome old half-timbered houses.
The area surrounding Foix has many Romanesque churches of the 11th and 12th centuries, as well as prehistoric caves with rock drawings, most notably the Grotte de Niaux.
Standing alone on a sheer promontory between Bélesta and Lavelanet are the impressive ruins of the Château de Montségur, a 13th-century castle that served as a fortress for the Cathars, a sect of Christianity that the Catholic Church considered heretical. An infamous site during the Albigensian wars (the Catholic Church's crusade against the Cathars), this castle was the last Cathar stronghold to fall in 1244. The dilapidated remains of castle provides an evocative image.
Some believe that Montségur is the fabled Montsalvat where the Holy Grail, the vessel containing Christ's blood, is hidden. Montségur is near the Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises, about 35 kilometers from Tarascon-sur-Ariège.
15. Grand Tourmalet Ski Area
The Grand Tourmalet ski area (25 kilometers from Bagnères-de-Bigorre) is the largest ski resort of the Pyrenees Mountains in France, with 100 kilometers of skiable domain. The Grand Tourmalet is well equipped with over 30 lifts providing access to 70 ski slopes. Plenty of accommodation options are available at Barèges, an authentic Pyrenees mountain village, and the more modern resort town of La Mongie.
Northwest of La Mongie is the Pic du Midi de Bigorre at 2,877 meters, which commands marvelous sweeping views. The Pic du Midi cable car takes travelers up to the summit.
Top Sites of the Pyrénées-Béarnaises (Béarn Region)
Pau is most famous for being the birthplace of the beloved French King, Henry IV (crowned in 1594). His magnificent Renaissance palace is one of the most well-preserved castles in France. The 16th-century Château de Pau has a sumptuous renovated interior, which gives visitors a sense of the luxury and style that surrounded King Henry IV. The château contains the Musée National du Château, which displays tapestries and paintings that belonged to Henry IV.
Another must-see site is the palm-tree lined Boulevard des Pyrénées, which was created by Napoléon. This two-kilometer boulevard affords sensational views of the Pyrenees Mountains.
17. Oloron Sainte-Marie
This elegant riverside town (35 kilometers from Pau) is renowned for its UNESCO-listed cathedral. Dating to the 12th-century, the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie was a stop on the medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de la Compostela in Spain. This spectacular Romanesque portal (doorway) of the cathedral depicts charming, ornately sculpted figures, including the Count of Béarn in Jerusalem. Upon entering the doorway, visitors are stunned by the dazzling jewel box of a sanctuary, featuring colorful intricately painted columns and frescoes that sparkle with gilded details.
The annual Foire du 1er Mai (Fair of May 1st) is a traditional event that brings many regional farmers, food producers, and flower vendors to Oloron Sainte-Marie. Tourists will enjoy sampling the locally made cheeses and regional gastronomic specialties.
Sauveterre-de-Béarn is a walled medieval village (65 kilometers away from Pau) that stands gracefully above the Gave d'Oloron, a wide slow-flowing river lined by ancient plane trees. The town's history dates back to the 11th century, and in the 12th century, the Romanesque-Gothic Eglise Saint-André was constructed for pilgrims on the "Way of Saint James" route to Santiago de la Compostela in Spain. Today's visitors will enjoy wandering the town's cobblestone streets, admiring the surrounding bucolic landscapes, and communing with nature. The Gave d'Oloron is a good spot for salmon fishing, canoeing, and rafting.
Less than 10 kilometers away from Sauveterre-de-Béarn is the Château de Laàs, which is open to the public (by guided visit). In a 12-hectare parkland, this splendid 17th-century château has been converted into a museum, the Musée Serbat. The château's lavish reception rooms display works of fine art, such as precious Aubusson tapestries and exceptional masterpieces of European painting including pieces by Breughel, Fragonard, Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, and Rubens. The museum also holds temporary exhibits throughout the year.
With its pure alpine air and pampering thermal baths, this elegant spa town lives up to its name. Eaux-Bonnes means "Good Waters," in reference to the therapeutic mineral waters that flow through the town. Empress Eugénie (wife of Napoleon III) frequently visited the Eaux-Bonnes spa and made the town a resort destination for socialites in the 19th century. Part of this prestigious past, the Valvital Thermes des Eaux-Bonnes (thermal spa) is housed in a renovated Second Empire building featuring thermal pools, saunas, and steam rooms, all designed with the latest technology. The waters are said to help cure rheumatology and respiratory conditions.
Another attraction of Eaux-Bonnes is the natural setting in the Gourzy Forest of the Upper Ossau Valley, encircled by the Pyrenees Mountains. During summer, shepherds take their flocks out to the valley's green pastures and meadows, while picnickers, hikers, and cyclists enjoy the scenery. During winter, skiers flock to the snow-covered slopes. Gourette ski resort, the oldest ski area of the Pyrenees, is nine kilometers away from Eaux-Bonnes.
On the Nive River, the tranquil little town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (about 26 kilometers from Sauveterre-de-Béarn) was a medieval pilgrimage stop on the road to Santiago de Compostela. The historic upper town is enclosed by ancient fortifications. To enter the old town, visitors must pass through a gate under the tower of the Eglise Notre-Dame-du-Pont, a somber church that blends Romanesque and Gothic elements. Another must-see sight, the town's Citadel was rebuilt by Vauban in 1688 and offers panoramic views.
Other attractions nearby include the prehistoric caves (30 kilometers away), the Grotte d'Isturitz and the Grotte d'Oxocelhaya, which feature Paleolithic cave paintings, and the Forêt d'Iraty (35 kilometers away), one of most beautiful forests in the area.
Moumour (six kilometers from Oloron Sainte-Marie) is a tiny village with panoramic views of the countryside and the Pyrenees Mountains in the distance. The main attraction is the Château de Lamothe, the summer residence of the évêques d'Oloron (Bishops of Oloron) from the 13th century through the 18th century, for almost 600 years. This property has been completely renovated, while retaining the character of the original building. The Château de Lamothe is now a luxurious small hotel and offers guests access to the expansive garden with a swimming pool. There are also gourmet dining options.
The capital of the County of Béarn from 1194 to 1460, the town of Orthez later became a Protestant stronghold with a Calvinist university. The town's history is revealed in its remarkable sights: the Pont Vieux (bridge) with its imposing 13th-century tower, the Musée Jeanne d'Albret (museum devoted to the history of Protestantism in the Béarn region) housed in a 16th-century mansion, and the 13th- to 14th-century Hôtel de la Lune (a hostel for pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela). The medieval Eglise Saint-Pierre, which was incorporated in the town's defenses, was restored after the wars of religion.
23. Jurançon Countryside and Montagnes Béarnaises
The historic Béarn region is an idyllic landscape of gently rolling hills and storybook towns. An especially picturesque area of Béarn is the Jurançon, the sun-dappled foothills that are blessed with a mild climate year-round. Springtime is pleasant, and autumn brings warm days of Indian summer. There are many hiking trails through the verdant vine-covered fields.
By continuing farther south and higher up into the Montagnes Béarnaises (Béarn Mountains), the scenery becomes more wild and remote. Along the single-lane country roads, travelers will notice a patchwork of small farms and animals grazing on the hillside pastures. It is possible to discover family-owned farms that produce goat cheese and other artisanal products. This alpine area has many peaceful nature paths, through wooded areas and past rushing waterfalls.
This small village in the Jurançon region is most famous for its church, the Eglise Saint-Girons. This 16th-century church is classified as a Historical Monument because of its unique construction. It has a wooden roof structure made entirely of oak. The framework is so enormous that it required wood from 1,000 trees. Monein is an easy drive from Oloron Sainte-Marie, about 20 kilometers away.