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 destination. The unspoiled 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 French Pyrenees is worth exploring, from the Alpine peaks to the ancient Romanesque churches. Learn about the best places to visit and things to do while you plan your travels with our list of the top attractions in the French Pyrenees.
Top Sites of the Hautes-Pyrénées (Pyrenees Mountains)
1. Cirque de Gavarnie
The Cirque de Gavarnie takes your breath away. Nature formed this magnificent mountain-enclosed valley in the shape of a cathedral's nave, or some describe it as a giant amphitheater. Victor Hugo called the UNESCO-listed marvel a "colosseum of nature."
Running along the border with Spain, the Cirque de Gavarnie rises to an elevation of over 3,000 meters. At the top, snow settles on the mountain terraces. Rushing waterfalls plunge from various levels of the sheer 1,700-meter-tall limestone walls.
Among the spectacular scenery is Europe's longest waterfall, the 432-meter-tall Grande Cascade.
Adding to the tranquility is a gurgling stream that rushes down the valley, crossed by small footbridges. A gentle walking path begins in Gavarnie village, runs past the Hôtel du Cirque et de la Cascade, and follows the stream to the head of the valley.
It takes about 90 minutes to complete the walking path and reach the foot of the Cirque de Gavarnie. You'll enjoy the charming pastoral landscape with its little mountain chalets and small chapels. During the spring and summer, small birds flutter and chirp and goats graze on the green rolling hills.
Advanced hikers can take on the more challenging trail at the Brèche de Roland, one of the most legendary places to visit in the Pyrenees.
The Cirque de Gavarnie is part of the Parc National des Pyrénées (National Park of the Pyrenees Mountains), one of France's 10 national parks.
The parish church of Garvanie village is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its historic importance on the medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.
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For the faithful, Lourdes is a glorious sight. Pilgrims travel to Lourdes to see where Saint Bernadette received her visions of the Virgin Mary and where the town's healing waters have reputedly healed illnesses.
Every year, around 1.5 million visitors come to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, which makes it one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage destinations in the world. 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 Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes has a Medical Bureau that verifies the "miracle cures" through a rigorous medical assessment, based on a set of seven criteria. So far, 70 miracles have been validated.
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. Mass is celebrated (in French) every day at the Grotto at 10am, and the Rosary is recited here every day at 3pm.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes has three basilicas: the 19th-century Neo-Byzantine Basilique Notre-Dame du Rosaire with Marian chapels featuring Venetian-style mosaics; the Neo-Gothic Basilique de l'Immaculée Conception, consecrated in 1876, with stained-glass windows depicting Saint Bernadette's visions; and the modern Basilique Saint-Pie X that can fit 20,000 people. Mass is celebrated at the Basilique de l'Immaculée Conception daily at 9:30am.
From April through October, Marian Processions are held daily at 9pm. Pilgrims assemble at the Grotto and proceed with candles to the esplanade of the Basilique Notre-Dame du Rosaire. During the procession, pilgrims recite the Rosary and sing Ave Maria, as well as other hymns. The tradition of a torchlit procession has taken place at Lourdes since 1872.
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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 ruins of a forum, a temple, baths, a theater, an amphitheater, and many other buildings.
The Musée Archéologique displays artifacts uncovered at the local archaeological site. The collection of statues, funerary sculptures, portraits, and coins provide glimpses of the ancient Roman town, which thrived here for over four centuries. Highlights include a set of marble sculptures called Le Trophée Augustéen and an assortment of votive altars.
Saint-Bertrand de Comminges also was a center of medieval spirituality. During the Middle Ages, the town's church was on the Chemin de Saint-Jacques pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
The UNESCO-listed Cathédrale Sainte-Marie de Saint-Bertrand de Comminges was built between the 12th and 14th centuries. This inspiring hilltop church blends Romanesque and Gothic elements and has a serene cloister that overlooks the Pyrenees countryside.
The village hosts a prestigious series of music concerts, the Festival du Comminges, during the summer. The annual festival focuses on classical music and 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.
In the 19th century, Cauterets became in vogue as a spa town among the French aristocracy, who came to enjoy the thermal waters and refreshing alpine environment. The town's Belle Epoque hotels and spacious promenades recall its fashionable past.
This heritage continues at Les Bains du Rocher thermal spa, which is open year-round. The modern spa facility includes a hammam, indoor pools, a sauna, and whirlpool baths. Les Bains du Rocher also offers fitness programs and beauty treatments.
In winter, Cauterets is a favorite skiing destination near ski resorts such as the Cirque du Lys ski area. Cauterets gets more snow than any other ski resort in the world and has a long ski season (until April).
During summertime, Cauterets is an ideal base for hiking and other outdoor adventures in the Parc National des Pyrénées. This national park boasts spectacular nature sites: the Pont d'Espagne waterfall, the picture-perfect Lac de Gaube, the pine forests of the Vallée du Marcadau, and the glistening Lac d'Estom (Lake of Estom).
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5. Grotte du Mas d'Azil: Prehistoric Cave and Museum
The Grotte du Mas d'Azil is one of Europe's most famous prehistoric caves. Because of its cultural value, the Mas d'Azil Cave is classified as a Grand Site de Midi-Pyrénées.
The cave is so massive that a river and a road run through it, winding around the impressive 410-meter-long geological site. (It's possible to drive right through the cave.)
You can take a guided tour to learn about the Cro-Magnon people who lived here and decorated the caves with art. The tour provides access to illuminated underground cave areas and galleries that present prehistoric artifacts.
The tour includes a ticket to the Musée de la Préhistoire (two kilometers away) which displays reproductions of original cave paintings.
Prehistoric artifacts found in the Mas d'Azil Cave include 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.
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At an elevation of 1,800 meters, this popular Pyrenees tourist destination offers fresh mountain air, sublime alpine scenery, and lush forests. The unspoiled landscape provides an inspiring backdrop for skiing, hiking, and other outdoor activities.
The Font-Romeu ski resort caters to many different skiers with its wide range of terrain and picturesque ski slopes. In the area, you'll find a great selection of hotels and lodges, camping sites, and other types of accommodations.
Nestled in the woods, the chapel of the Ermitage de Font-Romeu (hermitage) contains a famous statue of the Virgin Mary that has been associated with miracles. There are annual pilgrimages to venerate this statue.
Nearby is a Calvary on a site that offers outstanding views of the Pyrenees Mountains.
Spend some time in Bagnères-de-Bigorre for a rejuvenating getaway. Tucked into the Vallée du Haut Adour, the town's refreshing environment soothes the body and lifts the spirits. The majestic Pyrenees Mountains provide a breathtaking backdrop.
In the center of the town, the state-of-the-art Les Grands Thermes de Bagnères de Bigorre 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 also offers week-long healing programs, such as quietude retreats and stress reduction courses.
Right next to the spa, the Musée des Beaux-Arts Salies presents a collection of artworks that were exhibited at Parisian Salons in the early 19th century. The collection also includes an assortment of vibrant watercolors by Blanche Odin (known as "the fairy of roses and flowers").
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 Monument Historique); and the 15th-16th-century Eglise Saint-Vincent (another Monument Historique) that blends Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles.
About two kilometers from Bagnères-de-Bigorre is the Grottes de Médous, discovered in 1948. Visiting these caves, with their stunning stalactites and stalagmites, is one of the most interesting things to do in the area. The Grottes de Médous tourist site welcomes small groups (minimum of two) of visitors every day from April through September.
Bagnères-de-Bigorre is about 20 kilometers from Lourdes.
Nestled in the Vallée des Gaves, Saint-Savin looks out onto hillside pastures where sheep graze below the Montagnes de Lavedan. This sleepy village consists of a main square with a fountain, a few streets of old houses, a post office, and a church listed as a Monument Historique.
The Romanesque Eglise Saint-Savin-en-Lavedan was constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries. 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 Saint-Savin 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. This seventh-generation family-run restaurant prepares traditional French cuisine 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.
An ideal stopping point on the way to Pyrenees nature sites, the village of Saint-Savin is just 15 kilometers from Lourdes.
9. Luz Saint-Sauveur
Luz Saint-Sauveur is just past the Pont Napoléon (bridge) 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.
About 30 kilometers from Lourdes, the town of Luz Saint-Sauveur is one of the best places to visit for a spa vacation. The modern spa 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.
This historic town boasts an interesting fortified church, the Eglise Saint-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.
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, you can still take advantage of the healing waters at Le 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.
For alpine skiing during wintertime, head to the powdery slopes of the Superbagnères ski resort located 19 kilometers away.
Tarascon-sur-Ariège enjoys a beautiful setting in the Pyrenees Mountains (near Andorra) on the Ariège River. The town is surrounded by the Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises.
The Vieille Ville (Old Town) of Tarascon-sur-Ariège was fortified during the Middle Ages and is brimming with atmospheric streets, half-timbered houses, and architectural treasures.
Three churches are classified as Monuments Historiques: 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
Take a 15-minute drive along country roads from Tarascon-sur-Ariège to reach the amazing Grotte de Niaux. This cave features Paleolithic cave paintings from the Magdalenian period (15,000 BCE – 12,000 BCE). 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.
You can learn more about the prehistoric era at the Parc de la Préhistoire in Tarascon-sur-Ariège, less than 10 kilometers from the Grotte de Niaux. To bring the prehistoric era to life, exhibits present realistic representations of prehistoric dwellings and daily activities of the Cro-Magnon people.
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.
This ancient town at the edge of the Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises was the capital of the historic County of Foix, a medieval fiefdom.
Presiding over the town is a medieval Cathar castle that dates to the 11th century. The Château de Foix stands on a rocky outcrop overlooking the countryside, surrounded by massive defensive walls. During the Middle Ages, this formidable fortress was considered impenetrable.
There are three remaining towers of the Château de Foix. The freestanding round tower now houses the Musée de Château de Foix, which displays exhibits about the history of the Counts of Foix and the castle. The museum also has an archaeology collection that includes ancient artifacts found in the region.
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.
Foix is located about 17 kilometers from Tarascon-sur-Ariège.
14. Château de Montségur
Standing alone on a sheer promontory between Bélesta and Lavelanet are the impressive ruins of the Château de Montségur. This 13th-century castle served as a fortress for the Cathars, a sect of Christianity that the Catholic Church considered heretical.
The castle was the last Cathar stronghold to fall in 1244, during the Albigensian wars (the Catholic Church's crusade against the Cathars). Today, the dilapidated remains of the castle provides an evocative image of endurance.
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 Barèges-La Mongie Ski Area
The Grand Tourmalet Barèges-La Mongie 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 27 lifts providing access to 58 ski slopes.
Plenty of accommodation options are available at Barèges, an authentic Pyrenees mountain village, and the more modern resort town of La Mongie, which has many shops and restaurants.
Northwest of La Mongie is the Pic du Midi de Bigorre at 2,877 meters, which commands sweeping 360-degree views.
The Pic du Midi cable car takes free-riding skiers from La Mongie base station up to the Pic du Midi summit. This allows for an exhilarating off-trail run with panoramic vistas.
Top Sites of the Pyrénées-Béarnaises (Béarn Region)
The beloved French king, Henry IV, was born in Pau in 1553. His magnificent Renaissance palace is one of the most well-preserved castles in France.
Visit the Château de Pau to admire its sumptuous interior. (Guided tours are available in French). You really get a sense of the luxury and grandeur that surrounded Henry IV as you walk through the richly decorated rooms.
The château contains the Musée National du Château de Pau, which contains a collection of around 12,000 pieces, including artworks, antique furniture, and tapestries. Paintings and sculptures of Henry IV reveal insights into his character and reigning style. Some of the most prized items in the collection are the 17th- and 18th-century Manufacture des Gobelins tapestries.
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.
The spectacular Romanesque portal (doorway) of the cathedral depicts charming, ornately sculpted figures, including the Count of Béarn in Jerusalem.
Upon entering the doorway, you are awestruck by the dazzling 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. Musical entertainment adds to the festive ambience.
This walled medieval village (65 kilometers away from Pau) 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. In the 12th century, the Romanesque-Gothic Eglise Saint-André was constructed for pilgrims on the Chemin de Saint-Jacques route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
You will enjoy wandering the cobblestone streets, admiring the bucolic landscape, 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 splendid 17th-century Château de Laàs, which is open to the public (by guided visit) from early April through early November. Set in a 12-hectare parkland, the château houses a fine arts museum.
The château's lavish salons and reception rooms display the Musée du Château de Laàs collection, which includes precious Gobelins and Aubusson tapestries and masterpieces of European painting by Breughel, Fragonard, Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, and Rubens. The museum also displays decorative arts objects such as Sèvres porcelain and Baccarat crystal glassware.
Eaux-Bonnes means "Good Waters" and refers to the therapeutic mineral waters that flow through the town. Empress Eugénie (wife of Napoleon III) frequented the thermal baths of Eaux-Bonnes and made the town a fashionable spa resort during the Belle Epoque.
Spectacular scenery adds to the appeal of visiting Eaux-Bonnes. The snowcapped Pyrenees Mountains keep watch over this picturesque spot in the Gourzy Forest of the Vallée d'Ossau. 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 powdery slopes. Gourette ski resort, the oldest ski area of the Pyrenees, is nine kilometers away from Eaux-Bonnes.
This French Basque town, on the Nive River, overlooks a landscape of forested rolling hills. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port was a stop on the medieval Chemin de Saint-Jacques pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.
To enter the town's historic center, you must pass through a gate under the tower of the Eglise Notre-Dame-du-Pont, built within the town ramparts. This 13th-century church features a somber facade and a Flamboyant Gothic interior.
The town's hilltop Citadel was rebuilt by Vauban in 1688. Although the monument is not open to the public, it's worth taking the hike up here for the panoramic views.
Other attractions nearby include the prehistoric caves (30 kilometers away), the Grotte d'Isturitz and the Grotte d'Oxocelhaya. Both caves are classified as Monuments Historiques and feature Paleolithic paintings. You may visit the caves by taking a guided tour.
Also nearby is the Forêt d'Iraty (35 kilometers away), one of most beautiful forests in the area.
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is about 26 kilometers from Sauveterre-de-Béarn.
Moumour is a tiny village with panoramic views of the countryside and the Pyrenees Mountains. The main attraction is the Château de Lamothe, the summer residence of the Évêques d'Oloron Sainte-Marie (Bishops of Oloron Sainte-Marie) from the 13th century through the 18th century, for almost 600 years.
Rows of centuries-old plane trees lead to the château, which is tucked away in a leafy parkland. The château has been beautifully renovated, while retaining the character of the original building.
The Château de Lamothe is now a luxurious bed-and-breakfast hotel, and offers guests access to the expansive garden with a swimming pool. The property also offers gourmet dining options.
This hotel is a great base for exploring Oloron Sainte-Marie, six kilometers away.
Orthez was capital of the County of Béarn from 1194 to 1460. The town 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 Hôtel de la Lune, a 14th-century inn that still serves as 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. This alpine area has many peaceful nature paths, through wooded areas and past rushing waterfalls.
Along the single-lane country roads, you will notice a patchwork of small farms and animals grazing on the hillside pastures. You can also discover family-owned farms that produce goat cheese and other artisanal products.
The small village of Monein in the Jurançon region is most famous for its church, the Eglise Saint-Girons. This 16th-century church is classified as a Monument Historique because of its unique construction.
The church 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.
Map of Attractions & Places to Visit in the French Pyrenees
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