Rough Guide to the Pyrenees

Gite in Languedoc Roussillon with computer and free Internet
access South
France Self-catering vacation Aude
Self-catering accommodation in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains

There are three distinct areas of the French Pyrenees, the West, central, and Eastern areas, each with a different atmosphere and appearance. The East is mainly Catalan and Mediterranean in feel, whereas the centre has plenty of craggy, snowy mountains, similar to the Alps in many respects, and the West is the Basque Country. The sandy, sun-kissed beaches on the East and West coasts are very popular with locals and tourists alike, and the mountains in the central region are particularly popular with skiers during the winter, as they offer excellent skiing opportunities and are much less crowded than the French Alps.

The highest mountains in the Pyrenees can be found in the central region, with peaks of over 3000 metres. There are also some great picnic spots in the flower-filled fields in the area around Bareges. Wandering around the Pyrenees, you will see a lot of hikers – and a lot of sheep. Sheep are such an integral part of the furniture around here that the Basque word for rich, ‘aberats’, can be roughly translated as meaning ‘owner of many sheep’.

You can buy sheep’s milk cheese in hard and soft varieties from almost any shop in the region.

While the remoteness of the Pyrenees is one of its main draws, there are quite a few towns and cities worth visiting in the region. In the Basque country to the west, you can find the cities of Biarritz and Bayonne. Pau, in the central Pyrenees, is the site of continental Europe’s first ever 18-hole golf course, which was built way back in 1860. The popularity of the region with aristocratic English tourists back in the 19th century brought peculiarly English sports such as polo and cricket to the region, and they are still popular in the central Pyrenees today.

The town of Lourdes is popular with tourists, mainly due to the reported sighting by a young girl, Bernadette, of an apparition of the Virgin Mary back in 1858.

The drier, more arid Eastern Pyrenees are typically Mediterranean, with vineyards on the lower eastern slopes - and broom and thyme growing abundantly. The 13th century fortified town of Mirepoix is well worth a visit, with stunning architecture and a buzzing street market. If you want to explore some prehistoric caves, then you might want to pay a visit to the town of Niaux in the Ariege valley.

Perpignan on the East coast is near to plenty of nice beaches and can boast some fine attractions in its own right. If you are looking for cheap getaways in the Pyrenees region of France, there are some great deals to be found on the Monarch website on holidays.