Trek Notes - France

Meridien Way

The Meridian Way

A fascinating trip following the Meridian Way, a route that closely follows the International Greenwich Meridian through the French département of the Hautes Pyrénées. Starting in the attractive foothills the route builds up to a climax at Gavarnie in the heart of the mountains with a visit to the dramatic Cirque de Gavarnie, a World Heritage site. Some of the route follows part of the famous long distance trail GR10, a 700 kms route from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

When the Greenwich Meridian was agreed upon as the international standard in 1884 the fact that it passed through some of the most impressive scenery in the French Pyrénées was probably not a major consideration. However the new Meridian Way allows us to explore this spectacular area. Our trip starts at the famous pilgrimage town of Lourdes from where we take a funicular railway to the summit of the Pic du Jer (890 m) where there are excellent views looking back over the town. From the summit we follow a network of paths and tracks above the east side of the main river, the Gave du Pau, before dropping down to the attractive spa town of Argelès-Gazost for the second night. The following day we climb old shepherds' tracks to the picturesque village of St Savin where there is a 12th Century abbey church. We continue along the valley side before dropping down to Pierrefitte Nestalas where a bus ride takes us up through the narrow gorge to Luz St. Sauveur with time to visit the town and fortified "Templar" church. Two nights are spent here giving the option of a rest day and time to visit the local spa facilities or take a short bus ride to the village of Barèges for a delightful walk down the Bastan valley back to Luz St. Sauveur mainly following the GR10. The next day we again follow the GR10 to Gèdre, a small village in a magnificent location with soaring mountains on three sides. Heading south from Gèdre we approach Gavarnie via footpaths crossing high summer pastures before descending into the village. Two nights at Gavarnie give time for a visit to the Cirque de Gavarnie, a natural amphitheatre some 1400 metres from top to bottom, and the Grande Cascade with a 423 metre drop - the longest in Europe. Local transport can be arranged to the Col des Tentes for the fitter to visit the famous Brêche de Roland (2807 m) a 100 metre by 40 metre "doorway" into Spain and then walk down to the Cirque de Gavarnie

Day 1: Arrive Lourdes. Taxi or a bus and a short walk, (neither included), to the first hotel. Try and find time to explore this extraordinary pilgrimage town and the area around the grotto where Bernadette is reported to have seen the apparitions of the Virgin Mary on many occasions. 

Day 2: From the hotel it is a short walk across to the lower station of the funicular railway that takes us up almost to the summit of the Pic de Jer (890 m) from where there are excellent views looking back over the town. From the summit we follow a network of paths and tracks above the East side of the main river, the Gave du Pau. After passing through a number of typically Pyrenean villages we drop down to the attractive spa town of Argelès-Gazost 20km/370m ascent/5½ hrs.

Day 3: From the hotel it is a short walk to the edge of the town from where a path climbs through the mixed deciduous forest to reach the grazing land above. A combination of easy tracks and quiet roads take us through to the cobbled main street of St Savin where it is possible to visit the impressive 12th Century abbey church and perhaps enjoy a drink at the café opposite the Post Office. The route continues past the Chapelle de Piétat where there are excellent views back to St Savin and then climbs again to a former hermitage the Chapelle de Poueyaspé. Descending through the forest of mainly beech the route arrives at a cycleway, which we follow through a tunnel to the town of Pierrefitte. A bus is used from here to take us through the narrow gorge to Luz St Sauveur. 14 km / 650m ascent  / 4½hrs. 

Day 4: With two nights at Luz St. Sauveur it is possible to have a day off and enjoy the town, which has plenty of shops, cafés and restaurants. The ruined castle of Sainte-Marie can be visited as well as the unusual fortified 12th Century "Templar" church of Saint André. The spa facilities may also tempt those with aching legs! For those who prefer a more energetic day a short bus ride up to the village of Barèges takes us to the start of a lovely walk mainly following the GR10 through the Bastan valley back to Luz. 15 kms/250 m ascent/800 m descent/4½ hrs.

Day 5: Within half an hour of leaving the hotel at Luz the route following the GR10 takes us over the impressive Pont Napoleon, which in one graceful arch spans the gorge and river 66 metres below. After climbing through the forest and past a series of waterfalls the route reaches the Croix de Sia on a promontory overlooking the valley. From here we follow the GR10 up the valley for another 1½ hours before using a combination of tracks and quiet roads to reach the village of Gèdre. 15 kms/ 650m ascent/4½ hrs.

Day 6: A quiet road, which becomes a dirt track, leads us away from Gèdre back to the GR10. The route then climbs through a beech & fir forest to reach high summer pastureland with stunning views in all directions. The route crosses the Plateau de Saugé with views ahead of the Cirque de Gavarnie growing larger by the minute. The final descent into the village of Gavarnie ends a memorable day best rounded off with a cold beer on the terrace of one of the several cafés. 20 kms/ 930 m ascent/ 6 hrs. There is a shorter walk option 13kms/ 650 m ascent/4 hrs taking a more direct route from Gèdre to the Plateau de Saugé.

Day 7: Two nights at Gavarnie allow a full day to explore this spectacular area. Detailed route notes are provided for three alternative walks. An excellent circular walk taking in the Cirque de Gavarnie and the slopes above both sides of the valley not only crosses the Greenwich Meridian twice but has a couple of shortcut option too. 12kms - 18 kms/ 660m - 930m ascent/ 3 - 5½hrs. Alternatively it is possible to hire a taxi to the Col de Tentes (2208 m) and walk back to the village of Gavarnie possibly taking in the famous Brêche de Roland (subject to weather & snow conditions) or more directly by the delightful Pouey Aspé valley. 16 kms/ 660m or 500 m ascent/ 1400m or 1300m descent/ 6 hrs or 5½hrs.

Day 8: Depart Gavarnie by bus or taxi.

Please Note: That the holiday price does not include the cost of public transport to the first hotel in Lourdes on Day 1, the funicular train on Day 2 (7€), the bus to Luz on Day 3 (4€), the bus to Barèges on Day 4 (2€), the taxi on Day 7 (9€ to 30€ depending on numbers) and transport from Gavarnie to departure points on Day 8.

Accommodation & Meals
Accommodation is on a half board basis in 2* or 3* hotels. Bed and breakfast and 7 evening meals are included. Picnic lunches are not included in the tour cost but are available from hotels or can easily be obtained from local shops. We indicate in the route notes where there are suitable restaurants or cafes for lunch stops, or recommend you carry food if there are none convenient to the trail.

Most frequently used hotels are described below but alternatives of a comparable standard are used on occasion when room availability is limited. 

Night 1:  Our first night is spent in Lourdes at a 3* hotel in a quiet area of the town overlooking the Gave du Pau river. Half board

Night 2:  At Argelès-Gazost the 2* hotel has a pleasant garden area and a large and popular restaurant. Half board

Night 3 & 4:  The two nights at Luz St. Sauveur are spent at a traditional family run 2* hotel. Half board

Night 5:  At Gèdre the 2* hotel has been in the same family for three generations and enjoys excellent views from most of the bedrooms. Half board

Nights 6 and 7:  At Gavarnie we stay for the final two nights in a comfortable 2* Logis de France hotel. Half board

Level of Difficulty
The walking on this tour is varies between moderate and quite challenging. A reasonable level of fitness, a reasonable head for heights and an ability to cope on rocky paths is required on some days. You need good boots throughout the tour: The trails are generally good, but on occasion there are steep or winding sections of loose limestone shingle. Carry plenty of drinking water and adequate protection against the sun, including a sun hat. There are steep ascents / descents sometimes in hot weather. You will need to take care walking on this tour.

Day stages: In the region of 12km to 20km per day with average altitude gains of 500m (maximum 800 m). 5 to 6 hours walking per day for most people. Slow walkers will take a little longer.

Waymarks: The trail follows in the main well-established paths, much of the way being waymarked with the distinctive white/red/white GR (Grande Randonnee) waymarks and presents no special difficulties. Other sections have yellow or red paint marks. A compass and the skill to use it can be desirable at one or two points.

Travel Information
Season: Mid-May to the end of July and September to the end of October. August is best avoided as it can be hot and busy. The alpine flowers in the Spring and early Summer are wonderful whilst the air clarity and autumn colours are appreciated by both locals and visitors alike. Both spring and autumn can bring rain spells and high summer can also produce electrical storms, usually late in the afternoon.

Arrival: After 5 p.m. at the first hotel in Lourdes

By Rail:  Train to Lourdes.
From the railway station at Lourdes to the hotel:
The easiest way is to take a taxi from the taxi rank outside the station, which should cost less than €10. There is also a bus service - le citybus. Line 1 leaves from outside the railway station and there is a stop at the junction of the Pont Peyramele and the Avenue Peyramele. The buses leave every 15 - 30 minutes and a single costs €1.20 From the bus stop follow the riverside upstream for a couple of minutes to the hotel.
End of Tour - Getting back to the railway station at Lourdes from Gavarnie
By taxi direct: From Gavarnie to the railway station at Lourdes - cost about 80 €.
By bus all the way: There is a regular bus service from Gavarnie to Luz St. Sauveur and from Luz St. Sauveur to Lourdes. The times are as follows:
Gavarnie to Luz:
During school periods - Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday
Leave Gavarnie          07h45   or   17h45     Arrive Luz          08h15   or   18h45
During school periods - Wednesday
Leave Gavarnie          07h45   or   13h30     Arrive Luz          08h15   or   14h00
During July & August
Leave Gavarnie          10h00   or   18h30     Arrive Luz          10h35   or   19h05 
The bus fare is €6 single
Luz to Lourdes
20 minutes after leaving Luz St. Sauveur the bus stops at Pierrefitte-Nestalas where it is necessary to change to a connecting bus that uses the same bus stop. The total journey time from Luz St. Sauveur to the railway station at Lourdes is one hour.
Departure times from Luz St. Sauveur:
Every day:  09h50,  12h55 &  15h50
Sundays & public holidays:  07h20 &  17h30
Monday to Saturday (except public holidays):  19h30
The bus fare is about €7 single
By taxi to Luz and then bus to Lourdes: It is also possible to get a taxi to Luz St. Sauveur and then the bus to Lourdes. A taxi would cost about €30.

General information
Baths: it is not normal for your room to have a bath, the main reason being that it takes up a lot of space, some hotels/guesthouses may have a separate room in the house where a bath is available to guests, but in the main en suite bathrooms have showers rather than baths.

Breakfast: in countries such as France usually consists of coffee and toast/croissant, if you want more for breakfast then we would suggest you purchase some food the night before. It is important for you to tell us if you have any dietary requirements when you book your holiday so that we can inform everyone that you are staying with.

Single Supplements: are payable on most of our tours. 
1) The single supplement guarantees the privacy of your own room, however, rooms can at times be small and in some places may not enjoy the same facilities as double/twin rooms. 
2) You are not just paying a supplement on the room but the luggage transfer costs you are paying in full. The cost of moving 1 bag or 2 bags etc remains the same. On some of our trips it is possible to reduce the cost of the single supplement if you happen to be a 3rd person travelling, or have chosen a date when other clients are booked.

Late bookings: Please note that if our normal hotels do not have availability or are closed on the day you wish to stay, we will use other hotels , which offer a similar standard of accommodation and cuisine.

Language: Note that you will not necessarily come across people speaking English. Remember you have left home to experience a different culture: bring a phrase book, try to learn a bit of the local language.

Luggage: When staying in hotels, sometimes your luggage will have been taken to your room awaiting your arrival. However don't be surprised if your luggage is waiting for you to take it up to your room please politely ask someone if you need assistance.


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