This 800 km (500 mi) trek runs from Hendaye on the Atlantic to Banyuls-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean. It takes the high line along the spine of the mountains, avoiding centres of human activity. Though it rarely strays too far from useful facilities, the Haute Route Pyreneenne (HRP) from one end of the Pyrenees to the other is not always well marked (good maps arc essential) and there is little prospect of rescue in case of difficulty. It is therefore an undertaking reserved for adventurers experienced in demanding back-packing, as the sheer length of the journey precludes professionally guided trips.
That said, many people choose to hike shorter sections of this superb mountain route alone or with an organized party. The HRP is one of Europe's classic hikes and is definitely the highest, most beautiful, dramatic and challenging walk the Pyrenees can offer, as it weaves to and fro across the French-Spanish border. Although not way-marked, the path is generally well defined, and there are a number of refuges along the way that allow the intrepid walker to 'stay high' and rarely descend into the valleys. The true joy of walking the Pyrenees - apart from the rugged mountain scenery - is the fact that this is one of Europe's last great wilderness areas.
There are many variants along the HRP where trekkers can choose alternative paths - for example to avoid the few sections that require the use of crampons and an ice axe. If you are only able to spare a limited amount of time, be sure not to miss the section containing the spectacular Ordesa Gorge and the Cirque de Gavarnie, a breathtakir.g natural amphitheatre. Other rewarding short-trek options are the major surrunit ascents (choose from ten, Pico Aneto beillg the highest).
WHEN TO GO
Mid-June to mid-September
TIME IT TAKES
Allow around six weeks for the sea-to-sea journey
The Pic du Midi d'Ossau (known as 'the Matterhorn of the Pyrenees'), a striking twin-headed peak.
Aigues Tortes National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty sprinkled with deep-blue glacial lakes.
The Pic d' Ansabere, with extraordinary fingers of limestone rock that look like organ pipes.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Emergency rations are essential - one of the main difficulties in walking the HRP is that food supplies cannot be replenished every day.