First Steps in the Pyrenees, I: Around Lescun

And so to the first of several, promised, pieces on exploring the Pyrenees for the first time.

I took my first steps in the Pyrenees during a two week summer break but I’ve noticed that many of those who write asking for for a first-time trip want to explore the area over five or six days. In all honesty it is difficult to really do justice to these mountains in less than a week. But, pick the right sport, and five days walking can give you a real feel for the mountains and for the relative merits – and difficulties – of the GR trails and the High Route.

For my first piece I’m taking a look at the tiny Vallée d’Aspe village of Lescun. If there is a prettier, high village than Lescun, then I haven’t found it yet. Although classed as being part of the d’Asp, Lescun sits – quite hidden – high above the valley on its own little plateau. Lescun offer a great opportunity to get to grips with both the GR10 and higher mountain paths. And in the evenings the village is the perfect place in which to soak up the mountain atmosphere.

Lescun offers three, good, day walks that provide a good initiation to the High Pyrenees.

Lac de Llurs

The first walk takes us to the high, mountain tarn, the Lac de Lhurs. At the first the walk meanders, gently, out of Lescun itself before climbing higher through the lush trees that are such a feature of the GR10. Above the trees the path strikes a harsher chord. Stone paths cling, dramatically, to the sides of rockfaces. In some parts the path has been ‘blasted’ into the side of the mountain, rather like the famous Chemin de la Mature a few miles away. This blasting was carried out to allow felled trees to be dragged down to the valley from where they were taken away to be made into ships of the French navy. These days the trees have gone and the path offers stunning views over wondrous, hanging valleys.

Path to Lhurs.jpg
Path, cut into the side of the mountain.

The climb is nothing too difficult in itself and the paths are well cut and frequently trodden. But at this point you’ll probably realise that you are walking at altitude. It does take some time to find a comfortable pace when you’re walking at this height in the blazing heat of a summer’s day; but there is really nothing to be worried about. Soon the walk begins to flatten out and you pick your way across rocks and boulders to meet the small tarn of Lhurs. This is a fine place to eat your lunch, no doubt made up of bread, cheese and the sausage of vallée. Not a bad walk for the first day after a long journey. Distance: 5 kilometers. Height gain: 651 metres. Time: between 3 and 4 hours.

Lac du LlursLac du Llurs Hosted on Zooomr

Pic d’Anie

Our second walk takes us out, west from Lescun, along the GR10. Gentle lanes cut through fields until the path begins to shadow under the fabulous rocks of the Orgues de Camplong. Then a long stretch of forest provides wonderful shade in the sun. These forests are a feature of the GR10. They not only provide shade but they create their own, cool micro climate. The effect is not unlike walking into a very efficient air conditioning system. The forest path seems to go on forever but when you emerge your taken by surprise; you’re now on high ground the path having climbed far higher, in the trees, than you realised. The walk climbs up to a couple of high mountain huts, the final one of which is the home of shepherds, cheese makers and a band of high altitude pigs. (See previous post French Encounter 1). It is OK to turn back here, but if you’ve still got the energy why not climb to the top of Pic d’Anie? Distance (to Pic): 10 kilometres. Height gain: 1604 metres. Time: 5 to 6 hours.

Cheese making in the mountains.

Pic d’Ansabere

This is the walk that saw me well and truly hooked on the Pyrenees. It is a fine walk to build up to. Initially, the path meanders through a series of delightful lanes and small farms and then begins to climb through the now welcome forest. Above the trees a grassy ascent takes you to the Cabannes d’Ansabere which are still used by shepherds who gain access these days by trail bike. The shepherds are in permanent residence all through the summer. The last time I was there two large sinks, with running mountain water, cooled some rather bourgeois looking packs of smoked salmon and a couple of bottles of a rather good vintage.

From the Cabannes you can take a good look at the small path that strikes off around the hill. This is the variante of the HRP favoured by Kev Reynolds; past the hill it drops down the the barren territory of Spain, before climbing back over the ridge to France to the Refuge d’Arlet. But on this walk we continue upwards, climbing up a massive scree field to a high plateau. The path through the scree is a little exposed but in practice you’ll find it well ‘bedded” into the mountain. Soon you reach the lunar landscape of Col de Pétrageme; you’re greeted at the top by international border signs. I entertained myself by having lunch in Spain.

D’Ansabere gives you a real feel for the high mountains; after this can you resist the lure of the HRP? Those who feel particularly energetic can brave the almost sheer climb to the top of Ansabere. But even from the Col there are wonderful views as you stare out on the barren, moisture free landscape. of Spain.


So, three good walks to be taken on consecutive days. You are, of course, allowed to take a rest day anywhere in between!

Cloudy Lescun
Lovely Lescun, shrouded in early morning mist

Lescun is a great place to explore in its own right. This tiny village has a lot of history as it’s been long at the heart of many border clashes between the French and their southern neighbours. Have I said already this is the prettiest village in the Pyrenees?

There’s not much here, but what is here is packed full of character. The Hotel d’Ani occupies the prime spot in the small, main square. The hotel has one of those wonderful, dark, wooden interiors that you find in rural France. A lot of guns hang on the walls. Nicholas Crane stayed here on his walk across Europe’s ‘continental divide’. He observed that the Patrons had the air of people who were confident that visitors paid their bills. You can eat here in the evening and, apparently, the food is quite good; though everytime I’ve looked at the menu you can have anything you like to eat so long as it is local, mountain, lamb.

I much prefer the little bar La Bergerie that hangs on a little street a little below the hotel. Across the tiny street a balcony hangs over the hillside, next too a perfect walled, market garden. Order one of the bar’s fabulous salads and you have the satisfaction of watching the staff nip to the garden to pick your lettuce! This is a lovely, friendly place. Throughout the summer old friends appear, those that have left return to visit their village of birth and a rather lovely, gentle – almost festival – atmosphere is felt. Just the place to laze in the cooling afternoon heat, cold beer in hand, and studying the map of the walk you’ve just completed.

Next to the Hotel is a small Gite d’Etapes (hostel) which is part of the hotel itself. A slightly livelier and younger gites/hostel can be found around the corner. The village campsite is about half a mile away, down a steep valley and back up the other side. The climb to the campsite is worth it. This is simply the nicest campsite I’ve ever stayed at. A small, grassy field is provided for backpackers from which you can sit and watch the sun rising and setting over the mountains. Camping as pure theatre. These days camping here is made more pleasant by the new general store that has opened in the middle of the village. The campsite also has a useful shop and can keep you supplied with Camping Gaz.

Vallée d'Aspe
Lescun Campsite

Lescun is perfect for a three or four night stay. I also imagine it would make a fine place for a longer holiday if you could rent one of the lovely village houses that have been converted for holiday let. Stay here for any length of time though and you will probably need a car.

Approaching Lescun

One final thing on Lescun itself. Lescun is high above the valley, its road and the bus stop that is marked Lescun! I’ve met backpackers who’ve taken three hours to climb up the tight switchbacks to Lesun, usually in blistering heat. Don’t do it. Your on holiday. Take the taxi from Bedous on the valley floor; it can be found at the garage on the South side of the village. The taxi journey will take but 20 minutes. If you arrive after 7 in the evening its odds-on that the taxi driver will have gone home for the evening. Best then to settle down in the adequate municipal campsite or to take a room at one of the two local bars (both owned by English couples), taking the taxi up the next morning.

Striking Out from Lescun

After three walks to get the feel of the place it is pretty easy to the take in part of a long distance trail.

The GR10 leaves Lescun and heads west, through forests and over the Col de Barrancq to descend down to the lovely, medieval, village of Borce and the slightly larger village of Etsaut. (The lovely gite d’etapes at Borce – and the wonderful eccentric owner – are the subject of a previous post which you can find here – Madam de la Gite de Borce). The walk is a distance of about 14 kilomters, height gain 701 metres, height loss 1004 metres, and will take you between 6 and 8 hours. Next morning you can catch the bus back up north towards Oleron St. Marie and the train network.

From Lescun there is also an early chance to explore the HRP. Follow the GR10 until the village of Lhers and take the path south the the Refuge d’Arlet; here you can experience a first wildcamp on the edges of a true Pyrenean lake. You can also sample the hospitality of a high refuge for the first time. From here a good second day would take you along a long ridge to rejoin the GR10 at the Col de Barrancq; descend to Borce. This route adds another two days to your journey.

A longer excursion might take you from Arlet, along the High Route to Somport where you might be lucky to stay in the little Gites there. Otherwise ignore the sniffy guide books and go to the ski resport of Astun; it’s not much to look at in the summer but is apparently very cheap but luxurious. From Somport you can take the route over the Col des Moines and on to the Lac and refuge at d’Ayous. From here the next day can see you back in the Vallée d’Asp at Etsuat. There is a nice hotel here but it is probably cheaper, and more fun, to cross the road and make the short climb up the gite at Borce. From Lescun this longer route would take another four days.

Refuge d'Ayous
Ayous Wildcamp

.. and Finally

I hope you’ve found this interesting and even useful!

All of the routes here are taken from Kev Reynolds’, Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees. This books doesn’t just focus simply on the GR10 or the HRP but covers both and all routes in between. Kev makes it easy to chop and change and to create your own bespoke routes.

If you’re looking for something with more detail about the villages and towns in the Vallée, the Lonely Planet Walking in France guide has a comprehensive section on this area.

All of the distances and heights quoted here are from Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees.

The basic three day break here could be tackled within a five day break. Better though, add a couple of days extra to really enjoy the mountains.

Take the longer options and – with a good day and overnight in Toulouse or Pau – and you could easily fill out a wonderful two week break.


  1. Great article, Andy. Well done.

    Interesting point about the enquiries you get for 4/5 day excursions. I wonder if that because most people’s comfort zone in the hills doesn’t extend much further than this ? Going out for 2 weeks would seemingly require much more planning, and possibily discomfort.
    Ususally, after a week, I’m looking forward to creature comforts – good food, a decent bed and being weather undependent. I wonder if thats just human nature or me being a wuss ?

  2. Certainly not being a wuss.

    In the UK a four or five day trip makes a lot of sense. You can, for example, take a sleeper to the Highlands, spend three days trekking to another station and then catching the train home.

    Big mountain ranges are a little different. The climbs are higher, altitude sometimes higher and temperature greater too. To really get the best out of the mountains of the Pyrenees you need 10 days I reckon.

    Having said that lots of people will, perhaps, want to do three or four days walking as part of, perhaps, a bigger holiday or as part of an intense short break.

    These posts – and Cauterets is next – is designed to help people with 4/5 days walking. I hope it helps.

    What I’m sure of, though, is that after a first, short, trip people will be back planning for a longer one.

    Finally, does it involve a lot more planning? Not necessarily so. The next post in the series will be around Cauterets and the final one will suggest a first 7 or 10 day trek on the HRP.

    You do learn a little bit more each time you go. If I can help people cut a little learning time than I’ll be pleased!

  3. Steve Woodward says:

    OK so the walk up from the bus stop might be a bit sweaty but it doesn’t half make you appreciate what a fantastic position the village is in. Also if you’ve come on the night train from Paris, it’ll wake you up. I wild camped by the Ibon de Acherito – just over the frontier ridge from Ansabere. This was perfect – a beautiful 180 degree view looking south onto the enticingly empty Spanish mountains below with the tarn and the cirque behind me. Bliss! The joy of really starry skies kicked in immediately.

  4. Viv Alderson says:

    Thanks you. Really really useful. We are going for a three day break in August starting from Pau and have not been walking around Lescun before (I visited it with a French family 30 years ago and always wanted to come back). Thanks again.

  5. Lescun is the most lovely village and lovely spot. Hope you have a great time!

  6. Sue fraser says:

    My partner chose the third walk including the scramble to the top of Ansabere as a “recovery walk” following a major cycle ride in the area (l’etape du tour from Pau to Hautacam). What an introduction to walking in the Pyrenees! The view from the very top was worth the extra climbing and the flowers were fabulous in early July. We’ll definitely be back for a longer trip.

  7. Sue – it is a lovely walk. I’ve always wanted to camp overnight near the Cabannes.

    Make sure you do go back!

  8. John Butcher says:

    Excellent article and very useful online resource. Can you tell me the approximate cost of the taxi up the hill to Lescun? Also, does the local shop sell cold beers?!

  9. Mark Hale says:

    Very good article on Lescun. Lescun is a spectacular place i spend a lot of time there walking and in winter snowshoeing with my wife Heather. We have lived in this area for more than 20 years and love it. I have a website that is not quite finished (or lots of photos of alpine wildflowers and the peaks around Lescun. (Checkout the Pyrenean Lilly that exist in Lescun).

  10. Mark Hale says:

    From the lac du lhurs (not Llurs) it is possible to climb the Table de Trois Rois the peak at the end of the lake just follow the stone cairns after the cabane (hut) and scale the chimney that is to the right of the peak. Do not attempt this climb if there is any sign of snow. From the peak there are other trails back to Lescun but again there must not be any snow.

  11. Williams says:

    We were wondering what the best walks in the Pyrennes are for wildflowers and is early June the best time? We can only manage 4 hours max in one day. Thank you

  12. Late June or early july would be better. The Cirque d’Anéou in the valley d’Ossau is one of the richest and easily accessed.
    Walks are very easy and short. I have taken a lot of the photos for my website from there ( There are many other walks usualy 5 To 6 Hours.

  13. sara w says:

    Hi, I have just come across this website – its amazing!! I am visiting Lescun in July but unfortunately only for one night. We are to be touring from the Uk to southern Spain. I came across this village and thought it would be a nice place to stop. Could you recommend which one of these walks we should do in an afternoon of 5 hours? Also where can I find the route on a map etc. I am planning our trip to perfection and can’t wait!! I really want to get the most out of each place we visit so any guidance you could give me would be much appreciated.

    Kind Regards
    Sara W

  14. Curious to know what Lescun and environs will be like the first week in May. Is there likely to be snow still on the ground?



    • Possibly Sue. There has been a lot of snow this Spring. There are a numbe rof webcams around which you might want to lok at. They change addresses regularly but google Somport Webcam and Cauterets Webcam.

      You should be able to get up to the village anyway bt when it snows here it snows!

  15. Lyndsay says:

    Good information! Could you tell me from what time of year it is usually possible to walk around Lescun without needing snowshoes??
    Many thanks


  1. […] Belvédère ramble, I had five walks in mind when I arrived in Lescun, thanks to my readings in Andy Howell’s blog and Kev Reynolds’ Cicerone guidebook. None of them looked like a terrible slog. All looked like […]

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