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The GR10 Trail - Walking the French Pyrenees - Travel Guide by Paul Lucia

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The GR10 Trail - Walking the French Pyrenees - Travel Guide by Paul Lucia

The GR10 Trail - Walking the French Pyrenees - Travel Guide by Paul Lucia

The GR10 Trail by Paul Lucia Guidebook

Walking the Pyrenees in France

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The GR10 is one of a number of official long-distance paths (Grandes Randonnees) in France. This classic long-distance walk across the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean takes about 50 days to complete, but the author divides it into sections conveniently tackled in a fortnight's holiday, with details of accommodation and transport. This classic long-distance walk across the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean takes a lower route than the more arduous Pyrenean High Route. Nevertheless it passes through striking mountain country and gorge scenery. The easy ascent of the Pic du Midi d'Ossau is described as an excursion. The route takes about 50 days to complete, but the author divides it into sections conveniently tackled in a fortnight's holiday, with details of accommodation and transport. There is invaluable practical information for Australian walkers visiting France for the first time. The GR10 is one of a number of official long-distance paths (Grandes Randonnees) in France. The GR system is very extensive and some 40,250km of footpath have been designated and waymarked. Each GR route has been allocated a number. The GR10 runs from Hendaye on the west coast through the mountains of the Pays Basque, Bearn and Hautes Pyrenees to Luchon. From here it continues generally in an easterly direction to pass the sparsely populated Ariege, then across the Pyrenees Orientales to end on the Mediterranean coast at Banyuls-sur-Mer. The total distance is 866km.

Guide to walking the long-distance GR10 across the Pyrenees from Atlantic to Mediterranean. Taking 50 days to complete and divided here into sections tackled in a fortnight's holiday, with details of accommodation and transport. The GR10 is one of a number of official long-distance paths (Grandes Randonnées) in France.
Seasons
Early June through to the end of September, although care should be taken over high passes early in season. High season July and August.
Centres
Various centres along the route offer good facilities. St Jean-Pied-de-Port, St Engrace, Cauterets, Bagneres-de-Luchon, Fos, Siex, Vicdessos, Arrles-sur-Tech, Banyuls-sur-Mer.
Difficulty
Trekking the GR10 coast to coast, with its 49,000m of ascent and descent, the vagaries of the weather, navigation difficulties and replenishment of supplies and water is a serious undertaking. For those properly equipped and prepared, it is a superb mountain expedition. A tent is not required.
Must See
Pic du Midi d’Ossau, the Vignemale North Face, the sheer unrivalled beauty and charm of the scenery, and the hospitable pastoral villages nestling in the hillsides.

More detail

Walkers of all ages and abilities are drawn to the Pyrenees by the combined attractions of a waymarked trail and the availability of accommodation and meals at the end of most days, meaning that lighter loads can be carried. A further advantage is the ‘fireside fellowship’ particularly enjoyed by the French. However, make no mistake about it: trekking the GR10 coast to coast, with its 49,000m of ascent and descent, vagaries of the weather, navigation difficulties and replenishment of supplies and water to sort out, is a serious undertaking. Nevertheless, anyone properly prepared should not be deterred. A tent is not necessary (except, perhaps, while crossing the Ariège), and very few walkers carry one; if prepared meals can be afforded, carrying cooking kit and large quantities of food can also be avoided.

In this guide the route has been divided into 50 walking days, mostly determined by the availability of lodgings. However, it is not intended that this breakdown should be followed religiously, though the logic of it is inescapable. For 23 days, all the way to Bagnères-de-Luchon, there are adequate lodgings. There is accommodation for a further three days, but the lack of food shops means that planning for the next 15 days to Mérens-les-Vals must be concluded at Luchon. My observations and suggestions in this respect appear at the beginning of this section in the hope that they may be of some help in managing this part of the walk. Thereafter, from Mérens to the coast, the route passes through excellent walking country with the likelihood of more stable weather and suitable lodgings at the end of each day.

Access

Road: There is no need to give details here as almost every day has road access at some point. Road atlases will show most of the roads, but 1:50,000 IGN maps are needed for the local mountain roads, and there will be lots of new sections not shown even on these.

Air: With very cheap air fares available, flying is a good option. RyanAir fly to Biarritz and Pau in the west and Perpignan in the east. Flights to other airports close by the GR10, such as Lourdes, are usually only available from Paris. Other city airports either side of the Pyrenees require more time and expense to reach the mountains. If flying into Biarritz, the train station is about 3km away, with services to Hendaye. There is also a bus service that stops on the N10 as it crosses the route of the GR10. There is a bus shuttle, la Navette, from the airport at Perpignan to the town some 5–6km to the south. There is a Youth Hostel in Perpignan, near the main railway station to the west of town. Follow the road north from the station, beside the tracks, turning right at the main junction into avenue de Grande-Bretagne. A few hundred metres later, just before the large police station, turn left and the Youth Hostel is at the end of the turning on the right.

Rail: Eurostar and SNCF have combined return tickets to the main towns north of the mountains. The cheapest fares require that dates are specified and the same town is used for outgoing and return journeys. Local travel can then be done using single tickets. The Metro connects Paris Nord to Montparnasse station, where the French TGV service swiftly conveys its passengers southwards. Taking the first Eurostar from London to Bordeaux can mean that Hendaye is reached by mid-afternoon and walking commences the very same day! Bear in mind that Bordeaux is in a cheaper fare band than Toulouse. There are ongoing rail services to Hendaye, Bidarray, St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Bagnères-de-Luchon, Mérens- les-Vals, Bolquère, La Cabanasse and Banyuls-sur-Mer.

Coach: Coach travel, once the economic way to the south of France, has rather been eclipsed by cheap flights or faster rail. Eurolines run services to Bayonne, Pau, Lourdes and Perpignan. The service to Toulouse connects with a small coach to Andorra.

Equipment

Whatever equipment you decide to take, make it as light as possible. You will need a comfortable rucksack in good condition. There is no compelling reason to take a tent and cooking kit as far as Luchon, and from Mérens to the coast, as adequate accommodation is available each night. However, the cost of lodgings, though individually quite cheap, can mount up significantly over 50 or more days. Only a small saving can be made by using campsites, but a considerable sum by cooking one’s own meals, either in the tent or in the gîte. Through the Haute Ariège there are plenty of cabins, but these are not always available for use by walkers and some do not have a water supply; a tent here is a great asset.

You should have lightweight boots, preferably waterproof, and three sets of socks. Gaiters are heavy and may not be used much, but stop-tous are most useful as they can do just what their name implies, and are especially useful for keeping snow out of boots in springtime, and socks dry when walking through wet grass. A pair of lightweight trainers or sandals is more or less essential. Boots are not allowed to be worn in either gîtes or refuges and there is little protection in socks, though refuges tend to supply some form of footwear.

As for all mountain areas, a breathable and waterproof outer layer is essential. But nevertheless, shorts are the order of the day, with a pair of trousers for evening and travel wear. Take three sets of underwear, of the quick-drying variety; there will be days when washing cannot be dried. Take three tops, keeping one for evening and travel, since the others will become grubby-looking without machine washing. You will need a warm top, fleece or equivalent for evening use, and you should pack a sun hat that really does stop the sun. Gloves might be needed on rare occasions, though I use a dry pair of socks instead.

In theory, if using gîtes and refuges, there is no need to carry a sleeping bag – just a sheet – as blankets are provided. In practice, blankets may not be available and some nights will be very cold, so a lightweight bag is essential, and you will need a warmer one if camping. A camping mat will only be necessary if camping, or if using the cabanes of the Ariège. Walking poles cum ski sticks are very popular now, and I can recommend their use. You will need water containers capable of holding several litres of water, plus a personal water bottle carried on the outside of your sack for easy access. A compass and the knowledge of how to use it are essential; maps and guides are dealt with below.

Many gîtes and refuges provide kitchen areas for personal meal preparation, and many gîtes have cooking stoves as well. Personal cooking kit is needed if camping and if you want to cook in those places without such provision. Bear in mind that re-sealable gas cylinders are not readily available in the Pyrenees, and that gas cylinders are not allowed on aircraft.

Facilities list

A list of facilities is provided at the end of the book. The heading ‘Gîte’ refers to gîtes d’étape, and a shop is indicated when some provisions can be purchased, either from an épicerie or sold at the accommodation, if this is a regular feature. Locations in brackets lie a short distance from the main GR10, and crosses in brackets indicate that the facility is unlikely to be open during a coast-to-coast walk (involving a start early in the season). These might be open in July/August, as well as during the skiing season. ‘Hotel’ means a hotel, auberge or a place where rooms are available. ‘Campsite’ refers not only to campsites but also to those places where camping is allowed and facilities available.

Fitness

The enjoyment of walking this trail will be greatly enhanced by prior physical preparation. If you deem that you are out of condition, gradually try to fit in as much walking into your day as possible. Little and often is better than an occasional all-day outing. Start taking a daysack and then your rucksack, eventually loaded well above what you expect to carry. Then, more for psychological reasons than physical, do at least one 30km walk with weight. Have hard weeks and easy weeks to allow your body time to adjust. One great advantage of such gradual preparation is that you may well avoid the dreaded blistered feet. In the Pyrenees, distance is not the overriding factor when assessing the amount of effort required. The total ascent is the yardstick; and, if your knees are not too strong, the total descent has to be considered too.

Food shops

Replenishing supplies is sometimes a problem. Mountain folk still living in the villages tend to go by car to the nearest town supermarket. Shops open during the summer can be closed in September for their holidays. The most dramatic closure in recent times has been the épicerie at Fos, as this is at the very start of the Ariège; fortunately the boulangerie is still functioning. It is possible, but never certain, that lunch and trail food can be obtained from gîtes, refuges and bars en route. Information is given in the daily descriptions.

Geography

The Pyrenean mountain chain can be said to begin as a rocky promontory on the Atlantic coast of Spain in the south-east corner of the Bay of Biscay, and extends roughly east-south-east some 435km, as the crow flies, to another such headland on the north-west coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The GR10 manages to double this distance and more. It will be noticed from maps that high ground coming from the east passes to the north of that coming from the west, thus forming the valley, Val d’Aran. Fos lies at the mouth of this valley, just inside the French border. From the Atlantic coast, the hills soon rise to La Rhune (900m), below which the first day ends. On the final day to the Mediterranean, Pic Néoulous (1025m) is climbed, and the route passes close to the summit of Pic de Sailfort (981m). The highest pass on the main route is the Col de la Madamète (2509m), which is passed on the 19th day. The three-day extension via the Hourquette d’Ossoue rises to 2734m.

 

The GR10 Trail by Paul Lucia Guidebook

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