The Pyrenees, that great barrier between France and Spain which rises to well over 3,000 metres and stretches for 450 kilometres from the blustery Atlantic to the sun-drenched Mediterranean, offers a scenic and cultural variety unmatched by other European mountain ranges. Its western extremities and north-facing — French — slopes are largely wet, lush and green. Its southern — Spanish — slopes, and those in the east — the Catalan-speaking French Roussillon — are hot, dry and craggy, and carved by spectacular canyons. Naturally, such very different landscapes, and the climates that have fashioned them, provide for a very diverse flora and fauna.
On this holiday we will be exploring the Parc National des Pyrénées, situated in the high central region of the French Pyrenees. These north-facing slopes, closer to the Atlantic than the Mediterranean, are wet, green and well forested; in early summer their highest slopes remain snow-covered. Here, the high Pyrenean bird and mammal specialities are to be found amongst the most spectacular scenery; and the month of June, just before the hay is cut, is the best time to enjoy the wonderful flowering meadows of the Pyrenees, and their rich butterfly-life. Our base, throughout our stay, will be a pleasant country hotel in the quiet village of Gèdre. Situated at just over 1,000 metres, and a short drive from the magnificent Cirque de Gavarnie, Gèdre is an ideal base from which to explore the full spectrum of Pyrenean habitats during daily walking excursions.
The valleys that dissect the high peaks will be the main focus of our attention, with their high forests, mountain pastures and spectacular cirques. They offer fine walking and the best of high Pyrenean birds and flowers. The magnificent Cirque de Gavarnie and Port de Boucharo, on the Spanish border, offer high limestone cliffs and screes with imposing waterfalls, draining the dwindling glaciers. Overhead we will find Chough and Alpine Chough, Griffon Vulture, Lammergeier and Golden Eagle. Snow Finch and Alpine Accentor feed around the melting snow and there is always the possibility of an encounter with the elusive Wallcreeper on high cliff-faces.
Often known as the Flower Garden of Europe the rugged grandeur of the Pyrenees is complemented by an exciting and colourful flora, as diverse as anywhere in Europe. Notable, in spring, are drifts of daffodils, sweetly-scented daphnes and the magnificent silver-leaved Pyrenean Saxifrage Saxifraga longifolia
. Many regional endemics reflect the long isolation of the Pyrenees from other European mountains and include such gems as Pyrenean Snakeshead, the yellow Pyrenean Lily, Ashy Cranesbill and that delightful member of the African violet family Ramonda myconi
The vast expanses of the Cirque de Troumouse and the neighbouring Cirque d’Estaubé, high above the tree-line offer a different range of habitats, from pastures enlivened by drifts of white Pyrenean Buttercup,
gentians and primroses, to rocky slopes with a wide range of alpine plants and dwarf shrubs. Pyrenean Chamois graze these upland pastures along with herds of domestic cattle and sheep. Breeding birds include Ring Ouzel, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and Citril Finch; Dippers fly along the rivers and raptors may include Booted and Bonelli’s Eagles, Goshawk and Peregrine Falcon. At lower altitudes, forests and meadows provide another botanical paradise with a profusion of orchids and specialities such as Horned Pansy and Pyrenean Hyacinth. Butterflies and other insects proliferate in the meadows and in the forests we may encounter Red Squirrel, Firecrest, Crested Tit and, with a little luck, the secretive Black Woodpecker.
This holiday, taking in the broad range of Pyrenean natural history, and offering a wide variety and choice of walking excursions, should suit a broad range of interests and abilities. We will also hope to make the most of the local cuisine and liquid refreshments!
Excellent tour leaders/experts. Friendly atmosphere at all times, with fellow travellers and tour leaders. As slower travellers, we were never made to feel an inconvenience. Lovely, comfortable, friendly hotel/staff and owners.
David Tattersfield was excellent as always. He used his experience well to make good judgements about the itinerary in a late season related to the weather forecast.
This was my fourth holiday with Naturetrek - and David Tattersfield (Tour Leader). All the others had been excellent, so I came to this with high expectations and was certainly not disappointed! David really does make the most of every day - no opportunities are ever lost. Nine of the thirteen people in our group had been before on trips led by him - I think that says it all! ... The walks were absolutely stunning and quite challenging and yet we all (despite our varying physical abilities!) had a wonderful week with a real sense of achievement and satisfaction at the end - all thanks to David's skill as a leader. This skill, combined with his amazing botanical knowledge and his genuine desire to share it with his group makes his trips so enjoyable and special. Add to this David's fabulous picnics (such variety!), excellent meals at the hotel, and long evenings (often until 10.30pm) discussing the day's highlights - it just couldn't have been better.
Despite the challenging weather, David's knowledge of the area enabled us to see the best areas of this region. The variety of habitats and their flora were stunning - sights of which were unforgettable. The hotel staff were very helpful and friendly and my compliments to the chef for the excellent meals provided. Another excellent value holiday from Naturetrek - Thank you!
Mr & Mrs A.
Thank you for another excellent holiday. The combined knowledge of the two leaders was really good. This is the second trip we have done with David Tattersfield, and although birds are our main passion, David has taught us so much about botany with his wonderful enthusiasm and patience that he has helped us to develop an interest in the subject.
C.L & T.T.
Perfect location for the trip very well catered for and a good and helpful rapport between trip leader and hotel management.
Mark, our leader, was excellent. We cannot fault him - he was cheerful, helpful, friendly, energetic and did his best to make our stay as comfortable/safe/interesting as possible. Altogether - a fabulous trip - and we shall definitely be booking another very soon!
R. & A.D.
This was our first guided holiday as we usually travel independently, but we were more than pleased with the outcome, and the excellent attention of the leaders. We have today booked another trip with you for next spring.
Mark is a competent tour leader, very knowledgeable in all aspects of our trip. He was very patient thankfully. I would not hesitate to recommend him to anyone considering going on such a trip. Ideal leader for a butterfly trip and excellent also for botanists. (I learned a great deal!)
Essentially, we had a great time in the Pyrenees. Mark was a good leader, extremely knowledgeable on the butterflies and plants. He was also pleasant and easy-going which put all four of us at ease. We saw an impressive range of butterflies, plants and birds. As a group we gelled together very well and Mark helped that process too. The hostel and food were of a good standard. I particularly enjoyed the local-style of cooking and the variety of meals throughout the week. Our picnics were also good. As for the locations and species seen, these were superb. Mark clearly knew his way around and took us to some stunning and productive sites...I would not hesitate to recommend both Mark as leader and the trip itself as a whole to anyone who expressed interest in going on any future Pyrenean butterfly holiday.
Our leader also knew the birds and wild flowers of the area and just where to find them. This was a bonus for the group.
The holiday was memorable and very successful because of the energy, enthusiasm, endless patience and local knowledge of the leaders. I shall certainly travel on trips led by David in the future. He is a wonderful ambassador for Naturetrek and he worked extremely hard to give us a great holiday and to uphold the reputation of the company.
I also had the advantage of knowing what an excellent and enthusiastic leader David Tattersfield is and what a wide knowledge he has. He made every effort possible to find and show us all the birds in the area.
Marks knowledge and enthusiasm was a great asset.