The Hautes Pyrénées, as its name suggests, is the department in the Occitanie Pyrénées region which includes the greater part of this imposing chain of mountains, including some of the highest, snow-capped peaks. The department also includes the National Park of the Pyrénées, covering over 45,000 hectares. This department is split between the mountains to the south covering half of the department surface and the unspoiled valleys and vineyards to the north where it is most populated. It is predominantly an agricultural and tourist region, renowned for its gastronomy with duck, goose and Madiran wine featuring prominently on most menus here.
The Hautes-Pyrénées also boasts some remarkable natural sites, including Le Pont d’Espagne, Troumouse and Gavarnie cirques, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition, the region offers a large number of spa and ski resorts for holidays with the emphasis on well-being, fitness and outdoor activities. This is the perfect region in which to observe a wide variety of flora and fauna including birds of prey, marmots and over 1,200 species of alpine flowers.
It is the southernmost department of the region with the main town being Tarbes (47,000 inhabitants) although probably the best known town is Lourdes, the second most popular pilgrimage site in the world (after Mecca) where millions of pilgrims descend each summer to the shrine of St Bernadette. As well as the vast underground Basilica of Saint Pius X dating from 1958, you can take a 100 year old chair lift to the summit of the Pic du Jer which overlooks Lourdes and offers a superb panoramic view of Tarbes, Pau and the mountains.
A wide range of leisure activities are available to visitors ranging from hiking, cycling, rock and mountain climbing, parapenting, riding to skiing at all levels in the numerous ski resorts of the Pyrenees. For keen golfers, there are 18 hole courses at Lannemezan, Bagnères de Bigorre, Tarbes and Lourdes. The Tour de France regularly passes through the department and water sports on the numerous rivers are very popular too such as canoeing and rafting. The Atlantic coast is also not far so there is really something for everyone in this department at all times of the year.
The Hautes Pyrénées is the perfect area for you if you like nature, outdoor activities, pretty valleys, mountains and gourmet food and wine (the residents of the Madiran region in the Hautes Pyrénées are some of the longest lived people in Europe which they put down to the antioxidant-rich Madiran wine made here). Summers are also milder than in the neighbouring departments and the Hautes Pyrénées department is less crowded and well-known than many other parts of France.