Victor Hugo called it “Nature’s Colosseum” – a magnificent, natural amphitheatre scoured out by glaciers. Over 1500m high, the Gavarnie cirque consists of three sheer bands of rock streaked by seepage and waterfalls, separated by sloping ledges covered with snow and glacier remnants. On the east, it’s dominated by the jagged Astazou and Marboré peaks, both over 3000m. In the middle, a cornice sweeps round to the Brèche de Roland, a curious vertical slash, 100m deep and about 60m wide, said to have been hewn from the ridge by Roland’s sword, Durandal. In winter, there’s good beginner-to-intermediate skiing at the nearby 24-run resort of Gavarnie-Gèdre, with great views of the cirque from the top point of 2400m.

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