From its namesake city, the Gave de Pau forges southeast towards the mountains, bending sharply south at Lourdes and soon fraying into several tributaries: the Gave d’Azun, the Gave de Cauterets, the Gave de Gavarnie and the Gave de Bastan, dropping from the Col du Tourmalet. Cauterets, 30km due south of Lourdes, and Gavarnie 37km southeast of Argelès, are busy, established resorts on the edge of the national park, but the countryside they adjoin is so spectacular that you forgive their deficiencies. If you want a smaller, more manageable base, then either Barèges, up a side valley from the spa resort of Luz-St-Sauveur, or Luz itself, are better bets. But pick your season – or even the time of day – right, and you can enjoy the most popular sites in relative solitude. At Gavarnie few people stay the night, so it’s quiet early or late, and the Cirque de Troumouse, which is just as impressive (though much harder to get to without a car), has far fewer visitors.

 

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