In the heart of Hautes-Pyrénées, in an exceptional site, the Aure and Louron valleys never cease to appeal to visitors due to a remarkable architectural and natural heritage. Here, lovers of nature, fresh air and outdoor sports will be delighted. Particularly well preserved, the Aure and Louron valleys were distinguished by the EDEN 2009 "Tourisme et Espaces protégé" (Tourism and protected spaces) competition.
A rich and unspoilt natural environment
Certified Pays d’Art et d’Histoire (Region of Art and History) since 2008, this land is rich in protected areas with the Pyrenees National Park, the Néouvielle Nature Reserve and the Aulon Regional Nature Reserve (see EDEN Competition tab). You will find a paradise here for all mountain and sports fans: skiing, hiking, fishing, white water sports, paragliding, climbing, cycling, horse riding and, last but not least, discovering the exceptional fauna and flora.
The Aure and Louron valleys offer breath-taking landscapes, with a very pronounced difference between the seasons, from the bottom of the valley to the highest summits culminating at over 3000m high. Preserving this natural heritage and the pastoral activity which depends on it offers the valleys a harmony between traditional occupations and tourism. Everything is therefore brought together to please families and sporty people, those curious about nature and lovers of outdoor activities.
Wonderful painted churches
The numerous Romanesque and Gothic churches of the Aure and Louron valleys house remarkable baroque wall paintings which mainly date back to the end of the 16th century and the start of the 17th century. Their excellent conservation and the iconographic richness of each of them attract history fans. Digital tools (audio guide application for the church of Bourisp, a virtual visit for that of Mont) promote the painted churches in a fun way.
The church of Saint-Calixte in Cazaux-Fréchet in the Louron valley holds the only fresco of the valleys and dates back to the 12th century. The others are distemper paintings. This medieval fresco is all the more precious as there are so few of them in the French Pyrenees. This work is a testament to the exchanges between the Pyrenees valleys from the 12th century.
The majority of these churches are spread along the Pyrenees Piémont way, which crosses the Aure valley before going over the Spanish border. Two buildings have, moreover, been listed as UNESCO World Heritage, by way of the St. James' Way routes, since 1998: the Saint-Laurent de Jézeau church and the chapel known as Les Templiers in Aragnouet.
Flavours and expertise
The Aure and Louron valleys are also an exceptional area worked by some thirty farmers who are committed to sharing their passion. On the markets, on the farms and during walks among the herds, visitors can go in search of these men and women, who contribute to shaping and maintaining the landscapes, thanks to their expertise. Whether they are native to the valleys or new-comers, they are not short of ideas to offer original and new products.
There is something for everyone: beef and lamb, cheeses, honey, saffron, vegetables, plant and fruit based products, mohair wool, soaps, etc. So many opportunities to whet your appetite and quench your thirst for encounters!
These human activities, essential for the valleys, show a real dynamism which reflects the appeal of a territory which is a great place to live and stay.
The Pays d'art et d’histoire Aure and Louron valley visits
The team from Pays d’art et d’histoire (Region of art and history), a certification granted by the French Ministry for Culture and Communication, puts everything in place to offer you visits and events around heritage which are at once high quality, varied and original, and indeed for some, accessible to all. On the programme: night time, gourmet and winter visits, or even architectural, pastoral and literary trips with a guide, and for the little ones, paper chases, treasure hunts, etc.
Fans of nature will love the spectacle of the Pyrenees mountains: it is thanks to their actions in favour of the conservation of these landscapes that the Aure and Louron valleys were recognised by the EDEN 2008 "Tourisme et Espaces protégés" (Tourism and Protected spaces) competition. In a verdant landscape, head off on a hike on the trails crossing the Pyrenees National Park, visit the exceptional natural sites and even take part in the activities organised by the local nature conservation association. Sporty people or holidaymakers, there is something for everyone.
Nature outings with the Pyrenees National Park
The Pyrenees National Park is the third largest French national park. Located in the mountainous area, over 1000m high, it is a paradise for hikers, far from any dwellings you will be surrounded by nature in its raw state. Choose one of the valley itineraries: Aspe, Ossau, Arrena, Cauterets, Luz or Aure, and follow the trails which cross these extraordinary landscapes.
The 45,000 hectares of the park cover a natural area, the fauna and flora of which are still preserved. To help you to organise your hike, do not hesitate to contact the mountain professionals at the guides' office, in Saint-Lary-Soulan. Moreover, excursions with certified 'National Park' guides enable walkers to have an enriching experience and to learn a lot more about the local ecosystem. Other activities are possible in the park, like fishing, as well as discovering traditional activities of the region, like pastoralism and forestry.
Nature outings with the Aulon Regional Nature Reserve
Inside the Pyrenees National Park, the Aulon Regional Nature Reserve is a protected natural area. To discover it, head to one of the walking or hiking trails where you can admire the mountain biodiversity. On your path you may be lucky enough to meet a marmot, a common frog or one of the 115 animal species which the reserve contains. It will also be a chance to contemplate one of the 520 plant species identified in the park.
In order to make the most of this vast panorama, take part in the events organised by the Reserve all year round. For example, each summer in August, the 'La Frênette' association, in charge of the reserve, organises its Nature Festival. Workshops for children, stands, conferences and slide shows; for a whole day you will discover the biodiversity of the park thanks to fun and educational activities. A guaranteed success with kids.
The Hautes-Pyrénées is well known for balneology. The Aure and Louron valleys are continuing this tradition thanks to modern infrastructures and a quality service, whether to relax in the calm or have fun as a family.
The benefits and delights of the water in an exceptional setting
The Saint-Lary-Soulan spa resort developed from the 1980s. Thanks to its success, the resort expanded to welcome spa clients with increasing comfort. Fed by waters rich in elements and minerals, its baths have soothing benefits. The spa resort also includes a superb park and a hotel, to allow you to revitalise yourself in a pleasant setting.
Although adults will be delighted with baths, massages, saunas and Turkish baths, it is often difficult to combine well-being with a family stay. To meet this demand, the Saint-Lary spa resort has opened the Sensoria Rio centre, a fun complex designed for families. You can make the most of the benefits of water from a natural source at 32° while sharing pleasurable moments as a family. Come and unwind in a Jacuzzi, relax on one of the bubble beds or massage yourself under the jets. All this against a backdrop of the surrounding mountains. Children will be more than happy to have fun in the whirlpools in the middle of the geysers and waterfalls.
Located on the edge of the Génos-Loudenvielle Lake, the Balnéa spa benefits from an idyllic setting with a view of the mountains. Not far from the slopes, in winter it is a special destination for those who want to combine sport and relaxation. Open all year round, the spa complex welcomes both holidaymakers and residents from the region who have come to make the most of the benefits of one of its themed baths. Native American, Roman, Japanese and Inca baths draw inspiration from exotic décors and ancestral rituals taken from other cultures.
The spring route
The Aure and Louron valleys have numerous thermal springs running through them which, at some point, have served as treatments for the local population. Visit the site of Les Bains de Saoussas, the springs of which have probably been used since Antiquity, or the site of Les Bains de Cazaux-Debat, renowned for its restorative treatments among the local peoples. As this beautiful region is ideal for walking, you can also stretch your legs with a walk to the Source de la Reine spring in the Moudang valley.
The Aure and Louron valleys obtained the Pays d'Art et d'Histoire (Region of art and history) label in 2008. This region is made up of numerous historical little villages like Arreau, Vielle-Louron and Sarrancolin, in which you can admire the remarkable religious buildings built between the Middle Ages and the 16th century (churches and chapels), as well as the architectural elements linked to pastoralism (barns, shepherd huts, troughs, etc.). To discover the rich historical and cultural heritage of these valleys, visits and events are organised all year round.
All over the valleys, 204 explanatory plaques on the outskirts of the monuments and sites of historical and heritage interest accompany travellers throughout their visits. An interactive version is available via a brochure and a Smartphone application: a route that is both educational and fun which goes via the church of Mont and its wall paintings from the 16th century, the Saint-Laurent de Jezeau church and its ornate timber vault with remarkable paintings, and even the former Ardois mines of Adervielle and the wash house and livestock crush of Bourisp.
Visits and events
During the organised visits and events, you will be accompanied by guide-lecturers. In summer, go on a night time visit of Arreau, a gourmet visit to Ris, a 'Tour de France du Patrimoine' treasure hunt or a hiking trip to Auloueilh. In autumn, take part in a visit to the church of Mont, to Vielle-Aure or to Loudervielle.
Among the events put on, you will have a choice between night-time wandering by torchlight, treasure hunts, giant life-sized board games, as well as encounters with residents. For 6-12 year olds and families, the games offer a fun way of discovering each village and its heritage. Discover the historic centre of Arreau, the barns of Aspin-Aure and the spring and wash house of Fréchet.
For more information on all these activities and to register visit: www.patrimoine-aure-louron.fr
Heritage weekends and events
All year long, local and more national cultural events are spread throughout the Aure and Louron valleys. Come and make the most of the Region Heritage Days and the European Heritage Days during which some churches are exceptionally open, like the St Calixte church and its ornamental paintings from the 12th, 15th and 16th centuries.
During the Night of the museums, all the museums are open at the same time and attract a wide audience, especially families, every year. The Nature Days aim to raise the public's awareness about the topic of the environment. And let us not forget the Département-level Meetings of Regional Heritage, the Transhumances, the Small Mountain Church Festival and lots of other events spread throughout the year.
An experience open to all
The cultural project of Pays d'art et d'histoire (Region of art and history) aims to promote culture and heritage to a wide audience. Some events, visits, exhibitions and conferences are free, find out more from Pays d’art et d’histoire.
Where to sleep
A stay in the Aure and Louron valleys is synonymous with calm and tranquillity. A stone's throw from the slopes, on the edge of a lake or opposite a wonderful mountain view, the accommodation options are not lacking in charm. Historic hotels, rustic inns, comfortable guest-houses, holiday villages, tourist residences for groups, camp sites and a great deal more, the choice is vast and suited to everyone. Here is a small selection, so you can prepare your trip as best as possible.
Where to eat
During your stay in the Aure and Louron valleys, you will enjoy local traditional cuisine, made from local produce like Bigorre pork, Tarbais beans and sheep's cheese. You will also discover the creativity of imaginative chefs, inspired by the flavours of the world.
The Marais Poitevin is one of the largest marshes in Europe.