Subject: Re: Info for hiking in the Pyrenees
Hi Leslie, I will try to answer your questions in general and after doing your research, I will be glad to look up all of our old (and still loved and used for the most part) B & B's and tiny hotels if you need them. I will also share any hikes that we know in the regions that you choose. Please send specific details for hikes (distance and degree of difficulty) as most of these can be shortened or lengthened at will.

First of all, traveling is best in September. The further into October you get, the worse the weather will be. After going to the Pyrenees 6 or 7 times, we know that this is pretty consistent. September is generally mild with blue skies and the beginnings of leaf-color changes. The snow doesn't usually start until mid October, so you can climb as high as you want without slipping (However, you should always be prepared for extreme weather and changes of 30 or more in the higher elevations, if the weather suddenly turns gastly!) We always travel with warm clothes, ponchos and hand warmers, etc. Also, an added bonus, is that in September in some of the valleys, you will see the timid Izard (an old Pyreneean word) -(Ibex) This is hunting season outside the National Parc boundaries, and we've never seen so many and so much movement. It's a treat!

As for areas to hike in with charming accommodations, our favorite B & B is in the Valled d'Aspe due south of Toulouse, Pau, Oloron and finally into Bedous where you will drive up the valley into the tiny hamlet of Aydius and have yourself a spectacular experience at La Curette: http://www.lacurette.com/raquette.htm -- Christian and Eliene are friends now and their accommodations are wonderful. The regional food that you will eat ' table' will be most memorable. These are the warmest, most gracious people we've met in the Pyrenees and will return for 2 or 3 nights everytime we go to that region! We have sent quite a few people from the Internet to this B & B and they've raved about it even if they don't speak French!!! This hiking in this region is spectacular - in many areas within 1/2 hr drive -- Lescun, Col du Somport and Bedous (I will be glad to help you with individual hikes as you finalize plans!) The villages in this area are as charming as the boulangeries and we always buy picnic provisions before leaving for the day. Stores generally open at 8 wth boulangeries opening earlier. (Remember: pears are in season and they are like nothing you've ever tasted. I always use a plastic tupperware-like container so that I can carry pears in my backpack and reach our destinations without squishing them!!)

The other valleys that we always in France are: Val d'Azun (this is fairly near Lourdes and Argeles-Gazoust (old thermal center with many restaruants and places to stay) Val d'Azun is at the head of the valley near the town of Arrens-Marsous )or vice versa, which has a wonderful National Park headquarters (Some English is usually spoken here but all of their written info is in French -- They will draw trailhead info for you, if you need it. The hiking areas are pretty much a favorite for us. They are in the actual head of the valley - Val d'Azun, and over the col du Bordeurs, in the Lac Estaing area. Each of these areas has hikes too numerous to list, but is it outstanding and well a few days atleast. We have stayed in a few B & B's in the Val d'Azun area and a Logis in Argeles-Gazost (which is 1/2 hr drive to the trailhead in Val d'Azun. Again, I will find the B & B's and hotels, once you decide.

The Bagneres-de-Luchon is another favorite region. There are spectacular long hikes from this region and it is truly lovely. Also, from this region, it is an easy drive over the pass to Val d'Aran on the Spanish side which has fantastic, hikes and great places to stay!!! Luchon is bustling, typically lovely Thermal town. We have usually stayed at the hotel Corneille (not too much is open in late Sept, early Oct., as the people who take the baths' usually to home before the end of Sept. The hotel is very comfortable and is not expensive due to off-season rates. We found a neat B & B last year higher up in the mts., but they were full. If you decide to go here and want to venture into a French B & B, I'll get the name, etc. for you. There are hikes in the Valley de Lys and at the hopital de France where there is a very long hike up to lakes and a refuge called Benasque This is an historic hike that goes into Spain. We have done this on both sides, from Franch to Spain and on the Spanish side, we have done this (Called Salbeguardia) to look back to France and Luchon. In this region as in many, hikes were used during the War for the Resistance to take the Jews into Spain... While hiking this in broad daylight, one cannot imagine what it must have been like to do this in complete darkness, holding small children and belongings. There are also hikes in the Lac d'Oo area, which is beautiful with spectacular waterfalls!!

I almost forgot the Ariege Pyrenees -- We stay in Aulus-les-Bains - a tiny thermal town, that, unfortunately seems to be losing it's luster. The tiny hotel with it's warm and friendly proprietors is wonderful and very comfortable and their food is terrific! Also, there are fantastic restaurants in the area (within 1/2 hr drive) and the hiking is magnificent. The Ariege and Aulus is about 2 hrs drive south and a bit east of Toulouse if you're coming or leaving out of that airport.

We usually fly into Pau if the connections are good, but Toulouse has more connects if you think you might miss your plane!!!

As for books, we use mainly the Rough Guide's Pyenees book and supplement it with Michelin yellow (in France) and Michelin orange (in Spain) - maps. We use the hiking maps called the Series Bleu for practically everything and if we can't get these we have used the Carte de Randonnees, but these are not as good, in our opinion. The Series Bleu is put out by the Instituet Geographique National (IGN) and they are the most detailed that we've ever seen!!! - Exceptional, really. We have many guides in French that we've collected also.

n Spain, the Val d'Aran region is spectacular. There are circuit hikes with many lakes to view (all very pristine!), hikes that take you high up to resevoirs and even higher to alpine lakes as well as many others. We stay in the Parador in Arties. Carretera Baqueira-Beret, s/n Arties 25599 Spain --- Telephone reservations: +34 902180743 It is near all of the hikes and, as usual, it is very comfortable and the breakfasts will carry you all day if need be!

>From here we drive further west (having to drive south first and around the mts into the next valley) to Benasque. This is a tiny ski area that is as alive in the fall as during the winter. We always stay at the Gran Hotel Benasque: Carretera Anciles, s/n Benasque 22440 Spain I will have to get the telephone number for you if you choose this region. The hotel is small (58 rooms), but it's comfortable, has great amenities and it makes a perfect base. There are good restaurants in this area too!!! About 1/2 hr drive to the trailhead of Salbeguardia, there is a hotel that is really fun - surrounded by mts. Since they redid it, it's a bit touristy, but the setting is something else! I can't seem to find the name or info on the comp., but I do have it put away, and, again, I will send it to you if you decide to go to this region.

The last area in Spain that I might consider for this trip is in Tregura. It is above Compradon (in the Pyrenees Orientale region) If you decide to do the Cathare areas of France and cross into Spain, this is a tiny ski area that has one hotel and is the most charming we've found in this area. The hiking is great and you can wander up to the French border and really fell the enormity of the region. The hotel is very high up and from our tiny room (very tiny) we looked down on the whole region. It is a bit out of the way, but again, I apologize - I'll find the hotel info if you decide on this area.

When you decide, I'll check my maps, and tell you what numbers of Michelin or the Series Bleu you will need to have.

This should get you started - keep in touch and let me know where you need details. Regards, Susie Newton, MA