The Pyrenees

The Pyrenees Mountains are found in the south of the country and act as a border between Spain and France. They stretch from the Mediterranean coast to the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic coastline, for a distance of almost 500 kms.

The Pyrenees are unique and has a culture that is not quite Spanish and neither not quite French. The area has embraced tourism as the mountains are able to produce both exciting winter and summer holidays.
The Pyrenees are older than the Alps and the rocks are made out of sedimentary rocks that were once found at the bottom of the seas. The coming together of Spain and France has folded the land upwards, and this has resulted in the mountains being formed.

Despite the southerly location of the mountain range there are a number of glaciers in the central area of the range. Eleven are found on the French side, but if global warming continues at its current rate, they will disappear by 20150. The mountains have been eroded away by glaciation and this has left behind some of the highest waterfalls in Europe.

The observatory at Pic du Midi

One of the most interesting places to visit is the Pic du Midi observatory which is found at the height of 2810 meters and was established in 1908. It is reached by cable from the nearby village of La Mongie and there are currently 6 separate telescope research projects that are taking place in the observatory.

La Mongie is one of the biggest ski resorts in the Pyrenees. As well as the cable car to the top of Pic du Midi, there is a gondola and 43 other lifts giving access to over 100km of piste and trails. As well as skiing, there is snowboarding, snow mobiles and cross-country skiing. In the summer the same venue is used to provide accommodation for walkers and cyclists. If tourists become bored with the village, the nearby town of Bagneres De Biggore is home to a spa, a casino and many restaurants and bars. The area has also been used as a stop-over on the Tour de France bicycle race, with the most recent occasion being in 2004.

Another pilgrimage to Lourdes

Not all of the attractions of the Pyrenees are found in the upland areas. Lourdes is a town that is located in the foothills of the range and is an ancient spa and market town. However, the sightings of the Virgin Mary to local girl Marie Bernadette Soubirous on eighteen occasions in 1856, has made the town a place of pilgrimage. It receives over 6 million visitors a year and the only place in the country to get more is Paris. Many of the Roman Catholics who make the pilgrimage also take the opportunity to bathe in the spring waters of the town, and there’s a claim that it cured about 4000 people who took the plunge.

Another port of call for tourists has been the fortified city of Carcassonne which is also located in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Being half way between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and also dividing the Pyrenees from the Massif Central, gave the city an excellent defensive position. Realizing its importance, the Romans built a defensive camp on the hill top and remained there until the demise of its empire. The medieval fortress is still in place today and is known as the Cite de Carcassonne. The unusual nature of the settlement has resulted in the city receiving 3 million visitors every year with tourism making a huge impact on the local economy.