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The natural wonder on the border of France and Spain that is the Cirque de Gavarnie | © E Rémoleux
The natural wonder on the border of France and Spain that is the Cirque de Gavarnie | © E Rémoleux

On Top of the World in the French Pyrenees' Cirque de Gavarnie

Picture of Alex Ledsom
Updated: 25 August 2017
The Cirque de Gavarnie is one of France’s natural wonders, on the border with Spain in the French Pyrenees. You can walk up to the many waterfalls at the top, where you’ll truly feel on top of the world.

How Was The Cirque De Gavarnie Formed?

This natural bowl was formed in the mountains by successive ice glaciers as they moved and eroded down through the valleys. Waterfalls shoot down from the top of the bowl, leading down the meandering river valley to the sleepy alpine town of Gavarnie.

The glacial crater of Cirque de Gavarnie
The glacial crater of Cirque de Gavarnie | © E Rémoleux

What To Know Before You Set Off

You can find provisions in Gavarnie itself, where there are lots of small supermarkets and tourist shops. The hike is suitable for people of any ages. Horses are available to carry the old and young up to the hotel and restaurant, Hôtel du Cirque, at the top. They have a few rooms if you really want to stay away from it all for a night, on a grand adventure. The walk to the hotel from the village takes about 90 minutes, depending on your health, and is reasonably gentle. You must pay for parking (for a few euros – take loose change) and it can get very crowded in the summer. Most people can get to the hotel without too much trouble. You can buy food and drinks (and use the toilet) at the restaurant.

The hike in starts gently and green
The hike in starts gently and green | © E Rémoleux

The Path To The Hotel

The terrain starts off very green with a proper path. Follow the river along the path (most people walk up on the left hand side) which gets gradually narrower and steeper the closer you get to the hotel.

The terrain gradually becomes more mountainous
The terrain gradually becomes more mountainous | © E Rémoleux

Beyond The Hotel

Most people finish their walk at the hotel, which is accessible for all ages. You may want to go on to the waterfalls though, which look closer than they are. There are no easily accessible paths after this point, although you can see the way others have climbed over the streams and rocks ahead of you. It’s well worth continuing and if you take your time, little kids will love scampering over the terrain. Most people veer far left to reach the waterfall quicker but the easier terrain is to walk along the river, although it takes longer.

Almost at the top of the world – the view looking back on the hotel
Almost at the top of the world – the view looking back on the hotel | © E Rémoleux

The Waterfalls

If you make it this far (about three hours from the car parks) you’ll feel on top of the world. There are lots of waterfalls that run down the side of the glacial bowl, but the largest is the most impressive. Also, because its harder to get to, there will be fewer people – the final slope can be tough on the legs. It’s lovely to dunk yourself in the run-off from the waterfall so take a towel and strip down to your swimsuit in the summer (paddling is just as fun). This is the best place to have a picnic. When you’re ready, head back to the hotel for a drink to celebrate before the much quicker, downhill descent.

One of many waterfalls at the top
One of many waterfalls at the top | © E Rémoleux