Who Are We ?
In 1984 a small walking holiday company was created, based in the beautiful Val d’Azun in the heart of the French Pyrenees. This company, named « La Balaguère » after the warm breeze that blows upwards from the Sahara to the Pyrenees, offered guided walking trips led by a small group of friends with a huge passion for the mountains.
Little by little La Balaguère expanded and more than 35 years later we help over 13,000 people every year enjoy walking and cycling holidays in the Pyrenees and further afield, to the most unspoilt areas of the world.
In 2018 we launched a new and exciting project. Purely Pyrenees is the English language branch of our business, offering self-guided and guided trips, walking and cycling from Spring to Autumn and snowshoeing in the Winter. Using our decades of experience we created a new range of holidays designed for English speakers who come, maybe for the first time, to experience the best the Pyrenees has to offer. Our focus is always to provide highlights, iconic places to visit, wonderful itineraries, authentic hotels and, of course, tremendous cuisine.
Purely Pyrenees and La Balaguère are now owned by the UCPA (Union des Centres Sportifs de Plein Air) which is a non-profit organisation in France that specialises in making outdoor sports holidays available for all. We are still based where we have always been, in the Pyrenean village of Arrens-Marsous.
We are very proud of our Pyrenean chain and of the knowledge that we have of it, amassed over years of providing guided and self-guided holidays. You can be sure that if you travel with us we will do everything we can to make sure you have a wonderful trip.
This is a question often asked but there is no one simple answer . The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St James, has a history that reaches back into the depths of time. It is also surrounded by myths, legends and stories…. Here we explore what we know about these ancients pilgrimage routes.
It is said that a pilgrimage to Santiago is a journey for the soul . Today pilgrims from all over the world come to Europe to walk these routes . The reasons behind why they do it are numerous , whether it is to spend some time alone , or to spend some time with friends or family in a shared experience , or to meet interesting people from all corners of the globe , there are very few who undertake a pilgrimage and do not come out of it feeling renewed and refreshed . But how did the routes of St Jacques de Compostelle, or St James as we know him , come into existence ?
Who was St James?
St James the Apostle , one of Jesus’ disciples , is strongly believed to have spread the Word of God in the Iberian Peninsula , the western coast of Spain . In later life he returned to Jerusalem where he was finally executed by Herod Agrippa I . Legend has it that his remains were taken by boat to Finisterre , Northern Spain, and then by a team of oxen to their final resting place in a village which would later become Santiago de Compostela .
There is not one Camino (or route) but a whole network of paths that weave their way from Portugal , Spain and France to Santiago de Compostela . Soon after the discovery of the tomb of St James in the 9th Century pilgrims began to walk to Santiago to bear witness to it . The early pilgrims walked along existing traveller routes through Spain . As word spread people started to walk from further afield and the different routes were established .
There are many different routes , some much better known than others . Often the lesser-known routes join up with the well-trodden routes as they get closer to Santiago .
The routes are a variety of lengths , the longest is the Via de la Plata which starts in Seville and which is nearly a 1000kms long , and the shortest is the Camino Ingles ( The English Way ) which is 119kms and starts in Ferrol , near when the English pilgrims used to land their boats .
The most popular routes are the Camino Francés from St Jean-Pied-du-Port in France , the Camino Portugués from Lisbon in Portugal , and the Camino del Norte from Irun in Spain .
The rich value of the cultural heritage of the Camino de Santiago has been widely recognised, none more so than in 1993 when UNESCO declared the Camino Francés a World Heritage Site . This was followed in 1998 by the inclusion of the Camino de Tuy, Camino de Limoges , Camino de Tours and Camino de Arles or Toulouse , and in 2015 by the Camino del Norte .
The criteria taken into account by UNESCO for recognition was the magnificent heritage built of historical importance created to meet the needs of pilgrims ( churches, hospitals, shelters, bridges and other structures) A heritage that bears witness to the evolution of art and architecture between Romanesque and Baroque periods .
Why the Camino Francés ?
Purely Pyrenees have chosen to offer the route of the Camino Francés as it is the most famous of the Caminos and it has many interesting points such as the Roncesvalles Pass (1450m) from where you have stunning views of the Pyrenees . You also pass through the beautiful towns of Pamplona , Burgos and Leon . We have created very managable stages and even though they are offered in the form of three extended trips it is possible to cut these into shorter trips if you only have a week , or a long weekend available .