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.
With views that extend across the entire Pyrenean Mountain range and far beyond, the Pic Du Midi de Bigorre is one of the most majestic summits in the Hautes-Pyrénées. Standing proud at 2,877 metres above sea level, the mountain is renowned for its beautiful landscapes, high octane sporting events, fine cuisine and a world famous observatory and museum.
The cable car from La Mongie will take you to the summit whilst you enjoy those oh-so amazing views down across the valley and over the peaks of the Pyrenees. The cable car offers glass-sided cabins and really is the most spectacular of ways to ascend more than 1000 meters of mountainous terrain.
The Pic du Midi cable car takes you from the base station at La Mongie to an altitude of 2877 metres in fifteen minutes. The cable car stops at 2341 metres, at Pic du Taoulet, where passengers change onto a different car that will take you to the top of the mountain.
Most visitors to La Mongie fly into Lourdes before continuing their journey onwards. La Mongie can be reached by bus from the airport to the ski resort. Keolis-Pyreness, mobimipy and Maligne all offers regular bus services from Lourdes to La Mongie, with tickets costing from £6 to £10 per person for a one way fare.
The almost perfect observing conditions were, and still are, the major reason why astronomers have made the arduous trek up this mountainside since 1884. The unobstructed views have inspired scientific research since 1774, when chemist Jean Direct and Gaspard Monge climbed the Pic to study the pressure of the atmosphere around them.
In 1878, under the watchful eye of the Société Ramond, the construction of the observatory began. As a result of spiraling costs, the society handed the observatory over to the French state who have held it close to their hearts ever since.
The 8 metre dome was completed in 1908, under the ambitious direction of Benjamin Baillaud, to house a powerful mechanical equatorial reflector which was used in 1909 to formally discredit the Martian canal theory. In 1946 Mr. Gentilli funded a dome and a 0.60-meter telescope, and in 1958, a spectrograph was installed.
What is now only a 15 minute cable-car ride away from the resort of La Mongie, was once a dangerous and arduous uphill ascent. But, despite the obvious difficulties of reaching the peak all those years ago, the conditions and the unparalleled views have ensured that the observatory remains one of the most highly regarded scientific research points in the world.
If you want to learn more about this fascinating mountain top laboratory, the museum at the observatory will guide you through a detailed history of the Pic Du Midi de Bigorre as you learn about more than a century of scientific research. You will also be able to experience for yourself, views so highly regarded that NASA scientists used them to map the surface of the moon in preparation for the Apollo landing.
You can even stay overnight and enjoy a magical view of the sky at night. The Observatory offers a package deal for up to 19 visitors, which includes tours of the site’s telescopes and night sky observation with professional astronomers.
For an even more complete experience you can walk the best of the High Pyrenees, stay in the most comfortable hotels, enjoy wonderful local food and wine, and incorporate a night in the Observatory !
From the man made ski resort of La Mongie, with its quirky vibe and 1970 architecture, the summit also offers a real chance to breathe the fresh mountain air and explore the 750 square meters of landscaped terraces that await you when you disembark.
Hiking up the mountains to the summit is an adrenaline filled adventure to heights that literally tighten the lungs and get the heart pumping, as well as offering amazing views out across the Bastan Valley to the west and the Gripp Valley to the east.
Once you reach the summit, there is an excellent restaurant that caters for their captive audience (especially if you forget that the cable cars stop between 12-2pm for lunch). Serving good quality, yet reasonably priced French food and wine surrounded by far reaching views, makes every cent of the €23 set menu tariff, money well spent.
During the year, there are any number of sporting, musical, gastronomy and cultural events that take place at this unique venue up high in the sky. Sporting events like the Caminade du Pic and the Grand Raid des Pyrénées Mountain races, as well as the Pyr’Epic Mountain bike event all begin at the summit. The Derby du Pic is also a firm favourite with skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts form all over the world.
Without a doubt though, it is the observatory that is the most famous attraction on the summit of the Pic Du Midi. The fortified concrete-and-stone complex, packed full of metal domes, will bring to mind a James Bond film at first inspection. Sprawling across the top of the peak and into the clouds, the Observatory is home to the highest museum in Europe and offers uninterrupted and unrivalled views of the sky at night.
The Pic Du Midi de Bigorre Observatory is home to some of the most powerful telescopes in the world. Since 1873, the observatory has been a major site for astronomy, and is home to The Télescope Bernard-Lyot. Built in 1980 the telescope is still one the most outstanding tools in the world for observing the stars and galaxies.
It is also famous for its one-metre diameter planetary telescope that is used to monitor the meteorology of planets in our Solar System, measure global winds in their atmospheres, and monitors the impact of minor planet bodies in our planetary atmospheres.
The one-meter telescope has previously been used to provide observational support for a variety of space missions. The size and scope of the telescope enables clear and highly detailed images of Jupiter, Saturn, Venus and Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, as well as images of Uranus and Neptune.
When you are ready to leave Pic du Midi take the historical "Chemin des Muletiers" (a path that was originally forged by the men who built the observatory), past the abandoned Hôtellerie des Laquets before coming to the ruins of the former observatory at the Col de Sencours. The 11 km hike is perfect for those who are physically fit and enjoy hiking though the uneven landscape. In the winter, the path is even more exciting as fresh powder snow makes it the perfect run for skiing your way back down from the Observatory.
Journey up to the summit of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre to experience truly breathtaking views. The observatory with it planetarium, as well as the sun terrace, viewing platforms and fine cuisine, make the 1000 ft cable car ride a real journey into the unknown.