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.
We strongly believe that the very best way to discover the real Pyrenees is on your own, as a couple, or in a small group of like-minded friends.
In other words, independently – at your own pace (fast, slow or very slow), stopping to investigate the things that most interest you whether they be waterfalls or butterflies, church architecture or vineyards.
Where panoramic views and tranquil valleys, wildlife and traditional farming methods, are so much a part of the experience, we can imagine nothing worse than being surrounded by a gaggle of goggling tourists.
Larger groups also mean fixed start dates, tourist traps, large hotels, fixed dining times and menus without choice. To us, all of that is anathema! If you agree, please read on.
A quick story: our parent company, La Balaguere, is the leading tour operator for walking and cycling holidays in the Pyrenees, and sells over 10,000 holidays to French people, so the French website was translated into English, and La Balaguere sold – well you guess how many holidays were sold to English speakers? 13 - not bookings, people.
Why? Because what works for the French does not work for others. To generalise, the French often visit dozens of times, but you may only visit the Pyrenees once, so expect to discover a lot in one holiday. They want a cost-effective holiday – and if it costs too much, they’ll just book it directly themselves. They don’t mind marching long distances, and don’t want to pay for transfers. They don’t need any support because they speak French, and can call the emergency services or friends easily. In all of that, they are probably not that different to you in your home country.
So those are holidays that are designed for the French, and work for the French. We have designed holidays for English speakers that work for English speakers – and designed is the word.
We went back to the drawing board as regards itineraries, distances, people and luggage transfers, quality and authenticity of accommodation, highlights per holiday, support services – and so on. You name it, we’ve reviewed it - and probably redesigned it.
All of it with you very much in mind. That’s why we hope the biggest question you’ll be asking is which holiday shall I choose ?
A good question. Nobody ever quite fits into a “customer profile” (and why should they?), but most of our customers are independent minded people who have been travelling around Europe and the world quite a lot – or a lot! – over the last few decades on business and holiday.
They enjoy several breaks and holidays a year, and like discovering new places and new cultures as well as enjoying favourite activities – like walking – in favourite countries - like France. They like off the beaten track places, and coastlines as well as mountains.
They enjoy being active, and may well be fitter now than a few years ago, but most are not “fitness fanatics”. They can walk 10 miles (or more) in a day, but don’t want to be so challenged that it becomes unpleasant.
They expect a good quality, small, authentic hotel at the end of the day with good views and a well equipped en suite bathroom. They look forward to enjoying a good meal – preferably a memorable meal - and a few glasses of interesting local wine to reward all their daytime efforts.
They want all the hassle taken out of transfers from the airport to the first hotel, and don’t want to trudge the last 4 miles to the hotel along a not very interesting valley road. They want private transfers organised, so they can walk the best bits – and, of course, they want their luggage transferred, and waiting for them in their hotel room.
They want to know that if anything were to go wrong, or there to be a query they really needed answering, then there was a 24/7 English speaker based in the Pyrenees just a phone call away (and not some call centre in who knows where).
They expect good value for money, but are also willing (and able) to pay for good quality and the best possible experience – within reason.
They may speak a lot, or a bit, of French – or none at all – but recognise the French speak French (although many today also speak some English), and regard “struggling through” as part of the adventure, although English speaking help is always just a phone call away, if ever needed.
If this sounds like you, then that’s another reason to read on.
You can enjoy walking independently in the Pyrenees anytime between April and early November – but not anywhere.
The earlier and later in the season, then the more appealing are walks near, or on, the coast, and, of course, the Mediterranean tends to be drier and warmer than the Atlantic coast, but then in July and August the weather is balmy and warm on the Atlantic coast and Pays Basque when it can sometimes get a little too hot – and busy - on the Med. However, both have essentially maritime climates, so enjoy breezes and temperatures that make life pleasant most of the year.
The season for walking in the central and higher Pyrenees begins really in early June, but continues these days through to early October. The French go walking in any significant numbers only between the beginning of July and mid August. At any other time, you can walk for hours without seeing another human being.
While rain, low cloud and even snow are possible in the higher Pyrenees as elsewhere, the weather is often stunningly god and stable. Indeed, Pyrenean farmers are now suffering summer droughts – something unimaginable even 20 years ago.
Our holidays that are not right in the Pyrenees – Rioja, Cathar Country, Atlantic camino routes etc – are all very much April to October seasons, albeit busier in July and August.
Our favourite periods? Late May to early July, and late August to early October with only the 6 weeks from early July to be avoided, if you can.
But do phone to speak to one of our people about a particular holiday that interests you, and they will share their personal experience with you.
Included in the price of your holiday is a meet-and-greet private transfer from an airport or rail station to your first hotel – and a return at the end of the holiday. Also luggage transfers to your next hotel, so your luggage will be waiting for you in your room, and, when necessary, transfers for you at the beginning and/or end of the day’s itinerary, so you can walk a comfortable distance, and only do the “best bits”. If you are ever really struggling, then you can usually be taken with the luggage to the next hotel, and skip a day’s walking.
We have gone to exceptional lengths to make sure you don’t have to go to exceptional lengths. We have designed itineraries so you walk the best bits, and you walk for 4-5 hours a day over a period of typically 8 hours (say 09.00 to 17.00) giving you plenty of time to have a coffee en route, take photographs, even sketch, snooze after lunch, march to the top of that mountain, or visit that medieval monastery. Distance is not a factor in the Pyrenees: it is ascent, descent and time that really count, and we make sure the days are comfortable and enjoyable for anyone who is reasonably fit. Even if you are not, after a couple of days you will find your walking legs, and it’ll be fine after that.
We provide you with all the information you need for walking – really detailed directions written by our own people who have actually walked the route, and written directions as they go. We provide you with lots of general information about the region, about places you will visit, about the hotels, and provide all the paperwork for checking into hotels etc as well as support numbers, check lists for packing. Everything, in fact, that we know people need or want.
We have carefully selected hotels to ensure they are in the best locations – interesting towns, unspoilt villages, panoramic views etc. They are the hotels you would have chosen to stay in – the most characterful and authentic with the warmest welcome, the best rooms (often with views and balconies), and the best cuisine. We include breakfast every day, and usually dinner too – that means a three course menu with choices. You can choose other menus at a supplement, but we find most people don’t as we do not include the cheapest menus. Wine and other drinks are extra. Dinner is often not included when you are spending the night in a town with lots of restaurants, so you can enjoy choosing the one that suits you best. Similarly, picnics are included (and provided by the hotel) except when you are walking on a route where there are several villages and choices of places to shop, snack or lunch – but you can still ask the hotel for a picnic and pay locally, if you prefer.
These are mountains with often few other walkers and comparatively long distances between villages, so we know you will do everything to ensure your own safety and comfort just as we will do everything to help you if needs be. The old adage applies: if in doubt, don’t. And a new one too: if in trouble, call us. We’re there to help. In English. In the Pyrenees. 24/7. As the largest tour operator in the region, we have the largest resource network, the most contacts, and the strongest clout to get action if you need it. You couldn’t be in safer hands.