I want to share some of my favourite and lesser-known walks in this part of the Pyrenees. The descriptions are intended as outlines only, rather than full route notes, so you’ll need to trace the route yourself using a map. Where possible I’ve given links to French sites where you can download the topography.
Étang d’Areau from Col de Pause
The Col de Pause is a starting point for some wonderful walks, as well as an up-close view of Mont Valier (image 2). This entry describes a walk up to the pastures known by various spellings: Areau, Arreau, Arréou and Areou and the emerald green lake (image 1).
Some brave souls drive up to the parking area at the Col, but the road gets rougher and narrower beyond Laserre, so I park at Laserre and then walk along the GR10. That takes me around 40 mins to get to the Col de Pause.
At the Col you have a choice of walking up the road (image 4) but I found it quicker to continue walking up the GR10 – it’s steeper but much shorter. It takes around 2 – 2.5 hours from the Col to the étang d’Areau, which is unmissable – yes it really is that colour! If you don’t feel inclined to go further, there’s a path to the left of the lake that takes you to the top of the ridge. Here you get a wonderful view of the lake with its backdrop of Mont Valier (image 3), as well as the endless ridges that fall away on the other side, as you look east. On the other hand, if you have the time and energy, you can carry on walking up the road all the way to the Spanish frontier at the Port d’Aula. This is one of the easier routes up to the border.
You can read about the debate surrounding the reintroduction of bears to the Pyrenees, featuring these very slopes, on Steve Cracknell’s site here (with links to other informative posts on all sides of the debate).
Tuc de la Coume
For years I’ve gazed at this summit (image 1), wondering how to get there as there’s no direct path marked on the maps. It’s a relatively easy summit in the middle of a long ridge that lies between the valley of the Garbet (running from Ercé to Aulus) and the D18 valley from Massat up to the étang de Lers. At 1745m it’s not especially high but you get a 360 degree panorama of both the summit chain and the surrounding valleys (image 2). I’ve found an easy route starting at the étang de Lers (between Le Port and Aulus).
Park at the lower (western) end of the étang de Lers, and almost opposite the wooden pier you’ll see a forestry path (with a ‘no entry’ to vehicles). Take this track through the forest and don’t miss the left hand fork that rises more steeply up to Col Dret. At Col Dret, the landscape opens out with a good view of Mont Valier. From here, take the path up to the right that’s initially the same path as the long distance Tour du Val du Garbet, heading for Courtal d’Arbeit. You must then keep on the top of the ridge on your right, avoiding the Tour path as it drops down to the left.
Once you are on the ridge (some fencing runs alongside it here and there) then you stay on it, climbing over a few rocky outcrops (image 3) and fighting your way through bracken until you are finally in sight of the final grassy ridge leading up to the summit of Tuc de la Coume. The summit has a touching memorial (image 4) to Christian who I’m told died thereabouts when a snow overhang collapsed. It can take around 3 hours from the lake to the summit, less to get back down.
Étang de Guzet (and Cascade d’Ars)
The triple waterfalls of Cascade d’Ars are deservedly well known, but it’s possible to make a longer round walk that takes in the étang de Guzet. Or, if you’ve already walked to the falls, a hike up to this beautiful hidden lake itself is well worth it, and avoids the crowds that tend to stick to the falls.
I started from the car park in Aulus les Bains and took the D8F up to the Col de Latrape. Ignore the left turn to the Cascade and soon after you take a path up to the left, heading steeply up through the forest and crossing the forest track at one point. Eventually you come out into the open Plateau de Souliou (image 1). Then continue to follow signs for the etang de Guzet, climbing up through the woods until you see a marked path down on the right to the lake shore (image 2).
If you just want to go a little further, you can follow the path up to a recently restored cabin (image 3) that overlooks a small pass – another lovely spot for a picnic.
Or, if you’re doing the whole round trip, then from here, the path continues around the flank of the mountain, heading towards the Cascade. It’s not that far but it’s tiresome in places as you step over the debris of avalanches (see warnings below). It’s a relief to arrive at the Passarelle d’Ars – the metal bridge over the river Ars (image 4). This is yet another serene spot where you might be tempted to pause and take in the view. Cross the bridge and the path takes you steeply down alongside the Cascade d’Ars, and the GR10 back to Aulus. I did the round trip in around 5 hours.
Bear in mind that the path above the Cascade is susceptible to avalanches so it should be avoided in winter and spring or whenever there is snow. Pdfs of the topography can be downloaded here and details and a map are available too, although they show the walk starting in the opposite direction from what I’ve given above.