France Outdoors Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Things to Do in Vallée d’Ossau, Pyrénées


Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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The Vallée d’Ossau (Ossau Valley) is one of the three valleys in the French Pyrénées Mountains. It is nestled between the plain of Pau and the border with Spain in the French region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

The Vallée d’Ossau is not as well known as other parts of France, but that is unfortunate because the area is stunning and has much to offer. The Ossau Valley is a true hidden gem: choose from activities such as skiing, hiking, cycling, canyoning, and canoeing.

A trip to Vallée d’Ossau, Pyrnénées, is an excellent summer destination in France for families, nature lovers, active travelers, and everyone who wishes to disconnect and relax in the mountains.

Are you planning to visit Vallée d’Ossau last minute?

Below are some of the best Ossau Valley tours, hotels, and more!

Book your train tickets to Pau, the closest city

Rent a car in Pau to explore the Valley

Top Experiences and Tours in Vallée d’Ossau

Accommodation in Laruns

Hotel d’Ossau (mid-range); Auberge La Caverne (mid-range); Camping des Gaves (mid-range).

Accommodation in other villages in the Valley

Don’t leave for Vallée d’Ossau without travel insurance!

SafetyWing, our trusted travel insurance policy for long and short trips (starting with a minimum of 5 days), covers COVID-19 for new policies purchased, and since April 2021, unplanned quarantine is covered, too. 

What to Do in Vallée d’Ossau, France

Are you planning a trip to this part of the French Pyrénées? Here’s the list of the best things to do in Vallée d’Ossau, France.

1. Visit the Valley’s Most Beautiful Villages

The Vallée d’Ossau is full of picturesque villages, some nestled in the Pyrénées Mountains while others are located deep in the valley, between forests and meadows. I recommend visiting Laruns, Bielle, Eaux-Bonnes, and Castet.

Laruns is set on the banks of the Gave d’Ossau and is integrated into the Pyrénées National Park. In Laruns, you can enjoy many outdoor activities and discover the local heritage. Don’t miss a visit to the Gabas Chapel and the Saint-Pierre Church.

The commune of Bielle is the capital of the Vallée d’Ossau. Bielle is on the site of an ancient Roman villa, whose ruins can be visited. The natural landscape surrounding Bielle is pristine, and the village has some beautiful buildings that testify to the city’s importance over the centuries. One must-see is the Bielle Castle, built in the second half of the 19th century.

Eaux-Bonnes is famous for its natural spring, which makes this village one of the best destinations of the Vallée d’Ossau if you want to relax at the spa! With a rich architectural heritage dating from the Second Empire, many private mansions on Rue Castellane are built in this style.

Castet is a pretty village that owes its name to the castle built in the 12th century. Today, only the castle’s dungeon remains, but in Castet, you can still visit the Church of Saint-Polycarpe. From the Church, you can admire the view overlooking the lake of Castet. Above the village is the Port of Castet, a beautiful plateau from which many hiking and mountain biking trails start.

2. Hiking in Vallée d’Ossau, Pyrénées

Hiking is one of the best things to do in Vallée d’Ossau, Pyrenées. The hiking trails cross gorgeous forests and breathtaking mountains.

Around the Vallée d’Ossau, you will find hikes suitable for all levels and with many different lengths: some routes have a good drop, but many others are accessible with children.

Among the hiking trails, we recommend the Pic d’Escurets, a beautiful two-hour climb that will make you reach the Col de Marie-Blanque, and the hiking routes around the lakes of Ayous and Fabrèges.

3. Cycle Two of the Most Exciting Cols of the Tour de France

The Vallée d’Ossau is a true paradise for bikers! Every two years or so, The Tour de France goes through the Valley, and biking these famous trails is a fantastic way to spend your holidays.

The Col du Pourtalet (1,794m) is one of the most famous cycling passes in the Ossau Valley. Starting from Laruns, the trail is 28 kilometers long and reaches an elevation of 1279 meters. The Col du Pourtalet is very difficult, but if you are a trained cyclist, you will have so much fun doing it!

If you are an amateur, try the Col de Marie Blanque (1,035m): this stage of the Tour de France extends over 9 kilometers and has a lighter elevation. So it’s perfect for starting your first cycling passes.

4. Follow the Transhumance

From the end of spring, the herds of cows, sheep, and horses start going up the mountains for the summer pastures. This yearly event is called transhumance, and one of the things you can do while vacationing in Vallée d’Ossau is follow the shepherds and their animals on the mountain trails to enjoy the fresh air and amazing views!

Every July, usually between the 1st and the 10th, the Community of Communes of the Vallée d’Ossau organizes a festival to celebrate this ancestral tradition, don’t miss it!

5. Rafting, Canoeing, Canyoning

Vallée d’Ossau is a great place for fun adventures in France. The rivers and rafts around the valley are the perfect locations for rafting, canoeing, and canyoning.

Rafting is only available in spring, and this sport requires good physical condition and team spirit.

Canoeing is accessible to everyone and can be practiced from spring to autumn. While canoeing, you will marvel at the incredible environment of the Vallée d’Ossau, and this is a sport suited for the whole family!

The Vallée d’Ossau is also the ideal site to practice canyoning. With its 17 canyons, you will find routes that adapt to all sports levels: from amateurs to professionals.

Here are the best things to do in Vallée d’Ossau for adventure seekers:

6. The Ideal Place for a Retreat with Your Friends

The Vallée d’Ossau is the perfect environment to spend quality time with your friends, perhaps with common interests like yoga, painting, or writing. The Valley’s stunning landscape is the ideal background for enjoying a yoga retreat or an artistic workshop.

An incredible place to stay is the Château de Gère, which was recently featured in the TV show Château DIY. This oh-so-cute medieval castle is never far from beautiful mountain walks, cycle paths, and kayaking routes. In wintertime, it’s a mere 25-minute drive from the ski slopes.

This private facility, located near Bielle, was King Henri IV’s hunting lodge. It has a large swimming pool, four large double bedrooms, two other sleeping areas, and four bathrooms. You and your friends will feel like you have found a little slice of paradise at the Château de Gère – Click here for more information, pictures, and availability.

7. Spa Day at Eaux-Bonnes

One of the things to do in Ossau Valley is to spend a day at the spa in Eaux-Bonnes. This thermal complex is coiled in the hollow of the Pyrénées. Originally, it was a spa place for princes and nobility, hence its beautiful architecture, Second Empire.

Since the 18th century, the natural springs of Eaux-Bonnes have offered the spas’ guests the perfect relaxation surrounded by stunning scenery. The natural thermal waters flow at a temperature of 34°, and inside the complex, there are two thermal aqua pools among the other sections.

Hotel Richelieu is a good place to stay in Eaux-Bonnes. Located a 2-minute walk from the spa, it offers lovely rooms with mountain views and a lovely patio, perfect for having your breakfast or a coffee on a sunny day.

8. Ski at La Gourette

In the heart of Vallée d’Ossau, you will find La Gourette, the oldest ski area in the Pyrénées. The area has been completely renovated to offer all winter sports enthusiasts high-quality and efficient equipment.

The La Gourette ski area has 47 different trails, divided into 8 green, 13 blue, 16 red, and 4 black. The slopes are adapted to all levels! The ski area is part of the La Gourette family resort, and you can buy the ski pass directly at the hotel.

Belambra Clubs Gourette – Lou Sarri is the perfect place to stay for a ski holiday in La Gourette. This property offers ski-to-door skiing, wellness facilities, and a restaurant with spectacular views of the mountains.

9. Le Petit Train de l’Artouste

Nestled in the Pyrénées Mountains, the Petit Train d’Artouste is the highest narrow-gauge railway in Europe and one of the most gorgeous train rides you will ever take!

The train ride starts from Artouste: you will take the cable car up the mountain to the tourist train. The cable car is included in the train’s ticket price.

The Petit Train d’Artouste journey takes around 1 hour and 20 minutes. Once at the summit, you can hike up to Artouste Lake.

The Train d’Artouste only runs from late May to early October, so I recommend booking your tickets online in advance.

10. Jurançon Wine Tasting

A must-do while in Vallée d’Ossau is to taste the local wine production. The most famous wines are produced in the Jurançon area, located near Pau.

The Jurançon vineyard covers 30,000 acres and produces a characteristic amber-colored white wine, which can be enjoyed dry or sweet.

The Jurancon wine was the favorite of the king of France, Henri IV, who was born in the area and used it during official ceremonies.

If you are in the Vallée d’Ossau, you can drive to Jurançon vineyard for a great day trip! Most of the vineyards are located around Pau.

We especially like the Domaine de Cabarrouy, in the lovely village of Lasseube, for its incredible setting facing the Pyrénées and good wines. Located in a beautiful 18th-century mansion, it offers tastings and tours & tastings in French and English

Other winegrowers worth exploring in the area are:

11. Taste the Local Specialties

A vacation in the Vallée d’Ossau is not complete without tasting the local specialties! Besides the Jurançon wine, another must-try is cheese, especially the Ossau-Iraty cheese.

The Ossau-Iraty is an uncooked pressed cheese. Resulting of ancestral know-how, it is the only sheep’s cheese in the Pyrénées and has been recognized as an AOC since 1980 and as an AOP since 1996.

There’s the Cheese Route Ossau-Iraty AOP and also an entire fair dedicated to this culinary delicacy. The first weekend in October, the town of Laruns celebrates its cheese and shepherds. The event’s highlight is a competition that rewards the best cheeses produced in the Vallée d’Ossau.

If the Ossau cheese is the big star of the Vallée d’Ossau, there are many other regional specialties to try! Basque cakes, spit cakes, hams and cold meats, honey, homemade jams, and brandies are among the amazing food and drinks you can taste when visiting the Vallée d’Ossau.

And there you have it—the best things to do in Vallée d’Ossau, Pyrénées. Now, all you need to do is decide which things to do on your trip to Ossau Valley (but I suggest doing them all!).

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