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    > Pyrenees Refuges: A Taste of French and Spanish Summer

    Pyrenees Refuges: A Taste of French and Spanish Summer

    Family vacations can be a breeze when someone else does the cooking, right? If your idea of bliss includes high mountains and remote glacial lakes, marmots in the hills and eagles overhead, car-free and wild nature, then you’ll love this. Imagine the following, with your kids in tow: no food or tent to carry; no meals to prep; great friendly company; gentle prices that don’t break the bank; and star-studded evening skies. Welcome to the world of high mountain refuges in the Pyrenees!

    In this mountain range that separates France from Spain, you can hike to iconic mountains with your family and sleep on real mattresses after a home-cooked dinner with locally-sourced ingredients.  

    From there, you’re at the trailhead of famous destinations like the Brèche de Roland, the Pic Aneto, the Maladeta or the Monte Perdido. Most of the Pyrenees mountains are protected as national parks and/or UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  

    If you love mountains and cherish your back, refuges are a rare opportunity to get a taste of European summer with striking scenery all around.


    Refuges in the Pyrenees

    Access to these beauty spots requires hiking on mountain trails, from an hour to several hours, from easy to challenging conditions. However once you lay down your backpack, you can revel in the fact that the hard part is done. Now comes your deeply unconnected vacation. 

    A refuge means a shelter, and shelter you it will. Think sturdy wood beams and solid rock walls to withstand grand mountain weather. Cozy dining rooms. Large dorms or intimate dorms. Some refuges even offer summer entertainment such as live music, local storytelling, astronomy, or wildlife evenings!

    In the Pyrenees, refuge culture has been a thing for more than a century. Victorians called it “Pyrenean tourism” and the first refuges were designed in the 1900s for hardy mountaineering types looking to break long expeditions. Nowadays, these guys still make a hefty portion of your table mates, but a more relaxed clientele has also emerged–families, couples, anybody looking to get away from it all and reconnect with the thrills of high mountains. I definitely belong in the second group, as our group usually includes 3 generations of my family–my father (born in 1940), myself and my two teenage girls.

    Our Hiking and Refuge Experience in the Pyrenees

    Since 2012, we’ve paired an adventure almost every year with different parts of the Pyrenees, both on the French and the Spanish side.

    • In 2012, we hiked trails to the Pic du Canigou and Pic Carlit.
    • In 2013, we hit the iconic Brèche de Roland to visit the last ice caves of the Pyrenees.
    • In 2014, we hit the Spanish side and the remote Posets natural park.
    • In 2015, we explored Mont Valier and tested a high mountain live music evening above a sea of clouds.
    • In 2016, we did the Tour des Pérics near Les Bouillouses.
    • In 2017, we hiked and swam in Néouvielle National Nature Reserve.
    • In 2018, we returned to Spain at the popular Aiguestortes i Estany de Sant Mauricii National Park.
    • In 2019, we ventured further East in Pyrenees National Park at Refuge Wallon Marcadau.
    • In 2021, we returned to the Néouvielle mountain range to explore the mountains around Refuge de Bastan 
    • In 2022, we discovered a beautiful ridge in Andorra around Estanys de la Pera

    As you can see, we can’t get enough of the Pyrenees. Here are a few tips so you can discover these mountains too.

    Where are Refuges Located?

    There are 775 huts and shelters in the Pyrenees, many of them on or near the GR10 or GR11 long distance hiking trails.

    French Refuges in the Pyrenees

    If you know exactly where you are going, the no-thrills table updated regularly by the AGREPY (association of Pyrenean refuge wardens) gives you all the details you need. You can find it here.

    The other website that I use is Pyrenees Refuges et Cabanes (in French). It is a gold mine of raw data and features a great interactive map of the Pyrenees, showing lodging options by geographical areas. It’s nice to be able to navigate and find your adventures by referring to local summits or highlights.

    Refuges et cabanes

    Simply select a region and the map will zoom in, showing with blue spot marks the lodging options and where they are on the map. A little house icon indicates a refuge, most likely with B&B options if it is “guarded.” Nondescript blue marks refer to cabanes (in the UK, these would be bothies), simple shelters used by shepherds in the mountain but open to all.

    Refuges 2

    Click on the blue marks and a new window will open with basic facts about the refuge or cabane: elevation, guardian, number of beds, opening season, website, suggested hikes. Keep scrolling down and you’ll find useful links with topo map numbers and websites. There’s even one or more thumbnail pictures of the refuge.

    refuges 3

    Unfortunately, that website doesn’t exist in English but it’s a good start. Each refuge’s website (site internet) will have a lot more details, including contact numbers and email to book your spots.

    Best Pyrenean Refuge Websites & Experiences

    Some refuge websites are worthy of Outside Magazine, such as Refuge de Venasque, whose website includes access, rates, itineraries, photos, useful links and contacts.

    refuge venasque 3

    Most refuges are pretty big on sourcing all their cooking ingredients locally and work hand in hand with shepherds (for cheese), mills and wood ovens (for bread), wineries (for wine), or farmers (for produce). Refuge de l’Etang d’Airaing has a dedicated “Producers” tab that shows how much they value local quality ingredients.

    Refuge etang d'Araing 2

    Refuge Les Estagnous hosts a music and storytelling summer festival with refuge dances, mountain music and local characters who will show you how far removed from your routine you are. This is the French outback, folks! The festival is very popular so make sure you book far in advance.

    Les Estagnous

    These are but a few examples of what new generations of guardians are doing to keep the wonderful tradition of refuges alive and reach wider audiences. If pure mountaineering is not your thing, perhaps mountain + refuge dancing will be?

    How to Book Pyrenean Refuges?


    On the French side, you need to call individually each refuge’s guardian. Using the above information, you should be able to find a phone number or email address.

    Tell them your dates, the number of people (age of children if you’re bringing the kids – discounted rates), and whether you’ll stay for dinner (yes!). Usually, that’s all that’s needed. Refuges still rely on the old-fashioned trust system. They expect you to show up on the day of your booking and will prepare food in the kitchen accordingly. Your name will be on the tables and you’ll have designated beds in dorms. It’s like staying with an extended family you’ve ever met. If you change your plans, please let them know. These are not hotels – food and drinks need to be helicoptered in or brought on donkey back.

    Payment. With non-French visitors, some guardians don’t even ask for a deposit because you may not be able to mail cheques but fortunately, online payment makes everything easier. When you’re booked in, refuge hosts open a tab for you at the reception and you settle in cash when you check out. Very few refuges accept online payment at the end of a stay.



    Some Spanish regions are far better organized and centralize bookings for their geographical region. These websites are available in Spanish, with some other language options as you navigate.

    Example: Booking through Albergues y Refugios de Aragon

    We stayed at three refugios in the Posets Natural Park (Aragon) a few years back. Booking through the central website was a breeze, but I still called each refuge to check a few facts. On the spot, they were every bit as charming and cozy as the French refuges we’d tried so far. A bit nicer, in some respects.

    Nice beds, hot showers in all three (a true luxury), small dorms (we even had our private dorm with ensuite shower at Refugio Angel Orus) and helpful wardens. My father needed new hiking boots on our 3rd day and the warden hooked us up with a local taxi to find boots at the convenience store in the next village. Very cool of him and amazingly, the convenience store had 2 hiking boot options.

    Food in Spanish and French Refuges

    Based on my limited experience, dinners in French refuges has been better than in Spanish refuges but then, only at Spanish refuges have we had vegetarian and vegan options that were a real treat. French refuges are still very meat-centric and are catching up nicely in the plant-based realm.

    Dinner is always structured as follows:

    • Hot soup/broth
    • Meat/Veggie in sauce
    • Starch/beans
    • Cheese
    • Dessert (cake, yogurt, fresh fruit)

    Dinner usually comes with white bread, sourdough or baguette style. Note that quantities are very generous for European standards and you can always ask for seconds of soup or mains, in case you’re still hungry.

    Spanish breakfasts are definitely better than French breakfasts as they offer savory options (pan con tomato, sometimes cheese or cured meats), something which sits better with some stomachs.

    Wine is generally better on the French side but in 2019, we had the worst French wine ever in the Pyrenees National Park, so I guess it depends on how wine-savvy refuge wardens are.

    Packed lunches are equally uninspiring in France and in Spain and sadly, result in a lot of plastic trash, which is why we tend to pack our lunches for the whole duration of the trip.

    Last but not least, meal time! Spanish meals are served slightly later than French meals (7.30 or 8pm instead of 7pm). With kids, that’s something to consider.

    What Else Can You Expect in Pyrenean Refuges?

    • Shoes. Leave your hiking boots at the entrance. Some refuges offer Crocs or slippers to walk through the dorms.
    • Restrooms. Usually with cold water. Sometimes, they are outside.
    • Bedding. A bed, a pillow and a wool blanket. Bring your sleeping sack.
    • Showers. Not always. It really varies.
    • Meals. Hot meal at dinner time. Buffet breakfast. Option to buy pre-packed lunches for your day.
    • Meal times. Variable, but usually 7pm for dinner (someetimes, two seatings, one at 6 and one at 8pm) and 7am for breakfast. For other hours, see with the guardian.
    • Kids. Some refuges have board games, some refuge guardians are families who have small kids of their own. Though refuges do not cater specifically to families, kids are welcome and you can ask for advice about local activities.
    • Water. Faucets with pure mountain water both inside and outside.
    • Lockers. Not always.
    • Payment. In cash, bring local currency.
    • Wifi. Not in your dreams.
    • Cell phone reception. Usually, though you may have to walk.
    • Electrical. Expect a few wall outlets to recharge your electronics but be mindful of other travelers.
    • Quiet hours. 10pm to 7am.
    • Access. You have to walk to most refuges but some can connect you with a local donkey & donkey guy to carry your stuff.
    • Medical emergencies. All refuge guardians have CPR training and they know when to call the local mountain rescue team. If you need urgent medical care, helicopters are the only way to get you to a hospital.

    All set? Now plan! And please, do not hesitate to ask if you have any questions.

    10 thoughts on “Pyrenees Refuges: A Taste of French and Spanish Summer

    1. This is definitely an inspiring post. I’ve been thinking for a while about hiking the Pyrenees and maybe combining it with the Camino de Santiago… your post left me wanting to check prices online. Wonderful pictures :-)

      1. Thanks, Gabi! The Pyrenees are a wonderful destination for families and unlike the Alps, very much off the beaten track. There are tons of easy days outside anywhere in the Pyrenees and you’re pretty much guaranteed sunny skies and good food.

    2. This is VERY much my idea of bliss! Both my husband and I love mountains, but our kids are not quite on board with the hiking yet – we are trying to get them used to walking more with short hikes near where we live but in a couple of years I’m hoping will be able to tackle something like this. It looks so beautiful!

      1. Thanks, Marta! I see young hikers in your future:) The Pyrenees are a really great for family mountain days and these mountains are so low on the tourist radar that it’s much easier to get bookings in refuges than in the Alps. No crowds on the trails either, and tons of lakes to take a dip in.

    3. thank you for all of this information. Are you willing to share some of your itineraries? We are interested in primarily staying on the Spanish side (accessing and ending) and would like to plan a 5 -7 night hut to hut experience with shorter hikes between, peaks and via ferratas along the way with our 12 year old.

      1. Hi Katie, great question and exciting project! On the Spanish side, Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park ticks almost all your boxes except for via ferratas. Not many via ferratas in the Pyrenees but lots of climbing if you’re interested in going vertical. A lot of people do day hikes from Estany Sant Maurici (main trailhead) but refugios pepper the edges of the park and you can easily plan a 5 to 7 day route. During the summer, buses run from most trailheads around the park so that if you haven’t completed all the legs, you can still return to your starting point or the next big town. Beautiful mountains and lakes. Love it.

    4. Hello.
      I recently stumbled upon your site while researching hiking in the Pyrenees. It is so helpful! Thanks for making it.
      We are from the U.S. and will be in the area this summer in July. My family of four will be travelling with a Spanish family. One of our friends does not like camping (she does like hiking though). The youngest kid will be 10 when we go, and all of us have experience hiking-my family hiked 14 miles in one day in the Grand Tetons last summer. We are all in decent to good shape-so the hiking isn’t an issue-the more beautiful the terrain the better!
      Do you have a suggestion of a two or maybe day hike with one to two nights at a Refuge that will be comfortable for everyone (one with great food/activities would be great)?
      I’d LOVE to travel to two different Refuge/Refugios if possible.
      I don’t know if we would rather be on the Spanish or French side of the Pyrenees-we plan on visiting towns on both sides on our trip.
      I did research Refuge Les Estagnous because of your post-and it sounds awesome-but I’m sure there are a ton that are cool to visit.

      1. Hi Jason, thank you so much. The Pyrenees are an amazing mountain range for hiking enthusiasts. A few ideas for you:
        – Marcadau – from Pont d’Espagne, hike to the newly-remodeled Refuge Wallon-Marcadau, stay overnight, hike the main loop to Andorra and back, hike back to Pont d’Espagne. Option to extend the loop by including Refuge des Oulettes de Gaube. Note that you can take a gondola to the trailhead, it’s super fun.
        – Canigou – the main road is closed due to a landslide, so you now have to start from way lower elevation. If you start in Vernet-les-Bains or Prades, it makes for a solid multi-day trip. From Vernet-les-Bains, hike to Refuge des Cortalets (1460m elev gain), stay overnight, hike to the summit of Canigou (+650m), head to refuge de Marialles, stay overnight, come back to Vernet-les-Bains.
        – Ordesa – from La Pradera, take the trail to Refuge de Goriz (+1100m), stay overnight, continue on to el Mirador de Calcilarruego (+200m) and back to La Pradera, or summit la Punta Custodia (+520m), come back to Refuge de Goriz, then back to La Pradera.
        Hope this helps.

    5. One more question- the Tour de France happens to go through/by the Pyrenees this year…do you have any advice on a good place/French town to stay to see some of it?

      Tour de France Pyrenees section:
      13th Stage | July 12 | Agen – Pau | 171 km
      14th Stage | July 13 | Pau – Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d’Adet | 152 km
      15th Stage | July 14 | Loudenvielle – Plateau de Beille | 198 km
      16th Stage | July 16 | Gruissan – Nîmes | 187 km

      Not a mandatory part of our trip, but it’d be cool to see!

      Thanks again!

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