Hendaye, France is the western terminus of the HRP. We flew to Madrid and took trains to the Spanish border town of Irun and a tram into Hendaye. There are also rail connections to Paris and other French cities. Banyuls-sur-Mer, France is the eastern terminus. It is well served by public transportation. Both places are popular beach towns and have all the services you could want.
Potable water was frequently available, and we treated water on only a few occasions. There were only a couple of dry stretches, each no more than a half-day long.
Although most of food shops on the route are either “tiny” or “small”, they all had some basic provisions: virtually all shops had high quality locally produced cheese, sausage, and bread; nuts, dry fruit, cookies and crackers, chocolate, yoghurt, and canned tuna could usually be found.
We have not carried a stove since 1995. We never saw a selection of freeze-dried foods in any of the markets we used although there are a couple of outdoor stores in Gavarnie that may stock them.
Restaurants and Refuge food
We ate at nearly all the restaurants and staffed refuges we passed if food was available when we were there, but we generally did not modify our schedule in order to accommodate serving times. We were able to purchase food at refuges at any time of day except between about 5:00 and 7:00 PM, when the kitchen staff was preparing the evening meal.
- Lunch #1: Restaurant at Col d’Ibardin
- Dinner #1: Restaurant at Col de Lizuniaga
- Dinner #4: Restaurant Chalet Pedro
- Dinner #6: Restaurant in Lescun
- Lunch #8: Restaurant in Candanchu
- Dinner #9: Refuge d’Arremoulit (late afternoon omelette)
- Dinner #10: Refuge Wallon 3-course dinner
- Lunch #11: Refuge des Oulettes de Gaube
- Lunch #12: Restaurants in Gavarnie (two lunches in two hours!)
- Lunch #13: Restaurant in Heas
- Dinner #13: Refuge de Barroude 3-course dinner
- Lunch #15: Refugio Viados 3-course lunch; best refuge meal of the trip
- Lunch #16: Refugio de la Souda
- Lunch #17: Refuge du Portillon
- Breakfast #19: Refuge Hospital de Vielha
- Lunch #20: Restaurant in Salardu
- Dinner #20: Restaurant in Salardu
- Dinner #23: Refuge Certascan very good 3-course dinner
- Dinner #24: Refuge de Vall Ferrera, late afternoon sandwich & salad
- Lunch #25: Restaurant at ski resort in Andorra
- Dinner #26: Refugio Juclar 3-course dinner
- Snack #28: Restaurant Lac des Bouillouses (light sandwich & big ice cream)
- Lunch #30: Refuge d’Ulldeter
- Lunch #31: Refuge Mariailles
- Lunch #33: Restaurant in Las Illas
- Snack #34: Gite at Col de l’Ouillet
On long distance hikes, re-supplying food is a critical issue. We didn’t want to carry any more weight than necessary but we needed enough calories to stay happy, which on this walk was a lot. We shopped at ten stores en-route, which was every store listed in Joosten’s 2004 guide except Col d’Ibardin on the first day: Parzan (which was off-route), and Amelie-les-Baines (a Sunday and all food stores except the patisserie were closed). We didn’t walk more than ten minutes off route to shop or eat at refuges, and we never used vehicles to travel off-route. We re-supplied at the following locations:
- Day 0: Hendaye: before starting; several adequate grocery stores in town.
- Day 2: Arizkun: two small stores with limited, but sufficient selection.
- Day 3: Les Aldudes: a surprisingly useful quick mart in the gas station.
- Day 5: Col Bargargui (Irati); very small shop at the ski resort.
- Day 6: Lescun: a well-stocked medium sized market.
- Day 8: Candanchu: tiny Supermercado El Bozo
- Day 12: Gavarnie: small, but moderately well-stocked grocery
- Day 20: Salardu: barely adequate small market.
- Day 27: l’Hospitalet-pres-l’Andorre: barely adequate small market and deli.
- Day 29: Bolquere: excellent market and great deli.
- Day 34: Le Perthus: huge stores with everything you could ever want.
Some of these stores are seasonal and many are not open 7 days a week. This data is from 2010 and there may be more or fewer options now.
We spent a night in a commercial campground in Hendaye prior to the start of our walk, nights in hotels in Salardu and Banyuls-sur-Mer, two nights in unstaffed mountain refuges, and 31 nights wild camping. We stealth camped only once, tucked in behind a barn and hay bales on the edge of Lescun; our remaining camps were in the open. Other than at Lescun, we never felt a need to hide our campsites, and it appeared that many other people behaved the same way.
In theory, you are not supposed to camp in French National Parks. However, in Europe there is a difference between camping and bivouacing: a bivouac is setting up your tent late in the day, spending one night, and moving on in the morning and it is supposedly acceptable to the authorities. In any case, we never had any adverse encounters with park rangers in either Spain or France.
We had so many 5-star sites that we lost count. Nearly every campsite on our trip had a fantastic sense of space and great views. That said we did find two problems in finding campsites. First, there were a number of sections where we walked for 2 to 3 hours through rocky terrain with no obvious spots to pitch a tent. Second, many luscious looking meadows are covered with a grass with extremely sharp tips. These grass tips were so sharp that they easily passed through our spinnaker cloth ground sheet and we were concerned that they could puncture the coated floor of our tent and even possibly our NeoAir pads, so we never set up in these locations. That said, we were always able to find a good site sooner or later.
Many people camped right next to refuges so they could eat dinner there before retiring to their tents. We prefer more solitude, and we’re very picky about finding a flat site on level ground, so we rarely camped near refuges.
We were not interested in sleeping in refuges, but we enjoyed the meals, and eating at refuges lightened our pack weight considerably. The meals were surprisingly good and plentiful, and, on occasion, excellent. Prices seemed quite reasonable given that the refuges usually don’t have road access. A good mid-day omelet with bread cost 4 to 7 Euros. A three-course dinner with soup or salad, an entrée with meat and rice or potatoes, and dessert cost about 15 Euros per person. Wine cost 3 or 4 Euros per half liter and we often bought some to carry out.
Some people find that the scene at the refuges disrupts the sense of being in the wilderness, but for us, the refuges seemed as appropriate to the route as the shepherds and their animals. Other people like the refuges because of the social scene; a Tasmanian couple we met mailed their camping gear home after a week and spent the rest of the trip in refuges, primarily because they enjoyed interacting with the people they met.
Spending the night in refuges is not to everyone’s taste. Sleeping quarters are cramped and communal and thus noisy and have no privacy.
Not including transport to and from Hendaye and Banyuls, we spent ~$200 USD for maps, ~$150 for 3 nights of paid accommodation, and ~$28 per person per day for food and beverages, based on an exchange rate of about $1.29 USD to the Euro.