With Arreau as the capital, the Aure and Louron Valleys unveil their fifty-odd traditional villages. Sarrancolin, Ancizan, Guchen, Sailhan and more will all win you over with their architectural heritage. It has gained from fruitful trades with Spain that's now even closer with the Aragnouet-Bielsa tunnel.
Everywhere you'll see slate-roofed farms, hay barns, watchtowers and Roman churches such as Jézeau Church and its 16th century frescoes and Aragnouet Templar Chapel, a jewel of Roman art.
Take your time exploring Arreau, a small town with character. It is surrounded by mountains, has two rivers running through it, oozes charm and awaits visitors at its fun-filled Thursday market.
Hit the road between Saint-Lary and Aragnouet up to Oredon Lake, a gateway to the Néouvielle nature reserve: an extraordinary 2000 hectare garden that's been protected since 1936 and floats at an altitude of 2000m at the foot of the Pic du Néouvielle (3091m).
You can reach the reserve between June and September when there's no snow. Footpaths lined with rhododendrons lead you to this eden of crests, meadows, pine forests and lakes. The colours range from jade green to steel blue and there are 70 of them: the lakes of Orédon, Aubert, Aumar etc.
Park at Orédon Lake then take a shuttle bus to Aubert Lake. Have a picnic by the lake. Go back down the signposted footpath to your start point (2-2.5 hr walk): it's simply fabulous. And give people going up a boost!
Head to the Arixo Museum in Loudenvielle. The interactive and innovative museum in a restored farmhouse showcases local heritage and expertise. Be sure to visit Saoussas Mill, a working flour mill museum. Or delve into the Vieille-Aure Mines.
Experience farming life in the Aure and Louron Valleys for yourself and get involved in taking the sheep to pasture. Follow the shepherds from Sailhan to the Rioumajou meadows in late May. Celebrate the summer pasture festival in Plagnet (July) and Azet (August). Pyrenean dishes and songs are on the agenda in this deeply traditional area!
This is a great destination to unwind in with the amazing thermal spas that are Balnéa in Génos-Loudenvielle and Sensoria at the Saint-Lary thermal baths. Visit in winter too after you've been skiing in Saint-Lary-Soulan, Piau-Engaly, Louron Valley or Peyragudes.
Come summer, walk between the crests and forests. Go rowing on Genos-Loudenvielle Lake. Go fishing in the trout-filled Neste Rivers. Tackle the famous Aspin and Peyresourde mountain passes by bike. Climbing, rafting and canyoning are on the agenda as well as paragliding that the Louron Valley is famous for.
In July, the Arreau Spit Cake Brotherhood hosts a festival devoted to this delicious fir tree-shaped cake whose unusual shape is formed by a rotating spit.