Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

You can’t go wrong with any hike in the Pyrenees.  There’s just something special about small villages, the good food, and the untouched nature.  It’s all magical but the Chemin de la Mature is something extraordinary.  The Chemin de la Mature is a 4,000 foot long ledge sculpted into a sheer, massive rock face. It’s something all hiking enthusiasts must experience.  Here is our guide to hiking the Chemin and everything else you need to know about getting to the town Etsaut.

Overview of the Hike/the Beta

Distance RT: 7 miles, loop
Total elevation gain: 2,300 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Exposure: Class 3 out of 6
Starting elevation: 2,000 feet
Summit elevation: 4,300 feet
Trailhead: 42.892496, -0.561910  

 

Things to Know

It’s Exposed

This hike is considered a class 3 out of 6 because of the actual highlight of the hike, the Chemin.  As I explained earlier, the Chemin de la Mature is 4,000 foot long ledge carved into a sheer rock face.  Class 3 means that the exposure lies along the trial and isn’t avoidable however, it’s important to note that the ledge is plenty wide enough for 2-3 people to walk side by side.  This is one of those hikes that isn’t actually dangerous, but to those with a fear of heights, it may seem so.  Despite the exposure, I would still do this hike with kids.

Bring Bread and Cheese

Not a necessity, but French bread and cheese makes everything better.  

Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

Enjoying some French bread and brie with beautiful views at Col d’Arras

If you are coming from the north, there is an amazing fromagerie (cheese shop) about 15 minutes before you get to Etsaut.  There’s no name for the place, just keep an eye out for fromage sign on the side of the highway.  There are many different fromageries you can stop at, but the one we went to was a quaint little cottage on the right side of the road.

You’ll quickly learn when arriving in France that the bread really is that good.  Be sure to stop at one of the many Patisseries (bakeries) on the way.

Enjoy your bread and cheese at a mid hike picnic!

The Trail is Really Well Marked

You will never have to worry about getting lost on this trail.  There are trail signs every kilometer (or more).  When in doubt, follow sign to Col d’Arras, and Etsaut.

 

Camping + Accommodation Nearby

The closest campground to Etsaut is 4 kilometers south, Camping River Aspe. Though there aren’t designated campgrounds in Etsaut, there are plenty of options for free camping/boondocking. In fact the first parking lot at the Pont de Cebers has no restrictions for overnight parking.  There are endless free camping opportunities just remember to 1) check for signs with overnight parking restrictions and 2) if someone asks you to move, just find another place.

If you are looking for accommodation, Etsaut offers a unique experience.  This quaint little village is very quiet and is a great place to spend 1 night before of after this hike.  Use the search box below to find accommodation in the town of Etsaut/Borce or in the neighboring towns of Berat du Haut or Cette-Eygun.

 

Booking.com  

 

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike starts just south of the small town of Etsaut, along French highway N-314/Spanish highway E-7.

  • If you are coming from the south, you will make a right just after you pass the large fortress on your right, Fort du Portalet.
  • If coming from the north, you will make a left 1.5 km after Etsaut.

Turn left/right over the Pont de Cebers, on the east side of the road, where you will see a large parking to at the base of a rock wall.   Optional: Continue past this first parking lot for a 1 minute or 2 upon which you’ll reach a switchback with another parking lot and as you’ll notice, the start of the trail. Note this hike is a loop so if you drive further up the road to the closer parking lot, you will have to walk up that road at the end of your hike.

     

 

Guide to Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, Etsaut

Part 1: Carpark to the Chemin de la Mature

Depending on which carpark you start from, the first or the second, you will start by hiking or driving along the road to get to Parking Passette.  Don’t forget to turn around and take in the already beautiful views.

Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

Beautiful views between the first and second parking lot (and you’re just getting started)

Soon enough you’ll reach the second parking lot, Parking Passette, and the actual start of the trail.  You’ll see a sign pointing toward the Chemin de la Mature, half a kilometer away.

Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

Starting the hike from the second parking lot, Parking Passette

As you make your way toward the Chemin, the ancient fortress of Fort du Portalet will come into view.  It’s really quite an amazing sight.  With the lack of buildings and infrastructure in this part of the Pyrenees, it feels like you are traveling back in time to the medieval times.

Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

Seeing this ancient fortress feels like traveling back in time

From the viewpoint of the fortress, once again don’t forget to turn around and soak up the views.

Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

Views looking back from the fortress lookout

After a short 10-15 of hiking, you will be met with a path craved mircaously through the middle a flat rock face.  The path is quite wide but those with a fear of heights will feel the exposure.  As the highlight of the hike, be sure to take it in because it doesn’t last long.

Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

And so it begins, the 4,000 foot walk along the tunnel within the rock

As you walk along the rock you will notice some bolts.  This wall contains dozens of rad sport climbing routes varying from 4a to 7b.  Climbers, enjoy!

Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

So many sport climbing routes fill the Chemin

4,000 feet later you”ll find yourself through with the spectacular path.  You’ll reach cool viewpoint where you can clearly see the path through the rock.

Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

Be sure to savor the view of this natural wonder before moving on

 

Part 2: Chemin de la Mature to Col d’Arras

Though the Chemin de la Mature is over, there’s still much more to enjoy on this hike. As you head uphill there will be beautiful views down the valley and of an impressive mountain peak.

Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

Amazing views from the apex of the valley

Soon you’ll enter a forest.  When we were visiting in October the forest was filled with beautiful fall colors.  About 3o minutes into the hike, you’ll reach a major junction with lots of signs.  Like I mentioned before, all the signs are quite easy to follow.  Head left toward Col d’Arras and Etsaut.

Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

The first major junction, stay left and follow signs to Col d’Arras

 

Part 3: Col d’Arras to Col de Rédo

The trail will weave through some pretty forest before you emerge from the trees and have amazing panoramic views.  I suggest stopping here for your yummy snack of bread/pastries/cheese.

Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

One of the best views on the whole hike

Soon after, you’ll reach the highest point on the hike, Col d’Arras. Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees You’ll re enter forest for another 2 kilometers.  The trail will eventually open up to a wide dirt road and the views will be spectacular.  Continue on this road for another kilometer until you reach a trail junction at Col de Rédo.

Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

The dirt road before Col de Rédo

 

Part 4: Col de Rédo to Etsaut

When you reach Col de Rédo, you’re almost to Etsaut.  Col de Rédo delivers one last amazing view of the sharp mountains across the valley.

Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

Mountains across the valley from Col de Rédo

At the Col de Rédo trail sings, head towards Etsaut.  Once you pass the trail signs you will continue your descent into the forest.  Occasionally, you’ll be greeted with views of the French countryside.

Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees

A final view to finish your journey–an iconically French countryside

 

Part 5: Etsaut to Carpark

When you reach the end of the trail, you’ll emerge in the small village of Etsaut.  It’s a quiet and quaint town with brick buildings, wooden bridges and rivers running into town. Make your way to the village center where there is a parking lot.  Head left here down Rue d’Enhaut.  It’s a 20-30 minute walk down this old road to get back to the carpark you started at, but it’s an unused road and a very lovely way to finish your hike.

 

Got questions about visiting/hiking the Pyrenees?  Let us know in the comments section below!

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Hiking the Chemin de la Mature, French Pyrenees