The mysteries of the Pyrenees: the Gourgue d’Asque, “little Amazon” in the heart of the Baronnies

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SERIES (1/6). Secret drawer of Bigorre, the Baronnie hide a small “lost valley”: the Gourgue d’Asque. Fauna, flora, history and legends: a magical place in the form of eternal discovery for the visitor.

What if “The Emerald Forest” was here? Lush greenery, trees, mosses and ferns from which the Arros gushes with its still turquoise waters… Under this thick cover, the slightest moving shadow awakens the magic of childhood. On a broomstick, the imagination then tries to capture the “Invisible” tribe of the Amazon rainforest, filmed by John Borman.

“The little Amazon… I think I was the first to give that name to the Gourgue d’Asque”, smiles Jean-Claude Viau, storyteller and collector of the memory of the Baronnies for more than 50 years, as we go up this famous secret valley, hidden between its rocky bars, lost far below Couret (65).

The ridges stop the clouds

Leaning on the tumultuous Oueil stream, its source, the bushes hairy with lichens and surrounded by ferns cultivate their aspect of virgin forest. The director of the National Botanical Conservatory of the Pyrenees, Gérard Largier, explains this particularity. “On the slopes of the Pyrenees, the ridges that dominate this high Arros valley stop the clouds that create this humid atmosphere. But this confined space also concentrates the heat there. On the surface limestone, we also have thin forest soils which therefore favor boxwood and epiphytes, these rootless plants that develop on other plants, “explains the scientist.

Covering the water, a thin layer of mist finished that day painting the picture between two storms. Even accustomed to the place, the hiker soon dreams of being an explorer. He was the first to trace this ancient path. He stop forgetting history a little too quickly.


“Here there are many caves and the Gourgue was already inhabited in prehistoric times,” recalls Jean-Claude, in front of the enormous cavity that welcomes the visitor at the entrance, on the side of the wall.

A territory rich in history… Not far from there, a burial cave from the Bronze Age has yielded the remains of a man, a woman and a child as well as an urn. And if you push towards Esparros… The terrain reveals the remains of iron mines from the Gallo-Roman era beyond. And exploited, for the wood, testifies to the old sawmill downstream, from where the machines leave.

Charbonniers and boxwood turners

“We cut boards, of course, but there were also charcoal burners, in the mountains, with their oven. And once a year, the men from my village would go up to cut the boxwood in La Gourgue. It’s a very hard species, much in demand in the past. In the Pyrenees it was used to make rosaries, in Lourdes in particular, but the best pieces went to Italy to be shot there,” continues Jean-Claude.

Great-aunt Caterina told him about the hay wagons transformed into improvised lumber trucks, the descent to the first station about fifteen kilometers away, the evening party, «because it was the outing of the year and luckily the oxen knew how to go back to the village, to the stable by themselves…», he smiles. And then one day, André Claverie thought that instead of exporting it would be more profitable to work the boxwood on site, in Laborde. A new tradition was born.

The meeting of the barons

The Gourgue d’Asque, secret heart of the Baronnies: this is what l’Oueil now tells us, from where the Arros rises, at the end of the march.

Between abysses and summits, the essence of this country of the Baronies remains, in fact, the taste for independence and freedom… Because even the Gourgue d’Asque recounts that if the Baronies had three lords, they never had a master. “The accrual of the maquis of Esparros was above,” Jean-Claude points out, emphasizing the local tradition of “forest refuge”, of discretion and solidarity of the inhabitants here.

A little rider, protector of life, who now delights hikers and their children. The creek still sees otters having fun, trout spinning from the most beautiful waters, salamanders trudging and even the rare desman, the trumpet mouse, swim. As long as we have the eye. And since there is only one step from eye to eye, we will take the time, returning to the parking lot, to savor the surprising story of a fisherman ophthalmologist dealing with a singular cataract. It is told on one of the panels. And it doesn’t fail.

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