The region

Sentein lies at the heart of the greatest wilderness in Western Europe. It hosts both Europe’s largest mammal (the brown bear) and its largest bird (the lammergeier). Neither is easy to spot although at least one bear has been seen in the Sentein church yard during the village fete! Far more common is the Isard, Red Kite, red squirrel and wild boar. Wild boar in particular thrive in the deciduous forest that covers the lower slopes of the frontier peaks and it is possible to see family groups in double figures.

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Stone villages dot the river valleys with little sign of modern architecture in an area where the population has changed dramatically since the mines closed in the 1950s. The region, once one of the most heavily populated in France, is now one of the least. These days, new arrivals in the area are often in search of the good life. St Girons market provides a good snapshot of artisan cheese makers, bakers and market gardeners many of whom are from other parts of France and Europe. A region that might at first impression appear a little isolated is in fact quite cosmopolitan.

For holiday makers, particularly those from the UK, this is a little visited region. Despite its newly created National Park status, it is often overlooked in favour of the National Park further west at Gavarnie. This is a real bonus for those who like to have the place to themselves and even Sentein, outside of July and August, can appear almost empty.

Gallery: Click below for a larger image.