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04Sainte-Engrâce… spectacular and wild

The Kakuetta Gorges are considered to be one of the legendary unspoilt sites of Europe whose protected wild beauty is sheer paradise for hikers and nature lovers.

The gorges have been open to the public since 1966. Few visitors are really prepared for the first sight of the turquoise lake, canyon, and waterfall with its drop of more than 20 m, the gorges' vertiginous walls glistening with cold water and the lush vegetation. Where on earth have we landed? In the Amazon? On a tropical island… or at the world's end?
In former times, only smugglers braved the steep paths in this part of the Haute-Soule. It took all the courage of an intrepid caver, Edouard-Alfred Martel, to venture into this warren of rocks and faults at the beginning of the 20th century. Yet in olden days, the farmers lowered the wheat from the clifftops to the watermill at the entrance to the gorges (the mill was washed away by the 1937 floods), only to drag the heavy sacks of flour back up again by the same route.

Haute-Soule has many secluded hamlets in the nooks and crannies of the Basque mountains. The nearby village of Sainte-Engrâce is a uniquely authentic example, whose upper part has preserved a gem of an 11th-century Romanesque church.

Close at hand is another grotto, La Verna, which is a superlative speleological site as it is one of the biggest underground chambers in the world accessible to the general public.



The Sainte-Engrâce lifeline via Kakuetta

During the Second World War, this part of the mountain border between France and Spain soon acquired a reputation as the exit to freedom for many individuals fleeing the Occupation. The Basque shepherds, who had first-hand knowledge of the rock outcrops, risked their lives by defying the German patrols to smuggle people out. During the daytime, the fugitives would lie low in surrounding barns. They were given safe passage over to Spain at night… all thanks to these behind-the-scene helpers.
One of Sainte-Engrâce's families has found letters sent to their grandfather in 1945, by men he had helped slip into Spain. One of the letters confided "I came to you with three of my friends. We left all our identity papers in the roof of your barn, under the first stone by the entrance". The grandfather told his family that he had found their documents and met two of those men again...



cascade

Here, Nature puts on a breath-taking show

Only hardy mountaineers with the right gear should take up the challenge of climbing the vertiginous, streaming walls. They can be up to 2000 metres long and vary from 30 to 350 metres in depth. In some places, such as the "great strait", only a few metres separate the two sides of the fault. Reassured, tourists can take in the turquoise blue water of the lake from the safety of a hanging balcony.

A purpose-built path skirts the walls of a canyon that was formed more than 80 million years ago. The change in scenery along this rift is complete - we find ourselves in a temperate climate microcosm of Amazonia. Water, wherever it comes from, gushes from the rock face sustaining lush vegetation and contributing to a landscape of fierce beauty.

As visitors approach the end of the 1-2 hr expedition along the laid-out trail, they reap their reward for all their efforts. The twenty metre-high waterfall is a wonderful sight, while not far away; the lake's grotto bespangled with giant stalactites and stalagmites is equally stunning.

Along their walk unfamiliar smells waft over the visitors as they admire the flora. The forest's dampness attracts ferns, saxifrages and hart's-tongue ferns that proliferate in this habitat. Keen botanists will recognise the brightness of a blue columbine, a yellow poppy or a garnet geranium depending on the season. Vultures often circle overhead and if you keep a low profile, you may catch a glimpse of the trunk-shaped snout of a Pyrenean desman, a small insectivorous mammal. Then, you may be lucky enough to come across a rare and awesome, protected species that symbolizes the Pyrenees - the Gypaète barbu or Bearded vulture.
 


Schema parcours

Discover

04Sainte-Engrâce… spectacular and wild

The Kakuetta Gorges are considered to be one of the legendary unspoilt sites of Europe whose protected wild beauty is sheer paradise for hikers and nature lovers.

The gorges have been open to the public since 1966. Few visitors are really prepared for the first sight of the turquoise lake, canyon, and waterfall with its drop of more than 20 m, the gorges' vertiginous walls glistening with cold water and the lush vegetation. Where on earth have we landed? In the Amazon? On a tropical island… or at the world's end?
In former times, only smugglers braved the steep paths in this part of the Haute-Soule. It took all the courage of an intrepid caver, Edouard-Alfred Martel, to venture into this warren of rocks and faults at the beginning of the 20th century. Yet in olden days, the farmers lowered the wheat from the clifftops to the watermill at the entrance to the gorges (the mill was washed away by the 1937 floods), only to drag the heavy sacks of flour back up again by the same route.

Haute-Soule has many secluded hamlets in the nooks and crannies of the Basque mountains. The nearby village of Sainte-Engrâce is a uniquely authentic example, whose upper part has preserved a gem of an 11th-century Romanesque church.

Close at hand is another grotto, La Verna, which is a superlative speleological site as it is one of the biggest underground chambers in the world accessible to the general public.



The Sainte-Engrâce lifeline via Kakuetta

During the Second World War, this part of the mountain border between France and Spain soon acquired a reputation as the exit to freedom for many individuals fleeing the Occupation. The Basque shepherds, who had first-hand knowledge of the rock outcrops, risked their lives by defying the German patrols to smuggle people out. During the daytime, the fugitives would lie low in surrounding barns. They were given safe passage over to Spain at night… all thanks to these behind-the-scene helpers.
One of Sainte-Engrâce's families has found letters sent to their grandfather in 1945, by men he had helped slip into Spain. One of the letters confided "I came to you with three of my friends. We left all our identity papers in the roof of your barn, under the first stone by the entrance". The grandfather told his family that he had found their documents and met two of those men again...



cascade

Here, Nature puts on a breath-taking show

Only hardy mountaineers with the right gear should take up the challenge of climbing the vertiginous, streaming walls. They can be up to 2000 metres long and vary from 30 to 350 metres in depth. In some places, such as the "great strait", only a few metres separate the two sides of the fault. Reassured, tourists can take in the turquoise blue water of the lake from the safety of a hanging balcony.

A purpose-built path skirts the walls of a canyon that was formed more than 80 million years ago. The change in scenery along this rift is complete - we find ourselves in a temperate climate microcosm of Amazonia. Water, wherever it comes from, gushes from the rock face sustaining lush vegetation and contributing to a landscape of fierce beauty.

As visitors approach the end of the 1-2 hr expedition along the laid-out trail, they reap their reward for all their efforts. The twenty metre-high waterfall is a wonderful sight, while not far away; the lake's grotto bespangled with giant stalactites and stalagmites is equally stunning.

Along their walk unfamiliar smells waft over the visitors as they admire the flora. The forest's dampness attracts ferns, saxifrages and hart's-tongue ferns that proliferate in this habitat. Keen botanists will recognise the brightness of a blue columbine, a yellow poppy or a garnet geranium depending on the season. Vultures often circle overhead and if you keep a low profile, you may catch a glimpse of the trunk-shaped snout of a Pyrenean desman, a small insectivorous mammal. Then, you may be lucky enough to come across a rare and awesome, protected species that symbolizes the Pyrenees - the Gypaète barbu or Bearded vulture.
 


Schema parcours

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