To access this exceptional natural site, you should take the road from Tardets towards the picturesque village of Sainte-Engrace . This winding road winds along the Gavede Sainte-Engrace (a Gave being the Béarnaise or Souletine appellation designating mountain streams that flow in the valleys). Perched at an altitude of 600 meters on average, this route is a good start, allowing us to admire a great diversity of landscapes and panoramas: peaks , ridges , canyons , woods , cliffs , forests and pastures of a absolute green.
When approaching the Gorges, a first large car park (accessible to vans and motorhomes) precedes entry to the site. Do not panic if you pass by, you will find a second large car park to park a little higher. Below, the Gave water shapes the valley and takes on an intense turquoise blue .
Signs indicate parking
The lake below the Cascade Bar
The Cascade Bar is reflected in the lake
The Haute-Soule remained isolated for a long time, the mysterious entrails of Kakuetta remained inaccessible for thousands of years. The site arouses the curiosity of scientists and speleologists at the end of the 19th century. The first explorations of the cavities of Kakuetta date back to 1892 but it was not until the first expedition of Edouard-Alfred Martel in 1906, one of the pioneers of speleology to expose the depths of the canyon. What a privilege to discover this earthly fault today by taking a landscaped route that preserves the natural site!
We pay the entrance fee when arriving at the Bar de la Cascade, the starting point of the 4 km round trip . The path descends to a crystal clear lake before continuing to the Bentia hill which leads inside the canyon. Here, the mild Atlantic climate and the depth of the gorges keep the humidity constantly high. The light barely penetrates, the freshness is constant. In this quasi-tropical microclimate , all the conditions are there to favor lush vegetation . In this humid plant atmosphere, a strange and mysterious universe is before us: a forest of quirky trees covered with moss and lichens . Somewhere between Jurassique Parc and the Garden of Eden, time seems to have stopped. We are in "the temperate latitudes Amazon " in the heart of the Basque mountain.
Trees covered with moss and lichens
Remember to take water with you!
The river guides our steps through this immense terrestrial scar , water becomes the common thread of our exploration.
Like a temple dedicated to Mother Nature , a set of cairns in the riverbed stirs our curiosity. Approaching, hundreds of mounds of stones made by man are revealed before our eyes, giving the place a sacred and mysticalatmosphere . Here the Souletins (the inhabitants of Soule) consider that the stones hold a memory, a soul, a truth.
The cairns at the entrance of the Gorges
Along the river, we access a short tunnel cut into the rock: the entrance door to the gorges. We continue the ride on high walkways along the rock walls. Water is omnipresent, gushing from the rock to form small waterfalls that join the river. At this level, the cliffs of the two sides of the canyon are close together, the rays of the sun are scarce, the walls reveal superb geological formations on plant walls. Change of scenery guaranteed!
By traversing the gorges of Kakuetta, we go back in time to millions of years, when glacial periods alternated with periods of temperate climate. The movements of the Earth , the melting of the glaciers , and the abundance of water are at the origin of this canyon cut by erosion. Over the centuries, the runoff of surface water and groundwater attacked the limestone plateau and dug this open gallery .
Along the route, the canyon moves aside and lets in light. The river forms natural pools whose translucent waters are home to a rich biodiversity: the spotted salamander, the newt or even a multitude of fish like the Fario trout. When you roll your eyes, you can see the golden eagle, the griffon vulture or the Egyptian vulture soaring majestically above the canyon.
Towards the end of the route, a waterfall rises 20 meters from the top of the cliff wall, offering a breathtaking spectacle. I stop for a few moments to contemplate this veil of water with admiration.
The walk then ends on the famous Grotte aux Lacs , accessible by a small steep and very slippery path. This Cave of medium dimensions, without lakes or expanse of water inside, adorned with stalagmites and stalactites, is no less grandiose.
The Cave at the end of the ride
The free tour of the Kakuetta Gorges has a wealth of signage . Along the route, illustrated panels tell us about the specifics of the flora and fauna, the water sources and the vegetation to be observed. This discovery at our own pace and without time limit invites us to soak up the fantastic atmosphere .
The discovery of the Kakuetta Gorges provides unforgettable feelings of wonder. This magical place, out of time, is not "visited" properly speaking. It is explored by drinking powerful scents of flowers and chlorophyll, the sounds of water , birdsong but also silence . Be inspired by this majestic grandeur, contemplate the magic of the depths of the earth and reconnect with the abundant nature that surrounds you.
Practical information :
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Photos and Article prepared by Lesley Williamson for the Guide to the Basque Country