Hike on the Chemin de Mâture and towards Fort du Portalet

Urdos
Hike on the Chemin de ...

What a magnificent excursion ! Located or rather dug in the heart of the Pyrenees Béarnaises, the Mâture hiking trail is impressive and incredible. Facing the Fort du Portalet in Urdos, the trail offers a unique landscape between the limestone cliffs and the green forests below. Guess the Gave which flows several hundred meters at the foot of the mountain, and admire this exceptional panorama in the Aspe Valley. Attention, the calves must be ready, we will take you for a sporty walk in Béarn.

Photo: Béarn Pyrenees Guide unless otherwise stated


The Chemin de la Mâture, an incredible hiking trail in the Aspe Valley

Integrated into the GR10, the Chemin de la Mâture is an atypical route , dug into the limestone cliff. The result is breathtaking, you travel almost under the rock, overlooking the Gorges de l'Enfer. This dizzying part of the Pyrenees Béarnaises constitutes a 9.6 km loop with a difference in altitude of 700 meters. Facing the Fort du Portalet, on the other side of the ravine, there are 1,200 meters to explore on foot, one part of which forms a gutter 4 meters high and 4 meters wide. Hold your breath, this trek offers thrills on one of the narrowest paths in the Aspe Valley towards the Col d'Arras. Between climbs and descents, the paths alternate and can be stony or very steep. You should allow between 4 and 5 hours to complete the route, on a hiking trail rated 4/5 in terms of difficulty. Are you ready for the crossing? Meet at the Pont de Cebers , between Urdos and Borce, for the start of the walk.


Chemin de la Mâture
Chemin de la Mature, Photo: AdobeStock_Yvann K

The very narrow Chemin de la Mâture. Right photo: Photo: AdobeStock Yvann K

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The Chemin de la Mâture, a whole story to get around

A few years ago, no trail was passable in this part of the valley. The story begins in 1660 when Louis 14 and his sidekick Colbert decided to build a large French Navy. Blocked by the attacks in the north, they chose to exploit the national forests and turned towards the Aspe Valley made up of immense fir trees and large beeches. Transported by rafts to Bayonne, the idea was taken up by Louis 15 and Choiseul after 1750. As wood became scarcer, they opted for the Pacq forest, above Etsaut. However, crossing the ravine “the Gorges of Hell” is not so simple, which is why they dig a large passage into the side of the cliff, large enough to allow the movement of oxen and of course, large trunks of trees. Mast, oars, beams, axles and pulleys were the destiny of the forest until 1778, after the raw material was exhausted .


Some rules to follow when hiking on the Chemin de la Mâture

When you go on an excursion in the mountains, it is necessary to respect some safety instructions.


  • Bring suitable equipment including good ankle-supporting shoes, a fairly light bag, a first aid kit, water, supplies and a telephone in case of emergency.
  • Prepare your route and consult it on an IGN map that you take with you.
  • Anticipate difficulties by warning your loved ones of your tour and the planned time for the hike. Remember to check the weather before starting the Chemin de la Mâture.
  • Park in a parking space reserved for hikers.
  • Respect nature and the environment in which you live.

Are all the boxes checked? You are now ready to go walking on the charming Mâture trail.


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Visiting Fort du Portalet, a discovery not to be missed

Purchased by the community of communes of the Vallée d'Aspe, the Fort du Portalet was the subject of numerous renovations before its opening to the public. Listed as a historic monument since 2005, you can now book a 2-hour guided tour to learn and understand how the Fort works from its construction until today. To access it, you will have to pass through the Sescoué footbridge, before entering this magnificent fort installed at altitude on a cliff on the right bank of the Gave d'Aspe. Save your efforts, its ascent is not easy and requires good physical condition as well as good shoes. Also bring water and suitable clothing before setting out. Ask for advice when making your reservation, it is obligatory to visit Fort du Portalet.


Path to Fort de Portalet
Portalet FORT footbridge
Portalet FORT footbridge

Fort du Portalet footbridge

Fort du Portalet, an impressive past to tell

Fort du Portalet had several functions for years after its construction in 1842 during the reign of Louis Philippe. Initially, it was a military fort to guard the Pyrenees border, in order to protect the Somport pass road from Spanish invasions. But during the second half of the 20th century, under the Vichy regime, it was transformed into a prison and was used to lock up many people considered responsible for the defeat such as Léon Blum, Édouard Daladier, Paul Reynaud, George Mandel and even Marshal Pétain before his exile on the island of eyes. Made up of a barracks , an officers' pavilion and crenellated galleries dug into the rock, it could accommodate up to 400 men to hold out at least 1 week of siege . Take advantage of your walk on the Chemin de la Mâture to visit this impressive fort which has quite a story to tell.

You will have stars in your eyes and a palpitating heart after a hike on the Chemin de la Mâture, followed by a visit to Fort du Portalet. A true geological feat, the site is worth the detour. Don't forget your hat and your hiking pole, they can help you on this rather uneven hiking trail. And if you prefer, hire a professional guide, they will be happy to accompany you.


Fort du Portalet and Chemin de la Mâture Photo: AdobeStock Philipimage
Fort du Portalet and Chemin de la Mâture Photo: AdobeStock Philipimage

Did you like our article? Find others on the Guide du Béarn Blog. Find us on the Guide Béarn Pyrénées Facebook page and also on Instagram @guidebearnpyrenees



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