Gazing with wonder at the majesty of the sheer rock walls and tiered snow platforms, Victor Hugo exclaimed, “It is both a mountain and a rampart; it is the most mysterious of structures by the most mysterious of architects; it is Nature’s Colosseum – it is Gavarnie!” The Cirque is 3.5 km wide at its base and 14 km around the crest line (from Astazou in the east to Pic des Sarradets in the west). The floor level is, on average, 1,676 meters above sea level; the surrounding summits rise to more than 3,000 meters. This beautiful amphitheatre was formed by glacial action during the last ice age. The best way to view it is to park one’s car at the end of the village and take the unsurfaced path along the left bank of le gave (a mountain stream). After crossing over an old stone bridge, walk up through the woods, leaving the river to your right. Village farmers let their cows graze in the mountain valleys and their bells can be heard clanging away as they stomp through the vale. As one goes down again towards the river, the landscape brightens up; the Cirque gets nearer against a backdrop of fir trees. On the left a few waterfalls can be seen. The last part of the hike consists of rambling through mixed vegetation to reach the first rocky folds marking the approach of the Cirque itself. Shortly before arriving at the Hôtel du Cirque (a great place to rest after hiking for over an hour), the river rushes through a narrow gorge. Then the Cirque de Gavarnie suddenly comes into view—three superimposed layers of horizontal strata rising in giant steps from the floor of the blind valley. The excursion to the Hôtel du Cirque does not have to end there as it is possible to continue onward as far as the Grande Cascade. This, the most impressive of the innumerable waterfalls silvering the walls of the Cirque, is fed by melt-water overflowing from the frozen lake 2,592 meters up on Monte Perdido on the Spanish side of the border. The cascade drops a clear 422 meters into the void. For people who enjoy hiking, visiting the Cirque de Gavarnie is well worth the time. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.