Visiting Pic du Midi is one of those bucket list places to visit for anyone who is planning a vacation to France. This famous observatory is an International dark Sky Reserve and a stunning place to visit with the opportunity to ride a cable car up the mountain and stay overnight in one of the world’s finest observatories.
Is the Pic du Midi Observatory open to the public?
Also known as the Pic du Midi de Bigorre the observatory is open to the general public between June and November. You can visit during the day and you can even stay overnight. It really is an amazing experience taking the cable car up to the summit of the Pic du Midi. Breathtaking doesn’t do it justice.
In years gone by it was possible to drive a dusty road from the foot of the famous Col du Tourmalet to a large parking area below the summit, from where a steep path led upwards into this weird and fascinating landscape.
Now that is no longer possible, and visitors must take a cable car ride from the nearby village of La Mongie.
The Pic du Midi cable car runs every 15 minutes from its departure point at the foot of the mountain and the cabin has a capacity of 45 people. Needless to say, the view from the cable car is spectacular and the extraordinary journey is unbelievably exciting.
How much does it cost to visit Pic du Midi?
Prices are very reasonable for the experience, at the time of writing fees for a site visit are; adults €49, child €29 and under 5’s free. There is a family ticket for €116 and concessions are €42.
Visiting the Pic du Midi observatory
Visiting the Pic du Midi and its astronomy observatory should be the highlight of anyone’s winter sports holiday in the tangle of rugged mountains between France and Spain.
Pic du Midi day trip
Naturally enough your day will begin with a trip to the summit on the amazing cable car. There can’t be a more spectacular way to travel and it’s a jaw dropping experience. For some it may also be a stomach-churning experience but you won’t regret it.
The cable car journey to the Pic du Midi is in two stages with a quick change of car at Taoulet. Once at the top you will be treated to the most awesome views you can imagine with breathtaking views of the French Pyrenees stretching away into the distance.
For those who like to get hands-on there is a new experimentation area which is interactive, fun, and very educational. But the highlight has got to be the planetarium. This really will blow your mind.
It’s the highest planetarium in Europe and is under one of the famous Pic du Midi domes. Do be aware there is a supplementary charge to access the planetarium but this is no time for penny pinching. Make sure you experience it.
There is one other attraction at the Pic du Midi. And this is one that some people may not be able to face. There is a metal and glass walkway that extends around 12 metres away from the mountain.
The view below your feet of the vertical drop down the mountain side is astonishing but may be a little too much for some to handle.
If you’re feeling peckish after your adventures there is a wonderful Pic du Midi restaurant (you can reserve a table upon arrival) or you can enjoy a less formal meal in the bistro (much nicer than a snack bar) or enjoy the view from the panoramic terraces with a warming hot chocolate.
Staying overnight at Pic du Midi
Only 19 guests can be accommodated overnight, with stargazing, conducted tours of the telescopes, and gourmet dining on the menu.
If you’re looking for bucket list experiences, there can’t be much better than spending a night on Pic du Midi with access to the observation domes. It will quite literally open up a whole new world.
The experience begins late in the day when other tourists are thinking of how to get back to their cars and hotels. You’ll be going the other way on the cable car. You have a room on the summit of the mountain and can watch the sunset from the terrace.
A wonderful meal in the restaurant and a guided tour of the facility follows as well as having a privileged peek through the famous Smith-Cassegrain telescope. You can then retire to your comfortable room but make sure you get up early to watch the sunrise over the Pyrenees.
All this for around 500 Euros.
If I’ve whetted your appetite, you can find more info and book your tickets here. You have a choice of either a double or single room. However, do be aware that rooms sell fast and have to be booked well in advance.
Read our Visitors Guide to Midi-Pyrenees
The observatory is also home to Europe’s highest museum, one that will guide you through the history of Pic du Midi and over a century of scientific research and technological progress.
High winds – recorded at up to 180mph – can isolate the facility for days, but on a clear day you can see for miles from this stellar eyrie. In fact, on a night, you can see the glow of lights from Biarritz to Barcelona.
If you’re driving to the Pic du Midi there is free parking at La Mongie. Though do take care in winter and check the roads as snow can of course cause issues for travellers. For non-drivers there is a daily shuttle service to the mountain from Lourdes.
What is the Pic du Midi?
This fortified complex, crammed with metal domes, sprawls across the top of a precipitous peak, often high above the clouds. At an altitude of 2,877 metres (9,349 feet), the sweeping view of the surrounding mountains is rivalled only by the site’s magnificently dark night sky.
From below it looks like an unappetising fortress on a frozen planet. Perched on a mountain peak, bristling with mysterious domes and towers, it gazes down imperiously on a world of ice and snow.
Its occasional residents spend more time looking up than down, however, because the complex on the Pic du Midi is an astronomical observatory, from which NASA scientists mapped the surface of the moon for the Apollo landings.
Where is the Pic du Midi and how to get there
The Pic du Midi is in the Pyrenees in the Parc National des Pyrenees. It has easy access by all modes of transport. If you’re driving you need to head for the D918. From Toulouse it’s a manageable 2.5-hour drive. However, if you’re based in Paris, you’d face a 9-hour drive so explore other options.
There are regular trains from both Toulouse and Paris. Head for Tarbes train station and your journey will be completed by bus from Tarbes to La Mongie. There are also regular shuttle buses between Lourdes to La Mongie and each bus only costs €2.
The nearest major airport is Toulouse though there is also Tarbes/Lourdes/Pyrenees airport which is only an hour’s drive from Pic du Midi. There are daily flights to the airport from Paris and if you’re in the UK you can fly from Stansted (flights on Tuesday and Saturday).
Finally, you can hike up the Pid du Midi. It goes without saying that this is a strenuous undertaking so don’t attempt it unless you are physically fit and equipped for a long hike. Pregnant women or anyone with mobility issues shouldn’t even think about attempting the hike.
If you do hike up the mountain you are rewarded with a reduced entry fee to Pic du Midi. €23 for adults and €14 for children.
For your hike you have the choice of two routes; the ‘des muletiers’ is a 20km round trip while the Versant Bareges will take you around 3 hours. Neither are a stroll in the park so do take care and prepare correctly.
Be aware that the old track from Col du Tourmalet is now considered to be too dangerous and is closed.
Remember this is a very high mountain
No matter what time of year you visit it’s cold up there with very thin air and the wind can reach speeds of over 250kph. Make sure you wrap up well and wear warm clothing. Leave the shorts and flip flops at the hotel.