The Nouvelle Aquitaine might be most famous for being home to one of the world’s most prestigious wine regions, the wild beaches that are the birthplace of surfing in Europe and its richness in food specialties. But it’s really no surprise that in a region as vast in size as the entire country of Austria, you’ll also find that the Nouvelle Aquitaine is home to some of Europe’s most beautiful natural wonders. The Gorges de Kakuetta, a natural gorge dotted with waterfalls, is one of those natural wonders that simply must be seen when visiting the Nouvelle Aquitaine.
Gorges de Kakuetta
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful canyons of the French Pyrenees, the Gorges de Kakuetta is a natural canyon cut deep into the mountains that formed some 80 million years ago. It snakes along between the soaring cliffs and through caves for two kilometers, before ending in a cave. Lush with vegetation and ferns thanks to the little sunlight that ever touches the bottom, visitors often describe Kakuetta Gorge as an Amazon in the Pays Basque.
Tucked away in the steep mountains in Saint Engrâce, the Gorge de Kakouetta was only discovered in the 20th century. Or if it was discovered before that by the smugglers who used to traverse these rough paths, it was kept a closely guarded secret.
Though there was some exploration of the area around Kakuetta documented as early as 1892, the gorge remained a mysterious secret. It was Édouard-Alfred Martel, who is considered the father of modern speleology, to discover the Gorges de Kakuetta in 1906. And some 60 years after the discover, Kakuetta opened to the public in 1966.
From the very entrance to the gorge, visitors are enamored with this natural jewel of French Pyrenees. Immediately after descending the small hill from the entrance, you come to a crystal clear lake. Picnic tables surround the lake and it’s a popular place to enjoy a leisurely picnic.
From the lake, it’s a 4-kilometer round trip walk to the Grotte aux Lacs. It’s not a circuit – there’s only one way in and one way out. As there are no guided visits to the Gorges de Kakuetta, you can spend as much or as a little time as you want.
After a short, but steep climb on a dirt path through the forest, you reach the stream that feeds the crystalline lake at the entrance. And the unofficial “entrance” to the Gorge de Kakuetta is a small cave cut into the rock of the cliffs.
You suddenly emerge in to another world on the other side of the cave. A unique ecosystem all its own, it’s a world of moss, lichens and rare species. If you’re incredibly lucky, you might spot the very rare Pyrenean desman. It’s a weird aquatic creature that is an ancient descendant of the mole family and calls this gorge home. We keep our eyes peeled, but it’s shy and only about the size of a hamster.
A series of elevated walkways inching along the soaring cliff walls take you along the gurgling stream and foot bridges crisscross the clear pools that form in the canyon. While it’s probably unlikely to spot the Pyrenean desman, the pools are rich with small fish and spotted salamander.
Even keep an eye on the handrails of the walkways. Some of the smallest, yet most spectacular creatures inhabit Les Gorges de Kakuetta. A shiny and almost glittering green dock beetle caught our eye as he traveled along down the handrail.
The ever changing scenery of the gorge keeps you stopping for photos around every corner. But it’s the 20 meter waterfall, simply named La Cascade, that is one of the highlights of the gorge. It spills over the clifftop into the stream, and a path lets visitors walk right behind it.
It only takes a few minutes more to reach the very end of the Gorges de Kakuetta. Known as the Grotte aux Lacs, the cave is accessible by more bridges and walkways. Small lakes have formed inside the cave, along with stalagmites and stalactites.
There’s only one way in and out, so you follow the very same path back to the Bar de la Cascade. We suggest bringing a small picnic you can carry in a day pack or purchasing something from the Bar de la Cascade and finding a nice spot in the canyon to enjoy.
Tips for Visiting the Gorges de Kakuetta
While the 4-kilometer round trip walk is relatively flat and easy, there’s a few good tips to know before visiting the Kakuetta Gorge.
- Gorges de Kakuetta is open from March 15 – November 15 from 8am until dark.
- Buy your ticket from the Bar de la Cascade.
- Wear shoes with good traction as the wooden walkways can be slippery. There are also several places where you climb up or over stones. Flip-flops are not recommended.
- The Gorges de Kakuetta are not stroller accessible.
- Dogs are welcome on a leash.
- There are no trash bins on this natural site. Please respect nature and take your trash back with you.
- Note that swimming is forbidden in the lake and Gorges de Kakuetta.