Chemin de la Mâture

Useful Information

Location: 64490 Etsaut.
(42.888313, -0.552449)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: GorgeGorge
Light: n/a
Guided tours:  
Address: 64490 Etsaut
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1660 King Louis XIV and his minister Colbert decided to provide France with a large navy.
1772 built by the engineer Paul-Marie Leroy.


Chemin de la Mâture (Mast Road) is a spectacular trail cut into an almost vertical cliff face. The part which is carved into the rock is 1,200 m long, the rock face is over 200 m high. The Pacq forest at the far end of the gorge was famous for long and straight trees, which were important to build French naval vessels. But it was impossible to transport the trees from the forest down the valley, there was no road, and it was not possible to build one.

The story begins in 1660 when King Louis XIV and his minister Colbert decided to provide France with a large navy. The problem was to get the wood necessary to build the ships, especially the masts required extraordinary long and straight trees. Unfortunately Franch had to import such trees, which was very expensive. Colbert was informed of the forests of the western Pyrenees and started to exploit them. Several forests were cut and even access roads developed for the transport. The trees were then transported through the gaves to the port of Bayonne. The wood cutting was stopped in 1720, and it began again in 1750. The peak was reached at the end of the 18th century, when Étienne-François de Choiseul-Beaupré-Stainville intensified the ship building under the reign of Louis XV. They cut down all trees, the firs were used as ship masts, the beeches for oars and beams, and boxwood for axles and pulleys. But the forests were exhausted, and so they were researching for forest which were still untouched, because they were hard to reach.

The operation was entrusted to the Corps of Engineers of the Navy, and so the engineer Paul-Marie Leroy planned to build a path. The gorges de l'Enfer where the obstacle, and as an engineer he solved it by constructing a road. The road was dug into the massive rock, wide and high enough for the passage of large wagons pulled by oxen. So the trail was built and completed in 1772. But it was used only until 1778, when the trees ran out and the road was abandoned.

Today the spectacular road is used as a walking trail. It is part of the GR 10 long-distance hiking trail. While it is quite exposed, it is also huge, and so walking the trail is quite easy. Its actually the most comfortable trail of any gorge we have listed.

The N330 is an important connection between France and Spain, it crosses the border in an almost 9 km long tunnel. The last town on French side, before the tunnel is reached, is Etsaut. 3 km further up the valley the Fort Portalet is reached, which is located on the southern side of the tributary Le Sescué. The Chemin de la Mâture is on the northern side. Unfortunately it's not possible to access the trail from the main road. You have to turn left 1.3 km after the turnoff to Etsaut, then immediately right, after 800 m the road has a hairneedle curve, and the trail starts right ahead.