Heading east from the Atlantic coast, the hills are wonderfully lush after the plains of Aquitaine.
The deeper the Pyrénées are penetrated, the steeper the valley sides and the more gigantic the snow-clad peaks become.
This is a magnificent, empty, dangerous country to be approached with caution and respect.
In summer the region offers over 1,600 km (1,000 miles) of walking trails, as well as camping, fishing and climbing.
In winter there is both cross-country and alpine skiing at the busy resorts along the border, much livelier than their Spanish counterparts.
Historically, the Pyrénées are known as the birthplace of Henri IV, who put an end to the wars of Religion in 1593 and united France, though the region has been characterized more often by indepedent fiefdoms.
The region's oldest inhabitants, the Basque people, have maintained their own language and culture, and their resorts of Bayonne, Biarritz and St-Jean de Luz reflect this, looking to the sea and to summer visitors for their livelihood.
Inland, Pau, Tarbes and Foix rely on tourism and medium-scale industry, while Lourdes receives four million pilgrims every year.
For the rest, life has been regulated by agriculture, though economic restraints today are causing an exodus from the land.
Countryside around St-Lizier, in the heart of the Pyrenean countryside.
Barèges, a ski resort and a spa town in the Hautes-Pyrénées.