We spent a long weekend in the Pyrenees at the beginning of September 2016, staying in Argeles Gazost and climbing up the Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aubisque, Col du Soulor, Luz Ardiden and Hautacam. Here’s how we did it…
The Tourmalet was the reason we made the trip, and it didn’t disappoint with fantastic views all around and the summit in sight once you get through the village of Bareges. The climb from Luz St Sauveur was more alpine than the others, with the gradient quite consistent throughout and no major kicks to speak of. Nice restaurant at the top serving Baguettes (€5) and Beer (€5,20)
Ascending the Col d’Aubisque from our campsite in Argeles Gazost required us to first ascend the Col du Soulor. The climb was 20km to the Soulour and a further 10km to the Aubisque. The climb was one of 5 parts with a toughish first 5km out of Argeles, a much easier 7km along the valley followed by 8 tough kilometres to the Soulor summit. Once there a descent and fairly easy ascent followed, before getting tougher for the last 4km up to the Aubisque summit. The Soulor had 3 restaurants/bars at the top and the Aubisque 2. A baguette, Beer and Chips set us back €12 each.
Luz Ardiden and Hautacam were probably the toughest two climbs we did, as both we constantly changing gradients with some sections around 11-12% and the ‘rest’ sections being around 6%. Both started by going through some villages for the first 5km before going into the open countryside with nothing but cows and sheep for company. The climbs were both around the same distance and average gradient and offered some lovely switchback roads, although the surfaces we not always the best for descending on. Luz Ariden had no open restaurant at the top (only open for ski season) and Hautacam had 1 restaurant at the summit although this was only open at weekends. 600 metres after the Hautacam is the summit of the Col de Tramassel which also had a closed restaurant.
We picked 5 superb differing climbs and would highly recommend all of them!
We flew from London Stansted to Biarritz with Ryanair at £77 return. There were other budget airline options from Gatwick and Heathrow into Biarritz, Lourdes and Toulouse but flight times and driving distance to the airport meant we chose the option we did.
We hired a small van with Enterprise (€140) and the drive from Biarritz to Argeles Gazost was 180km and took about 1h40 straight along the French motorway (tolls cost €13 each way).
There are several good quality campsites around Argeles and Luz St Sauveur, all with swimming pools and chalet style accommodation. We looked at some AirBnB accommodation but in the end chose a Chalet at Camping La Bergerie in Argeles Gazost. This worked out the best price (€200 for 4 nights, with the chalet sleeping up to 7). The campsite was excellent, with friendly service and very well heated pool with slide and an Aldi supermarket 50 metres from the entrance. It was a 10 minute walk into the town centre, which offered a couple of restaurant choices and a few bars too, although to be fair it seemed Luz St Sauveur had a little more to offer.
We hired our bikes with Ardiden Velo, based in Luz St Sauveur at the bottom of the Tourmalet and ran by an English family. Service and advice was superb (we punctured on one ride and called by to get a new spare tube, but our bikes were also given a quick check over and had the chains oiled again). We hired the cheapest road option, whch was a Scott Speedster 20. This gave us very low gears for the mountains and was a good quality entry level road bike kitted out with 105 that gave us no problems. 3 days cost €110 and included pedals, helmets and lights as well as multi-tool, puncture repair kit, pump and spare tube.
Based on 3 people:
Diesel to Stansted: £20 each
Stansted Parking: £15 each
Flights: £77 each
Car Hire: £40 each
Diesel in France: £10 each
Accommodation: £58 each
Bike Hire: £92 each
Realistically a group of 5 could probably bring this down to about £250 each.
We thought we had seen some pretty unbeatable cycling destinations in the past, but this one possibly tops them all! Budget airline flights right down to the Pyrenees were a huge plus point, and made getting there pretty easy and cheap, as well as good accommodation and bike hire prices once there. The scenery is spectacular, roads near perfect and the area is also a lot quieter than others we have been to, including the number of cyclists out on the road. You can also add some of the most historic and legendary Tour de France cols to your cycling bucket list. A must do.