TSC spent a long weekend in the Pyrenees in September 2016, staying in Argeles Gazost and in August 2017 staying in Luchon. The trips included climbs up the Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aubisque, Col du Soulor, Luz Ardiden and Hautacam in 2016 and Peyresourde, Superbagneres, Portet d’Aspet, Mente and Port de Bales in 2017. Here’s how we did it…
August 2017 – Bagneres du Luchon
We drove down to London Stansted airport and flew with Ryanair to Biarritz. The flights were £58 return each, and car park at Stansted £40 total. Once in Biarritz we hired a small van with Enterprise for £75 and drove to Bagneres du Luchon. The drive was 2h30 long and invloved €14 tolls each way, as well as approximately €25 diesel each way. Between two of us, travel therefore totalled approximately £147 per person.
We hired an apartment in the very centre of Bagneres du Luchon using AirBnB. The 1 bedroom apartment was ideal with the possibility to sleep 4 persons, and had a large living room, kitchen, bathroom and balcony. Total cost was £150 for the 4 nights (£75 each)
Bikes were hired through Luchon Cycling, a company we can not recommend enough. From the first email enquiry owner Christian LaFont (Fire Fighters Time Trial world champion) could not have been more helpful, and this continued throughout the rental to the very end when he kindly printed our return boarding passes! The bikes were good quality Trek Domanes with a triple chainset and a 28 on the back – ideal for the days in the mountains. Bike hire was £100 each for the 3 days. http://luchon-cycling.com/
Day 1: We cycled from the town of St Beat to the top of the Col de Mente. The climb has a series of nice switchbacks and some nice views back down the valley. On the way up you pass a small plaque and some road graffiti to mark the corner where Luis Ocana crashed in the 1971 Tour de France. At the summit is a nice restaurant where we had lunch and a coffee.
From here we descended down the other side of the Mente and turned right to climb the Col du Portet d’Aspet, which involes riding past the site of Fabio Casartelli’s tragic death in the 1995 Tour. The climb is a toughie, with regular sections of 14 and 15%.
Next we descended back down the way we came up, and carried on past the Mente turning and onto the passes of the Col du Buret and Col des Vars which took us to Fronsac and back down the valley to our start town of St Beat. The summit of the Col des Vars has a brilliant restaurant/hotel with campsite attached, and serves a refreshing Kronenbourg.
Day 2: From our accommodation in Luchon we climbed up the Col de Peyresourde, a climb of two distinct halves, with the first being quite a busy road through some nice villages and the second half turning into open countryside with switchbacks up the final 2km. The summit has a small building selling Crepes for 50c as well as omelets and hot drinks. After this we went over the other side of the Peyresourde and climbed up to Peyregudes ski resort. Unfortunately it is not possible to ride on the runway where a stage of the 2017 Tour finished, but we still got some pics. Here you can short cut back to the top of the Peyresourde, and we then descended back to Luchon. We had planned to cycle the Port de Bales, however the weather took a turn for the worse and we were soaked through in minutes, so we returned to our accommodation for lunch and to dry out.
In the afternoon when the sky looked brighter we went back out and headed for the shorter Col du Portillon which tops out at the France/Spain border. The sky did not stay bright for long, and by KM3 we were fighting as heavier rain as we can remember. The climb is also a short but tough one, with several section of 12-15%.
Day 3: We cycled through the main street of Luchon and onto the slopes of Superbagneres. It’s a fantastic climb, and we’d rate it in our top 5 ever. The early few KMs are quite easy going, before some switch backs at a right turning take you onto the harder and more open half of the climb. The views are sensational all the way up and more hairpins great you towards the top. The climb is a little more consistent in its gradient, pretty much always sitting between 6 and 9% and is a good challenge. At the top were 2 open restaurants where we ate lunch.
Once we descended back to Luchon we headed for the Port de Bales climb. Time restrictions meant we climbed the side the Tour has always descended it (as it is deemed safer than the side the ascend!) and it is a truly memorable climb, very different to all the others! The last 6km of road is a fairly new surface that the Tour put in, to replace a previous forest track in order to create a new Col for the race to pass over. The climb is very rustic and the summit views are fantastic. The nature at the top felt like some fells in the UK.
We thought Argeles-Gazost was hard to beat, but maybes Luchon did it. Bagneres du Luchon has a lot more to offer, with lots of excellent restaurant choices, bars, shops, supermarkets and attractions. Restaurants were all well priced with Moule-Frites coming in a €9 and Steak and Chips €8. An excellent fondue at a specialist restaurant was €13 each. There are several climbs straight out of the town, many of which could easily be cycled from both side, and while the Tourmalet is a legend of cycling, the climb of Superbagneres was certainly a beauty!
Photos can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1518991868214440.1073741879.183834381730202&type=1&l=f3447d49b6
September 2016 – Argeles Gazost
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.
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!
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.