The Pyrenees mountain range located in southwestern Europe, specifically in south-south-west France, stretches from the Atlantic Ocean, reaching the Mediterranean Sea. The snow-capped chain of mountains is believed to have been formed 100 to 150 million years ago, which means they are older than the French Alps. Today, they act as a natural border separating France and Spain. The mountainous region is remote, with relatively unspoilt spots that are perfect for exploring, hiking, and of course, cycling. The area is raw and underdeveloped, with an exciting landscape and history that will captivate any cycling enthusiast.
It’s why Ride International’s good friend and partner Phil Anderson loves to cycle here and has hosted a number of tours in the French Pyrenees. Phil is well known for his Tour de France performance back in 1981, which is still an essential part of the event’s history up to this day.
Phil Anderson was a young rider who was one of the Tour de France’s participants and a member of the French Peugeot team. During the final Pyrenean stage held to the beautiful ski resort Pla d’Adet, Phil became the first non-European to win the honour to wear the coveted yellow leader’s jersey.
The beauty of the Pyrenees is not just about the breathtaking scenery; it’s also because the routes are for everyone, including relatively inexperienced riders or seasoned roulers on the bike. This blog showcases our top five Pyrenees rides (in no particular order), which are suitable for all neophytes and pros and cyclists of all fitness levels.
Col d’Aubisque via Col du Soulor
- Overall Ride Distance (out and back): 60km
- Overall Ride Vertical climbing: 1850m
- Climb Rating: Hors Category (HC)
- Climb Overall (Col d’Aubisque via Col du Soulor): 30km – 1550m
- Undulating Climbing: 4.1% average
- Col du Soulor: 19km – 1050m climbing
- Col d’Aubisque: 11km – 500m climbing
Did you know that Alberto Elli from Italy won Stage 16 of the 1999 Tour de France over the Col de Peyresourde? Alberto’s a fantastic guy, he’s relaxed yet still super strong on the bike, he’s also one of our great Super Domestic tour hosts.
Introduced into the Tour de France in 1910, the Col d’Aubisque route is a Pyrenean must-try ride, it’ll also help you to understand why numerous cyclists prefer the Pyrenees over the French Alps. It’s a challenging route with no flat terrain. Still, the entire route is amazing as it captures the essence of the Pyrenees Mountains.
The first 15km requires some climbing through the hills and meadows, an authentic green French paradise. You will then move past the gushing streams and glades, climbing through the isolated Pyrenean valley and towns of the Gave d’Ossau. Kilometres 4 to 38 make up the final portion of the 2018 Tour de France Stage 19.
The climb is undisputed, and it’s hard to do it justice with just some photos. But be sure you don’t miss the opportunity to take a selfie in front of the Col du Soulor signboard, as well as with the massive steel bike sculptures at the top of the Col d’Aubisque.
While on the topic of things you mustn’t miss, here are some suggestions that are sure to satisfy your caloric requirements:
- Sip on morning tea or enjoy a coffee and a snack at the top of Col du Soulor
- For lunch, try the Col du Peyresourde Chalet menu, specifically the Confit du Canard with roast potatoes. The locals stand by the deliciousness of the homemade tarte, so we recommend trying it as well.
- Delight in afternoon tea, coffee, or ice cream in the Hautes-Pyrenees commune of Argelès-Gazost.
And if you think you’ve seen it all, the glorious route traversing across Col d’Aubisque on the Cirque du Litor is perhaps the most stunning and one of the best roads we’ve ever seen. But don’t take our word for it. Ride it to believe.
Port de Balès to Col de Peyresourde – Pla d’Adet
- Distance: 95km
- Vertical climbing: 3850m
This course is similar to the final portion of Stage 17 of Tour de France 2021, running deep into the border region of the French Pyrenees. Don’t miss Port de Bales. You’ll most likely spot some Pyrenean eagles once you get to the top of the climb. Le Pla d’Adet, as we have mentioned, was where Phil Anderson’s historic day took place. The ski resort area of Le Pla d’Adet and Saint-Lary, has hosted Tour de France stage finishes on 10 occasions.
Crepes are a French must-try, enjoy one at the Chalet’s cafe while at the top of Col de Peyresourde. They’re not only delicious, but you’ll get the fuel you need to keep you going.
Let’s also not forget that the ski station and mountain altiport served as the filming locations for the hit 1997 Pierce Brosnan – James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies. And 20 years later, it was also the Tour de France 2017’s Stage 12 finish.
Col du Tourmalet Loop
- Ride Distance: 105km
- Vertical climbing: 2200m
- Col du Tourmalet: 17.5km
- Elevation Gain: 1275m
- Elevation or Altitude at Top: 2115m
- Average Climbing Gradient 7.5%
- Max Climbing Gradient 10%
When speaking about the Pyrenees and Tour de France, Col du Tourmalet will always be a classic route. So, if you’re an avid cyclist, you should definitely have this on your bucket list. A significant portion of the 2021 Tour de France Stage 18, in particular the last 70km of the stage follows much of this big mountain route.
At 2,115m, Col du Tourmalet is one of the highest road passes in the Pyrenees mountain range. We’re highlighting the loop ride, which is remarkable and unforgettable for any cyclist. It begins with an easy 11km, serving as your warm-up and will pass the rolling countryside for the next 70km. And when it’s sunny or clear sky’s, you might spot the Pyrenean bearded vulture or lammergeier (Scientific name: Gypaetus barbatus). It’s easy to spot with its huge wingspan that can reach 2.9 metres or 9.3 feet.
The village of Sainte Marie de Campan enroute to the Col du Tourmalet featured an old metal forge, which has become a historical monument for the Tour de France. In 1913, Le Vieux Gaulois (the Old Gaul) Eugène Christophe, a renowned cyclist, repaired his broken bicycle in this area after descending the Tourmalet. Because part of the rules of the race was not to get assistance, he had to do it all by himself, causing him to walk 15km for the repairs. Although the incident cost him his victory, this moment did not go unnoticed. The plaque or monument commemorates his efforts to bring his bike back to life.
Now, if you’re looking to re-energise yourself, enjoy a cup of coffee or a hot chocolate at the mountaintop chalet at the Col du Tourmalet.
Hautacam & Luz Ardiden
- Ride Distance: 95km
- Vertical Climbing: 2800m
Luz Ardiden Climb
- Height: 1720m
- Length: 14.7km
- 1,010m climbing
- Average Gradient: 6.9%
- Maximum Gradient: 10%.
- Height: 1,635m
- 1,170m climbing
- Average Gradient: 6.8%
Are you looking to achieve two climbs with just one ride? Here’s the answer. Luz Ardiden and Hautacam are classic Tour de France climbs in the summer and ski resorts in the winter. Luz Ardiden may be where the Tour de France winner of 2021 will be declared. The location is set to be the final climb for the Pyrenean Mountain stages this year.
It won’t be the first time Luz Ardiden is a part of the Tour de France. It has been a part of the event since 1985, while Hautacam has been used five times starting in 1995. Hautacam has always been deemed the harder of the two, especially when getting into a rhythm, despite what statistics say. Nevertheless, both climbs will reward you with gorgeous sights of the Pyrenees Mountains from the beginning of the route until you reach the mountain tops.
Don’t miss Napoleon Bridge at Luz Saint Sauveur, which Napoleon III inaugurated in 1863. The area is right at the foot of Luz Ardiden. When you get to Luz Saint Sauveur, take the chance to try the local artisan beers at Brasserie du Pays Toy. It’s a popular microbrewery that features four craft beers, including Cuvée du Col du Tourmalet (Amber Beer).
Lourdes, The Locals Loop
- Ride Distance: 65km
- Vertical Climbing: 1000m
Did you know that the town of Lourdes has the greatest number of hotel beds in the country of France outside of Paris? After all, it receives well over six million people from around the world annually. Some points of interest are Lake Lourdes and Grottes (Caves) de Bétharram.
See the town of Lourdes like a local through this “local training route.” It follows a small road with a number of bodies of water and valleys before you climb up the hills to reach the views back down over Lourdes. Upon getting there, we highly recommend that you don’t miss the beautiful views over the town and up to the Pyrenees. Once you’re ready to return, take the “secret” local route, along Lake Lourdes.
Enjoy a cup of coffee or sit down for lunch while sipping on a cool drink – all while admiring the serene views that the lake offers. For some lunch options by Lac de Lourdes, sample the plat du jour dishes (Plate of the Day) at the restaurant café. And you know you can never go wrong with grilled salmon paired with fresh salad.
Once you’re recharged, it’s time to head to the Grottes (Caves) de Bétharram. These underground caves have welcomed visitors for more than a century now.
And that’s it! We’ve covered five of the most spectacular and iconic climbs shaping the Pyrenees Mountains – Tour de France experience.
Are you excited to explore France or the Tour de France more? You could be cycling through France in summer enjoying the amazing culture, food and wine experiences, seeing the Tour de France and challenging yourself on the beautiful rides on this list!