5 climbs in the Pyrenees we think you should ride

After completing our article about the famous cycling climbs of the Pyrenees we wanted to showcase 5 not so famous climbs. When we first visited the Pyrenees in 2013 we had 2 or 3 must-ride climbs, but apart from that left the rest to chance. Since our first visit, we have discovered many more climbs in the region and continue to find some of the hidden gems. You can see our list of 40 cycling routes across the length of the Pyrenees for some more ideas on what is on offer.

Like anything, coming up with a list like this will invariably leave out things that others will expect to be there. For the purpose of this list, we tried to pick climbs with a key feature that is unique to them. We have also chosen only climbs within the Haute Pyrenees region so they could be accessed in a single holiday. The Pyrenees stretches over 400km from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and there is no point choosing climbs at opposite ends from a logistics viewpoint.

Luz Ardiden

The road to the ski station of Luz Ardiden features 25 hairpin bends as it winds its way up from the valley floor. Once you reach the summit you get an amazing view of the last 4km of the road which twists and turns across the mountainside. When we first saw a picture of it before our first trip we immediately knew we wanted to ride it and we were not disappointed when we did.

This HC climb is 13km in length at an average gradient of 7.6% and reaches an altitude of 1 715m at the top. It has been used by the Tour de France on 8 occasions, the first being in 1985. It has also featured in the Vuelta a España given its proximity to the Spanish border. The road is nice and quiet generally as it is a dead end at the top. There is a tap for water but no other facilities are open at the ski station. It is a good climb to pair with the neighboring Col du Tourmalet which you can see in the distance from Luz Ardiden.

The hairpin bends of Luz Ardiden as they wind their way up to the ski station.

Col du Portet

We included the climb to Col du Portet on the list as it is the highest mountain pass in the French Pyrenees with an altitude of 2,215m, making it higher than Col du Tourmalet. It is a newcomer to the Tour de France having only made its debut in 2018 on a short 65km stage that started in Bagneres de Luchon. Prior to 2018, the road was gravel to the top but it was sealed in preparation for the race. The climb starts in Saint Lary Soulon and is 16km in length at an average gradient of 8.5% and is classified HC.

While this is classified as a mountain pass, the road over the top turns to gravel and provides access to Lac de l’Oule so you will return the same way you came up. We spent some time in Saint Lary Soulan in 2016 when this climb was relatively unknown and as such we have not had a chance to ride it ourselves yet.

Col de Tentes

The road to Col de Tentes is a beautiful climb that takes you right up to the Spanish border and we included it for the scenery. It’s a climb that has never appeared in the Tour de France and is very unlikely to ever appear. Why? It’s located in the Pyrenees National Park where the granting of permits to run an event like the Tour de France is not allowed. We had never heard of it prior to our visit in 2013 when we saw it mentioned in a local cycling guide we picked up at the tourist information center. It is one that we have done a number of times since and always love.

The climb officially starts in Luz Saint Sauveur and is 29km in length at an average gradient of 5.2%. The first 19km is nice and gentle as you ride alongside the river to the small village of Gavarnie. It’s well worth a quick stop here on the way up or down and there are cafés and restaurants to enjoy a drink or bite to eat. After Gavarnie though, the road pitches up steeply and you will regularly encounter gradients of 10% or more. From the top of the road climb it’s another 2km through to the Spanish border. You will need to walk this last section though as bikes are not permitted to be ridden.

Hautacam / Col de Tramasel

We added Hautacam to this list as one of the hardest climbs we have encountered in the Haute Pyrenees. Most people we have spoken to about it agree that it is tough. The gradient on the road is ever-changing and reaches 15% in places. The climb is 15km in length and averages 8%, it will definitely test the legs and provide a challenging ride. In summer there is not much shelter and you are exposed to the sun making it quite hot and one we recommend doing early in the morning.

The Tour de France first visited Hautacam in 1995 and has appeared 5 times. The finish line is located in a large car park for the ski station but there is a further 1.5km to Col de Tramassel that we recommend you do. There are great views over the mountains as well as an auberge where you can refuel before heading back down the way you came up.

Lac de Cap de Long in the Pyrenees is a great cycling climb

Route de Lacs

The Route des Lacs is another climb you will never see in the Tour de France but it’s definitely one we recommend doing. This one is also included for the scenery, but it is also higher than Col du Tourmalet and up with Hautacam for difficulty. The climb takes you up to Lac de Cap de Long, a dam built to supply water for hydroelectricity in the valley below. After reaching Lac de Cap de Long you head back down a short distance to visit Lac d’Orédon, Lac d’Aubert, and Lac d’Aumar. The scenery on the road up and at the top is stunning and you really feel you are deep in the mountains.

The climb is 14km in length at an average gradient of 7.6% reaching an altitude of 2 172m. The road follows the valley and the sound of rushing water is never far away. There are multiple sets of hairpins that are always great to look back down on to see where you have ridden up. There is a small café at Lac de Cap de Long if you need something to eat or drink. Alternatively, there is the chalet at Lac d’Orédon that includes a café.

Conclusion

We could go on and on with places to ride in the Pyrenees as there really is a lot on offer. This hopefully whets your appetite for a small sample of what is on offer. If you need any more convincing about visiting the Pyrenees our Why we think you will love cycling in the Pyrenees article will hopefully convince you.

If you need any assistance in planning a cycling holiday in the Pyrenees make sure you contact us via email in the first instance. We do offer a travel advisor service where for a fee we can research and plan your cycling holiday for you.