Cycling the Pyrenees: 5 climbs I think you should ride
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After completing my article about the famous cycling climbs of the Pyrenees I wanted to showcase 5 not so famous climbs. When I first visited the Pyrenees in 2013 I had 2 or 3 must-ride climbs, but apart from that left the rest to chance. Since our first visit, I have discovered many more climbs in the region and continue to find some of the hidden gems. You can see the Seek Travel Ride cycling routes in 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, I tried to pick climbs with a key feature that is unique to them. I 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.
The road to the ski station of Luz Ardiden features 30 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 I first saw a picture of it before my first trip I 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 neighbouring Col du Tourmalet which you can see in the distance from Luz Ardiden.
I have ridden this climb a number of times now and still love it every time I do it. The views from the top are stunning and the sight of the road below is one of the best in my opinion. While the climb is not easy, it is always manageable and there are a number of places where the gradient eases to give the legs a quick break.
Col du Portet
I 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. I spent some time in Saint Lary Soulan in 2016 when this climb was relatively unknown and as such I have not had a chance to ride it myself yet. I hope to recify that in 2023. Even though I have not ridden it, it was worthy of inclusion due to the altitude.
Col de Tentes
The road to Col de Tentes is a beautiful climb that takes you right up to the Spanish border and I included it for the spectacular 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. I had never heard of it prior to our visit in 2013 when I saw it mentioned in a local cycling guide I picked up at the tourist information centre. It is one that I have cycled 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.
I always find the climb to Col de Tentes a tough one. It’s a 40km gradual climb to the base of this col and then you get stuck in to the steeper gradients. Often there is a headwind just to make life that little more difficult. I highly recommend a stop into Gavarnie village either before or after you head up. There are cafés and places to stock up on food if you need it.
Hautacam / Col de Tramasel
I added Hautacam to this list as I think it is one of the hardest climbs I have encountered in the Haute Pyrenees. Most people I 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 I 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.
I have only ridden Hautacam twice in the last 10 years. After the first time I thought “Ticked that one off, don’t need to do it again…” It took until 2022 before I thought it was time to do it again and it was still tough. I still recommend it highly though and the views over the valley are fantastic as you rise up. I found the first half of the climb not too bad but once you pass through the village of Artalens-Souin things get much tougher.
Route de Lacs
The Route des Lacs is another climb you will never see in the Tour de France but it’s definitely one I 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.
I stayed in Saint Lary Soulan when I rode this climb and it was a fantastic day out on the bike. The scenery at the top and views on the way up are fantastic. I highly recommend having a look at the Col Collective video about this ride to get you inspired about it.
I 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 drop a comment below or contact me via email. We do offer a travel advisor service where for a fee we can research and plan your cycling holiday for you.