Cycling paradise: Why the Pyrenees is the cyclist’s dream destination
Spoiler alert! I loved cycling in the Pyrenees so much that I moved here permanently. My first visit to the Pyrenees was back in 2013. After years of watching the Tour de France on TV, I wanted to see for myself what it was like to cycle up those huge mountain passes. I loved cycling in the Pyrenees so much that I came back the following year for another holiday, then another and another, until finally, I made the decision to move here permanently which I finally achieved in 2021. So I am now very lucky to call this cycling wonderland home.
I think cycling in the Pyrenees is an amazing experience that every cyclist should add to their bucket list. Located in the southwest of France the region offers endless possibilities for road cycling, cycle touring, and mountain biking. The Pyrenees has a long history with the Tour de France and first featured in 1910, a year before the French Alps. It is home to the legendary climbs of Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aubisque, Col du Peyresourde, and Col d’Aspin. As a tourist destination, it is well served by public transport, accommodation, bike hire, and other facilities.
If you are considering a cycling holiday in the Pyrenees then read on. I have put this page together to take you through all the reasons why I think you will love cycling in the Pyrenees. The page also acts as a destination guide to help you plan your trip. The information we provide is based on my own experience of visiting this region over the past ten years and now living here permanently. I continue to enjoy and experience this cycling nirvana and there is lots of great content to come.
There are plenty of great places to base yourself
Whether you enjoy staying in a larger town or getting away from it all in a small French village you will find something to suit you in the Pyrenees. Some of the most popular towns to stay in as a base for a cycling holiday in the Pyrenees includes Oloron Saint Marie, Argeles Gazost, Lourdes, Saint Lary Soulan, Bagneres de Luchon, Foix, and Tarascon sur Ariege. Surrounding each of these towns are numerous smaller villages that also provide excellent bases for your Pyrenean cycling holiday.
Which base to choose for a cycling holiday in the Pyrenees really comes down to what famous cycling climbs you wish to experience while you are there. Given the Pyrenees mountains span 491km there is no single place to base yourself that covers the entire range. My suggestion is to look at the rides you would like to do and then choose a base that is not too far away. My Where to Stay in the Pyrenees for a cycling holiday page will help you work out what is best for you.
If this is your first time visiting the Pyrenees for a road cycling holiday I highly recommend staying in Argeles Gazost or one of the smaller villages within the valley. From here you can access no less than 8 climbs that have been used in the Tour de France including Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aubisque, and Luz Ardiden. Within the valley, there are 5 cycling hotels for you to choose from as well as bike hire and bike shops. Before moving to the Pyrenees, Argeles Gazost was where I based myself for the majority of the time.
On my second trip to the Pyrenees in 2014 I booked two weeks in Argeles Gazost. Over the two week period I was able to ride many different routes without the need to redo the same one more than once.
The Pyrenees are well connected to transport
Getting to the Pyrenees is straightforward and there is a range of options available to you. Over the years I have travelled to the Pyrenees by car, by train, by plane, and even by bike. Toulouse is the closest major airport to the Pyrenees and is connected to 60 destinations throughout Europe, the UK, Ireland, and northern Africa. Within the Pyrenees, there are smaller airports in Pau and Lourdes, with flights to destinations in France, the UK, and Ireland.
Both Pau and Lourdes are on the high-speed TGV network with multiple daily trains to Paris via Bordeaux. There is also a great choice of InterCity and regional trains each day to get you to Toulouse or other destinations. For those who wish to drive, the A64 autoroute runs from Toulouse to the coast at Bayonne through the foothills of the Pyrenees. The A64 links up to other autoroutes to take you to other destinations in France including ferry ports in Spain and northern France for those travelling from the UK and Ireland.
Within the Pyrenees, you will find taxi services and local buses connecting the airports and railway stations to the towns and villages in the mountains. Our page about How to Get to the Pyrenees goes into more detail on the different options and includes information about travel times and distances.
There is a cycling route to suit everyone
One of the things I love about cycling in the Pyrenees is the variety that is available. One day you can be challenging yourself on Col du Tourmalet and the next, you can be cycling on a car-free voie vert or cycle path with little to no gradient. There are many different terrains available from the high mountain passes, to valley floors, and moving a little further out to the foothills and plains that border the mountains. While road cycling is probably the most popular style of riding here, there are plenty of options for mountain bikers, cycle tourers or casual cyclists as well.
If you enjoy long-distance cycle touring the Pyrenees has a couple of options for you to cross the mountain range from coast to coast. If you are looking for a challenging route with lots of climbing you can head through the mountains up and over numerous passes as you progress. For those looking for something a little less challenging, there is a new route known as the V81. This route traverses the foothills without going into the higher mountains but still offers the Pyrenean experience.
To date, we have created over 40 cycling routes in the different regions of the Pyrenees to give you a taste of what is available. There are challenging routes, routes suitable for beginners, and family-friendly routes for you to choose from. We are continually adding to this list as we explore and discover new areas.
You can experience the grandeur of the Tour de France
My first cycling trip to France was inspired by the Tour de France. I had grown up watching this great event and as I got into cycling myself the idea of going to France soon took hold. Seeing the likes of Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aspin, and others in real life for the first time did not disappoint. I think one of the unique aspects of the Tour de France is that it plays out on public roads that everyone can ride. As a fan, it is possible to experience this firsthand, something that is not really possible in many or any other sports that I can think of.
Cycling in the high mountains of the Pyrenees still fills me with a sense of the history of the Tour de France. On many climbs, you can see the faded paint on the road, put there by fans waiting to see their favourite rider or team. You can’t help but think of some of the past editions of the race and the battles that have taken place on these very roads over decades. I always wonder what it would have been like riding these climbs on heavy bikes and unpaved roads and just how tough it would have been. Make sure you visit the café at the top of Col du Tourmalet where you will see some of the old bikes hanging on the wall.
The Tour de France first visited the Pyrenees in 1910 crossing Col du Peyresourde, Col d’Aspin, Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aubisque in a single 326km (203mi) stage. A brutal effort on largely unpaved roads it was the start of a long history of cycling in these stunning mountains. Since that first crossing in 1910, the Tour de France has been a regular visitor to the region and the Col du Tourmalet has been used no less than 87 times. If you are visiting the Pyrenees in July check out a stage by the side of the road, it’s a great spectacle and something I love doing.
You will find great facilities while cycling in the Pyrenees
As you would expect from a popular cycling destination, the Pyrenees are well set up to cater to the cycling market. If you need to hire a bike, get a bike repaired, or stay in a hotel catering for cyclists you will find it in the Pyrenees. Out on the road, the distances between villages are such that there is always somewhere to fill your water bottle, stop for a snack or go to the toilet. This makes it very easy to cycle on a self-guided basis rather than needing to join an organized group or tour.
There are bike hire shops located across the Pyrenees for those who are unable to bring their own bike. The greatest concentration of these is around the Argles Gazost area but you will be able to hire a bike anywhere you go in the Pyrenees. The majority of bike hire shops are also bike shops offering spares and repairs if needed along the way. I have created a list of bike hire outlets by town that goes into more detail about hiring a bike in the Pyrenees.
Something else to consider when visiting the Pyrenees for a cycling holiday is to stay in one of the many cycling hotels and lodges. There are plenty to choose from right across the range and they are typically owned and operated by keen cyclists who have relocated to France. You will find a range of facilities for cyclists including secure bike storage, great local knowledge, bike wash and repair areas, not to mention great catering for hungry bike riders. We always stayed in this style of hotel before we moved here permanently and recommend them highly.
There are great cycling events to watch or participate in
Whether you want to watch others or participate in a cycling event yourself, the Pyrenees offers you a range of choices. The Tour de France visits the Pyrenees in July each year and thousands of people make their way up the mountain passes to watch the riders battle it out. I have been lucky to watch a number of Tour de France stages in the Pyrenees and highly recommend it if your visit coincides with the race. In 2023 both the Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes will have stages in the Pyrenees as will the Vuelta Espagne.
It’s not just the Tour de France that comes to the Pyrenees. I was lucky in 2022 to watch a UCI Downhill mountain bike world cup event in Lourdes as well 2 stages as the inaugural CIC Tour Féminin International road cycling race. Both events will be back in the mountains in 2023 and I look forward to seeing them again.
If you would prefer to participate in an event yourself, rather than watch, there are a number of events to consider. Head over to our French cycling events page for the full list.
It’s quieter than the Alps
The Pyrenees are often compared to the French Alps with people wondering which one is better for cycling. Both destinations offer some amazing cycling options and scenery but for us, the Pyrenees wins the argument. Why? The reason I prefer the Pyrenees over the French Alps is that it is much quieter and less developed and feels more rustic. I love the quiet tree-lined roads that twist and turn up the mountains as I hear the cow bells ringing out across the valleys. There are fewer cars on the road and plenty of roads that offer little to no traffic. I also love the variety of terrain that is available from the foothills to the high mountain passes.
You will generally see the sun…somewhere
The summer weather conditions in the Pyrenees are mostly favourable for cycling holidays given their location in the southwest of the country. Sunny days far outweigh rainy days over the summer months and temperatures remain nice and warm. If you do wake to a grey sky, chances are once you get a bit higher in the mountains you will break through the clouds into perfect sunshine again. You may also find one valley under clouds while the next valley is nice and clear.
The best time to visit the Pyrenees for a cycling holiday, based on my experience, are the months of May, June, September, and October. July and August are peak holiday months in the Pyrenees, especially August, and if you can avoid them we recommend doing so. From November to April, the Pyrenees turns to winter mode and skiers start replacing cyclists in the mountains. While some mountain passes are open year-round, others are closed over winter.
A little tip for you. There is a range of webcams that you can view and see what the conditions are like in different parts of the Pyrenees before you decide which route you head off on.
There are plenty of non-cycling activities to experience
While the Pyrenees attracts cyclists from all over the world each year, you don’t have to ride a bike to enjoy this region of France. There are lots of great activities and attractions across the mountains to keep everyone busy and entertained. Our Amazing Attractions in the Pyrenees, Day Trips from Lourdes, and Things to Do in Lourdes articles have lots of suggestions to keep everyone happy. This makes the Pyrenees a great destination if you are planning on travelling with a group where some wish to cycle and others do not.
What are you waiting for
I hope you are convinced now that you should head to the Pyrenees for a dedicated cycling holiday or a holiday with some cycling attached to it. If you have any questions about the Pyrenees please feel free to email me at email@example.com or consider using Seek Travel Ride’s planning services where we can arrange your itinerary for you.