Cycling in the Pyrenees – a helpful guide for your holiday
Are you planning on cycling in the Pyrenees for your next holiday? If so this guide is for you with lots of helpful information to get you started on planning your trip. The guide sets out the different options on getting to the Pyrenees as well as where to stay and links to our detailed location pages. Our site also includes a list of over 40 suggested cycling routes in the Pyrenees to help you work out where to ride and what is available.
We first cycled in the Pyrenees in 2013 and instantly fell in love with the area and the cycling opportunities it offered. Not only will you find the famous climbs you watch on TV during the Tour de France, but many other climbs that still offer plenty of challenges and take you to parts of the Pyrenees the Tour de France will never visit. Since that first trip in 2013, we have returned here a number of times and ultimately decided to call this part of the world home in 2021. We are still exploring and finding many great new rides to discover which we share on our site here.
The Pyrenees is a great cycling holiday destination and is well set up to cater to the thousands of cyclists that visit each year. You will find a great range of cycling hotels and lodges, bike hire, bike tours, and of course cycling routes. Cyclists of all abilities will find something to suit their requirements and there are plenty of family-friends options also. The Pyrenees is not just about cycling though, there are lots of things to do off the bike as well such as hiking, animal parks, caves, and great scenery to enjoy.
We can help plan your trip
Planning a holiday is always great fun but can also be quite time-consuming. As you research more and more you may find yourself with more questions than answers. We offer a range of services to assist people with planning their own cycling holiday to France, ranging from one-on-one calls to answer your questions to a full planning and itinerary service. You can find a rundown of the services we offer on our Travel Planner page.
We first visited France for a cycling holiday in 2013 and returned numerous times before moving here permanently in 2021. Over the years we have traveled by plane, train and hire car with our bikes and learned lots of lessons about visiting France generally as well as traveling around with a bike. We enjoy both road cycling and cycle touring and look forward to being able to help you plan that perfect trip.
A perfect cycling holiday location
For the cyclist, the Pyrenees has everything you could want in a cycling holiday destination. There is a great mix of rides ranging from the icons and challenging mountain passes of the Tour de France to gentler gradients in the valleys. Across the length of the mountains, there are numerous towns and villages for you to stay in, with all the services you need.
The Pyrenees is well connected to public transport including air, rail and bus services. The Tour de France visits the area each year if you choose to visit during the month of July. There are a host of activities other than cycling if you want some days off the bike or have non-cycling members in your traveling group.
Where to stay in the Pyrenees for a cycling holiday is determined primarily by what climbs you wish to ride. Towns that you can consider include Pau, Oloron Saint Marie, Lourdes, Argeles Gazost, Bagnere de Bigorre, Saint Lary Soulan, Bagnere de Luchon, Foix, Ax les Thermes and Tarascon sur Ariege. Each of these locations has readily accessible climbs nearby for you to ride and you will be spoilt for choice.
Once you have read through our recommendations on where to stay you can look at our destination guides where you will find more detailed information about each of the regions. We also have over 40 suggested riding routes for you to view which include GPX files that you can download to your devices.
Getting your bearings
The Pyrenees are located in the far south-west of France and form the border with Spain. They run 491km from the Mediterranean Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. They are home to numerous peaks reaching over 3,000m with the highest being Aneto at 3,404m. The closest major city to the Pyrenees is Toulouse which is anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 hours by car depending on which part you go to. Pau is the largest town within the Pyrenees and has a population of nearly 80,000 people. The larger population centers including Foix, Lourdes, Tarbes, and Pau sit in the foothills of the mountains and are the major transport hubs in and out of the region. The majority of towns and villages within the mountains sit in the many valleys which run roughly north to south. The valleys slope upwards toward the Spanish border, typically getting steeper the further in you go.
You can see our map of the Pyrenees here which shows where the towns are in relation to the major cycling routes and climbs.
Tour de France
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 87 times. The Pyrenees and French Alps traditionally take turns in being featured in the last week of the Tour de France where riders have their last opportunity in the high mountains to win the coveted yellow jersey.
Many epic battles have taken place over the years and riding the climbs yourself, you can’t help but imagine the crowd lined roads and the cheering and noise of the fans. If you are planning on visiting the Pyrenees in July, when the Tour de France is in the area, take note of the towns that will be used as start or finish points. Once the route is announced in October accommodation in these towns is quickly snatched up by the teams, journalists, and other people that make up the tour entourage.
Cycling in the Pyrenees
As the snow melts and the weather warms up the skiers are replaced by cyclists who come from across the world to experience the iconic climbs. The cycling season runs from May to October with the busiest period in July and August. Depending on the snow conditions some of the higher mountain passes may open later than May, or close earlier than October. The Pyrenees are well set up for cycling and you will find everything you need from bike hire, bike shops, and accommodation. While everyone knows the climbs made famous by the Tour de France, if you have time there are plenty of climbs you will have never heard of that are equally stunning and tough. There are also options for flatter riding if you feel like an easier day on the bike or have members of your group that are looking for something a little less challenging.
We have mapped out over 40 different routes across the Pyrenees with files you can download to your device. Our routes cover the length of the Pyrenees and include all the iconic climbs as well as some of the lesser-known ones. You could definitely spend a few weeks in the Pyrenees and not come close to having to ride the same route twice.
The Pyrenees vs the French Alps
The riding in the Pyrenees is very different from that of the French Alps. Here you can expect smaller roads that twist and turn and are often tree-lined on the lower slopes. The gradients on the roads are much more variable which makes getting into a nice rhythm that little bit harder. The area is not as popular as the French Alps which means that there is not as much traffic, especially as you get into some of the more remote areas of the region.
How to get to the Pyrenees
To help you plan your trip to the Pyrenees we have created a separate article with the different options on how to get to the Pyrenees. In it, we have information about flying, driving, catching a train, and local bus services. We also cover options for ferries from the UK and Ireland.
Where to stay for a cycling holiday in the Pyrenees
For a first-time visitor to the Pyrenees choosing a base for your cycling holiday can be difficult which is why we have put this guide together. There are many factors that go into choosing the best base for your cycling holiday in the Pyrenees but the first thing you need to consider are the climbs you would like to ride. To help you make the choice of the best place to base yourself in the Pyrenees we have a list of the more popular climbs at the beginning of each region. We have also included a list of the towns you could consider staying in.
We have created destination guides for each of the regions we have listed here. In the guides, you will find more information to help you with the next steps in booking your cycling holiday in the Pyrenees. Included in the destination guides are:
- Cycling-specific hotels and lodges
- Bike hire outlets
- Activities you can do off the bike
- Links to the riding routes
1. Bearn region
Climbs in this region: Col d’Aubisque, Col de Marie Blanque, Col de Soulor, Col du Soudet, Port de Castet, Col du Portalet, Lac de Bious Artigues
We recommend staying in Pau, Oloron Saint Marie or Laruns
The largest city in this region, Pau sits in the foothill of the mountains. From Pau, the ride to either Laruns or Ferrieres is about 40km while the ride to Arette is about 50km. These three towns serve as a base for many of the climbs in this region and you will need to get to them to begin the longer climbs. Being a city of nearly 80,000 you will find a wide variety of places to stay and eat. There are also plenty of things to do off the bike. Pau features regularly in the Tour de France so be mindful of this if you are looking to book accommodation when the tour will be in town. Pau is the major transport hub in the area.
You can catch a train to Bordeaux via the high-speed TGV or into Toulouse on the regional network. Access to the Atlantic coast is also possible by train. The city sits just off the A64 autoroute which will take you to Toulouse or Bayonne and is also close to the A65 which heads north to Bordeaux. The airport at Pau is located just outside the city and offers primarily domestic flights within France.
Oloron Saint Marie
Located 32km south-west of Pau and further into the mountains it is another great option for your cycling holiday base. From Oloron Saint Marie Ferrieres is 46km, Laruns 32km and Arette 18km. Around the town, there are plenty of options still for flatter riding staying away from the more challenging routes. The town has a population of just over 10,000 and has everything you would want for your holiday. There is a train station in the town where you can catch a train to Pau in one direction or Bedous, near the Spanish border, in the other.
The town of Laruns sits at the base of the eastern side of Col d’Aubisque at the end of a valley and 40km to the south of Pau. It serves as the base for plenty of challenging riding in the area. Being in a valley there are fewer options for flatter less challenging routes but the valley itself provides gentler gradients. The town has a population of just over 1,100 and is much smaller than the other 2 options but still has everything you need to make it a great option for your cycling base.
If you would like more information about this region head over to our detailed guide on the Bearn Pyrenees.
2. Lourdes region
Climbs in this region: Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aubisque, Col du Soulor, Hautacam, Luz Ardiden, Col d’Aspin, Horquette d’Ancizan, Col de Tentes, Cirque de Tromouse, Col du Spandelles, Col de Couraduque, Col de Borderes, Pont d’Espagne, Cambasque
We recommend staying in: Lourdes, Argeles Gazost or Bagneres de Bigorre
This region is characterized by 3 different valleys, the Val d’Azun, Vallee de Gave, and Vallee de Campan. Lourdes sits just outside all 3 valleys while Argeles Gazost sits in the Vallee de Gave and Bagneres de Bigorre in the Vallee de Campan. We chose these 3 towns as bases because they give you the best access to all the rides in the area. All three towns have everything you need for a cycling base in terms of accommodation, places to eat and drink, bike hire and shops as well as other activities off the bike. All the towns are accessible by public transport and easy to get to without the need for a car.
The town is situated 20 km southwest of Tarbes and has a population of 13,500. It is a popular tourist destination with over 5 million visitors each year who come for religious and pilgrimage purposes. Lourdes is well connected to transport with air, rail, bus, and car all options. Lourdes is on the TGV network with multiple services each day to Bordeaux. Regional trains will take you to Toulouse in one direction and Bayonne in the other.
Sitting in the shadow of the imposing Hautacam, Argeles Gazost is 13km from Lourdes and has a population of 3,000. It is a popular summer tourist location and the town is always full of cyclists and hikers. Local buses and taxis run from here to Lourdes to connect with other transport options. The Tour de France often passes through the town as riders make their way off the Col du Soulor and onto Col du Tourmalet or other climbs.
Bagneres de Bigorre
Sitting on the road leading to both Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aspin, Bagneres de Bigorre is 21km to the southeast of Lourdes and has a population of 7,500. Like Argeles Gazost it is a popular summer tourist destination and a regular feature in the Tour de France. It is connected to Lourdes by bus and taxi.
If you would like more information about this area head over to our detailed guide on the Lourdes region.
3. Saint Lary Soulan Region
Climbs in this region: Col d’Aspin, Horquette d’ Ancizan, Col de Azet, Col de Perysourde, Col de Portet, Pla d’Adet, Route des lacs
We recommend staying in Saint Lary Soulan
This region is characterized by a single valley running broadly from the town of Lannemezan near the A64 all the way to the Spanish border. Saint Lary Soulan sits 40km to the south of Lannemezan and has a population of 900. It is a popular ski destination in the winter months and as such has plenty of accommodation options for you to choose from. The closest train station is Lannemezan and there is a bus service that runs regularly between the two towns.
If you would like more information about this region head over to our detailed guide about Saint Lary Soulan.
4. Bagneres de Luchon region
Climbs in the region: Col de Perysourde, Col de Mentés, Port de Balés, Superbagneres, Col de Portet d’Aspet.
We recommend staying in Bagneres de Luchon
The town of Bagneres de Luchon sits close to the Spanish border and has a population of 2,500. The town has a rich history with cycling and was the start location for the very first stage of the Tour de France held in the Pyrenees in 1910. It regularly features as a stage start or stage finish location. Bagneres de Luchon is well set up for cycling and there are plenty of mountains to challenge you within easy reach. The closest rail station is 38km away in Gourdan-Polignan where you can travel to Toulouse in one direction or Lourdes, Pau, and Bordeaux in the other. Bus services connect the train station to the town.
If you would like more information about this region head over to our detailed guide on the Bagneres de Luchon.
5. Ariege region
Climbs in the region: Col de Pailheres, Ax 3 Domain, Plateau de Beille
We recommend staying in Ax les Thermes or Foix
This region is closest to the Mediterranean Ocean and not far from both Andorra and Spain. It is the closest region to Toulouse and offers plenty of riding options for you to enjoy.
The largest town in this region, Foix has a population of 9,500. It is well connected to Toulouse by train and has everything for the cyclist. The town sits on the outskirts of the Ariege National Park and you will find plenty of riding options here. Like the other areas, the Tour de France is a regular visitor to this part of the Pyrenees and Foix has been used as a start and finish location on numerous occasions.
Ax les Thermes
The village of Ax les Thermes sits in a valley within the mountains. It is a small town of 1,200 and is connected to both Foix and Toulouse by rail. Despite its small size there are plenty of places to choose from to stay and everything you need for a holiday. The ski resort of Ax 3 Domaine overlooks the town.
If you would like more information about this region head over to our detailed guide on the Ariege.
If you have any questions about where to base yourself in the Pyrenees please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org