The Pyrenees are home to some of the most iconic mountain passes of the Tour de France including Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aubisque and Col du Perysourde. If you are planning to come to France for a cycling holiday you should definitely include the Pyrenees in your itinerary. We have put the following guide together to help you get your bearings and determine the best place to base yourself.
For the cyclist, the Pyrenees has everything you could want in a cycling holiday destination. There are 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 travelling group.
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 30 suggested riding routes for you to view which include GPX files that you can download to your devices.
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 centres 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 boarder, typically getting steeper the further in you go.
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.
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 30 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 riding in the Pyrenees is very different to 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.
Getting to and from the Pyrenees is relatively easy using public transport if you do not want to hire a car and drive. While a car will make getting to some parts of the Pyrenees easier, it is definitely not essential. We have hired a car on a number of occasions to get to the Pyrenees but find once there we do not need to use it.
The closest major airport to the Pyrenees is Toulouse Blagnac which is well connected to other destinations within Europe and internationally. Bordeaux airport is a little further away but is an also an option to get to the Pyrenees.
Toulouse Blagnac airport is connected to the city via both tram and bus. Travel times on the tram are 30 mins and, on the bus, 20 mins. If you plan to catch a train from Toulouse the bus from the airport is the better option as it stops at the train station. If you are driving to the Pyrenees access to the A64, the main route to the Pyrenees, is relatively easy as the airport is on the same side of the city.
Bordeaux airport is connected to the city via bus only. There is a dedicated bus that takes you directly to the train station or a bus that takes you into the city centre with multiple stops on the way. The airport sits on the outskirts of the city making access by car straight forward. The A65 is the main route into the Pyrenees from Bordeaux.
Within the Pyrenees there are smaller airports at Pau and Lourdes/Tarbes. Pau is primarily for domestic flights within France while Lourdes/Tarbes offers European destinations as well. Flights to and from these airports are much less frequent than either Toulouse or Bordeaux but still worth looking at. Both airports sit a short distance from town but public transport is available to get you to where you are going.
If you are considering flying to the Pyrenees from within Europe and have your bike with you be mindful that you will have to pay a fee for your bike regardless of the airline you fly with. The fee at present is €50 per leg per bike. If you are flying on an international flight originating outside Europe, you may not have to worry about this fee depending on the rules of your airline.
There are multiple daily train services to the Pyrenees from Toulouse and Bordeaux. Both Lourdes and Pau are on the high-speed TGV network connecting through to Bordeaux. There are train stations in Pau, Oloron Saint Marie, Lourdes, Lannemezan, Saint Gaudens, Foix and Ax les Thermes.
The main rail station in Toulouse is called Gare Matabiau and is located a short distance from the city centre. The closest Metro station is Marengo.
The main rail station in Bordeaux is Gare St Jean and is located a short distance from the city centre. You can catch a tram to the station from the city centre.
Local bus companies connect the various towns and villages in the valleys and operate multiple services each day. Bus services also run between the Pyrenees and Toulouse if this suits your travel plans better than the trains.
The A64 autoroute runs between Toulouse and Bayonne on the Atlantic coast and is the major road accessing the mountains. There are various exits off the A64 to take you into the different regions of the mountains.
If you are heading to Foix and Ax les Thermes you will need the A61 and A66 from Toulouse.
From Bordeaux you will take the A62 before turning onto the A65. You will join the A64 just outside of Pau.
If you are travelling from Toulouse Airport it will take you between 1.25 hrs and 2.25 hrs to drive or 2.5 hrs and 4.25 hrs to catch public transport depending on which part of the mountains you plan to go to. The travel times by public transport include getting to the main train station in Toulouse from the airport which takes about 30 mins.
From the airport in Bordeaux the trip by car will take between 2 hrs and 3.5hrs while public transport will take between 4.5 hrs and 6 hrs depending on your final destination. Like Toulouse this allows a 30 min transfer from the airport to the train station.
If you plan to drive from Paris, the trip will take around 8.5hrs regardless of your final destination. Flight times from Paris are approximately 1.25hrs to Toulouse, Bordeaux, Pau or Tarbes/Lourdes. By train from Paris the trip will take between 6 and 10hrs. If you are planning on travelling by train from Paris you will need to change trains at least once, and in some instances onto a bus to reach your cycling base.
We found a number of useful websites to assist in working out how to get from A to B:
Rome2 Rio – allows you to enter your start and end points and it will give you a range of transport options with travel times, timetables and links to booking.
SNCF – this is the official website for the French rail network and will allow you to book rail tickets online
Via Michelin – provides all the details you need if you are planning on driving to the Pyrenees including route options and estimated toll charges.
Google maps – provides routes and travel times for a range of transport options. It also includes options if you are cycling.
Expect stunning scenery like this as you climb up into the mountains. This image is from the top of Cambasque.
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 with your decision we have divided the Pyrenees into 5 regions and listed the climbs you can do from each in the table below. We have also listed the towns in each region you can choose to base yourself in. After the table there is an outline of each of the regions and the towns within them.
Flo641 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons
Florent Pécassou / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Alberto-g-rovi / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)
Anthospace / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
I, Kaktus63 / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
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.
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 to plenty of challenging riding in the area. Being in a valley there are less options for flatter less challenging route but the valley itself provides gentler gradients. The town has a population 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.
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 characterised 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 Campam. 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 south-west 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.
Sitting on the road leading to both Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aspin, Bagneres de Bigorre is 21km to the south east 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.
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 characterised 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.
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 start or 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.
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 start and finish locations on numerous occasions.
The village of Ax les Thermes sits in a valley within the mountains. It is a small town of 1,200 and 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.
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:
If you have any questions about where to base yourself in the Pyrenees please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
and receive our monthly newsletter keeping you up to date with all things cycling in France and more.
and receive our monthly newsletter keeping you up to date with all things cycling in France and more.