Lourdes to Col du Tourmalet

The Pyrenees are great for cycletouring. The gradients are rarely very steep – but some of the cols can continue for 20 kilometres. In my five years in France I was a regular visitor and never had a problem – French drivers are usually very considerate of cyclists – at least outside of towns. On April the 14th, 2006, I took a train from Pau to Lourdes at 08.56…

Tourmalet cycling

Here is my ‘main d’or’ loaded up with my Vaude panniers at the back, panpack front panniers and a vaude handlebar bag. Between the panniers you can see my Terra Nova Quasar tent.

Tourmalet cycling

Just outside Lourdes there is an amazing cycletrack – based on the old Lourdes to Pierrefitte-Nestalas train line. The line had to be closed because no one could say ‘Pierrefitte-Nestalas’. Today it is a beautifully smooth and delightfully car-free cycletrack – to be shared with joggers, inline skaters and a lot of cyclists.

Tourmalet cycling

Part of the old railway bridge. On the right of the bridge you can see an information point, giving details of something of interest in the area – in this case, details of an old railway bridge.

Tourmalet cycling

Approaching Pierrefitte-Nestalas, the valley is wide and fertile and there are excellent views of some attractive Pyrenean villages. Apparently, the author Paolo Coehlo lives nearby in a village called St.Savin.

Tourmalet cycling

Talk of the Devil, here is St. Savin, a lovely little village perched up on the side of the valley.

Tourmalet cycling

A bit of a climb up to St.Savin.

Tourmalet cycling

The beautiful main square of St.Savin.

Tourmalet cycling

St.Savin’s 12th Century Church with a huge Romanesque doorway.

Tourmalet cycling

Just up the road is the Pietat chapel. It was started in the 8th Century and has had a bit of work done on it since then.

Tourmalet cycling

It is beautifully decorated inside with bird motifs – but I couldn’t see them as it was locked.

I went back later and it was open…

inside church

Beautiful!

Tourmalet cycling

Back down to Pierrefitte-Nestalas and then up the valley towards Luz St. Saveur. There were quite a few cars on this stretch but they did behave very nicely towards cyclists.

Tourmalet cycling

The road is not very steep though the valley is. It is a superb piece of engineering. Rocks on the road are not uncommon so be careful, particularly when cycling down at 80km per hour.

Tourmalet cycling

The road climbs faster than the river. Don’t be tempted to go paddling. The river is a hydro-electric outlet and this bubbling stream can become a raging torrent in seconds.

Tourmalet cycling

Best admired from above.

Tourmalet cycling

Down there somewhere is the ‘pont d’enfer’ Hell’s Bridge.

Tourmalet cycling

Around the corner and the first real sight of some serious snow.

Tourmalet cycling

The Gave de Gavarnie, a beautiful river fed by the glaciers above the Cirque de Gavarnie. There were quite a few guys standing in the river, fishing for trout as I cycled past.

Tourmalet cycling

A long steady climb up to Luz St.Saveur where I was able to have an excellent meal for 13 euros and also stock up on supplies.

Tourmalet cycling

Just outside Luz St.Saveur is the first in a long series of notices indicating how many kilometres remain to the summit, current altitude, and the gradient for the next kilometre. A great incentive for cyclists.

Tourmalet cycling

I stopped at a campsite called Le Bergons in the village of Esterre. It is run by a friendly couple and they charge 5 euros a night for randonneurs (hikers) though this includes cycletourists.

Tourmalet cycling

The following day, I woke up to some miserable weather. However, by eleven o’clock things had improved so I set off up the hill. Perfect weather for cycling.

Tourmalet cycling

The gradient varied from 6% to 9% with the average being 8%. Not too punishing, though it is 18km to the very top of the Col du Tourmalet.

Tourmalet cycling

It is satisfying to pass another kilometre marker – and the scenery around is wonderful. Do the Tour de France riders admire the view as they pedal up this road? Apparently not.

Tourmalet cycling

Yes, this is a pastoral zone and there are sheep on the road – as you can see in an earlier picture. Imagine the embarrassment of dying by ploughing into a herd of sheep at 95km per hour. How do they keep them off the road during the Tour?

Tourmalet cycling

Strangely, kilometre signs for the Col du Tourmalet disappeared but I just kept going. 1600m according to my altimeter.

Tourmalet cycling

Approaching the top.

Tourmalet cycling

Looking back down the valley it was clear that a storm was brewing.

Tourmalet cycling

The ski station at Super-bareges where a few hardy skiers and snowboarders slid around on muddy ice… The end of the skiing season is nigh. End of the road for me – 1790 metres. Not far from Tourmalet’s 2114metres.

Tourmalet cycling

Cycling back down, I stopped to check out this road – The D918, which is the road to the Cold du Tourmalet. Blocked off and left with a covering of snow, this road won’t be open until June.

Tourmalet cycling

Back down to the campsite. The Cirque de Gavarnie is only 20km up the road and there are other great rides to be done. I will definitely be back.

Tourmalet cycling

On Sunday, I cycled back down the valley to Lourdes and then back to Pau. 179km in total.

Practical Information

For local railway services click here.

Falconry displays at Beaucens (next to Pierrefitte Nestalas), click here

For a Pyrenean park zoo in Argeles Gazost, click here.

For the campsite just outside Luz St Saveur, click here.

More cycling in the Pyrenees?

Cycling to Gavarnie    Cycling South West coast of France    Cycling Western Pyrenees

Or some hiking in the Pyrenees?

Lescun in Winter     Lescun in Summer   Accous to Laruns

Or other things French?

Food in France     An optimistic view of France      A pessimistic view of France       Flora and Fauna in the Pyrenees   Learn French with Jokes