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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Talk of the Devil, here is St. Savin, a lovely little village perched up on the side of the valley.
A bit of a climb up to St.Savin.
The beautiful main square of St.Savin.
St.Savin’s 12th Century Church with a huge Romanesque doorway.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Best admired from above.
Down there somewhere is the ‘pont d’enfer’ Hell’s Bridge.
Around the corner and the first real sight of some serious snow.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Strangely, kilometre signs for the Col du Tourmalet disappeared but I just kept going. 1600m according to my altimeter.
Approaching the top.
Looking back down the valley it was clear that a storm was brewing.
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.
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.
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.
On Sunday, I cycled back down the valley to Lourdes and then back to Pau. 179km in total.
For local railway services click
Falconry displays at Beaucens (next to Pierrefitte Nestalas), click here
Pyrenean park zoo in Argeles Gazost, click here.
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