Western Pyrenees

These mountains have everything, from miracles to majestic passes

It’s always busy at the top of Col du Tourmalet

It’s always busy at the top of Col du Tourmalet

The south west of France has some of the most spectacular scenery and riding in the country – and it’s packed with fascinating places to visit, too. There are unspoilt beaches on the Altantic and Mediterranean coasts, historic villages and castles plus amazing riding in the mountains of the Pyrenees, the gorges of the Tarn and hills of the Cévennes. As a touring destination, it really does have everything anyone could want.

This western end of the Pyrenees is simply fabulous. Whether you approach overland from northern France or by sea, after a Santander ferry, the roads here will be the highlight of any trip. The mountains are the big attraction but there’s more to this area than just the high passes. So whether you come for the big-name passes, the smaller hill roads of Lot-et-Garonne and the Midi-Pyrenees or the quiet coastal pine forests, there is riding here to suit all tastes.


PLACES TO STAY

BIARRITZ
We’d avoid Bayonne: Biarritz is big enough and has plenty of hotels to choose from. It’s cool, swanky, and has lots to see including a museum, an aquarium, a lighthouse, and the Rocher de la Vierge (a huge Madonna on a rock overlooking the entry to the fishermen’s harbour). The Wheels and Waves festival is held there each June. A good base if you’re not riding every day and want a bit of time on the beach. Hotel tip: Hotel de l’Ocean

ST JEAN-PIED-DE-PORT
Our preferred gateway to the mountains is a lovely town with a small, well-preserved medieval citadel. It’s generally charmingly sleepy but gets busier on Mondays, which is market day. Hotel tip: Hotel des Remparts

ARGELES-GAZOST
This quiet town is between the Col du Soulour and the Col du Tourmalet. A great central location for a riding trip with the emphasis on putting on mountain miles, without being as busy as nearby Lourdes. Hotel tip: Hôtel l’Arrieulat Auberge des Pyrenees

BAGNERES-DE-LUCHON
High in the mountains, close to the Spanish border, at the heart of the Pyrenees, this spa town is a great base for exploring the eastern and western Pyrenees on both sides of the border. Hotel tip: Hotel Alti Luchon

OFF THE BIKE

ST JEAN-DE-LUZ
An alternative seaside stop: smaller and less touristy than Biarritz. More fishermen, fewer surf dudes… Has an impressive church and about 10 miles away, right by the Spanish border, is Chateau Abbadia – a fairytale-specification chateau.

CAVES
High in the hills between St Jean-de-Luz on the coast and St Jean-Pied-de-Port in the mountains is the Grottes de Sare, a huge cave. There’s another cave to the east of Larrau: the Grotte de la Verna, in a village called Calla. Good places to visit on hot days as they’re nice and cool.

PASSERELLE D’HOLZARTE
This high-altitude rope bridge outside Larrau will take your breath away. It’s a bit of a walk to get there from the car/bike park (about 2km) but is worth it for the views – if you have a head for heights. Not for those with vertigo…

GORGES DE KAKUETTA
Gorges de Kakuetta provides a nice scenic walk along a river, with waterfalls and a cooling cave. It’s been 'improved' for tourists, which means its walkways have replaced natural trails: this is good for touring riders as they make it easier to walk in bike boots.



GETTING THERE

The fastest way to reach this corner for France is on the overnight Plymouth-Santander ferry, which deposits you about three motorway hours from the French border (or an afternoon’s ride with some better roads thrown in). How long it takes to ride here across France depends on how much motorway you put in the route, how many miles you’ll do in a day and, crucially, where you start your trip. An overnight boat with Brittany Ferries to Caen or Le Havre saves a lot of miles and, as you get off the boat early, gives the trip a flying start.

CAEN TO ST JEAN-PIED-DE-PORT
Distance: 560 miles. Riding time: Two days. Overnight stop: Cognac
Day one map  Download the GPX     Day two map    Download the GPX

LE HAVRE TO ST JEAN-PIED-DE-PORT
Distance: 590 miles. Riding time: Three days. Overnight stops: Buzancais and Bergerac
Day one map   Download the GPX    Day two map   Download the GPX   Day three map  Download the GPX

SANTANDER TO ST JEAN-PIED-DE-PORT
Distance: 185 miles. Riding time: 3.5 hours.
Route map,   Download the GPX

CALAIS TO ARGELES-GAZOST
Distance: 765 miles. Riding time: Three days. Overnight stops: Bray-sur-Seine and Treignac
Day one map   Download the GPX    Day two map   Download the GPX   Day three map  Download the GPX



OUR MOTORCYCLE TOURING ROUTES

western-pyrenees-map.PNG

TWO ST JEANS
Start/finish: St Jean-Pied-de-Port
Distance: 180 miles. Riding time: 6 hours.
A full but laid-back day’s ride, from the mountains to the coast, still leaving time for lunch and a walk on the beach.
Route map,    Download the GPX

ST JEAN AND ST MARTIN
Start/finish: St Jean-Pied-de-Port. Distance: 150 miles. Riding time: 4.5 hours
A short, relaxed ride on some of the best roads in the Pyrenees, including the incredible Col de la Pierre St Martin into Spain.
Route map, Download the GPX

LOURDES AND THE COLS OF THE TOUR
Start/finish: Argèles-Gazost. Distance: 150 miles. Riding time: 4.5 hours
This pillion-friendly ride takes in all the big-name passes: Tourmalet, Aspin, Aubisque and Soulour. Mileage allows time to see some sights in Lourdes.
Route map, Download the GPX

SOMPORT AND POURTALET
Start/finish: Argèles-Gazost. Distance: 250 miles. Riding time: 7 hours
This is a long day of twisty roads for high-milers (but can be shortened easily) including the Col du Soulour, Col de Somport and Col du Pourtalet.
Route map,    Download the GPX

CENTRAL PERK
Start/finish: Bagnères-de-Luchon. Distance: 185 miles. Riding time: 5 hours
A day’s ride on the amazing roads in France and Spain, including Col de Peyresourde.
Route map,   Download the GPX

BAGNERES BACK ROADS
Start/finish: Bagnères-de-Luchon
Distance: 160 miles. Riding time: 6 hours.
A short route in mileage but long-ish in time, mixing some wider roads (including Col de Mente) with a lot of challenging single-track lanes.
Route map,    Download the GPX

 

Please note: This page contains the route files for The RiDE Guide To France which came free with RiDE magazine in July 2017. These website page are not regularly updated, so please check all critical information before you travel. All route files are in .gpx format. Garmin and BMW users can download the main file, which contains all the routes and our recommended hotels as separate waypoints. TomTom users can download the individual routes and use the Tyre software to convert them. For many routes we also have Google Map links. However, as Google Maps will not plot routes over seasonally closed high Alpine passes when they’re shut, these may not work for every route all year round.