Atlantic to Med Pyrenees Cycle Tour

The Prologue
On a wet mountain bike ride in the lakes one weekend the conversation turned to a possible adventure during the summer holidays. Having ridden the Route de Grande Alpes in 2007 with Catherine we decided to tackle the pyrenees. As a huge Tour de France fan I have always been keen to tick off the major cols! This of course is to the annoyance of everyone who watches the tour with me when I excitedly say 'ridden that!'

We decided to ride a similar route to the Raid Pyrenean but avoiding the main roads that have now become part of the route. We also decided to take 10 days and not the 4!

So it was time to fly to Perpignan leave bike boxes, excess kit at our hotel and then catch the train to Bayonne. We would then ride back to the coast just off Perpignan (Canet Plage).

Perpignan Train Station

Day 1: Perpignan to Bayonne to Ascain
The train journey took about 6 hours and we were to arrive in Bayonne and then ride the coast cycle way to St Jean De Luz and then turn South before arriving at our accommodation for the night in Ascain. 
Cycleway down the coast
Checking out the beaches at Biarritz 

We arrived at a lovely hotel although it was obvious that cyclists riding from the Atlantic to the Med was not the norm judging by the shocked and disbelieving reaction that we received when asked about what we were doing! Feeling excited and apprehensive about what lay ahead it wasn't long before the bikes were saddled up and we were leaving for the first cols of the trip! 
Ready to tackle the cols
Day 2: Ascain to St Jean Pied de Port
The roads were quiet leaving Ascain and the scenery felt very green! The weather was not very warm and overcast and threatened rain! It was not long before we were climbing and summiting the Col de Saint Ignace. An undulating ride with a few summits not noteworthy when you have the Tourmalet and Aubisque in a few days time! 

The riding was fantastic with the view changing constantly throughout! The route we took to avoid the main roads took us over many view points and we were rewarded! With the rain falling and windchill freezing us I was beginning to think that this was not going to feel like a summer holiday! What struck me so far about the route was how isolated places felt unlike the French Alps. 

The Col d Ispeguy was just over 600m. From here it was an easy ride to our destination for the evening St Jean Pied de Port. 

Arriving at St Jean Pied de Port
We chose not to book accommodation along the route as we wanted the freedom of doing as much and as little as possible each day. However as a person who is used to timetables and structure I found myself  worrying each time we arrived and had to find a place to stay!! It did not help that it was festival time in St Jean Pied de Port! We managed to find a room in the hotel in the centre of the town. The people were really accommodating! The rooms were just what you would expect! 

After the daily routine of shower and bike kit washing we decided to watch the festivities and walk the town. The bull running through the town was tamed with pretend bulls much to my relief and it was a great cultural experience to watch! The town was lovely, awash with colour and preservation of culture and history. It was soon time to turn in for the night and rest up for the next stage in our adventure. 
Day 3: St Jean Pied de Port to Sarrance
The weather had not improved and this was going to be quite a day! We were to climb 2 cols during the day but the terrain was far from flat! As we left the hotel and turned off the main road we were overtaken by a local out for his morning ride. Being the ever competitive one I hitched a ride on his back wheel through the valley which made the kilometers fly by much to his disgust when trying to drop us and finding us very much still there!! Soon we hit the first climb which was fairly steep and relentless! However we were soon posing under the sign at the top feeling what was now close to hypothermic temperatures! The Col de Burdincurucheta was soon left behind with a flowing descent on very quiet roads! 
The morning climb looking fairly grey!
Looking not too impressed !
Loving the descent though!
Before the next climb up the Cols d'Iraty the road took us through a gorgeous valley which I can imagine in the sun would be even more stunning! Before the last col of the day we found a small refuge to have a hot chocolate. The gentleman was friendly and very accommodating! This was an essential find as I we were beginning to feel hypothermic! 

A little chilled after the descent! 
On the way up the Cols d'Iraty

Another one ticked off !
The descent down was great with fantastic scenery all the way! The next town on the route was Larrau which sits at 630m. The town was stunning and typical of the Pyrenees! It always amazes me how much fuel you need on a tour like this and having ridden in the alps where there is a boulangerie on every corner it was easy to keep stocks high! However in the Pyrenees some of the towns at this stage of the route were like ghost towns! Or if you are unlucky enough to ask for a table in the main hotel for food and realise they are not cyclist friendly only to be turned away from an empty restaurant being told they are full ! Avoid the Hotel Etchemaite if you want polite and friendly service!! 

Descending to Larrau

We were however lucky enough to speak to a very friendly local who tipped us off about a restaurant down the road which as it turned out did excellent food! Fuelled up and ready to go we headed for Arette as our final destination for accommodation. Again like a ghost town with very few options we moved onto Issor. With time running out and a long day on the bikes behind us we were getting a little desperate when we could not find anywhere in Issor or down the road at Escot! The next stage of the journey was over the Col de Marie Blanque so we were very keen to find a place to stay this side! We decided to take a de- tour down the valley towards the bigger town of Serrance. To our relief we passed a very grand looking B&B. Knocking on the door we were greeted by Corinne and her husband Richy. As it was Richy's birthday there were no guests in the house but with one look at 2 very tired riders we were invited to stay! 
Les Fontaines d'Escot

Corinne and Richy were preparing a birthday dinner party and we were keen not disturb! However with very little options for dinner and the thought of the Col de Marie Blanque followed by the Col de Aubisque Corinne very kindly cooked us dinner before her guests arrived! We were very humbled by such kindness! Richy explained that the Fountaines d' Escot was used as a refuge for pilgrims on the way of St James. The nobility also came to experience the healing qualities of the thermal spa station and mineral waters! Keen to get a little healing ourselves Richy gave instructions on how to find the thermal pools near the river. Armed with swimming costumes and towels were walked to the river and soon found the remains of the thermal baths.

The idea was to jump in the glacial melt river (not too inviting!) and then into the thermal pool to feel the warmth! 
Braving the icy water!
Thermal water !
This did wonders for our aching legs and we both agreed how refreshed we felt afterwards! We could not believe our luck at finding this place and would recommend a stay here to everyone and anyone! Soon time to get some rest before a big day in the hills!
A stunning place to stay!
Leaving Les Fontaines d'Escot
Day 4: Serrance to Aucun
Fuelled, rested and ready to ride what was going to be quite a day! 2 major cols and great weather it was certainly a day to remember! The first was the Col de Marie Blanque, not the longest col (9.3km) and with an average gradient of 7.7% it felt steep and relentless! There were several long sections in excess of 11% and pacing was the key. 

Enjoying the morning sun
Feeling good to be at the top! 
The descent was not as steep as the climb up but very enjoyable! We were heading for Bielle and then onto Laruns and finally a 1200m climb up the Aubisque. 
Off the top of the Col de Marie Blanque
Great scenery
Heading towards the Aubisque
The town of Laruns was the stopping point for lunch! It was full of cafes and quaint shops typical of the pyrenean culture! After a good lunch break it was time to tackle the Col de Aubisque (16.6km/ average 7.2%/ last 8km 8%).
The profile map to show what you are facing !
Not quite our size! 
 The climb was very memorable with plenty of scenery to take your mind off the continued gradient! It always amazes me how the contenders in the tour de france race up these cols!! They are quite amazing!
Admiring the view

The climb winds it way up through the ski resort of Gourette and then on through more stunning scenery! The road seems to go on forever until there is a glimpse of the viewpoint before the summit. 
The legacy of the Tour
Still admiring the view!
Looking back to Gourette
Another one under the belt!
 It felt great to get to the top of the col and all the hard work was certainly worth it! After the ceremonial photographs and bite to eat and drink in the refuge it was time to drop to climb a little up to the Col du Soulor. This was very small in comparison to what we had just done but like any climb in the Pyrenees it deserves the utmost respect! The descent was on a road carved into the rock with the added excitement of a tunnel with no lights!
Dropping off the Aubisque before the Soulor
After the Soulor it was time to drop to the valley and find a place to stay. The central belt of the Pyrenees was very different to the North! There were ample places to stay and the towns were much bigger and tourist like in comparison! We decided to stay at the Hotel Picors which had a swimming pool and a very tasty set menu! It was time to rest before the big climb over the Col du Tourmalet. This is what had inspired me to do the route in the first place and I was not going to be disappointed!

Day 5: Aucun to Arreau
It was going to be a memorable day on the bike with two famous cols to get up and over. The first was the Col du Tourmalet and the other the Col d' Aspin. We set off down the valley to Argeles- Gazost and then on to Luz St Sauveur. 
A little busy but no issue
Heading for the summit
The ride up the Col du Tourmalet was awesome. There were hundreds of cyclists on route and at the top all congratulating each other on their efforts!

Looking down on where we had come from
The Summit

The Col du Tourmalet is 19km from Luz St Sauveur and averages a 7.4% gradient. All the way up the view changes spectacularly and you can't help thinking about the number of cycling legends that have graced these slopes! I was in awe! At the top the monument is spectacular and well worth the fight for the photograph! I rewarded myself with a Col du Tourmalet bandana and have not taken it off since!!

Enjoying the descent
The descent was just as good as the climb and it was not long before you arrive at Ste Marie -de- Campan and turn right to climb the Col d'Aspin.

Spectacular scenery

The Col d'Aspin is 12km in length with an average gradient of 6.5%. After the Tourmalet this felt very small in comparison but should not be taken lightly. We climbed past a mountain bike group making good use of the air bag that was part of a bike park.

There is a real sense of achievement and relief when getting to the top of a Col. It cements even further my belief that what you put in is what you get out and I think climbing a Pyrenean or Alpine Col on 2 wheels typifies this!

Over the top of the Aspin it was time to descend to Arreau where we planned to stay the night.

We booked into the Hotel De France which was basic in comparison to what we had been used to but the staff were extremely helpful!
The town of Arreau was lovely and typical of the towns we had experienced in the middle of the Pyrenees.

Day 6: Arreau to Antichan de Frontignes            
We had broken the route up to ensure that we had one easy day before the end and this was it! Only one Col and accommodation half way up another to make the start of the next day easy too! We left Arreau and headed for the Col de Peyresgurde. The morning light through the cloud was stunning with a valley temperature inversion to go with it!
Temperature Inversion

Morning Sun

The climb was enjoyable but still hard going on the tired legs from the previous days climbing. It was not long before the summit approached and we descended to Bagneres de Luchon and onto St Beat.

After what I can only describe as a fish pizza it was time to start the climb up the Col des Ares and rest for the remainder of the day in our guest house which was lovely!

Auberge de la Palombiere
Day 7: Antichan de Frontignes  to  Seix    
This day would more than make up for the rest half day that we had the day before! The first Col was easy by Pyrenean standards as we had already climbed most of it!

We were saying at 600m! 
After the ceremonial photograph it was back on the saddle to tackle the next! The Col de Buret was next with the more famous Col de Portet d'Aspet facing us after this! A descent to St Lary and it was then onto the Col de Core before finding a place to stay in Seix. 

The descent was very green! 

An interesting climb but not easy! 
Seix was a really nice town and was quite busy with tourists! We found refuge for the night at the Hotel Mont Valier. A family run hotel with very friendly owners and good quality food and accommodation. 

Day 8: Seix to Ax Les Thermes
 This day I found was one of the hardest we did. It seemed to go on forever! We were however rewarded with a fantastic hotel in a very cool place! The first Col on the list was the Col de Latrape. It was a nice climb with great views! The ride up the valley was great with very little traffic.

The descent was fast and flowing down to a town that was sandwiched between the Latrape and the Agnes, Aulus-les-Bains. It was a quick bite to eat and then onto the climb.

Looking down on Aulus-les-Bains
The climbing was great on the Agnes and it was easy to see why it makes a good addition to the Tour at times!

Approaching the summit

Admiring the view

A small descent before climbing to the Port de Lers. This was a busy little valley with people coming to chill out around the area. 

Ax les thermes
We took a back road to Ax-les-thermes and it seemed to go on forever looking down on the main road through the valley. Having googled the accommodations for the town we eventually booked into a lovely hotel opposite the thermal baths, which looked very impressive! This was tourist town and felt very different to the places we had recently stayed. There were many choices for food but the place we chose felt like a conveyor belt with rude and slow staff! Not what is needed when you are tired! It was soon time to turn in for the night, a very well earned sleep!

Day 9: Ax Les Thermes to Prades
This was effectively the last day in the mountains and we had earned every mile! It was first a climb up the Col de Pailheres. It was difficult getting the summit photo as the wild horses just weren't moving!

Looking down on the descent

Looking back to the Col
The view was fantastic and the descent was just as dramatic!

We decided to take a bar break and take in the scenery that would soon become a distant memory! The weather and scenery had changed dramatically throughout this trip and it was sometimes hard to appreciate when grinding your way up a big mountain!

Being a Lance and a Livestrong fan I just couldn't resist!
Catherine on the descent

 The descent to the valley was one of the most interesting that we had done. There was now a distinct mediterranean feel about it.

A visitor to the same cafe as us!

The next two cols were by far the least inspiring of the trip!

Aptly named!!
This part of the ride was very hot and the road was very much back country roads. The height gain on these climbs were substantial enough to keep interested to the end. The last Col of the trip was the Col de Jau. The climb was for the best part in the trees which was a welcomed relief! An emotional summit as the last Col of the trip! There were going to be withdrawal symptoms!

The last Col of the trip

From the top it was a fun descent to the valley through quaint towns and villages. The scenery continued to be fantastic!
Time for a stop
Interesting scenery

The ride to Prades was comparatively easy and very interesting. The town of Prades was a great place to stay for the night. We managed to book into a guest house run by British people with a pool and huge bedrooms! It was an awesome place to stay on the last night before the big day to the med! (Villa Lafabregue)
Our room was the balcony above! 

Day 10: Prades to Canet Plage to Perpignan
This was going to be a flatish run to the coast for a quick swim in the sea before heading back to our hotel on a cycleway into Perpignan! The ride got progressively busier as we got closer to the sea! It was full of tourists that were usually lost and had little regard for the cyclist! And so it was to the sea for a swim! It is always amusing to watch the sunbathers on the beach stare in disbelief at cyclists on the beach dipping the wheels of their bikes ceremoniously in the sea! 

The cycleway back to Perpignan was enjoyable along the coast from Canet Plage. It didn't take long before we arrived at our hotel only to find that the manager had thrown all our bike boxes and kit in the skip! It was time to panic as we were booked on a flight to Manchester the next day! It was a good job that I watched Blue Peter when I was younger as sticking and constructing was the order of the evening. 2 hours later I had made a box that would at least partially protect my bike! 

My Blue Peter Effort!!

A bit of a stressful end to what had been an awesome experience through stunning and unforgiving scenery! We travelled back to Cumbria reminiscing about the people and places that we had come across over the 10 days. It really had been an experience of a lifetime! Bring on the tour next year !

If any information is needed on our trip please just ask!! 

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