Bagneres de Luchon offers plenty of scope for a diverse, self-guided road cycling holiday in the Pyrenees, where you’re in control of how far, hard and much you test your bike and climbing legs.
From the Pyrenees resort, known for its Tour de France stages, you can quite easily plot four classic climbs and blistering descents.
This resort gives you the chance to break yourself in. Work on that steady cadence breathing and descending skills with some short doorstep climbs to the villages perched along the valley.
Although shorter in distance some, like the road to Artigues, are tough workouts. It’s probably best you pass out or puke on yourself here rather than in front of the coach tour at the top of a Cat 1.
And it doesn’t have to be all about the stopwatch. Leave the Garmin at home occasionally and instead strap a baguette and beer to your bars. Dare you.
The bottom of the Col de Portillon lies five minutes from the centre of Bagneres de Luchon and its swift inclines will take you into its cool sheltered forestry. It makes an ideal ride for a breezy or a very hot day. From the summit you have the option of dropping into Spain for tapas in Bossost, and then following the valley wind back into France via Saint Beat. From here, you could bag the Col de Mente or (for the less insane) take the loop back onto the main road climb to Luchon with its reassuring tail wind and excellent cycle path. In all, it’s a 3 to 4-hour ride.
That’s long enough for the family to have a day at the local pool and short enough for you to be able to join them afterwards. Your rest days have the potential to become action-packed for everyone with a choice of canyoning, paragliding, mountain biking, hiking, climbing or Going Ape on the doorstep. Alternatively, have a real rest day mooching about your gite and stockpiling the calories for the next ride.
The road to Superbagneres lies behind the town in the shadow of the ski station. Although it’s only around 20km to the resort following a smooth snaking road of very varied terrain, the ride gets fairly tough in the last third of the ascent as it arrives above the tree line.
Alternatively, load your bikes onto the cable car to reach the summit from Bagneres de Luchon and do the descent. This is the place to be for the massive choice of mapped and marked MTB routes that you could play on all day (if not all week) with the advantage of a lift pass.
The road to Peyresourde lies to the east of the town and is famous for its summit finish in the Tour de France. The climb is pretty persistent, averaging 9%, but you can be at the Crepe shed on the Col de Peyresourde within the hour, or finish at the ski station of Les Agudes a few kilometres further on.
The road to the Col de Peyresourde is your gateway to the next valley. Drop down this side to the attractive village of Loudenvielle. It boasts a lakeside spa and a brilliant outdoor family swimming pool. From here you can take the road to Arreau, which is the foot of the Col d’Aspet; a persistent little fella of 1,500m.
If you had another 20k in your legs then hereafter lies the behemoth that is the Col de Tourmalet. Bearing in mind you would then need to climb the two Cols home, it’s the kind of jaunt you could break by taking the car half-way, or by taking a trip to Bagneres de Bigorre and dismount the roof-bars.
Or you could ‘man up’.
The Port de Bales is another classic ride, appearing in the Tour and the Veulta de Spain stages. From Luchon, it’s a down-the-valley-40-minute-warm-up to the village of Mauleon Barousse. Once out of the village it’s a gentle meander for 20 minutes; but don’t be deceived by its tame beginnings.
The HC climb (without category) with cheeky sections of 6.3% is without habitation of any kind so go liquid prepared. Its landscape is stunning and it’s jolly quiet. You are more likely to be overtaken by a local with a bandana and quads of steel than a car. But don’t give up. Just don’t. After approximately 19k, if you are not arriving on the wide open grazed meadows like a panting Labrador, then top marks.
You can now take on the newly constructed road down into the next valley. It’s fairly technical at the start, so don’t over do it as there is plenty of descent left to take on. The last few kilometers are hilariously rapid so practice getting your goofy grin on. Before you know it the road joins back on to Peyresourde road, only few minutes from Bagneres de Luchon. The Port de Bales is a highly rewarding morning’s ride.
So, that’s what I’m getting at. Plenty of scope for an intensive weekend or more leisurely-paced discovery break.
Given that the upland weather conditions can be less than predictable if the mountains should have on their cloud mullets, then don’t panic too soon. The lower valleys contain milder conditions that can offer quiet alternatives. Or, check out the forecasts on the Spanish side, its climate can be much drier.
So, grab a map, a felt tip and friends or family. With a little research, you can plan a holiday that will get your kit and caboodle to a whole new world of experience.