The Pyrenees cover a huge area, stretching from the Mediterranean in the east to the Bay of Biscay Atlantic in the west.
Deciding where to stay within this vast mountain range can feel a bit daunting!
To help you decide, we’ve created this guide to the main towns for cyclists. You’ll find an overview of the cycling regions, what some of the most popular base towns are like and the Pyrenees cycling climbs you can access from each.
In our conclusion we share our view on the best place to stay in the French Pyrenees for cycling.
Cycling in the Pyrenees, France: an overview
There are four main cycling regions in the French Pyrenees:
Of these, the central Pyrenees contains most of the famous Tour de France Pyrenees climbs: the names that echo down the years of Tour de France history, full of grandeur and legend.
There’s more information on the different cycling regions of the Pyrenees and what they’re like, in our in-depth article on cycling in the Pyrenees.
You might also like our guides to cycling the Col du Tourmalet region and guide to the Bagnères de Luchon region of the Central Pyrenees. They contain tried and tested route information, GPX downloads, where to stay, bike hire information and lots more.
Argelès-Gazost (for cyclists)
Argelès-Gazost is superbly placed for access to some of the great road climbs of the Pyrenees. Col d’Aubisque is signposted from the centre of town. Hautacam starts just outside the town and the start of the ascent of the western side of the Col du Tourmalet is 18 kilometres away.
The climbs to the south are also perfectly feasible, though you’d be closer to these if you based yourself in Luz-Saint-Sauveur.
To the west:
To the east/south-east:
- Col du Tourmalet from the west via Arreau (plus Col d’Aspin and Hourquette d’Ancizan from the west if you follow our route via Lourdes)
To the south:
- Col du Tourmalet (from the east, via Luz-Saint-Sauveur)
- Pont d’Espagne
- Luz Ardiden
- Col des Tentes (summit about 46 km from Argelès-Gazost)
- Cirque de Gavarnie (summit around 41 km from Argelès-Gazost)
- Cirque du Troumouse (summit about 48 km from Argelès-Gazost)
Other things to know about Argelès-Gazost
Argelès-Gazost is the main town in the Vallée du Lavedan, which is one of seven valleys comprising the Vallées des Gaves, in the department of Hautes-Pyrénées.
It is a pretty place with fountains, villas, and a well-known thermal spa which is open to the public and offers a range of facilities. There is also a park dating from the 19th century and a Tuesday morning farmer’s market, which started in 1292. The town boasts some great restaurants and all are small, authentic and intimate.
The D921B runs through the town, with the park and thermal baths on one side of the road and the main town tucked behind on the other.
A few kilometres away there is an impressive aquatic centre with indoor 25m pool and during July and August, an outdoor area with 25m pool, kids pool, slides, play area and picnic area. There are also rafting, kayaking and canyoning tours available.
Argelès-Gazost is 16km south of Lourdes and 35km (mostly dual carriageway) to the A64 Autoroute.
- Want to stay here? Check out our Pyrenees cycling accommodation suggestions, here.
Luz-Saint-Sauveur (for cyclists)
Luz-Saint-Sauveur (locals just call it Luz) is the southern alternative to Argelès-Gazost. It’s about 18 km south of Argelès-Gazost and the starting point for the ascent of the Tourmalet from the west. If you’re just looking for hotels near the Col du Tourmalet because you want to do the climb and leave, Luz is a good option.
That said, if you’ve got a bit more time, Luz is also close to the Pyrenees cols listed as to the south of Argelès-Gazost above, i.e.
- Pont d’Espagne
- Luz Ardiden
- Col des Tentes
- Cirque de Gavarnie
- Cirque du Troumouse
The Hautacam and the Pyrenees mountain passes listed as being to the west of Argelès-Gazost are also accessible from Luz; there’s just a longer approach to them as you have to ride along the valley road first.
Other things to know about Luz-Saint-Sauveur
Luz is also in the Vallée du Lavedan but is considerably smaller than Argelès-Gazost. It’s a traditional place with grey slate roofs and occupies a valley site encircled by high mountain peaks still dotted with snow even in summer.
For those that don’t cycle but like other mountain sports, it’s a good choice as two rivers meet here offering opportunities for activities include canyoning, ziplining etc. One valley leads to Gavarnie with its famous cirque and footpaths to Spain, the other up the famous road to Barèges and the Col du Tourmalet. The footpaths are extensive and it’s a great base from which to see all four Midi-Pyrenees “Grand Sites” in the Haute-Pyrenees department.
The town has several small bars and restaurants, a big market on Mondays and a popular open air swimming pool. The linked village of St Sauveur has impressive Napoleonic thermal baths which are open to the public for treatments.
Access to Luz is the same as for Argelès-Gazost; just add another 15 minutes drive, as you’ll pass through Argelès-Gazost on your way through.
Bagnères de Bigorre (for cyclists)
43 km east of Argelès-Gazost, Bagnères de Bigorre is also attractive to cyclists. The following climbs to the south of the town are easily accessible:
You’d probably want to get a transfer over to Argelès-Gazost before tackling a loop of the climbs west of Argelès-Gazost: the Col du Soulor, Col des Bordères and Col d’Aubisque. Likewise, the climbs to the south of Argelès-Gazost listed above would probably be out of range by bike from Bagnères-Bigorre.
Other things to know about Bagnères de Bigorre
It’s a traditional old town on the banks of the Adour river, below the pic du Midi. There are some beautiful houses in the old part of the town, an impressive Jacobean tower, thermal baths dating from Roman times that are open to the public, tennis courts, an 18 hole golf course and swimming pool.
If you’re around in early August, don’t miss the Street Arts Weekend festival that takes place in the town’s streets, squares and gardens.
Bagnères de Bigorre is 21km east of Lourdes.
Bagnères de Luchon (for cyclists)
Bagnères de Luchon is around 100 km southeast of Argelès-Gazost. The town gives access to a different range of mountains than the three towns listed above. The best known of these are:
- Col de Peyresourde
- Port de Bale
- Col de Portillon
- Col de Mente
Check out our guide to cycling these climbs from Bagnères de Luchon, here.
Other things to know about Bagnères de Luchon
Luchon, as locals call it, is a beautiful town surrounded by mountains. The town is centred around a wide, tree lined street leading to the spa. It’s home to plenty of restaurants, boulangeries and bike shops. It’s famous for being a big spa town with 150m of natural caves and a hot spring vapour bath. It’s website describes it as “the one and only natural hammam in all of Europe”.
Luchon is also a ski town with lifts up to Superbagnères, and in summer these lifts remain open to those looking for a shortcut to the top.
Luchon is often a stage town for the Tour de France (it’s had that honour around 60 times!) and people embrace it with lots of decorations and cebeltartions in the lead up.
Toulouse is 140 km away (around 1 hour 40). There is a train station in town.
Read our full guide to Bagnères de Luchon and the Col de Peyresourde region here.
If you’re only going to make one cycling trip to the French Pyrenees, we’d suggest staying in either Argelès-Gazost or Luz-Saint-Sauveur. Which you choose depends on which climbs you want to prioritise. There’s only 18 km between the two towns but part of that includes the Gorges de Luz which is only one lane in each direction, through a narrow mountain valley. It’s very scenic but there’s no hard shoulder and the road gets a lot of traffic, particularly in July and August. It also gets shut every so often as it’s prone to rockfalls.
We chose to stay in Argelès-Gazost because we wanted to ride stage 19 of the 2018 Tour de France and Argelès-Gazost was best for this. We managed to cover a lot of the rides to the south of Argelès-Gazost and when we were there in early June, the Gorge de Luz road between Argelès-Gazost and Luz-Saint-Sauveur was fine.
While the two towns are relatively evenly balanced in terms of the most famous climbs, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are some easy valley rides (including the Voie Verte) from Argelès-Gazost that aren’t an option from Luz-Saint-Sauveur. Take a look at this map and you’ll see what we mean.
On our next trip to the Pyrenees, we plan to stay in Bagnères de Luchon and check out the riding there. It looks like there are some great rides, but our feeling is that it’s the place to visit once you’ve first ridden the most historic and legendary cycling climbs of Argelès-Gazost/Luz-Saint-Sauveur.
Want to find out more about cycling the Col du Tourmalet region of the French Pyrenees?
Check out our guide to cycling the Col du Tourmalet. This guide has everything you should need: from where to stay, where to get bike rental and what rides to do.
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