Things to do if you're NOT cycling the Tourmalet (or other big things in the Pyrenees)

Heading off to cycle in the Pyrenees? Local cycling widow Caroline Euman has this list of places to send non-cycling friends and family while you're out riding in the Grand Tourmalet area.

Cycling in the pyrenees

Walk this way – around Payolle.

So you’re packing for your Tourmalet cycling holiday: bike (one), shoes (bike and other), helmet (one), Lycra (lots), underwear (not so much), T-shirts (two) and family ... family? Who put that on the list?!

Fear not – here’s our handy guide on some of the activities available to keep them occupied while you’re breezing up Tourmalet or any of its neighbours. (Check ahead for opening hours – sometimes in France, for no apparent reason, a site may be closed). 

Pyrenees Animal Park

Pyrenees activity holidays - animal park

A lovely animal park (no.3 in France on Trip Advisor at the time of writing). Home of many mountain species: a wide selection of birds, including vultures; otters; lynx; wolves; foxes and bears (and monkeys!) You can even hand-feed the marmottes. Allow a good 2 hours plus a stop at the shop or café. 
Nearest climbs: Hautacam and Soulor
More info: www.parc-animalier-pyrenees.com

Donjon des aigles (Eagle Dungeon)

Pyrenees vulture park

An impressive bird of prey collection set in the grounds of an old castle high above the river valley. During the day there is the opportunity to see many of the birds up close on their perches and each afternoon there is an excellent display where eagles, kites, vultures, parakeets, owls and falcons are given the chance to stretch their wings. Allow 1 hour for the display and at least another for wandering around (plus an ice-cream stop). Entry is cheaper when the spectacle is not on but do try and catch the show. Great for anyone into birds or photography.
Nearest climbs: Hautacam and Soulor
More info: www.donjon-des-aigles.com

Tree-tops and gorges for hanging out ...   

accrobranche

Dotted around the region are several parks for testing one's skills across obstacles while wearing a harness and suspended above the ground. If that sounds like fun, here are your options:

Accrobranche Aya (www.parc-adventure-65.fr) and Parc Chlorofil (www.chlorofil-parc.com): Multiple courses and challenges set in ancient forests, all graded. Great for anyone over 5.
Nearest climbs: Accrobranche Aya: Tourmalet, Aspin and Hourquette d’Ancizan; Parc Chlorofil: Solour, Hautacam, Luz Ardidan.

Vertige de l’Adour (www.vertigedeladour.com): Guided route along wires, bridges and ladders suspended over a river gorge. Principally for teenagers and adults, smaller, shorter routes are available for 3 years and up.  
Nearest climbs: Tourmalet, Aspin and Hourquette

Lou Farfadet (www.loufarfadet.fr): Smaller routes through the trees for 2 to 12-year-olds, plus and other games at Payolle.
Nearest climbs: Aspin, Hourquette, Tourmalet and Azet

Spas and thermal springs for chilling out ...

The Pyrenees is famed for its thermal springs, which are said to have healing qualities. The following spas all use naturally heated waters as their source. Meet your other half there after your ride and soak away your sore muscles. Prices vary depending on the length of your visit and the season; check ahead if you have kids as ages of entry vary. 

Aquensis bagneres de bigorre

Aquensis (pictured above), Bagneres de Bigorre (don't miss the Jacuzzis on the roof)  
Nearest climbs: Tourmalet, Aspin and Hourquette
More info: www.aquensis.fr

Cieléo, Bareges 
Nearest climbs: Tourmalet, Luz Ardiden
More info: www.cieleo-bareges.com 

Balnea, Loudenvielle

Balnea (pictured above), Loudenvielle is pretty special – don’t miss the open air Japanese pools looking out onto the mountains.
Nearest climbs: Peyresaude, Azet
More info: www.balnea.fr

Swimming pools for splashing about ...  

Lau Folies Aquatic Centre: Slides, indoor and outdoor pools and picnic areas.
Recommended for: All ages
Nearest climbs: Hautacam, Soulor, Luz Ardiden
More info: www.laufolies.com

In addition to this, Bagneres de Bigorre and Bareges have municipal swimming pools, and there's an open air pool opens in Bareges during July and August.

NOTE: All these pools and spas (apart from Aquensis) require swimming trunks for the guys (like this); board shorts (like this) are not accepted. Municipal pools may also require swimming caps.

Golf course for hitting around ...

Golf courses in the pyrenees

In the foothills of the mountains, they have managed to find suitable terrain for several good golf courses (most hire out golf clubs).

Bagneres de Bigorre: Lovely views of the mountains, challenging, hilly course. Manager speaks good English.
Nearest climbs: Tourmalet, Aspin and Hourquette
More info: www.golf-bigorre.fr

Lourdes: Lakeside, demanding, hilly course. Arranged so that you can play 9 holes before lunch and 9 after, easily.
More info: www.lpgc.fr

Tarbes: Two courses, Golf de Tumulus (www.golf-tarbes.fr) has 18 holes and Hippodrome (www.golfhippo.com) 2x9 holes. Both flatter and less demanding, still with some mountain views.

Lannemezan: Quite flat but interesting; played through pine trees.
More info: www.golflannemezan.com

Cave visits

I can’t pretend that it's sunny every second of every day. If it rains, a cave is an excellent place to be. 

Grottes des Medous: Entry includes a boat trip on underground river.
Nearest climbs: Tourmalet, Aspin, Hourquette
More info: www.grottes-medous.com/fr

Gouffre d’Esparros: If you pass through Mauvezin on your way, pop up to see the castle.
Nearest climbs: Aspin, Hourquette
More info: www.gouffre-esparros.fr

Grottes de Betharram: Entry includes boat and train trip. Check ahead that all zones are open in times of heavy rain.
Nearest climbs: Soulor, Aubisque, Hautacam
More info: www.betharram.com

More adventurous stuff like parapenting, climbing, caving, whitewater rafting and canyoning

parapenting

And for those who prefer their sports a little more daring, the following can help organise a half or full day’s activities:
Mountainbug: www.mountainbug.com
Pyrénéances: www.pyreneances.com
Ancla Sports: www.ancla-sports.com
Pyrene Sports: www.pyrene-sports.com

Free stuff!

If all of the above ideas are making you wonder whether you're going to be able to afford that new power meter you have your eye on, it might hearten you to know that when I asked a friend’s son what he liked to do best of all, he said ‘have a picnic’. So here are some 'free' ideas. 

Picnics (and walking)

The scenery is fantastic and even in the high mountains you can find spectacular walks for all abilities. No matter where you stay, your host will have a preferred picnic spot and favourite walks – don’t hesitate to ask them. Tourist offices sell walking guides for the area, with walks graded from green (easy) to black.  Basic maps are included but descriptions tend to be in French.

A big favourite is the area of Payolle (at the foot of Aspin and Hourquette). Set around a lake, there are plenty of shady spots and safe streams to play in. If you feel you need to earn your lunch, there are also many walks with Payolle as the start point and there is something for all abilities. Don’t miss a drive/walk up to either summit – the views are beautiful.

If you’d still like to spend some cash, you can hire a donkey to accompany you (www.sport-et-developpement65.fr) or you can be pulled along by a husky (www.attelagealtitude.com).

See also 'cols with cafes' below as there is generally good walking to be had on top of the mountains.

Food and wine

Pyrenees markets

The region produces excellent cheeses, duck, lamb, pork and honey, and many farmers, producers and artisans open their doors in the summer months to visitors. The Grand Tourmalet Tourist Office produces a map with contact details and it can be downloaded here.

The local, weekly morning markets are well frequented, the following are some of the largest:

Bagneres de Bigorre: Saturday
Argeles Gazost: Tuesday
Tarbes: Thursday
Lourdes: Thursday

Little more than an hour away, there are two, little-known wine regions where many producers open their cellars to visitors: Jurançon (www.vins-jurancon.fr) has mainly whites, while Madiran (www.madiran-story.fr) is worth visiting for reds and whites. The wines are good and you are likely to encounter them on any restaurant menu in the region.

Other activities

Two activities deserve their own paragraph in ‘other’:

Demi-Lune Leisure Park: Great for younger kids, it has a petting zoo, pony rides, pedaloes, mini golf, trampolines, bouncy castle etc. Entry to the park is €1, other activities are reasonably priced and are paid for on a token basis. Not near any specific cols, but 25 minutes north-east of Bagneres de Bigorre by car.
More info: www.parc-lannemezan

Pic Du Midi Observatory: At 2877m, the observatory is a great way to see the whole of the Pyrenees on a clear day.  There is a museum, restaurant and gift shop at the top. There are two ways to the top. A telecabin goes from La Mongie (4km from Tourmalet). At €36 for an adult and €23 for a child, it’s not cheap but look for the family passes or passes combined with 2 hours in Aquensis spa (see above) and good savings can be made. Alternatively, it’s a two-and-a-half hour walk from Tourmalet itself (suitable for older children). Walking only allows access to a viewing platform, but it is free. Before heading off, check the weather forecast and the webcam on the website to gauge whether the view is likely to be clear. Often if the lower towns are cloudy, The Pic is beautiful.
More info: www.picdumidi.com

For other activities such as horse-riding, summer fairs, animal shows etc check out the websites of the main tourist offices in the area:

Grand Tourmalet: www.grand-tourmalet.com
Lourdes: www.lourdes-infotourisme.com
Argeles-Gazost: www.argeles-gazost.com

Cols with cafes

Tourmalet

And if you want people to greet you at the top of a col, here’s our handy list of what’s on top of each:

Tourmalet (pictured above): Café and good restaurant (200m along a flat track). Llamas tend to hang around the car park. La Mongie is 4km down on the eastern side of the climb with more restaurants and small stream to walk along and possibly spot a marmotte or two.
Aspin: Cows and views, although a drinks van was spotted during the summer months of 2015. Payolle, an area 5km down and north of the col has cafes, restaurants, karting and a pretty lake walk. Arreau, at the bottom of the eastern side, is a pretty town with bars, restaurants and cafes.
Hourquette d’Ancizan: Cows and donkeys, beautiful views and 3km before the summit, a pretty, shallow stream to play in. See also Payolle and Arreau above.
Peyresaude: As of November 2015, the café at the top had been rebuilt but was still closed. Fingers crossed for summer 2016 as their crepes were legendary.
Azet: Nice views!
Hautacam: Café 1km up from the end of the official climb, toboggan run and play park in the summer months.
Soulor: Café (selling excellent local cheese) and climbing frame and zip wire. Great also for vulture-spotting.
Aubsique: Two restaurants (go for the Aubisque omelette, everyone else does!) and a shop.
Luz Ardiden: Nice views but fairly unattractive carpark to wait in.

Many of these climbs have excellent walks starting nearby and they're suitable for all abilities – contact local tourist offices or ask at your accommodation for details.

Caroline Euman and her husband Andy run the super bike-friendly Les Dix Arches B&B in Bagneres de Bigorre. You can read our review here.

Bike hire in the Pyrenees

If you need bike hire in the Pyrenees, check here.

Bike-friendly accommodation in the Pyrenees

Browse these B&Bs, hotels and self-catering places to stay that welcome cyclists, or check out interactive map below.  

Organised bike tours in the Pyrenees

If you need help planning your cycling trip to the Pyrenees, go here.

More on cycling in the Pyrenees:

On the blog

Alpine French School

Inntravel cycling France

Graham Watson's Tour de france guide

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