Ride Showcase: Some Spanish Hidden Gems

Lee Parish, 18th August 2017

There are lots of famous and great climbs in the Pyrenees which are well publicised. As the host of Velo Pyrenees it is my duty to explore the mountains and give local advice to our diverse clientele, There is never a one-route-fits-all solution and I enthusiastically encourge all to experience some famous Pyrenean cols, alongside some hidden gems that don't get the publicity space they deserve.

At the end of the day, if all you experience is a handful of the obvious cols made famous by the TDF, then you have not experienced the real character, tranquility and beauty of the Pyrenees.

A profile of the ride

The profile for a 143km ride that includes 2,600m of climbing. Cycling from Velo Pyrenees, the route takes you into Spain along the valley floor but then we head off the beaten track to include numerous climbs that are almost car free.

Cycling road bike in the village Bausen

The first climb takes you to the village of Bausen an 8% ride for 3.3km where there is water and a great cafe should you wish to pause. So far, short and sweet but a good warm up, great road and views.

The village Vilamos

After descending we progress to a 7.2km col, again averaging about 8% and called Guardader d'Arres. This one has kilometre signposts with statistics for the cyclist and I proudly tell everyone that I normally see zero cars on this one. The average gradient is around 8% but is actually quite variable with a very varied road suraface ranging from perfect rolled black tarmac to cracked concrete, rough old asphalt and a little gravel as the gradients ease off towards a flat summit. One for the real cyclist or 25mm/ bigger tyres.

Cyclist looking at the mountain view

There are great views near the top looking westwards where we will later head to.

Mountain views

Looking closer at the view across the valley, you can see the horizontal line on the left, 1/3 up that is the road we'll ride later.

Storm clouds in the mountains

On this particular day, we experienced changeable mountain weather as north airstreams met the south and a short lived storm brewed.

Village of Arros

The descent off the Guardader d'Arres is a favourite because it is engaging and unpredictable. The road surface is faultless all the way with barely any cars. I love the meandering road with changes in the camber between hairpins bends and occasional traversing with no long straight sections. There are even some tight bends with banked corners so you can drop your inside elbow to zip through them faster than normal.

Church bell tower in Arros

The villages in this part of Spain (Val d'Aran - the most north-western tip of Catalonia) have a long, rich history and interesting architecture. Yeah, that storm is looking imminent now, pedal on!

Vila - Arros bike sculpture

The next village along the mountainside, Arros commemorates cycling with this miniture metal bike. We descend and cross the valley floor to climb another signposted climb up to a high altitude lake. But with the storm threatening we peel off it in the middle to return homeward on a 5km traverse that brings us close to the last col on Spanish soil. Just before leaving Spain we have the option of some great tapa's bars with very good coffee (half the price to that in Luchon, France). Not for today though, we press on.

Landscape view of Val d'Aran

After a brief rainstorm the sun re-appears on the Col du Portillon - a well know Tour de France (and Vuelta de Espana) climb of about 9km. It is not on most people's radar but the Spanish side flows up the mountainside with good scenery and is not overly steep. In fact, the profile starts steady, reaches its most difficult in the middle (exactly around the balcony viewpoint the photo was taken) and then gradually eases off to get easier on the way to the summit of 1,293m. No sting in the tail which makes for a refreshingly nice change.

Tour de France comemorative plaque

Look out for marble sculptures on the bends of the Col du Portillon that commemorate the previous Spanish winners of the Tour de France.

The road of Col du Portillon

The Col du Portillon takes us back into France once we reach the summit. Luchon is the first French settlement on the other side after descending. Here you can easily find a cafe or continue riding downstream along the valley road for an easy end. Alternatively you have the option of throwing in some additional climbing like we did that gets you off the valley road, away from all cars and adds more scenery with a little more altitude!

If you bring your Garmin or other GPS device, Lee would be more than happy to load this route onto your device or offer other alternatives based on our discussions at the Velo Pyrenees base.