Once you’ve ticked off Tour de France mega-stars like the Tourmalet and Aubisque, it’s time to discover the quieter roads: the little-known gems that get fewer cyclists and make you feel you’re really discovering an area.
This ride is exactly like that. It takes in three climbs that aren’t very famous, and whose stats aren’t a match for the big guns.
But we bet you’ll love it.
It takes you through the peaceful Azun valley to the gorgeous Lac d’Estaing, surrounded by soaring slopes. Then on up the tough Col des Bordères, which with its 2018 Tour de France debutant, is probably the most known of the climbs on this ride. The final stop of the day is the Col de Couraduque, just before you’re back in Argelès-Gazost. In just 57km, you’ll have done 1,500m of climbing.
A useful feature of this ride is that Couraduque and Lac d’Estaing are out and back rides. So if you’re in a mixed group or over-estimate your legs, you can easily cut the loop short. It’s also a great option if you’re cycling in summer and looking for quieter roads.
Route map and profile
Distance: 57 km
Elevation Gain: 1,530 m
Max Grade: 17.9 %
All metrics in this guide are approximate
The road between Estaing and the Lac d’Estaing is one of our absolute favourites. It undulates, without being overly challenging, and you’re surrounded by massive peaks up to 3,000m high.
We also love the scenery in the last few kilometres of the climb to the summit of the Col des Bordères. The gradients out of Estaing are pretty brutal but the last kilometre to the summit is on a little plateau and you get outstanding mountain panoramas.
1. Argelès-Gazost to Lac d’Estaing: 0-20km
First up is the Col des Bordères. From Argelès-Gazost, you take the little D101 back road to the medieval village of Saint-Savin that has buildings dating from the 7th century. It’s a very green ride, through quiet fields and lush copses, past the fast-flowing Gave de Pau river. Early on you get nice mountain views over the valley.
When you reach the village of Estaing, you’re 2.5km from the Col des Bordères summit, but we suggest taking the signed diversion to the Lac d’Estaing.
You arrive at the lake after 5km along a road that rolls upwards (average gradient around 4%) deep in a glacial valley. You turn a corner and the valley opens up to reveal the grand vista of Lac d'Estaing, surrounded by huge peaks. The road is flat for the last kilometre around the lake.
2. Lac d’Estaing to Col des Bordères summit: 20-28km
Head back to Estaing and prepare yourself for the final push to the summit of Col des Bordères, via one of its hardest sections. From the village the road rears up for a couple of kilometres at an average 8%, before flattening out to the summit. In total (without the diversion to Lac d’Estaing), you’ll have ridden 18km up Col des Bordères, at an average 6%, but your legs will tell you a different story!
3. Col des Bordères summit to Argelès-Gazost via Col de Couraduque: 28-57km
From Arrens-Marsous it’s back to Argelès-Gazost on the D918. It’s a busier road than the ones you’ve ridden so far, but it allows you to access the splendidly quiet Col de Couraduque.
The Col de Couraduque is a fairly challenging 6.5km climb at over 7%, though there are sections that hover around 9%, particularly in the first couple of kilometres. We ran out of time to ride this on our trip but will definitely be back to check it out since we love the fact it’s a dead end, so it’s always quiet. We’re also told it offers great views back over the Val d’Azun and as far as the Hautacam, Cabaliros and Pic du Midi. It’s never been climbed by the Tour de France but was a stage finish in the 2016 Route du Sud.
From the summit your work is done and it’s a 16km descent back home to Argelès-Gazost.
Saint-Savin: Start with a coffee in Café de la Poste in the village square. This cafe was build in the 15th century.
Estaing: there is a campsite with a café.
Lac d’Estaing: there is a café by the lake which serves food.
Summit of the Col de Couraduque: café with a beautiful view from the terrace. We’re told the Garbure and Basque cake are great!
Arrens-Marsous: L'Apistomaque bar-restaurant has been recommended to us.
Between Aucun and Arras on D918, we’ve been told Saveurs d'Azun restaurant is great.
Argelès-Gazost: Patisserie Vignau Jean next to the Mairie is worth a visit. Decent coffee and amazing cakes and chocolates!
We rode from the Hotel Miramont in Argelès-Gazost. The town has a superb location for riding in this area and the Hotel Miramont is probably the town’s best hotel. We found it comfortable, relaxed and good at looking after cyclists.
Want to see more suggestions?
Take a look at more of our ultimate guide to the region for cyclists which has lots of cycling-friendly hotel suggestions.
Alternatively, our best towns for cyclists article should help you narrow down the best town in the region for you.
Read our tips for cycling in the Pyrenees before you set out.
It’s easy to reduce the length and difficulty of this ride simply by cutting off the Lac d’Estaing or the Col de Couraduque.
From Arrens-Marsous, rather than taking the D918 back to Argelès-Gazost, you could instead head on to the Col de Soulor and Aubisque - here’s our guide. It makes for a much harder ride, but they're some of the region's/world's best climbs!
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Check out our ultimate guide to cycling the region and other useful articles, below.
the inside story with Paddy Sweeney of Vélo Peloton
an overview of the Pyrenees from a road cyclist’s perspective