Last June, we took a group of 10 people on a cycling trip to the Pyrenees for the first time. It was such an awesome week full of long steady climbs and breathtaking views that we decided to run the trip again.
Here is a little recap of what we got up to last week (with a sign-up link for the next one 👀).
Day 1: Arriving at the Farmhouse
It's 6pm when the group arrives at the farmhouse: a stunning renovated farmhouse tucked in the middle of the Occitanie rolling valleys. We quickly set the bikes up before freshening up and heading out into the garden at sunset, to enjoy a delicious dinner prepared by Amy.
Day 2: Le Mas d'Azil
137km | 1730m elevation
The sun is shining and we're so excited to go on our first ride of the trip: a loop featuring Grotte du Mas d'Azil and colourful Foix.
Rolling out of the house is always a treat! We cycle along roads surrounded by fields as far as the eye can see and within 25km we're in the mountains, which gets us feeling excited about the climbs to come.
60km later, we roll through the Mas d'Azil cave. I simply love arriving there and seeing people's reactions when they discover this hidden gem: the ochre cliffs covered with bushes and the Arize river weaving through the cave are a unique spectacle.
We dip our feet in the cold water to cool down before lunch at the local cafe just by the cave. One of us accidentally ordered a blood sausage instead of a burger trying to speak French, which makes it a truly French experience...
Loaded with chips, we roll out for some more punchy climbs. The sun is shining, legs are feeling good and spirits are high when we arrive in the medieval town of Foix for coffee and pastries.
It's always nice to embed some cultural experiences into the riding, and Foix's iconic castle peaking through the colourful lanes is not to be missed.
The 40km back to the farmhouse is fairly flat and we get home early-ish to enjoy some pool time before dinner.
Day 3: The Serious Loop
96km | 2700m elevation
It's an early start today as we have a big cycling challenge ahead. We gulf a big breakfast of fresh pastries, fruits, granola, scrambled eggs and obviously coffee before heading out on the saddle.
The Serious Loop starts from Ax-les-Thermes, a ski spa town from yesteryear in the Orlu Valley, and it tackles Col du Chioula (10km, 700m) and iconic Port de Pailhères (15km, 1220m).
The climb to Chioula is a treat, nice and steady with kind gradients, making it the perfect warm-up for the day to come.
The 20km descent that follows is so much fun, the weaving corners and hairpin bends through the beautiful rock formations had us absolutely buzzing.
Then comes the second climb of the day, a cheeky 3km ramp that makes lunch well deserved! Once everyone ascended, we set up a picnic spot in the sunshine and quickly devour our sandwiches.
Fun fact: France has picnic tables absolutely everywhere which makes it easy to enjoy a bougie lunch on the go. Having the support car carrying most of our stuff, picnic and homemade snacks, gave the whole trip a reel sense of luxury.
After a couple of coffees, it's time for the serious thing: Col de Pailhères. The first 5km are pretty gentle on the legs, but then it gets serious with 10km in the 8 - 15% gradients. I won't lie, we suffer. But what views!!
Every switchback offers an incredible perspective on the valley and there is something special about having an overview of the route you're climbing. We make it to the top incredibly proud of having challenged ourselves and grateful to ride our bikes in such stunning surroundings.
The 20km descent back to Ax-les-Thermes is breathtaking: We ride past pine forests, turquoise lakes and dozens of cows roaming on the side of the road in golden evening light.
Day 4: Recovery in Mirepoix
58km | 570m elevation
We're grateful for a slower start after yesterday's big effort, and the legs are definitely sore this morning.
The recovery day is most welcome! We gently head toward Mirepoix: 30km of rolling hills to get to one of the most beautiful villages of the area. Narrow streets, colourful houses and medieval vibes are what create the unique atmosphere of the town.
There we have lunch at Le Casti: rotisserie chicken and chips for some, and tapas-style plates for others. Coffee and cakes are at The Green Bazar, a vegetarian coffee shop run by a franco-mexican couple who decided to settle in Ariège after a few years of van life around the world.
We must hurry home though because a storm is coming! We use the strength of the peloton to fight the headwinds and make it home just in time for a well-needed afternoon of massage and relaxation.
Day 5: Gorges de Galamus
93km | 1700m elevation
We had originally planned a big day of climbing today but with rain forecasted in the mountains, last night we decided to head towards the Pyrenees Orientales area instead.
We start the ride in Montazels, a small town built on the bank of the Aude River.
Ten minutes of rolling and we are all amazed by the incredible views that we did not expect: we're cycling along the Pic de Bugarach, an "upside-down" mountain in the heart of many legends.
Photo Credit: @imaginetheride
After 30km of stunning rolling hills, we pass through scenic Gorges de Galamus, we can't help but stop every 5 minutes to check out the views and admire the turquoise water of the Agly River that splits the rocks into giant cliffs. Vertigo is guaranteed when looking down, it's simply epic!
Our next challenge is Col de Saint Louis, a 6km Tour de France climb with some punchy gradients. Once again, the views make up for the tired legs and we find some picnic tables at the top to enjoy lunch in the sunshine.
It's all(most) downhill from there: 25km of descending beautiful winding roads before heading back to Montazels along the Aude River.
Day 6: Bakery Run
40km | 500m elevation
It's already leaving day and we cannot believe how fast the week has gone! With a late flight (7pm from Toulouse) we have plenty of time the make the most of today: we decide to go on a little loop to Mazères to grab coffee and pastries. When in France...
We are treated to another sunny morning and the September light on the valley is breathtaking. We're enjoying every minute of this last ride, conscious that Autumn and long-sleeve jerseys are waiting for us in the UK.
Photo Credit: @jc_le_bezy_pyrenees
We arrive in quaint Mazère after 30km, secure a sunny spot at the local cafe and get all the goods from the village bakery: croissants, chocolatines (you cannot call these "pain au chocolat" in this region, they get a bit offended...) and chocolate chip torsades. What a feast!
It's then less than 10km back to Le Bezy. We quickly dip in the pool (best recovery for the legs I find) and we attack our packing: we're getting used to bike boxes by now so it's a fairly quick job.
Amy has prepared a wholesome farewell lunch that we eat in the garden, soaking up the last rays of sunshine and enjoying each other's company before heading to the airport.
Bye for now, French Pyrenees; it's been awesome!
We cannot wait for the next ones, and the good news is that 2024 bookings are open!