Skiing Across the French Pyrenees
Skiing across the French Pyrenees on a road trip through Hautes-Pyrenees was definitely a fantastic adventure. It showed me that there can be so much more to taking a ski trip than simply skiing between resorts. I spent my time skiing in Saint-Lary, Grand Tourmalet and Cauterets, all charming in their own ways and they all have their own unique features.
Table of Contents
- 1 Saint-Lary
- 2 Grand Tourmalet
- 3 Cauterets
- 4 How to get there to the French Pyrenees Resorts
- 5 Top Tip for French Pyrenees
- 6 Other Ski Resorts in Europe
- 7 Video Highlights – Ski Road through French Pyrenees
Granted I love the Alps for many reasons but there is just something about the French Pyrenees that makes me want to explore even more. I don’t know whether it was that the three resorts (Saint-Lary, Grand Tourmalet and Cauterets) that I visited had totally different characteristic but still held their own traditional French charm, or the abundance of authentic cuisine, wine and spa and wellness centres.
Read More – Learn to Snowboard or Ski in England
There are 10 ski resorts within the Hautes-Pyrenees that are divided into two ski areas. Gavarnie Valleys which comprises of 6 Resorts and Pyrenees 2 Vallee which comprises of 4 ski resorts. Both areas offer ski passes for their whole area or individual ski resorts. Which means the only hard part you have to decide is choosing which resort you want to Ski or snowboard in.
If you are wanting value for money, rich culture, mouth-watering French food and wine as well as skiing through some of the most beautiful areas in France, the Hautes-Pyrenees is definitely not to be missed. Not to mention that some resorts are as close as half an hour away from an international airport, so it is a great option even for just a weekend.
Roughly one hour drive from Lourdes/Tarbes International Airport (also known as Lourdes Pyrenees Airport) was Saint-Lary Ski Resort, our first stop on our ski trip across the French Pyrenees. Saint-Lary is a mountain village located at the edge of the Pyrenees National Park that prides itself as being a family resort and proud to hold the ‘Family Plus Mountain Resort’ label. The area blends together both the beauty of the mountains, skiing holidays and village life.
There are three ski areas that make up the Saint-Lary Ski Resort, St Lary 1700 Pla d’Adet, St Lary 1900 Espiaube and St Lary 2400. With over 100 kms on 56 slopes, it is considered to be one of the biggest ski areas in the French Pyrenees.
Skiing in Saint-Lary
After meeting our guide, we headed up the télécabine to the top of Bouleaux chairlift at 2213mts where there is no protection from the elements. Even though the slopes were wide and crossed over between blue and red, it was icy, windy and cold making it unpleasant to ski in and on.
To try to avoid the wind and ice, we skied over and down in the valleys of St Lary 1900 Espiaube, through the trees, which was much nicer weather wise. I did not mind the skiing and there was some fun steep parts, as well as flat parts in narrow areas. Before heading back for lunch and then leaving for La Mongie (Grand Tourmalet), I went back up to Bouleaux chairlift and did a quick ski down the red slope to St Lary 1700 Pla d’Adet.
Saint-Lary Ski Resort is definitely a great ski resort for families with all different types of abilities, especially with the children’s area. There were lots of safe beginner and early-intermediate areas, as well as the dedicated children’s areas. I would definitely go back and explore other ski areas further over in Le Vallon.
Overview of the Saint-Lary Ski Area
- 31 Ski lifts
- 100 km slopes
- 56 slopes (7 Green, 26 Blue, 13Reds & 10 Blacks)
- 3 SnowPark – (Freestyle Areas)
- 1 Beginner and Family area with 2 carpet belts (includes a pedestrian area)
- 2 Children’s areas with sound system (and dedicated lift)
- If freeride is your thing, apparently there is an off-piste route called the ‘The Sarrats’ that is known as the most beautiful to ride.
Non-Ski Activity – Spa Sensoria
If you like to take a break from skiing or enjoy another activity off the mountain, then head to Spa Sensoria in Saint-Lary town. There are two separate areas to enjoy the Sensoria Rio a natural spring pool that has views of the Pyrenees with whirlpools, jacuzzi and waterfalls. Then the Sensoria Beauty, a beauty area that offers everything from beauty treatments to various massages.
- Get a massage after skiing to relax the muscles. I had a massage when I was there at the Spa and it was so nice and relaxing that I didn’t want to move.
I stayed at the Mercure Hotel, which is situated about 5 minutes walk to the télécabine and in walking distance to everything in the Saint-Lary village. You can have half board if you like and there is lovely fresh cakes and snacks in the afternoon after your day of skiing.
The hotel is also attached to the Spa Sensoria, which you can get to through an adjoining corridor so you don’t even have to go outside in the cold.
- If you want ski-in ski-out accommodation then look at the Pla d’Adet 1700 or Saint-Lary La Cabane 1600 area, which are situated directly on the slopes at the top of the first ski lifts.
Where to Eat and Drink
There are some lovely restaurants on and off the slopes in Saint-Lary Ski Resort and it depends on what you feel like eating. If you are wanting cheese on the mountain for lunch then La Cabane is a good choice. Off the mountain, then I would suggest ICC restaurant as it is in the centre of the village, you can also eat here for dinner.
La Cabane, Saint-Lary Ski Resort France Reviews here on Trip Advisor
ICC restaurant, Saint-Lary Ski Resort France Reviews here on Trip Advisor
Our next stop was the Grand Tourmalet Ski Resort of La Mongie, which was around a two hour drive through the windy mountain roads. The best thing is that the weather was clear and we could stop at various points to see the Pic du Midi. Grand Tourmalet is the biggest ski area in the French Pyrenees and links the villages of Bareges and La Mongie.
Together they share 120km of piste with 50 lifts and ideal for intermediates with an abundance of tree lined slopes above the towns. It is also home to one of the Pyrenees most popular tourist actions, Pic du Midi.
Skiing in Grand Tourmalet
We were not sure if we were going to be able to ski in Grand Tourmalet Ski Resort due to the weather and planned on heading to Cauerets ski resort earlier. However, at the very last minute, the weather changed and the guide suggested we going out for a couple hours, so we could at least get a feel of the Resort.[amazon_link asins=’B06XWBW3VY,B0756RWXLP,B06XTXYPH6,B01L8MR75Y’ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’melbtravel-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’d2c35b96-dd5f-11e8-9a5a-67f99ef5502f’]
I am so glad that we did because it ended up being my favourite ski resort out of the 3 we went to, and the weather turned out to be sunny and warm. As we did not have much time, we skied mostly in the valley and up to the top of the panoramic chairlift. We were able to take in the most stunning panoramic views of the French Pyrenees and of Pic du Midi
You definitely need more than a day here to appreciate the slopes.
Overview of Grand Tourmalet Area
- 34 Ski lifts
- 100 kms slopes
- 62 slopes (16 Green, 25 Blue, 16 Reds & 5 Blacks)
- 1 SnowPark
- 1 Freeride Zone
- 2 Beginner Areas
- For all the Freeride ski lovers, you have to do the Freeride from the Pic du Midi, which is more than 1500m vertical drop.
Non-Ski Activity – A visit to Pic du Midi
One of the highlights of Skiing Across the French Pyrenees was an evening on the Pic du Midi to watch the sunset, have dinner and to try out the new Pontoon in the Sky. We were supposed to stay the night but unfortunately, due to the unforeseen weather, we would have not been able to get off the mountain the next morning.
Full Review Here – An evening on Pic du Midi – French Pyrenees
At 2877 metres, Pic du Midi France gives you 360 degree panoramic views over the French Pyrenees and is a learning centre that houses an astronomical observatory and a star museum, which explains the history and the exploration of the universe. As well as a restaurant, cafe and other amenities.
It is so impressive that you can see Pic du Midi from most points that I visited during my trip in the French Pyrenees and it is definitely a great activity for everyone.
- The tours and talks are mainly in French, so double check online or speak to them.
- Take sunglasses and sunblock especially if you are there during the day as the Pic enjoys 300 days of sunshine
Video Highlights – The Pic du Midi
As we were unable to stay on the Pic du Midi we ended up staying last minute at the budget Le Pourteilh hotel. It was in a good location, directly across the road from the ski slopes, in the centre of town and about 2 minutes walk the Pic du Midi cable car.
Where to Eat and Drink
There is only a handful of restaurants on the actual ski slopes but there are a lot more in the village under the Pic du Midi cable car. Do not worry though as you can ski literally right up to the door of these restaurants. I went in March when it was spring skiing and all I needed to do was walk 5 mins.
I had lunch in the sun at the Le Schuss in the village and a 3-course dinner on the Pic du Midi.
Lunch – Le Schuss Restaurant
Le Schuss Restaurant, La Mongie Grand Tourmalet French Pyrenees Reviews here on Trip Advisor
Dinner – Restaurant du Pic du
The Ski Resort and village of Cauterets was our last stop on our trip Skiing Across the French Pyrenees and the only place that we stayed two nights. At the foot of the pistes and in the heart of the National Park is Cauterets, a spa town, a ski resort and a commune in the Hautes-Pyrénées. This beautiful colourful town is a mix of new and old buildings of traditional Pyrenean style and architecture.
Cauterets ski resort is considered to be the most snow-sure resort in the French Pyrenees and comprises of two main Ski areas. The Le Cirque du Lys for downhill skiing and Pont d’Espagne for cross-country skiing.
Skiing in Cauterets
The ski area in Cauterets is not very big and if you are a confident skier, would not have a problem doing all the slopes in a day. I only went up the top of the Grand Barbat chairlift once along the ridge (blue slope), as the wind was so strong it was pushing me over.
The rest of the time I stuck to skiing near the middle over near the freestyle park, crossing over on the blues and reds due to the snow conditions. The snow was becoming a mix of ice and slush but it was only to be expected as it was mid-march and the weather was heating up.
Overview of the Cauterets Ski Area
- 15 Ski lifts (which includes a detachable chairlift)
- 38 kms slopes
- 22 slopes (5 Green, 7 Blue, 8 Reds & 2 Blacks)
- 1 SnowPark – designed by Oakley
- 2 Beginner Areas with 2 carpet belts
- If you looking for some fun but don’t want to fully access the freestyle park, go up the cretes chairlift and you can do the undulating terrain to the side.
A trip to Pont d’Espagne is definitely worth a visit especially if you want to discover some of the most beautiful waterfalls that can be seen in Hautes-Pyrénées. There are two main areas Pont d’Espagne waterfalls and also the Gaube Lake, this is a great place to spend the afternoon for a couple of hours, walking and taking in the views.[amazon_link asins=’1852849819,2758507951,2758544229,1852845554′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’melbtravel-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’c1ab284d-dd4d-11e8-a6a2-e5650be25843′]
If you do not feel like walking then that is not a problem as a chairlift is made available at the entrance of the Pont d’Espagne’s car park. You can also cross-country ski there depending on the snow depth. The best bit is that they are just as great in summer, as well as during the winter season.
- The snow can get heavy and wet, please make sure you wear warm waterproof shoes.
For the last two nights of our Skiing Across the French Pyrenees, I stayed at the charming family-owned Hôtel le Lion d’Or. It was my favourite out of the 3 hotels that we stayed in during our trip and from the moment I walked in the door, I felt welcome. Just like Mecure, you can also do half board at the hotel.
Hôtel le Lion d’Or is located in the centre of Cauterets and within walking distance to everything in town. Via a backdoor on the third floor of the hotel, you can access the Les Bains du Rocher, which is directly across the road.
Where to Eat and Drink
Cauterets has some really great bars and restaurants spread out across the village. On the mountain, we had lunch at the newly renovated de Lys Restaurant that has some tasty hamburgers and snacks. For dinner, we dined one night at the hotel and the other at a really lovely French place in the centre of town called O Regent restaurant.
Lunch – The Restaurant de Lys
The Restaurant de Lys, Cauterets French Pyrenees Reviews here on Trip Advisor
Dinner – O Regent Restaurant
O Regent Restaurant, Cauterets French Pyrenees Reviews here on Trip Advisor
How to get there to the French Pyrenees Resorts
The closest international airport to French Pyrenees is Lourdes/Tarbes International Airport. Which is where I flew to with Ryanair from London Stansted and it was roughly a 2 hour flight. From Lourdes airport, it is easily accessible to reach most of the resorts in the Hautes-Pyrenees and from our last stop Cauterets Ski Resort it was only 30 minutes drive.
Toulouse International Aiport is a bigger international airport and has more regular flights. However, it is an extra hour away driving from the French Pyrenees.
As I was on a road trip through the French Pyrenees, we hired a car to reach all the resorts. The car hire was organised before we arrived and it was super easy to pick up the car, as it was just outside the Lourdes Airport to the right. It is easy to find as Lourdes is not a very big airport, so you should not get lost at all.
Skiing in the Hautes-Pyrenees is better value than ever and depending on which resort you are going to. You can get a transfer for as little as €15 one way.
There is a shuttle bus that leaves once daily from Lourdes Pyrenees Airport to Saint-Lary, Grand Tourmalet and Cauterets ski resort and back again. Check on the individual ski resort site for additional information.
Top Tip for French Pyrenees
- Beware that the roads between the resorts can be very windy, so be careful especially if it has been snowing.
- Please hire your ski chains beforehand at the car rental. It is better to be safe than sorry especially in the middle of the Pyrenees.
- Your Ski Pass in Grand Tourmalet Ski Resort includes unlimited access up to the Pic du Midi during that period.
- If you love Spa’s then check out the famous Les Bains du Rocher, located in Cauterets Ski Resort.
- You can buy a ski pass for either the Gavarnie Valleys OR Pyrenees 2 Vallees areas. If you don’t want to get one for individual resorts.
Other Ski Resorts in Europe
- Ski Resort -Where the Season Starts Early and Ends Late – Val Thorens Ski Resort France
- The Italian side of the Matterhorn, Breuil-Cervinia Ski Resort – Cervinia Ski Resort Italy
- A Winter Holiday Guide – La Clusaz Ski Resort France
- Combining History & Adventure – Jahorina Ski Resort Bosnia and Herzegovina
Thank you for reading this article ‘Skiing Across the French Pyrenees’, I hope it helped you to decide where to go for your next ski trip. The French Pyrenees is definitely a great ski region with so much to offer.
Have you been to the Pyrenees France before? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments below.
If you want to take a break from your Adventures or are staying in Lourdes for the day before or after your trip. Then there is plenty to do.
Video Highlights – Ski Road through French Pyrenees