Winter in The French Pyrenees
Ski & Spa
“I never thought the Pyrenees were such big mountains”. It’s a phrase I’ve heard so many times I’ve lost count. The Pyrenees are a mountain range whose name is very familiar to us but which, in reality, many people do not know. Even for Europeans they are a mountain range that does not attract too much attention. But I tell you: after 25 years, every time I go back to the Pyrenees I keep getting excited.
The Pyrenees stretch 415 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, and are the natural border between France and Spain. What if I told you that on the French side alone, the Pyrenees have 39 ski resorts? Between them that adds up to more than 1,000 kilometers of slopes? What would you think of its 16 thermal centres? Or of such mythical peaks as the Pic du Midi or the Midi D’Ossau?
In the last two decades I have traveled with my board almost all over the planet. I’ve glided through great mountain ranges, renowned ski resorts and beautiful snowy landscapes all over the world.
Join me in this tour around the French ski resorts of the Pyrenean massif, and discover the uniqueness and authenticity of a destination where winter sports, history, gastronomy and thermalism are mixed. And you will also discover that the Pyrenees are mountains with power, pride and majesty. PYRENEES in capital letters.
DOES SIZE MATTER?
Less is more. It’s something I’ve learned about snow and ski trips. The best experiences are not always in the biggest or most famous destinations. And it doesn’t matter how small or large a station is. The important thing is the snow. The smallest resort with a lot of snow can give us more satisfaction than the biggest one with little.
As I write these lines on December 14, the snow levels of nine ski resorts in the French Pyrenees are close to 3 meters of snow. It almost reaches 5 meters in Piau Engaly. So snow, as you can see, is not lacking.
What if I told you that on the French side alone, the Pyrenees have 39 ski resorts? Between them that adds up to more than 1,000 kilometers of slopes?
In terms of size, the individual ski resorts may not be very large, but they have managed to join forces to create five large domains accessible with joint ski passes in the different Pyrenean regions. All of them have more than 200 kilometres of trails, and the largest has up to 400 kilometres of trails. This way we can ski every day in a different resort with the same ski pass. Not bad, is it?
The Pic du Midi, at 2,577 metres, offers a wonderful panoramic view over the mountain range and the Bigorre country. The purity and transparency of the surrounding air and the exceptional qualities of the site have led to the installation of an astronomical observatory that allows visitors to contemplate the stars during the “soirées étoilées” astronomy animation programmes.
This Igloo-Hotel is built with a mix of wood and metal which gives it a warm and modern feel. Located in the resort of Gourette, it is equipped with a wood stove, designer furniture, a fridge and a bathroom and toilet. In its pleasant warmth, you will enjoy the calm of the place, a Nordic bath, a champagne dinner, a cosy evening and a gourmet breakfast. Welcome to Gourette!
A PLACE FOR EVERY TASTE
The passion for the mountains and skiing comes from afar. It breathes. The Pyrenees have been the birthplace of champions and great winter sportsmen such as the freeride champion snowboarder and renowned explorer Xavier Delerue, a local of the St. Moritz resort. Lary; the triple world junior champion Laure Bosc, who trained in the famous Nordic resort of Plateau de Beille; or the world famous Catalan mountain runner and extreme skier Kilian Jornet, whose childhood and adolescence was spent in the mountains of Cerdanya.
There are small and authentic mountain villages, and resorts that will surprise you with their size
Whatever kind of skiing motivates you, you will find resorts that will fill you with joy. There is something for everyone: from quiet family resorts such as Val Louron or Pyrenees 2000, to thrilling freeride challenges of up to 1,700 metres of vertical drop in mythical mountains such as the Pic du Midi. There are large, sunny valleys such as Cerdanya, and there are closed valleys with an alpine style such as Gourette. There are towns with all services at the foot of the slopes such as Saint Lary, but above all, there are small and authentic mountain villages such as Luz-Saint-Sauveur or Font Romeu. Some resorts that will surprise you with their size, such as Peyragudes, Piau Engaly or Tourmalet, the biggest of them all.
It’s not all about skiing. There are endless extra activities to enjoy the snow and the winter. And I can tell you about it because I have been lucky enough to see it. I’ve been on huge cross-country ski circuits, up to 36 kilometres long, in beautiful resorts such as Pont d’Espagne. I tested my aim on a biathlon course on the Plateau de Beille (it’s not very good, by the way). I snowshoed along the slopes of the ramparts of Gavarnie, whose beauty the writer Victor Hugo sang of. I’ve ridden fatbikes on the slopes of Luz Ardiden, and ridden a dog sled in Hautacam. And I’ve even done winter canyoning in Gourette! Even so, I still have many activities to try: caving, ice climbing, paragliding… As you can see, the possibilities are numerous. So much so, that the most complicated thing is to choose.
Since Roman times, the waters of the Pyrenees, sulphated, alkaline, fluorinated or chlorinated, have been famous for their curative properties
SKI & SPA
The pleasure of a good winter holiday can certainly be felt in the moments of relaxation. Can you think of anything better to relax than a good spa? Neither do I. Well then. The French Pyrenees are a leader in the Ski&Spa concept. It is part of the legacy. Many of its villages have historically been a place of relaxation and therapy thanks to its hot springs. Since Roman times, the waters of the Pyrenees, sulphated, alkaline, fluorinated or chlorinated, have been famous for their curative properties.
Cauterets, Bagnère-de-bigorre, Barège… are some of the 18 thermal resorts that these mountains have to offer. Although the queen of them all is probably Luchon. Already famous in Gallo-Roman times for its baths, Luchon is a spa town whose waters have been courted throughout history by high society – from Richelieu to Napoleon III, passing through Alexandre Dumas, Gustave Flaubert – and which has preserved an elegant architecture, a Belle Epoque style that gives it all its charm. Its main attraction: the vaporarium, a huge natural hamam, unique in Europe!
AUTHENTIC & SUSTAINABLE
Finally, there is a ‘je ne sais quoi’ in the French Pyrenees. It may be that many of its picturesque villages have managed to preserve their historical heritage, as well as many customs and traditions that it often shares with Spain. Maybe it’s that there is life beyond the ski lifts, and it doesn’t stop when the snows melt. Maybe they are its authentic places, those buildings often in decay that hide years of history, but that maintain a certain aroma of the old world that inebriates those who know how to observe and appreciate it with attention.
The villages and resorts of the French Pyrenees are places to live. They are destinations of human size. There are schools with children and churches with masses. There are farmers having an “apéro” and hoteliers who practice ski mountaineering. There are no crowds or rush; but there are very good cheeses, craft beers and local wines.
There are farmers having an ‘apéro’ and hoteliers who practice ski mountaineering
As a ski and snowboard enthusiast I can assure you one thing: if you come to the Pyrenees, you will not be disappointed. Come and enjoy skiing in any of its resorts. Relax in a thermal centre in the company of your friends, partner or family. And have a good ‘garbure’ for dinner in one of the traditional restaurants that you will not have trouble finding. When you do, remember this recommendation, and then let me know if I was right or wrong. Bon hiver à tous.
Experience and enjoy the more than 1,000 km of slopes in the French Pyrenees. To get the most out of your stay in the snow; to find out whether the weather looks good or uncertain; to discover what great moments in the mountains taste like; to stop your time in the 39 resorts of the French Pyrenees. This is where it all begins.