Fancy a multi activity summer mountain trip? Then check out this Pyrenees adventure holiday review. We tried canyoning, electric mountain biking, paragliding, Via Ferrata, hiking, rafting and ziplining all in a five day visit to the French Pyrenees.
From the outset I am going to warn you, this was a great road trip to the French Pyrenees with amazing activities. Probably the best way to tell you all about it is in a day by day diary format.
We flew with EasyJet from Gatwick to Toulouse and from there hired a car. It took under two and a half hours to reach Avajan in the Louron Valley where we stayed for two nights in L’Ancienne Poste.
L’Ancienne Poste was once a post office (clues in the name!) and was a run down building when taken on by fellow Brit James Dealtry. He has renovated the building into stunning accommodation with luxurious and very comfortable rooms.
James has nearly 20 years experience guiding and teaching groups in the mountains in both summer and winter. He clearly has great passion for the outdoors and has decided to settle in the stunning Louron Valley because of the wide variety of activities.
Usually L’Ancienne Poste is a catered accommodation, however the chef was away for a family wedding. So instead we were bed and breakfast and ate out. Breakfast was continental with eggs, fresh croissants, cereal and fruit.
At the end of day one of this Pyrenees adventure holiday review we headed to the restaurant l’Escapade in nearby Loudenvielle. The drive took ten minutes which meant one of us would have to forgo the lovely beer they brew on site.
The food was exceptionally good. A mix of French mountain food and Spanish style dishes with a modern twist. I had a stunning prawn dish to start, followed by steak and then homemade ice cream. Everything was delicious.
We met our guide Frédéric Ratio (Contact Tel: +33 (0)6 80 27 64 89, Email: [email protected]) at 8am in nearby Arreau. Then we drove for just over an hour into the Aragon region of Spain via the Aragnouet-Bielsa tunnel.
When we reached the Canyon d’Añisclo we jumped into his car to head up the extremely rutted dirt track to the starting point. With wetsuit and helmet we hiked for around 45 minutes to reach the start of the canyon.
Stunningly beautiful – and UNESCO listed – the turquoise water flows through a series of natural pools, gullies and waterfalls. The start – and first challenge – was getting into the rather cold waters just below a waterfall.
From there we waded and swam through the canyon before sliding head first down natural chutes. The thick wetsuit (seperate top and bottoms) not only keeps you warm but provides protection and plenty of buoyancy. Apart from the initial shock of the cold water it was very easy until we reached the first jump.
It wasn’t that high, probably four meters, however it was off a curved rock so you could not see where you were jumping. We were told where to put our lead foot and then to leap as far as we could.
The guide apparently did not jump anymore – something about too much water in the ears – so I was up first. Stood at the top I was scared. Surprising, considering I’ve jumped and dived off 10m diving boards in my teens.
That seemed a long time ago when I was to lead the way! Overcoming the fear is all part of the challenge, and the thrill when you leep is huge. It was so much fun I went back up to do it all over again. After this there were plenty more jumps with a huge amount of variety.
Some jumps required you to step off, or to aim for a particular area. I found it harder to just step than it was to jump. The highest jump was six meters into a narrow canyon. You had to jump close to a shear wall which the canyon undercuts.
We also did a little bit of rope work to climb over difficult sections. And at one point to lower yourself over water before letting go. I loved the tunnel sections where you ducked under rocks and below the water to swim through.
We stopped twice to have snacks and water provided by our guide Fred. It is a fairly long day taking around four to five hours before you return to the car park. And it is hard work. You are climbing, wading, swimming and walking on uneven footing all day.
But it is so much fun. Without doubt the best new activity I have tried in recent years. It also feels very rewarding as it is challenging, forcing you to overcome your fears. Well worth including on any multi activity summer mountain trip.
Ravenous from the cold water and physical exertion we stopped for lunch in a Spanish restaurant. The food was excellent with a range of tapas style dishes on the menu.
On the way back to the Louron Valley we stopped at Camino a las Minas de Liena. It is a stunning hidden valley and a popular spot with tourists and locals.
For dinner we ate at Auberge du Château which was about five minutes drive from our hotel. We had cold meats and cheese for starter and I had grilled lamb with dauphinoise potatoes for the main.
The food was good and a great example of traditional French Pyrenees dishes. This typical food is very nice, however it is less to my tastes than the more varied and international menus we tried.
After another nice breakfast at L’Ancienne Poste we headed into Loudenvielle for a spot of biking with Bike in Louron. As a keen mountain biker I regularly hit the trail at home and usually get a couple of trips into the mountains each year.
Unfortunately my buddy on this trip was nowhere near as experienced. So while I was hoping to ride some technical single track with uplift in the Peyragudes bike park this was not possible. Instead we took electric mountain bikes out in the Louron Valley.
I have been ebiking a few times before, and while I am not one of these people that think it is cheating I prefer a traditional bike. However, we rode 30km in two hours – including 800m of climbing without feeling knackered – so I was very impressed.
It was mostly non-technical riding, however we had a couple of technical downhill sections that were a lot of fun. My mate struggled and had to push down some trails, however it was me that crashed! I went over the handlebars when my front wheel sunk into mud that had looked solid.
The route we took was very pretty. Much of it was along the edge of lakes and the river or through forest. There was a little on roads but they were very quiet.
When we finished I’d used just over 1/3 of the bikes battery. Although I was ready for a break and some lunch, I could easily have done the same again in the afternoon during this Pyrenees adventure holiday review.
We had lovely pizza in the sunny park, then headed back to L’Ancienne Poste to get showered and pack up our things. The Louron Valley is well known for it’s paragliding having held world cup events twice in the last five years. So next we’d be taking to the air!
There is a huge landing field by a lake and various launches for different conditions. It is also stunningly beautiful. We flew with EPVL Paragliding School, who drove us up to the launch site high above the valley.
There were around eight tandem flights happening at the same time so we took it in turns to launch. All the work is done by the instructor, all you do is run when told to and suddenly you are flying.
The views are absolutely spectacular. It is a beautiful valley from the ground but in the air it is something else. This is a must during any multi activity summer mountain trip to the Pyrenees.
The flight took about 25 minutes, during which we did some crazy loops plus I had a chance to fly. It is tranquil and relaxing but at the same time take off and landing are an exhilarating experience.
After the flight we drove from the Louron Valley to Luz. The route went via the Col d’Aspin which at 1,489m gives great views of the Pic Du Midi. We also drove up and over Col du Tourmalet which at 2,115 m is one of the famous Tour De France passes.
Reaching Luz we had a little difficulty in finding Les Templiers Hotel which meant we drove around quite a lot of the town. There are many narrow and one way streets, so if you take a wrong turn it can take a while to correct your mistake.
On arriving we received a very warm welcome from Sain the Australian owner of the hotel. She showed us around and to our rooms. The hotel is not luxurious like the Ancienne Poste, however it is not shabby either and is on a beautiful square!
My room was very comfortable, the staff were very welcoming and the hotel was quirky (in a nice way!). Breakfast was a French continental affair with cereals, breads, fruit, ham and cheese etc. Plus eggs you boil yourself.
On the first night in Luz we had dinner at the stunning Restaurant BasqueToy. The food was delicious and beautifully presented.
The menu was a mix of Spanish and French mountain dishes. I had a delicious seafood salad to start and a very tasty melt in the mouth lamb dish for the main.
We met our guide Rob Mason from Mountain Bug early on day four of this French Pyrenees multi activity summer mountain trip. He drove us in his 4×4 up to the National Reserve of Néouvielle.
From nearby Bareges we took the Ruisseau de la Glère towards Néouvielle. This area is also known as the Pyrenees Lake District.
We drove as far up the road as possible, so we’d have time and energy to explore as much of the region as we could. We then set off up a steep trail.
Along the way we ate tasty wild blueberries. Rob also showed us wild juniper berries – these taste much better in gin!
Once we reached the top of the steep trail we came to a valley dotted with lakes. The area is very rugged with many big boulders, scree, rushing streams and tranquil lakes.
The valley is surrounded by the high peaks of Néouvielle and D’espade. The ridges that link the various peaks are steep and dangerous looking. But Rob assured us you can reach the top of most without any serious climbing.
We would not be summiting any peaks and instead followed a rough trail that linked the lakes together. Lac de la Glere was the first, then a small but beautifully reflective lake.
This was followed by Lac de Mounicot and then Lac de la Mourèle where we stopped for lunch and a swim in the glacial melt waters. It was exceptionally cold but refreshing and we air dried very quickly in the high altitude sunshine.
Next we skirted around Lac Det Mail and then walked high above Lac de Coume Escure. Finally we returned to Lac de la Glere and had a beer in the mountain hut before walking back down to the transport.
All around the trail we had stunning views and Rob talked in detail about the rocks and how the valley was formed by glaciers. Having studied geography at university including modules in glaciology and geology I found it fascinating.
Rob was also a fountain of knowledge about the plants and animals found in the area. Plus the history of the Pyrenees as a whole and more specifically this little corner.
For example, in the second world war messages were carried from the resistance to the allies over the passes by locals. It was a stunning day and a another tiring one during this Pyrenees adventure holiday review.
The uneven path meant I was glad to have hiking poles. On the way back downhill they helped to alleviate knee pain that I have suffered from in the past. Back at the hotel I had a shower and an impromptu nap!
La Tasca is a British run restaurant that has nothing to do with the chain in the UK. The food is a mix of French and Spanish but with an international twist.
If you like grilled fish and meats you’ll be in your element. During our visit I had seafood for both courses including stunning Thai trout fillet for the main. It was my favourite dish during this Pyrenees adventure holiday review.
They brew their own very tasty beer. I particularly liked the Col du Tourmalet which is an amber ale and the Pont d’Espagne which is a brown beer. They also brew a nice pale ale called the Pic du Midi and a white beer.
Our multi activity summer mountain trip to the pyrenees ended with an action packed day. We started at Luztyrolines which is a combination of via ferrata, ziplining and crossing rope bridges through a two kilometre long canyon.
Beginning with a safety briefing you learn how to move your security cable along the route. You are always connected to the safety line so there is no chance of falling. However that doesn’t mean it is not a challenge or that you can’t hurt yourself.
The adventure begins after a short hike. Via Ferrata translates as ‘Iron Way’ – metal fixtures attached to the rock that make climbing much easier.
Although not as simple as climbing a ladder, it is not far off except that is goes in all directions. You basically follow the route up, down, sideways and around corners along cliffs through the stunning canyon.
To mix it up every now and then you take a zipline or a rope bridge. The ziplines are great fun. You have to slow yourself down and the trick is not to take off too much speed. Otherwise you stop before the end and need to pull yourself up which is hard work.
I also really enjoyed the bridges. At first I walked across holding the handrails. But it was much more fun to do it ‘no hands’.
The bridges have gaps between the steps which makes it hard to cross without holding on. Furthermore, it gets wobbly in the middle as you swing from side to side.
On a couple of the bridges I made it across with only a small touch of the handrail. It was particularly fun to try to walk it quickly with your hands held above your head.
Overall the Luztyrolines experience was a lot of fun and there were family groups with us. It was also surprisingly tiring so you need a good fitness level and a head for heights.
The final experience of this French Pyrenees multi activity summer mountain trip was white water rafting with Gaves Sauvages. So donning a wetsuit again we set off in a minibus to the start of on another wet adventure.
I have been rafting a few times and I have to be honest this was not as exhilarating as before. It was still fun and would make a great family adventure. But compared to what I experienced in New Zealand, Canada and Thailand the rapids were rather tame.
That said it was still fun and a well run experience. You learn good teamwork skills as you work together to navigate the river. And the rapids are still a thrill, just not quite the adrenaline inducing fun I have experienced before.
A couple of times we jumped out of the boat and floated beside it. And at one point we walked back up the river bank and ran a rapid without a boat. This was one of the highlights as you really appreciated the force of the water.
We got changed after the rafting and were driven back to the activity centre. It was the end of this Pyrenees adventure holiday review and time for us to drive back to Toulouse airport which took just over two hours.
From day one to day five this trip was full of fun activities in the beautiful Pyrenees. We also had some great food and stayed in really nice accommodation such as the L’Ancienne Poste and Hotel Templiers.
I’d thoroughly recommend the French Pyrenees to anyone looking for a multi activity summer mountain trip. It would be a great holiday for families with teenage kids, for couples or a group of friends looking to do something different.
Along the way there were a few spas we could have visited. For example Balnea near the Louron Valley which I visited during a French Pyrenees snowboarding road trip. There is also Luzea Spa in Luz which unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit.
To conclude this Pyrenees adventure holiday review I’d say my only regret is that we were only there for five days. If we’d had a week we could have fitted in even more!
Personally I’d love to try the rock climbing, mountaineering, horse riding, kayaking, hydrospeeding and caving that is available. I’d like to experience more on a mountain bike, such as the bike parks and the epic single track.
I’d also love to do an overnight trek staying in a hut plus more canyoning as it was so much fun. OK so perhaps a week won’t do it – I’d better visit for a month!
For more information about road tripping in the Pyrenees visit: www.pyrenees-trip.uk