I had a great time exploring three ski resorts in the Pyrenees in 2016, so I decided another road trip was in order. First stop, a review of Cauterets snowboarding holiday in the French Pyrenees.
We flew Gatwick to Toulouse which is a 2.5 hour drive to Cauterets. At just 45 minutes away Lourdes is the closest airport, another alternative is Biarritz which is also a 2.5 hour drive away.
Picking up the Avis hire car was typically overly complicated. I am not sure why you can’t just show your driving licence and collect the keys for the car you booked. Instead it took an hour, firstly queueing and then going through every detail we had already provided.
Eventually we set off in a lovely Nissan Qashqai. Unfortunately we hit some traffic around Toulouse which slowed us down, but before long we were on the open road. Following satnavs faultless instructions, eventually we reached the winding mountain roads to Cauterets.
Cauteret is a small spa town in the Hautes Pyrenees. It often receives the most snow in France and in 2013 topped the global charts. The town is authentic and due to it’s healing waters has been a popular tourist attraction long before skiing became popular.
There are some fantastic old buildings, not least of all the impressive casino and the wooden’Wild West’ style train station. We arrived late in the evening, the narrow streets lined with tall town houses certainly made it feel very different to most ski resorts.
We stayed in the lovely Hotel Lion d’Or, it is as quaint and seemingly narrow as the towns streets. We had a very friendly welcome, although getting a snowboard bag through the slightly restrictive corridors was not the easiest of tasks. The rooms were lovely – it would make the perfect romantic getaway.
Having arrived late, we headed straight out for a meal at the O Regent. The food was stunning, the welcome warm and genuine, and although translating the French to English was a challenge it added to the charm. I recommend the St Jacques (scallops) which were amazing.
After the meal we checked out a local pub to toast the start of our review of Cauterets snowboarding holiday in the French Pyrenees. The bar was very quiet, so after a walk around the town to ascertain everywhere was closing up we headed back to the hotel.
Breakfast was a typical French continental self service. Cheese, ham, bread, fruit, croissants, cereal and eggs you boil yourself. Not hugely inspiring but there was plenty to fill you up before a day on the slopes.
To get to the slopes above Cauteret there is a 15 minute gondola ride. This brings you to Gare Du Lys from which you can access the mountain. Although there is no piste back to town, if the conditions are right you could snowboard off-piste to town – in fact below the gondola looked a lot of fun.
The ski area in Cauterets is in a bowl with all runs coming back to the same two lifts – it reminds me of Flaine just smaller. There are 36 km of runs from 1730m to 2415m, with 84% being either blue or red.
From the top of any lift you can easily ski back to the main centre, making it good for mixed ability groups. There is a good beginner area with covered carpets right next to Gare du Lys.
There is also a second ski area called Pont d’Espagne located just 7km up the road from Cauterets in the Pyrenees National Park. Nordic skiing is popular here, but there is also a chairlift giving access to two un-pisted runs offering a large freeride area.
Unfortunately while we were there conditions were pretty poor. It was raining at the base to around halfway up the slopes. At the top it was very windy and snowing. Visibility was very challenging during this review of Cauterets snowboarding holiday in the French Pyrenees, so bad my mate and I crashed into each other!
On the plus side slopes were pretty much deserted. Furthermore, at the top of Touy Arolles chairlift there was a good amount of fresh snow. We lapped the Edelweiss and Malh Blanc quite a few times, and although lower down the powder was wet it was still fun.
There are some good wide blue and red runs which in better conditions would be a lot of fun. It also looked as if there would be fun to be had between the pistes in fresh snow, as the 60 hectare ski area has plenty of space between the runs.
We had a brief look in the snow park – the only Oakley certified park in the Pyrenees – but visibility was so poor it was too dangerous to have a play. We also did a couple of runs through the Meow area, which are runs like an easy boarder cross trail. I am sure both would have been a lot of fun if we could see.
We stopped for a lunch at the top of the Gare du Lys. It’s a big self-service style eatery, but meals are cooked fresh rather than coming from school dinner style trays. The food was very good, with plenty of local options – the black pig casserole was yummy.
After lunch conditions got worse, so after one more run we headed down the mountain. The Hotel Lion d’Or had stored our gear so we got changed and said our goodbyes.
No review of Cauterets snowboarding holiday in the French Pyrenees would be complete without visiting its famous spa – Les Bains du Rocher. There are indoor and outdoor pools with various jets, geysers, waterfalls, whirlpools and bubble areas to relax and to help relieve aches.
The naturally sulphurous waters are kept at a toasty 35-38 degrees and have been sought for their healing properties for more than two centuries. Upstairs there are sauna, steam and relaxation rooms, plus a full range of massage and beauty treatments available.
It’s a great experience – just be sure to bring speedo style swimwear as boardies or baggy shorts are not allowed. After nearly two hours of relaxation we floated back to the car and set off on the two hour drive to St Lary, the second stop on our snowboarding holiday in the French Pyrenees.
Cauterets won’t appeal to everyone, but with a unique charm the town is different to most ski resorts. It would make a great romantic getaway with the Hotel Lion d’or, good restaurants, interesting buildings and excellent spa all adding to the appeal.
Although the slopes are not extensive there is good variety. With a a great learning area and lots of wide blues it would be a good resort for families or beginners and intermediates.
The Oakley snow park is reputedly very good and there is plenty of off-piste potential, so there is plenty for advanced snowboarders too. This combined with Cauterets’ excellent snow record means that if you catch it at the right time you will be in for a lot of fun.
We hope you found this review of Cauterets snowboarding holiday in the French Pyrenees useful. For more information about Cauterets check out www.cauterets.com or to book a trip to the Pyrenees go to www.pyrenees-holiday.com