Breathtaking landscapes between the Atlantic and the Mediterranan, routes taking in legendary passes well known to lovers of the Tour de France, but accessible to some only during the finer months, superb villages where festive and pastoral traditions live on, high quality craftmanship, exceptional prehistoric sites, spa resorts galore, a rich biodiversity to protect, gastronomy of character: a journey that will live with you for a long time.
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Before setting off on the road to the mountains, enjoy some time on the large beach of the green Hendaye, followed by the beautiful wild coastline by taking the winding road of the “corniche basque” along the coast to St-Jean-de-Luz. Cross back over the Nivelle river to follow along Ciboure, reaching the D4 which climbs to the Col de St Ignace – offering a superb view over the Rhune, an iconic mountain – and then down to Sare. Continue on to Ainhoa, a typical Basque Country village with its red houses.
Head south along the D20 towards Urdazubi. Be sure to admire the mountains during the pretty, winding climb to Puerto de Oxtondo. Once through the pass, the road descends through gentler turns towards Orodqui. Take the NA2600 which climbs to the Col d’Ispéguy that straddles the France-Spanish border. Head down towards St-Étienne-de-Baïgorry then cross Irouléguy and St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The Col d’Osquich (D933 then D918) offers remarkable views of the agricultural Soule region. Stay overnight in Arette.
Mytriptailor advice: Take advantage of your stay in Basque Country and bring back beautiful linen tablecloths with their seven stripes, handmade espadrilles and why not the famous béret.
Head towards Issor (D918) and then turn right (D241). Continue on to Sarrance, a major pilgrimage centre in the Aspe Valley, the wildest of the beautiful Béarn valleys. Follow the D294 which climbs to the Col de Marie-Blanque (1,035m) – a famous passage of the Tour de France – from where there are some beautiful views. From Laruns, you will cross the highest Pyrenean passes, be very careful (an increase of 10%). Discover the Col d’Aubisque (1,709m) before driving to Argelès-Gazost.
Mytriptailor Advice: The village streets are narrow so avoid using them if you’re in camper-vans by parking in the outer parking areas. A walk will always add to your appreciation of the visit even more.
Take the D921 south to discover the Gorge de Luz. The road then climbs steeply towards Barèges, the oldest ski resort in the Pyrenees. The hugely impressive Route du Tourmalet winds between ravines. The view from the pass (2,115m) is incredible. The road continues its descent into the green Vallée de Campan (D918) to Col d’Aspin (1,489m). Enjoy the view before you begin the endlessly winding descent. Spend the night beside Lac de Genos-Loudenvielle.
A steep climb will get you to the Col de Peyresourde (1,569 m) and then on to St-Aventin (D618). Climb up to the Col du Portillon (1,293 m): once here, you are in Spain. After visiting the Val d’Aran, return to France at the Col de Portet-d’Aspet (1,069m). Your route will cross beautiful, typically Castillonnais villages such as Audressein. Continue to Castillon-en-Couserans; this region of Ariège is ideal for some beautiful hikes. Continue on the D4 to Bonac-Irazein.
Mytriptailor advice: Protect your engine and brakes! You can do this by avoiding changing gears too often. On steep descending roads, use the engine brake as much as possible to avoid overheating your brake discs and switch to the same gear you would use uphill.
Climb to the open valley of Bethmale (D17). The descent from the Col de la Core (1,395 m) leads to Seix. Via the D3, go to Soueix-Rogalle, to Oust, then to Massat. At the Col de Port (1,250 m), you are on the natural border between the ‘Pyrénées vertes’, subject to the influence of the Atlantic, and the ‘Pyrénées du soleil’, of more Mediterranean character. Head down between the huge rocks of Soudour and Calamès to arrive in a region famous for its prehistoric caves. Luzenac awaits (N20).
Head south-east towards Ax-les-Thermes (N20) and then Mérens-les-Vals: follow the gorges of the upper valley of Ariège where you will see herds of horses running free. You can take a tour to Andorra (N22) but also climb directly to the Col de Puymorens (1,920 m). Rendez-vous in Spain (Puigcerdà and Llívia) followed by Font-Romeu (N116). Rising up is the famous Canigou massif – don’t miss its abbey. Walk the ramparts of Villefranche-de-Conflent and head to Vernet-les-Bains via the D116.
From the N116, go to Prades, a Catalan city well known to music lovers for the Pablo Casals festival. Next go to Vinça, a walled city which offers a beautiful view of the Canigou. North of Ille-sur-Têt, follow the discovery trail to the incredible “orgues” and imposing fairy chimneys. Drive south to Amélie-les-Bains (D618) then on to Céret. A vibrant hub of Catalan tradition, the town lives to the rhythm of the feria during summer. Continue on to Boulou where you can stay overnight.
The Mediterranean is near! Drive to Sorède (D618): the Turtle Valley Park is impressive. Stop off at the large sandy beach of Argelès-sur-Mer (D2) and then Collioure (D114). Climb Fort St-Elme before returning along the coast to Port-Vendres. Take a ride to Banyuls-sur-Mer; don’t miss the underwater trail of its marine nature reserve. You can admire views of the Languedoc and Catalonia coasts at At Cap Redéris and you can also discover the pretty seaside resort of Cerbère.
Mytriptailor Advice: Getting around is not always easy along the coast during summer. If this is the case, wait when you arrive in view of the Mediterranean at Argelès: you can swim further in the rocky coves around Collioure, for example.
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