Cycling the Pyrenees

As an enthusiastic cyclist and friend of Velobrand, Wayne Jeff was happy to share his love of cycling and his recent adventures through the Pyrenees with our readers. His first post is all about the basics; why you should go, where he stayed and the great advantages of a cycling holiday. In the coming weeks we will hear of his 3 rides up Tourmelet, Luz Ardiden and Col d’Aubisque.



The Pyrenees

from La Lanterne Rouge Cycling Lodge in Saint-Savin, France

For anyone who loves cycling, and who has not yet spent a week or so riding in the Alpes or Pyrenees, then the fundamental message has to be just do it! The reasons to do it are plenty, but let me try and make it a little easier to pull the trigger.

1.    It’s a world cheaper than you might expect.

Staying at a cycling lodge and cycling in the Pyrenees (or the Alps for that matter) generally makes for a relatively cheap European vacation. Accommodation is a fraction of the cost of the big cities, and at E145 per night for 2 adults and 1 child, inclusive of breakfast, dinner and wine, it makes for an extremely reasonable week. Additionally the activities you are likely to pursue won’t centre on mindless shopping and “stuff” that you might empty your pockets for on the Champs Elysee.

2.    Bike hire businesses make logistics far simpler and cheaper than they once were.

Most of the lodges have either direct relationships with bike suppliers, or will refer you to a friendly, trusted local partner, and all have fully tooled-up bike rooms. I hired a 2013 carbon Scott with Ultegra from the Ardiden Velos for E35 per day, which they delivered to the lodge prior to my arrival and collected after I left.

3.    Even if you travel alone (or with non-riding family), there will be plenty of people to ride with, if that’s your preference.

At La Lanterne Rouge, we had four South African natives who now reside in various parts of the globe who had come together for a reunion week of riding. There were also two Dutch guys, an American, and three Aussies – a United Nations mix that is also typical of the cycling lodges. There is always a big spread of fitness levels, and it is never difficult to find ride partners.

4.    You’ll get a French/Italian experience in these villages that is far more authentic than anything you’ll get in the major cities.

For me this is the biggest reason to try a cycling lodge. Fortunately, the best cycling regions in Europe are nowhere near the big cities (which have largely been drained of any sense of their unique personality by globalisation, television and the internet). Thankfully many villages and towns remain true to their origins and customs. The shops are local and eclectic, artisans (of hilariously divergent quality) still ply their wares, and though locals are very friendly and helpful, you will still need to rely on your French lessons and hand signals to get you by.

Although you won’t find a McDonald’s or Starbucks within 40km of these villages, you will find a Boulangerie that is still turning out bread at 9:30am, a small supermarket that stocks dress-shirts, pate d’canard, and local wines all on adjacent shelves. And nobody in the shop will speak enough English to be able to work out that all you really want is a packet of razor blades. Awesome!

5.    Your family will love it also

I have always wondered if it is selfish to include a cycling village into a family trip, but if I ask my Paris-loving wife, or Disneyland-loving 11 year old son where they have liked staying most on our trips, it is invariably the lodges. Here’s why:

* Dinner and breakfast are catered for. You get up in the morning, breakfast is served. You come home in the afternoon, dinner is ready. There’s no thinking, no deciding what to have, no dressing up, no shopping or walking to restaurants. It’s all taken care of.

* The lodge owners love having you. Nobody has built a financial empire operating a cycling lodge. Proprietors do it because they like people, they love their village, and they like cycling.

* There are different things to do. Those that you just don’t get to do enough of at home, and never in the big cities. Whether that’s climbing across the tree canopies at an Acro Parc, visiting the local animal sanctuary, or waking up to the sound of cow bells. It’s just different, and everyone loves a bit of different.

* You are thrown together with other people from all sorts of places, who often have nothing in common with you other than a love of cycling. There’s a sense of community in the lodges, especially when everyone completes the mandatory end of day post-mortem on their rides or other activities. Great chats, big stories, plenty of laughs.

* The food is always good, and real. After a couple of weeks of travel you long for food that is homely. Oilve from La Lanterne Rouge is brilliant and always ensured we were well fed.

La Lanterne Rouge cycling lodge is in the village of Saint-Savin in the French Pyrenees and I’d say that it’s the perfect base for anyone looking to undertake a week and two of cycling in the Pyrenees.

The lodge operates to a standard “bed n breakfast” format, plus an excellent three course dinner included in the cost. The same price also includes wine and beer, which come in handy after a solid day in the saddle. The rooms are basic, but all with ensuites, very well maintained and of a reasonably generous size. They are very well priced and perfectly comfortable. I can highly recommend it.

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