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TransPyrIT - Bikepacking

Bijgewerkt op: 3 nov. 2023

TransPyrIT is a coast-to-coast road cycling tour through the Pyrenees with a touch of Ineke and Tom. We had been fantasizing about this trip for a while and in the summer of 2023, it was time to make it happen.

In July 2023 year, we decided to go for it, and started with the preparations. At the 12th of August we took off and in 12 days, we cycled from the Mediterranean Sea (Banyuls-sur-Mer) to the Atlantic coast (San Sebastián). A tour with a little more than 1.000 km and about 24.500 vertical meters. Most of the trip was over quiet roads but we could not resist to visit a few touristic highlights.

Below is the day-to-day travel report and a short story about how we prepared ourselves. Don't feel like reading the whole story? Here is a video with a selection of the pictures:

Getting prepared

We had about one month to get prepared and we decided to split up the tasks. Tom did most of the tour planning and it was my role to book the accommodations and the restaurants in the evening. During the previous cycling tours, we didn’t book anything ahead. This time we thought it would be a better idea to do so due to the amount of tourist in the main season and because we also visited some areas with very limited possibilities.

In case the weather would be bad or if we would have other bad luck with the bikes or our health conditions, we decided to stay on the safe side with our daily ambitions. We would cycle less than 100 km and about 2.000 v.m. per day on average. That’s not a light tour, but for us it would be doable. Tom found some nice route examples on the internet and combined best of all to our basic plan. In the finetuning he added some more desolate roads, unknown climbs and a few Pyrenees highlights.

As soon as our rough tour was made, we could split it up in stages and I started planning the places to eat and to sleep. I wanted to stay at a variety of accommodations. Some hotels, some Airbnb’s, a campsite, some places with privacy and some with interaction. Good food is always important to me, and I love to check out the different places in town. Sometimes we had no choice, and we just had to go to the only place that was open. But we had some very good cycling-gastronomy on our trip as well.

Every evening during the tour, we did the detail planning for the next day. We checked the weather, decided what time to start and we planned places for a break or to get water. Since there are many areas where you can't get anything food or water, we really wanted to be prepared.

Day to day travel report

Stage 1: Banyuls -> Prades

110 km, 1.780 vm

We arrived in Banyuls-sur-Mer on the night before the start. Unfortunately, there was no time to swim in the sea, but we enjoyed a nice dinner with seafood instead. In the morning we packed our last things, locked our car, and took off. Our goal was a house with a little pool in the centre of Prades.

The first climb of the day was optional, but we were both happy that we added it to the tour. It was a nice quiet road, not too steep, surrounded by vineyards and we could also enjoy the sea-view every now and then. In the descent, the road continued back to the coast. From there we had a short part on a busier street before we took a local road again.

Right before the second climb, a sign saying "Le pain du jour" got out attention and we decided to go for a sweet break. You can never start early enough with cakes if you are on a trip like this. The second climb and descent were as sweet as the pastries. We were all alone, the surroundings were impressive, we passed super nice little French villages and the percentages were very pleasant.

On the way to Prades, we resisted a nice swimming lake because we knew there would be a pool at our accommodation. We stayed in an old, traditional house where we were very warmly welcomed by the owners. All together a nice warming up!

Accommodation: Maison Prades Chambre d'Hôtes

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Stage 2: Prades --> Angoustrine

90 km, 2.450 vm

The real climbing started! I had not the best legs, but Col Llose achieved!

Prades was a nice little village, and I found a trés bien local restaurant for the night. The sunday morning breakfast was not bad either so we were prepared for the second day. To avoid the main road, Tom found a nice and quiet detour where the squirrels felt save enough to slowly cross the road. This climb was just the warming up because Col Llose was our main goal of the day.

In Olette we had our bakery break of the day and around noon we took off direction Col Llose. 24 km and 1300 vertical meters in the heat. I had one bidon to drink from and one to spray on my head every now and then. Yes, you have to treat yourself on days like this. I was prepared for busy streets with fast driving cars, but it was not at all like that. I saw exactly 5 cars, 6 motors and 3 cyclists during the whole climb. And they all signed thumbs up to us. Thumbs up for this road as well! It was a super enjoyable climb even though my legs didn't really feel like going up. About two hours later, we arrived at the top. Time for some lunch and a very special Mountain Coke at the Nordic Centre.

We knew, we were almost at our stay for the night: A beautiful landhouse somewhere on the hill with an inviting terrace and nice, cold local beers to celebrate the day.

Accommodation: Cal Xandera

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Stage 3: Angoustrine --> Tarascon

118 km 1.990 vm

The day of Andorra and the highest col of the Pyrenees. Not a typical Tom & Ien ride, we just had to see this circus.

First back to Angoustrine: our accommodation really gets 5 stars! The restaurant in town was less special. We rather paid for the waitress imitating animals while explaining the menu than for the food. I decided to choose omelette instead of bêêh.

Then about the tour: we were too curious about Andorra and the highest col of the Pyrenees that we decided to challenge the main street to get there. It was a 40 km long climb. Just long, it never got too steep. The beginning was not bad at all. We were surrounded by higher mountains and that's where we feel good. The traffic was not too bad either and Col Puymorens was surprisingly nice!

In the descent we first saw the Andorra circus... wow! So many cars in a traffic jam to go up to the border and then probably to the shopping centre right after it. We joint the traffic because we just had to see this! The cars were just a little bit faster than we were. That was ideal since many cars don't leave enough space for us to pass if they go slower. After the boarder, around the corner we saw a huge mountain city / shopping centre / circus arising. It made me quiet, and I felt so sad to see this. How can people do this to the mountains? Just insane! After the shopping centre the last part to the col was less busy. We just passed an outdoor go-kart-track… The positive thing was that we achieved our goal of the day.

Before going down, we needed some food. Somewhere next to a place called Bella & Sexy, there was a good bakery. Recharged, we enjoyed a very long descent to Ax-les-Thermes.

The last part of today's tour was more our style: a short and steep climb brought us to a beautiful panorama road. Small and desolate villages, a gravel section going up and down and to close the day, a wonderful descent to the medieval trading town of Tarascon-Sur-Ariège.

We checked-in in a characteristic old house in the centre where we had a very spacious apartment. The town turned out to be a nice place for the evening. After dinner we enjoyed a little walk through the narrow picturesque streets, very recommended.

Accommodation: Chambres d'hôtes Belle Occitane

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Stage 4: Tarascon --> Seix

70 km, 1.740 vm

This day we checked the power in our legs. A shorter day but the climbing got steeper. It was a surprisingly beautiful and green tour!

I can recommend our stay in Tarascon, especially the breakfast was brilliant. There was a homemade marmalade-party, and all the cakes were enough to check-off the bakery stop of the day.

Today's tour included 3 cols: Port de Lers, Col d'Agnes and Col de la Trappe. The highest point was at 1.600 meter. That meant, we stayed below the treeline, and we could enjoy a lot of shadow. The valleys were all super green, the roads were good, and we enjoyed wonderful mountain views. In Aulus-les-Bains we had a self-made baguette lunch before we challenged the last climb. Yes, we made it and enjoyed a 17 km long descent through the valley to Seix.

We stayed in another old house for the night. The owner told us that the locals party every day in august. We were prepared for a party night and a little less rest this day. I guess, the dancing party people in Seix took a break when we were there since there were not too many people at the main stage. Not even when Voyage Voyage was played. But the pizza party was on! In my research for restaurants, I found a pizza-foodtruck and it supposed to be good. 3 ladies were non-stop preparing pizza's and still we had to wait for almost 3 hours... Luckily, they served empanadas (ready in 5 minutes) to bridge the time. And I have to say, to pizza tasted great as well.

Accommodation: Auberge du Haut Salat

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Stage 5: Seix --> Luscan

85 km, 1.800 vm

Another day through the surprisingly nice and green valleys. With a surprisingly good lunch and surprisingly nice accommodation. This bike tour really feels like a holiday (so far 😉).

This day the weather was cloudy, and the humidity was high. We had 4 shorter cols on the list but all together not too many vertical meters. At the first two Cols (Col du Catchaudégué and Col du Portech) we felt like we were alone. We saw just some locals and maybe three other cyclists on the narrow streets. The quietness and green surroundings were just wonderful.

At the third col, Col de Portet d'Aspet, we saw some more people, but still not many. We passed some nice villages, and the last, steeper part was super impressive. On the top we were surprised by a passionate lady with her coffee and herb-based-menu including salad s, quiche, sandwiches and cakes. We took place in the little bar, enjoyed the lovely French music and watched the lady preparing all the food. I realized, this tour is not a torture, it really is a holiday.

After the break, we went down passing the Fabio Casartelli memoral. This young cyclist died during the tour in 1995. The place was full of flowers since today seemed to be his birthday. We just had one more easy but nice Col to go (Col de Aret) and passed it without any trouble.

We stayed at a B&B in Luscan. The couple living here have a business in organizing cycling tours. We thought it would be a comfortable place, but we didn't expect it to be so nice! Since we were the only guests, we also fully enjoyed the garden and the endless pool system. I prepared an after-cycling-snack and a simple pasta dinner to recover. We needed this, because the next day was going to be a tough one.

Accommodation: Pyrenäen Gästehaus (Airbnb)

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Stage 6: Luscan --> Saint-Lary-Soulan

90 km, 2.800 vm

Oh yeah, we found the Spirit! Seems like our legs feel better every day. 3 Cols was our goal: achieved and enjoyed!

After a good night of sleep and sport-breakfast we left the B&B for the 6th stage of our tour. This day we had 3 serious cols on our list. The first was Port de Balès. It was the toughest with about 1.400 vm and longer sections above 10%. I can only say "Wow"! The climb started along the river through the forest and later we cycled above the treeline and enjoyed great mountain views. The whole climb was super quiet and beautiful. Just put it on your list!

On top is a little bar in a container providing crêpes and drinks. We took a break and enjoyed watching other cyclists achieving the top every now and then. Especially the group with old French men. I wished that I will still be that fit on that age.

The descent was just as great but unfortunately over too soon. We continued to the second climb: Col de Peyresourde. It's not bad but I was a bit less enthusiastic. There is way more traffic, and it is a popular place. I was happy to be at the top where we also entered the Haut-Pyrénées. We skipped the crepês over there and continued to our bakery lunch in Loudenvielle. This MTB village had a good offer.

Just one more climb to go: Col d'Azet. Not too long but pretty steep as well. All the way up we could enjoy hairpins and I love that! Just cycle from one to another and before you know it, you're at the top. Whoop, we did it! 2.800 vm in the heat with our packing and we still feel good. Just one more descent to Saint-Lary-Soulan. The place is beautifully located between the mountains.

Via an Escape Room kind of puzzle, we found the key to our apartment for the next two nights. It was about time for some proper laundry, and we looked forward to a day of cycling without the packing. The town was quite touristic but therefore it had a good range of good eateries.

Accommodation: Emma Airbnb

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Stage 7: Saint-Lary-Soulan

63 km, 1.840 vm

The day on which we explored 2 dead-ends instead of taking rest. We probably love dead-ends even more than mountain cols and we just preferred to keep it rolling.

The first one was Lac de Cap de Long. We were prepared for more traffic than at some more hidden places we've been. And it was true, there were some cars and campers driving up as well, but it actually didn't bother me, since it was not a racetrack at all. The 23km long climb is long enough to get in a trance. I cycled up at my own pace and I also found my trance. The first part is like a gorge along an impressive river. After the first section of hairpins you will see more impressive mountain views. A bit further, there is an exit to the right to go to Lac d'Aumar, but we first continued straight. Soon the great dam rises. A wonderful section! The last part with hairpins is like the finish of an epic col in Europe. And once you are on top... just look at the pictures, they are real.

We spend more than an hour up there to enjoy the place. A little crêpe and coffee bar offered what we needed. Unfortunately, the old man at the bar could not handle more than one thing to order at once. After ordering 4 drinks we gave up and decided to have lunch somewhere else.

The second reservoir: Lac d'Aumar is right around the corner if you are up there. It's more idyllic and there are many places to chill at the waterside. It would have been a super place for a swim but we were too hungry and decided to go for lunch at Refuge du Lac. Lucky us, we had the last two lunches of the day. Omelette with a variety of side dishes: Yum yum. We were more than satisfied and ready to roll down, back to town.

If you like dead-ends and Hoover dams: put this one on your list as well! If you are not in the main season, it must be even more fantastic.

Accommodation: Emma Airbnb

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Stage 8: Saint-Lary-Soulan --> Luz-Saint-Sauveur

71 km, 2.160 vm

Don't underestimate the Tourmalet. Especially not in the heat. This one was tough for me, but these feelings also make it an epic tour.

After we did our laundry and we had some good Italian food at Pizza Pic, we were hungry to continue the tour to the Atlantic coast. We started the day with some dancing because of my sister's birthday. Usually that’s the perfect warming up.

We had two cols on the menu this day. The first was a pleasant and local one. Hourquette d'Ancizan, with about 10 km and 850 vm over quiet roads. At the top was a nice atmosphere among local cyclists doing their morning routine. We continued for a little snack because the real climb had yet to begin.

This day we had no bakery and no cake. We found crêpes instead at a bar in Payolle where I should have ordered more than one to get well prepared for Col de Tourmalet. The total climb is 17km long with about 1.300 vm. According to the statistics, it should not have been a problem, but about 6km from the top, I felt that it didn't roll that smooth this day. I started counting down the vertical meters and that’s not a good sign. About 3 or 4 km from the top is an ugly ski village (sorry but it is really ugly). It was already hot but due to all the buildings, it got even hotter in that section. The lama's, sheeps and goats in the highest section were having a hard time as well. They were everywhere on the street and too hot to even pull up their heads. It was good to be not the only one suffering, and I knew my hard time was over soon.

I saw the top! Just a few more kilometres with about 9 / 9,5 %. Wow, I made it but this col really got me. When I put my feet on the ground, I felt my legs tingling all over. I even had some tears of victory.

The friendly waiter at the Tourmalet-bar offered us some sport drinks and a sandwich. Enough to quickly go down to the Luz-Saint-Sauveur. I lost Tom in some fountain where he got a first-aid refreshment. And then the local pool with pool bar was calling for some good recovery-time.

Accommodation: Logis Hôtel Terminus

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Stage 9: Luz-Saint-Sauveur --> Accous

109 km, 2.620 vm

The day on which the heat started to take over control. I was so overheated, I could not even summarize the day in one sentence.

In the morning, we left hotel Terminus right after breakfast. We actually thought it was a bit of a strange name for a hotel but we mostly left because we had quite a tour ahead. The day started with the nice and local Col Bordères. A good entrance to the next and main section of the day: Col du Soulor + Col d'Aubisque. It's a hotspot for cyclists and it seemed to be less attractive for cars. There was a good atmosphere among the cyclists with a lot of Bravo and thumbs up. We all knew, that if you made it to the top of the Soulor by bike, you challenged a few steep sections. I motivated especially the ladies on the climb. That was an easy job, since unfortunately, there were not so many. But exactly that makes it even more important to do so.

I loved the part between the Soulor and Aubisque! The panorama route along the rocks is super. Paparazzi Tom waited for me on the top, we enjoyed the view for a while and continued to our lunch stop. Lunch gets more important every day. After 9 days we really need to recharge during the day, but also the heat makes it essential to drink more than we can during our rides.

We continue the descent from the Col d'Aubisque, which was super enjoyable! Just one more climb to go, but we knew it would be a tough one due to the heat. We started anyway since it would be a long wait before it would cool down. Col de Marie Blanque was her name: with 600 vm not too long but still challenging. After the first steep part, we reached a nice plateau. That was a great part to enjoy the surroundings before starting the last and short steeper part.

At the top, I was quite overheated, so I preferred to start the descent direction fountain as soon as possible. The way down appeared to be super nice with many curves and a lot of shadow. I think, if you start the day with this climb, it's lovely!

We closed the day with an easy ride through the valley to Accous where we booked a special stay at a campsite.

Accommodation: Camping Despourrins

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Stage 10: Accous --> Isaba

58 km, 1.620 vm

The day with the lazy start, the first Spanish border crossing and our goodbye to the higher Pyrenees.

That night we slept at a campsite in a so-called Dôme. These things are pretty luxurious. They provide a lot of space, electricity, and a good bed. The bikes had to stay outside but we could keep an eye on them. In the middle of the night, I woke up due to a crackling sound. First, I thought someone was stealing our bikes. I jumped out of bed and had a look. Soon I knew it was an animal. I took my phone to shine some light and it appeared to be a cute hedgehog eating the left-overs of our crisps 😉.

Due to the turbulent night, we woke up a little later this morning. The breakfast at the Dôme was just one croissant, coffee, and juice. That's not enough for us, so I went to the supermarket for the second round. Tom always needs some time for his morning routines. Today he apparently felt like glamping. We took off at 11.00 although we knew, it was going to be a hot day again...

Today's climb started with 9% in the full sun. It was heavy and I was blaming myself that I didn't leave earlier. I looked around and realized it was a very nice and quiet road with good views over the valley. First after the first col and a short descent in the shadow, I started to feel better. I told myself, it was the last day in the higher mountains, and it would be a pity if I could not enjoy it. I decided to slow down my speed, keep on drinking, spraying water in my neck and trying to find a flow. The percentages were going up and down, so finding a flow was not easy. But somehow, I started to enjoy it again at about 500 vertical meters from the top. I was my happy self again and I even enjoyed a piece of baguette during the climb that was left-over from our breakfast.

The surroundings in the higher section were super impressive. That's helpful in keeping the spirit. The whole climb was a combination of 5 cols after another. Col de la Pierre St. Martin was the last one. Pierre wanted to make sure we would not forget him, so he added one last steep section at the end. Yes, challenge completed again, and I was even more happy that I managed to reset my mood in a positive way.

Tom almost melted away at the top, so we decided to start the descent and to go for a drink. But not before taking a moment for our first border crossing to Spain. A futuristic rifugio along the descent offered us drinks and victory food. Only inside with closed shutters since it was too hot to be outside...

We continued the descent to the nice village of Isaba where we stayed for the night. The road was like a highway but all for us! There really was no one around. All people were probably somewhere inside or at the riverside. We went to the river of Isaba as well to finally get the great cooling down and to celebrate the 10th day of TransPyrIT, ¡Salud!

Accommodation: Hostel Lola

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Stage 11: Isaba --> Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry

100 km, 1.770 vm

The heat is on! And the speed is on! A beautiful hilly stage with an ocean of clouds as a surprise.

We stayed and had dinner at a bike-friendly and very nice hotel in Spain. The food was great and it was finally something else compared to the French kitchen we already had a lot. I knew that the wine in this part of Spain is pretty special since many young, experimental wine growers are based here. We had a super glass of local red at dinner.

Apparently, Tom reads my daily summaries because he very much tried to speed up that morning. With a little help from some good active music, he also managed. Departure was at 9.15. We had a little delay because a group of bikers wanted to chat with us. When we said goodbye, they called us Annemieke van Vleuten and Matthieu van der Poel. That moment, I knew it was going to be a good day.

Everything worked out well. We had a lot of protecting shadow in the first part. So we took our chance, and continued directly to the lunch spot half way. A self-made sandwich was the best option: quick and what we liked the most. In the second part we had a few steep sections over a small and quiet road. Lucky as we were, there were some clouds to protect us from the sun and we even drove through the fog.

The top was above the clouds, and it was wonderful. Switzerland is famous for this natural phenomenon, but I didn't expect to see it here. We took our time at the top to enjoy it. Realizing how lucky we were and how great it was, that every day brought us new surprises.

We crossed the French border again. Via some nice villages we found our way to Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry where we stayed at Christiane's place. She has a nice, spacious house at the end of the village and she offered us a home-made meal in the evening. Before dinner, we enjoyed another nostalgic, local pool in town (€2,60 entrance each) while our last laundry was running in a public laundry station. It was not only the last laundry, but also the last evening of preparing ourselves for the next and final stage.

Accommodation: Maison Xaldia

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Stage 12: Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry --> San Sebastián

116 km, 2.100 vm

We made it! Coast to coast and a bit more. Today the heat was again our biggest challenge. But nothing was holding us back, not even 40 °C at the Jaizkibel.

Christine was the sweetest host of all. She made us a very healthy dinner and she prepared our breakfast already at 6.00 a.m. due to the forecasted heat. I even got my fresh espresso and Tom his café grande.

It was foggy in the morning but as soon as there was some visibility, we left Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry. We started with two climbs. The first was over a nice local road. The fog faded away during the climb, and that gave very nice views over the valley. The second climb was shorter and over a main road. The percentages were mild and there was hardly any traffic. We had a good speed and start of the day.

At about 60km we arrived at the coast for the first time in Ciboure. Whoop whoop! Although the traffic was quite crazy in this town, we enjoyed it to be there. We celebrated this moment with a huge sandwich for lunch. Our finish was a bit further, so we continued the coast road direction San Sebastián.

Since we like climbing mountains, we thought it would be Tom & Ineke style to add just one more climb in the tour at the end: Jaizkibel. And since Tom is the tour master, he added not only the climb over the normal road, but also the additional steep kilometre to the highest point. Okay, I have to admit, it was a special place, and the view was great! We could not stay too long up there because it was about time to jump into the ocean.

We descended and had to tackle a bit of industry to get to the centre. Although it were just the last 10 kilometres, one quick stop at the Supermercado was needed to get some drinks. Yes! We reached the coast of San Sebastián! Whoop whoop again! We carried our bikes over the sand to get to the shoreline and I just jumped into the see with my cycling clothes on. What a lovely feeling!

The celebration started. We already had a beer at the beach bar and an ice-cream on the way to our last and lovely guest house. I was, and I still am so thankful for this great adventure, all that we experienced on the way and the great hospitality in the guest houses and restaurants.

To close my blog of this trip, I especially want to say that this tour really was teamwork between Tom, the tour master, and myself, the hotel and dinner planner. Without Tom it wouldn't have been such a great route and so much fun 😘.

Accommodation: Arbos House

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