No Pyrénées cycling itineraries would be complete without mentioning La Pierre-St-Martin. From the town of Arette, you'll follow D132 through Col du Soudet then up to Col de La Pierre-St-Martin. One of the longest climbs in the region, it gains a staggering 1,660 meters (5,446 ft) over 27 kilometers (16.8 mi), making it one of the most challenging passes regularly featured in the Tour de France.
But its legendary name isn't its only attraction. A large part of this climb is done on consistently smooth asphalt in the shade of centuries-old trees. The wild Barétous Valley it crosses is known for its open fields of green grass, colorful wildflowers and dense forests. After a set of tight steep switchbacks through the thick forest, the road opens up briefly to a small clearing offering welcome views of Pic d'Arlas and the ski area above. Then after a last patch of forest, you'll find yourself in the arid zone of La Pierre-St-Martin, where the view of Pic d'Anie and its startling moonlike rock formations is breathtaking.
Although various routes down are available, I recommend heading northwest on D113 at Col du Soudet. You'll go through the shepherds' village of Ste-Engrace, which is set on a small plateau with a commanding view of the stunning Hautes-Soule valley. Ste-Engrace, on the famous pilgrimage route to St-Jacques-de-Compostelle, features an 11th century church built in the Roman style and a very old mill that has been restored. Later, you'll descend past Gorges de Kakoueta, an impressive 300-meter (1,000 ft) deep and 10- to 20-meter (30-60 ft) wide canyon that deserves a stop to view it now and a longer visit when you're not wearing bike shoes. The road then merges with D26 and follows the Saison River to the lower valley, where a few rolling hills on D918 will take you back to Arette.
This route's difficulty rating of only two bikes takes into account both the length of the full route and its elevation gain. Although the challenging ascent to La Pierre-Saint-Martin (Climb 3) is rated 4 bikes, it is the only elevation gain on this route so the complete route isn't particularly strenuous.
The La Pierre-St-Martin area is so humid that if there were only a single cloud floating over the Pyrénées, it would probably wrap this valley in a thick coat of fog while the rest of the chain baked in the sun—but on a sunny day, you'll be blessed with a glorious route!
Major Climbs: La-Pierre-St-Martin
Distance: 66 km | 41 mi
Elevation Gain: 1803 m | 5,916 ft
Starting Location: Arette
Period of the Year: May to October
Riding Time: 3h42'
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