After a couple of successful cycling trips to Europe including Dolomites and Corsica our NZ-based group decided to try the Pyrenees.
Both of our last trips were organized through a traditional bicycle tour company. This time we set out to improve on this experience — especially in the area of support and accommodation.
We found Jean-Philippe of "Best of the Pyrenees" from a Google search and right away liked his hands-on and fully customized approach. After consulting with J-Philippe we chose a 10-day fully-supported itinerary.
Being the tour organizer, I did feel a certain responsibility to the other participants in relation to the experience — especially as everyone had sent deposits off to someone I had never met face to face.
We returned to New Zealand feeling that our adventure was a huge success. Several of the participants commented "it was the best travel experience of their lives".
Ten days of cycling in the Pyrenees is a big challenge for most. The climbs tend to be much steeper than in the Alps or Corsica. We started in the Basque country and then graduated to the Hautes-Pyrenees where we did most of the big Tour de France climbs.
The TDF climbs are a must-do but most of us would agree that the most memorable climbs were actually much lesser known. J-Philippe knows the Basque country and Pyrenees exceptionally well (he actually lives there) and introduced us to much lesser known but exceptional rides. Cirque du Troumouse, Hourquette d’Anzican and Aspin stood out for me as well as the remote mountain roads and small villages. In the Basque country Marie-Blanque was one of the most challenging rides for its steep grade and this ended in an amazing picnic lunch in a valley surrounded by horses, cows and other freely roaming farm animals.
Most cyclists will have never experienced steep ascents and descents such as those featured in the Pyrenees. J-Philippe cycled with us the whole time in addition to two support vehicles, which were able to take all cyclists and bikes in comfort. We all picked up a lot of good tips from J-Philippe while riding — for example managing braking on the descents to minimize rim heating, how to layer up to stay warm on the descents despite being wet from the hot climb up.
And on the top of the cols Yumi his wife, set up a table packed with treats. There were plenty of snacks and the availability of support vehicles meant that I didn't need to carry my own repair kits up the climbs. On hot days Yumi or Roman would pour cold water over our heads as we climbed — luxury!
J-Philippe personally selected all the accommodation and the standard was consistently excellent. One of the hotels that we stayed at for five nights practically served a full degustation of French food each night. I am amazed that we still managed to lose weight on the trip.
We had a couple of days of bad weather and decided to take the van down instead of descend – we thus avoided the danger of a wet steep descent in the freezing cold conditions. This is an example of the benefits of the fully supported approach — if you can afford the extra its well worth it.
I strongly recommend J-Philippe and his team at Native Planet Adventures/Best of the Pyrenees. We are definitely looking to the future for another trip with them!
~Stefan Preston, New-Zealand
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