Cirque de Gavarnie

Some climbs just don’t need professional racing to attain mythical status amongst bike riders: The Cirque de Gavarnie climb (also known as Col de Tentes) is a perfect example of this.

Set in a landscape of exceptional beauty with one of the finest mountain backdrops in France, Cirque de Gavarnie is a superb, challenging climb. Because the climb is both inside the Pyrenees National park and classified as a UNESCO site, the Tour de France has never ridden up the Cirque de Gavarnie: it is thought the impact of the Tour circus would be too great on this natural wonder. But the pro peloton’s loss is the amateur cyclist’s gain - the hordes of riders you encounter on Ventoux or Alpe d’Huez simply don’t come here. The daunting task of riding the 30.9 kilometres to summit at 2270 metre, on the border between France and Spain, can be done in relative solitude and peace. 

The Climb in Detail

“The most mysterious architecture by the most mysterious of architects, the coliseum of nature” - Victor Hugo


The Ascents

The ascent of Cirque de Gavarnie begins in the bustling, pretty town of Luz Saint Sauveur, which is also the start point for Col du Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden. The first 20-kilometres of the climb are relatively easy, as you follow the river to the village of Gavarnie. The last 10-kilometres are challenging – and scenically explosive - as the road starts to switch back and curl up the mountain to its summit and grand views into neighbouring Spain.



Cirque du Soleil

Gavarnie is a spectacular, six-kilometre, semi-circular wall of 3,000-metre peaks, and a superb example of what geologists call a ‘cirque’ – the head of an amphitheatre-like valley formed over millennia by glacial erosion. France’s tallest waterfall, the 423-metre Grande Cascade de Gavarnie, crashes down from the escarpments. 

What the Tour de France is missing

One of Flaubert and Hugo’s contemporaries, the historian and naturalist Hippolyte Taine, perhaps best summed up the compulsive allure of Gavarnie, and what the Tour is missing, in his 1867 Voyage aux Pyrénées. ‘… Did you see Gavarnie?’ ‘No.’ ‘Why, then, did you go to the Pyrenees?’ ‘You bow your head and your friend triumphs… You are bombarded with stories and superb similes; you’re charged with laziness, of heaviness of spirit, and as certain English travellers would say, of unaesthetic insensitivity.’ Taine concluded, ‘There are only two solutions: you either learn a description by heart or you make the journey.’ One hundred and fifty years on, the Tour de France would do well to remember: where there’s a will – and a road – there is surely a way.

"Gavarnie is an awesome location, like nothing else you'll see" - Dan Martin

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