Road trip ends
25th March 2013 | James Cove, Haute Pyrenees
Last modified on September 26th, 2021
PlanetSKI has been in one of the great undiscovered ski areas of Europe; The Haute Pyrenees. Undiscovered by the Brits that is. Last month we skied 5 resorts in 5 days. Phew. Here is our final day – Day Five. We saved the best till last.
The Pyrenees has a raw, untamed and barren feel about it. It is a huge mountain range stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean, separating northern and southern Europe.
It is something more akin to what mountain ranges should feel like rather than the overly commercial areas in some parts of the Alps.
The Pyrenees is altogether different.
When the idea of skiing in the French Pyrenees came up I jumped at the idea as I have been wishing to visit for a while.
I have skied extensively in Andorra and dipped into Spain, but never skied on the French side of the border.
There are a couple of dozen resorts and the main ones are under an hour from each other – Saint-Lary, Bareges, La Monjie, Cauterets and Peyragudes.
I also had the misconceived idea that the resorts would be small and I might tire of them quickly – they are not and I didn’t, but more of that later.
So an idea was born – a road trip. Five resorts in five days.
Day Five – Cauterets
The town of Cauterets is like no other Alpine ski resort town I have visited.
It comprises of some stunning French architecture from the late 19th Century Belle Epoche period. There are cafes, restaurants, tabacs, boulangeries and patisseries like any other classic French town. A playground for the bourgeosie.
Dozens of beautiful stone buildings with ornate masonary line the narrow, tight streets while above are some mighty Pyrenean peaks.
I stayed in a unique mountain hotel, Le Lion du d’Ors.
It is celebrating its hundredth family year in business.
The owner, Madame Bernadette Lasserre, runs it with her son, Thomas, and daughter, Rosemarie.
It is the archetypal family-run hotel.
As near-perfect as a hotel can be in my humble opinion and nothing like the usual French ski resort accommodation.
Sadly I only had one night – I could have stayed for a week.
There certainly would have been enough snow in Cauterets.
The snow had all melted in the town but up on the slopes it sat deeply on the slopes. Metres deep.
We even had some fresh snow for our single day in Cauterets.
It is though possible to have too much of a good thing.
Back in February, the day before the main French holiday period, the weight of the accumulated snow buckled one of the pylons on the main, and only, lift from the village to the slopes.
Instead skiers and snowboarders had to be bussed to another lift half way up the mountain.
People were offered their money back but most came anyway. The villagers coped as well as they could – if it had been in the UK we would have described it as the Dunkerque spirit. Or maybe the spirit of the blitz.
The lift was still out of action on my visit but no worries as we simply drove up.
It wasn’t the main French holiday period and it took us 10 minute and there was no queue.
Of all the resorts I visited Cauterets was my personal favourite.
It was much smaller than the others, it didn’t have the extensive lift network or size of terrain. It had just one decidedly average mountain restaurant.
The lifts were slow and on the old side.
There were no French National Championships taking place, no world famous Observatory and it wasn’t the home resort of a 3 times World snowboard champion.
It does though have some fantastic steep terrain, some wonderful cruising blues and reds with banked turns, the off piste was untracked and totally accessible, the nursery slopes were perfect. It had a huge amount of variety and something for everyone.
It had that little something that is impossible for me put my finger on.
If God exists and if he is a skier then he would chose Cauterets as a place to come.
I left after just one day itching to see more of it and knowing I would return. One day.
It wasn’t just Cauterets I had fallen in love with.
I had fallen in love with the French Pyrenees.
My only advice to other British skiers is catch it while you can.
The Haute Pyrenees will certainly not change beyond recognition but I predict more British will be visiting very soon.
A little something may be lost.
For a PlanetSKI video of the trip then see the video below. 5 resorts in 5 days.
James Cove was traveling with the British operator, Ski Collection, which is the only mainstream company offering package holiday. For further details see – www.skicollection.co.uk
For more information about holidays in the Pyrennes see – www.pyrenees-holiday.com
For further details about Cauterets see here – http://www.skicollection.co.uk/Ski/Cauterets.htm
For the spirit of the mountains