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Arrive in Toulouse at any time. As your fellow travellers are arriving throughout the day, there are no planned activities, so check-in to the hotel (check-in time is approx. 3pm) and enjoy the city. In the evening meet your fellow group members at 7pm to go over the details of your trip. Check the notice boards or ask at reception for the exact location of this group meeting. After the meeting, you can head out for a meal at a local restaurant with the group (optional). In the evening the River Garonne is bustling with people and activities, making it a great place for a stroll with its many bars and terraces where you might want to stop for a drink.
On the morning of Day 2 we have some time to explore the city of Toulouse further. In the afternoon, we begin our journey out of Toulouse up to the Pyrenees and the small mountain village of Bareges. Taking the train via Lourdes, there is the ideal opportunity to see the landscape change as we wind our way up into the mountains. At an altitude of 1250 metres, Barages was originally visited by the French aristorcracy for the relaxing properties of its thermal waters. Since then it has become a year round destination for activity and adventure, open for skiing in winter and in summer, the reason we are here, cycling.
Overlooking the village is the great Col du Toumalet, the highest road in the Central Pyrenees, and one of the toughest climbs on the Tour de France. This route has formed part of the route of the world's most famous cycling race for over 40 years, and while we are in Bareges, we will be cycling along some of the race circuit. The cycling here is challenging as we follow routes that take us through the mountains on some steep off road trails.
On Day 3 we cycle from Bareges, following a route up to Plateau de Lumiere, one of the more straightforward routes that will help to get us acclimatised to cycling in the area.
As well as cycling on some of Europe's best trails, there is free time here to enjoy the wide variety of activities on offer in Bareges. For some thrills out in the mountains, you could try some rock climbing, rafting or canyoning. If you are looking to relax after a day in the saddle, you could visit the thermal baths that the village is most famous for, or the botanical garden just outside the village itself. A highlight in the region is the Pic du Midi astronomical observatory. Stunning views across the Pyrenees by day, glittering views of the heavens by night.
Day 3 cycling distance: 12km circuit from Bareges
After handing over our baggage to be delivered to our hotel in Luz St Sauveur, we get back in the saddle to cover the distance between these two mountain villages. It's downhill most of the way between the two, so its definitely best to pick up some snacks to give us energy for the cycle. We follow the road between the two villages, through winding bends and iconic Pyrenean mountain scenery before arriving into Luz St Sauveur.
Luz St Sauveur is the gateway to the Pyrenees for many people as it provides access to some of the major highlights of the region. The afternoon after we arrive is free to explore the village. There are some fantastic cycle routes around the village, or a wide variety of exciting activities. Alternatively,you could visit a host of historical sites worth visiting, and a variety of delis packed with delicious produce.
On Day 5 a full day's biking follows, riding out to the spectacular natural amphitheatre of Cirque de Gavarnie. This is one of France's most famous natural sites, and home to the highest waterfall in the country. The route we cycle covers twenty km, heading up hill past meadows and over streams before arriving at the Cirque itself. Spanning 800 metres in width, the sights when we reach the Cirque are just reward for our efforts in getting there. The cycle takes between two and three hours. The afternoon is free to do as you please. If you want to stay up at Gavarnie and explore the village here feel free, or perhaps return to Luz for a soak in the hot springs.
Day 4 cycling distances: short steep 8km descent leaving a free afternoon.
Day 5 cycling distances: approximately 20km, quite steep. For those who want to go further there are optional extensions.
Heading out of Luz St Sauveur, we continue through the Pyrenees towards Cauterets. As with many of the towns here in the Pyrenees, Cauterets is famous for its spa, which was visited during the nineteenth century by luminaries such as Victor Hugo and even Napoleon. The eleven natural springs make this a popular spa town. We have a choice of routes, depending on the ability of the group. We could follow the main road as it twists its way down to Cauterets, or there is the alternative to follow trails through the forest and along mountain trails.
Day 6 cycling distances: approximately 25km, quite steep
Starting in Cauterets today, we take our final cycle route across the Pyrenees to Lourdes, the most famous of the towns we visit. Our route takes us through Pierrefitte-Nestalas and Soulom, where the waters meet that bring these spa towns to life. We continue on to Adast and the impressive Chateau Miramont. Our route continues through woods and past churches until reaching the Hautacam Massif, which marks the beginning of the mountain stages of the Tour de France with a steep climb. The valley flattens out into a valley, where the capital of Argeles-Gazost has famous botanical gardens, with trees that are hundreds of years old. If there's time, we will stop at Pont de Fer, the iron bridge that crosses between Nestales and Lourdes. This is a great spot for a picnic and maybe a swim in the river, as it flows slowly at this point.
We continue onto Lourdes, passing alongside the Gave de Pau, the river that forms out of the mountains, and feeds the holy waters of Lourdes. After cycling through more villages, we arrive at the town itself. For nearly two centuries, Lourdes has been one of the most famous pilgrimmage sites for the Christian faith. The first appearance of the Lady of Lourdes took place in 1858, and since then there have been several further sightings since then. The waters of the town have become famous for their healing powers, which many attribute to miracles. What better place to end a week of cycling than in the town famous for it's healing powers?
After we have arrived, the rest of our day is free. There is an abundance of historical sites to visit in this most famous of pilgrimmage towns, including the Cathedral and Sanctuary in the town. However, if you want to continue on two wheels, there are a variety of cycling routes that you could take around the town.
Day 7 cycling distances: approximately 18km depending on the route. Stops will be made en route, this will be a full day of cycling.
You are free to depart at any time today. Please note that check-out time from the hotel is normally mid-morning, but luggage storage facilities are usually available.