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Photo of Route des Cols

The Route des Cols is a route that has been designated to help visitors to explore the Pyrenees, and includes more than 30 hill and mountain passes as well as visiting several towns along the route, and is more than 900 kilometres long

The official route des cols has a variant that passes through a small part of northern Spain: below we assume that you will follow the route within France although a short section east of the Col de Peyresourde is in Spain

Explore the Route des Cols

France This Way comment: although many of the cols are quite minor, the Route des Cols also crosses most of the Pyreneean cols made famous by their frequent inclusion in the Tour de France, and throughout the route there is lots of attractive scenery to discover: if you are planning to spend a few days discovering the Pyrenees, the Route des Cols is a well designed itinerary to follow

Col de Peyresourde

We explore the route from west to east, starting at the charming seaside resort of Sant-Jean-de-Luz, on the Atlantic coast in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques department, although the official route starts at Hendaye, south of here and very close to the border between France and Spain, before following the coast north through Ciboure to Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

After leaving the coast, continue to Ascain and the first 'named 'col on the route - the Col de Sant-Ignace. This is at low altitude and In truth you wouldn't notice you were on a col if the sign didn't tell you.

From here your route passes through three very pretty villages: Sare, Ainhoa and Espelette, and you will want to pause to explore all three of these villages. Further on, Itxassou and Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port are also very attractive villages.

The next section, from here to Sarrance, crosses several more named cols, although these are still quite low altitude routes. Sarrance is a small village but has an interesting church so we suggest you pause before continuing on to the high altitude cols.

Col dAubisque

After Sarrance, the Col de Marie Blanque includes a large open meadow are where cows and horses are free to graze which is a very attractive sight (not at the highest point of the col, but a few kilometres to the east).

Passing though the 19th century spa town of Eaux-Bonnes you reach the start of the Col d'Aubisque, the first of the Route des Cols which is a true mountain pass, and followed by the Col du Soulor.

After passing through the small town of Argeles-Gazost you reach the start of the Col du Tourmalet, perhaps the most famous of the mountain passes in the Pyrenees, followed by the Col d'Aspin. At the east end of the Col d'Aspin you reach the small town of Arreau, a pretty town on the side of a river.

From here, continue through Saint-Lary-Soulan, Azet and Loudenvielle to reach the start of the Col de Peyresourde, also well known from its frequent inclusion in the route of the Tour de France.

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After the Col de Peyresourde you can visit the town of Bagneres-de Luchon, a 19th century spa town and a very enjoyable town to explore, then continue to Bossost in the Aran valley via the Col du Portillon.

A series of several cols including the Col du Portillon now takes you to the Col du Portet d'Aspet and the small mountain village of Portet d'Aspet.

The next section is quite remote, although you will pass several villages and small towns such as Castillons-en-Couserans, Seix and Tarascon-sur-Ariège before reaching the traditional spa town of Ax-les-Thermes and the road that leads to the Col de Chioula and the Col de Marmare, then Prades and the Col des Sept Frères.

Abbey of mount Canigou

The cols are becoming less high altitude at this stage, as you cross the Col de Coudons and Col de Portel to reach Quillan. Continuing through the beautiful scenery you reach the lovely medieval fortified village of Villefranche-de-Conflent below a clifftop fortress then the town of Prades.

One excursion from the Route des Cols near here would be to visit Mount Canigou, with a lovely walk through the forest leading to a remote abbey.

About 50 kilometres further, you reach another attractive small town called Céret, known for its associations with Picasso. Follow the river valley another 30 kilometres to reach the Mediterranean coast at Argeles-sur-Mer.

Although you have now finished the Route des Cols you should continue a few kilometres further to the town of Collioure, probably the most attractive town on the coast in Occitanie.

Collioure

Planning your trip across the Route des Cols

Although we have visited almost all of these towns and villages and crossed most of the mountain passes, it has been as part of many different excursions over several years so I am not sure how long it will take if you just set off driving from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean along the Route des Cols...

...and you will want to visit some of the towns and villages and perhaps hike in the mountains, so I would think a week would be a minumum - more if you plan to follow some of the additional mountain routes and explore into Spain while you are here, or pass a day or two in Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Collioure at the start and end of the Route des Cols.

In any case, the first part of the Route des Cols has the most interesting resorts followed by several pretty villages, then the second section includes the famous cols such as the Col de Peyresourde, the Col d'Aubisque and the Col de Tourmalet, so I would allow most of your time in the west part of the route.

Similarly, if you have limited time available you could just explore the section from Saint-Jean-de-Luz to Arreau and you would have seen most of the highlights.

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