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Cauterets, one of the best kept secrets in the Pyrenees

Cauterets

COMBINE SKIING WITH A THERMAL WATER SPA
It’s easy to fall in love with Cauterets. We think it’s one of the most beautiful villages in the Pyrenees. A village resort, Cauterets is encircled by two domains: the Cirque du Lys and the Pont d’Espagne.
While the Cirque du Lys is equipped for all the latest snow sport trends (Freeride, Freestyle and Snowboard), the Pont d’Espagne, a resort nestling in the heart of the Pyrenees National Park, is more geared towards the gentler winter sports: snowshoeing, Nordic skiing and even tobogganing.
And then Cauterets, the common denominator between the two domains, is a real village, able for once to think of other things than just skiing and winter sports. Wander around the old streets, buy local produce in the covered markets, relax in the bars, and take advantage of the fitness centres and spas, as Cauterets first became famous for its thermal treatments in the 12th century…
Cauterets, 3 in 1
The name, Cauterets, originates from the Gascon word ‘Cautarès’ or ‘caddéria’ in Latin, a reference to the hot water springs renowned since Roman times. It is both a mountain village with 1500 inhabitants, a long time spa resort and a ski resort! Thanks to its topography, Cauterets is always well endowed with good powder and boasts some of the best snow conditions in the Pyrenees, with top quality off-piste opportunities. As the runs are relatively short, it's possible to go round pretty quickly with, as a bonus, amazing views across the valley towards a horizon of Pyrenean peaks.
The Cirque du Lys
The Cirque du Lys, which starts at 1730 m and reaches 2415 m at its highest point, is entirely given over to snow sports. There are 20 pistes in all, 4 green, 7 blue, 7 red and 2 black, making a grand total of 36 kms of pistes. It’s true, we’re nowhere near the mind-boggling numbers of the major resorts but the domain offers something else: high quality powder thanks to excellent snow conditions, fast circuits, and wide, safe and relatively varied pistes.
The new Lys 8-seat cable car that leaves from Cauterets can cater for an impressive flow of 2000 skiers an hour, offering a fast link to the domain even at peak times (anyone who knew the old Cauterets ski lift will understand what we’re talking about…). It takes about 12 minutes once you’re on your way, which is pretty good going given the distance and the steep climb
A beautiful, brand new freestyle park
The Cirque du Lys now boasts a Freestyle Park ranked among the 10 best in France. The east-facing park is at 2100 metres altitude, and snow conditions remain excellent throughout the day. Located just under the 4-place chairlift of Grand Barbat, it is divided into two sections: a Freestyle-type trail, with a succession of jumps and rails, and a boardercross course with tight turns and obstacles. These trails cover several levels, and cater to all levels from the beginner to the expert. In all, there are around 20 modules coordinated by specialists.
This is a real bonus for Cauterets, which was quick to catch onto the popularity of these Freestyle-dedicated areas. Some skiers now choose their resort for the Freestyle area, comparing them in specialised magazines and on forums.
The Pont d'Espagne, a touch of Canada
Forests, plateaux, peaceful mountains… the Pont d’Espagne concentrates on gentler sports such as snowshoeing and Nordic skiing. Far from the noise and bustle of the crowds, this area is also ideal for easy paced alpine skiing with the family, without the stress often found in the large resorts.
The Pont d’Espagne has just four groomed pistes for downhill skiing (1 red, 1 blue and 2 green) which you can get to using the chairlift or the two ski tows that are sure to give you a laugh or two!
There are 5 Nordic ski circuits covering almost forty kilometres, as well as 6 kilometres of trails for hiking and snowshoeing in a landscape that is as spectacular as the Great Canadian North. Classified as a ‘Grand Site des Midi-Pyrénées’, the Pont d’Espagne is often called ‘Little Canada’, a comparison which is quite natural in the protected setting of the National Park. The site is also home to one of largest populations of Pyrenean chamois. Just 7 kms from Cauterets, the Pont d'Espagne is a great place for families.
Off-piste skiing in Cauterets
The local off-piste areas are really good and the main slopes adjacent to the domain stay in good condition for a long time: ideal for doing some serious legwork in a completely safe environment!
For a more adventurous outing, we suggest you try the Ilhéou descent, a 1000m run of undulating terrain, recommended by local skier, Sébastien Nogere, boardercross vice champion (2003) and twice winner of the snowboard Meije Derby in 2003 and 2005. Take the 6-place chairlift from the Crêtes. From the top (2300m), follow the crest and then turn right into the valley of Ilhéou. Go straight down the middle of the Ilhéou to join the lake, visible from the crest. Take care though as access is dangerous from the left. From the lake, take off your skis for 50m, then climb a little and descend following the trail until you reach the Courbet ‘eggs’ ski lift (1360m).
Be careful as this sector is avalanche prone. Sébastien recommends that you find a guide or a ski instructor to go with if you’re not very experienced. Whatever you do, never leave without the three essentials: spade, avalanche transceiver and probe, and possibly an Airbag backpack.
The thermal spa at Cauterets
Although the warm and sulphurous water of Cauterets has been renowned since at least Roman times, it wasn't until the 19th century that the village really began exploiting this valuable asset. The Thermes de César, the Grand Hôtel Continental and other establishments have retained their monumental façades that bear witness to this golden age of thermal spas, when many famous people went to Cauterets to enjoy the waters including George Sand, who was there in 1825, as were Chateaubriand and Victor Hugo. Even the asthmatic Bernadette Soubirou went several times between 1858 and 1859 (it’s true that as she was from Lourdes, it was only thirty kilometres away). The water in Cauterets comes from two natural sulphur and sodium-rich springs, which reach the surface at a temperature of between 45° and 60°, and are naturally rich in sodium and trace elements.
At present, the Bains du Rocher is the talk of the town in Cauterets. This recently built, 2500m² thermal spa and fitness centre offers saunas, hammam, tropical shower, a fitness room, aqua gym, modelling and massages, You’ll find that at the end of the day the place is invaded by skiers and fills up very quickly, so don’t be surprised . It’ll cost around €16 for a 2-hour pass (we tried it, and it’s quite long enough) www.bains-rocher.fr
The Thermes de César is a long-established thermal centre that boasts features dating back to the 12th century. It was renovated in 1999. Mud applications, air bath, hydromassage and multi-jet swimming pool are all part of the traditional services offered by this prestigious, modern and friendly thermal establishment.
The thermal establishments in Cauterets are approved thermal treatment centres for rheumatology, ear, nose and throat and respiratory problems. For information about all the thermal options in Cauterets, log onto www.thermesdecauterets.com
Other information
The Cirque du Lys: pass prices pretty much correspond to the national average at €30 a day for the full price. You can also buy your ski pass online for €28,50 at www.cauterets.com. It’s worth noting that the third day is half price, except during school holidays, of course.
The €38 a day Aquaschuss pass includes a 2-hour pass at Bains du Rocher, the most popular thermal establishment in Cauterets. Even if you’re not a hammam or sauna enthusiast, you won’t regret trying out the expertise of these Pyrenean establishments at least once (especially with the pass + spa formula, which is a pretty good deal).

Pets are not allowed in Pont d’Espagne (national park). Another point worth noting is that the Pont d’Espagne alpine ski pass is not valid for the Cirque du Lys. On the other hand, all 6-day alpine ski passes for the Cirque du Lys are valid for Pont d’Espagne.

Whether you’re going to Cirque du Lys or to Pont d'Espagne, you can only hire equipment in the village or in la Raillère. You can find more information on the domain, webcam, weather reports and best resort addresses on www.cauteretstv.com

Where’s the best place to eat? Unfortunately, there’s only a cafeteria in the resort. The staff are friendly, it’s true, but the standard of food is not much better than your average uni cafeteria but at inflated prices. You’re better off taking a picnic! Keep your hard-earned cash and eat in Cauterets, where you’ll find some really good restaurants. Ask at the Tourist Information Centre for the little Cauterets restaurant guide, which has all the addresses and specialties. We particularly enjoyed two of them: the Royalty (restaurant and regional specialties) and the bar du Commerce, both of which frequently organise concerts.

Find out more about other resorts in the Pyrenees on our website (Baqueira, Luz Ardiden, Andorra, Gavarnie and Grand Tourmalet). You can also find a wide choice of holiday lets on Cauterets on MediaHols.com
Photos: E Beallet, les Thermes de Cauterets and Aktaès.
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