The elegant spa town of Cauterets in the French Pyrenees has two small ski areas. Easy on the eye, gentle on the wallet and quick to reach from the airport, Cauterets appeals most to families learning to ski, weekenders and holidaymakers who want to do more than simply ski all day, every day.
With its smart Belle Epoque buildings in the centre, Cauterets looks rather grand but it’s actually one of the most affordable ski resorts in France. Accommodation, drinks, food, lift passes, ski school lessons and guiding are all less expensive than in the Alps, and getting here is easy as it’s just under an hour from nearest airport (Tarbes–Lourdes–Pyrénées Airport) served by low-cost airlines like RyanAir. The piste network may be small but there is enough to do, on and off the slopes, and it’s an excellent resort for a first ski holiday.
Skiing in Cauterets
The main ski area, the Cirque du Lys is reached by a gondola that departs from near the centre of town. The skiing here is in a single bowl divided into about 20 runs, all within sight of one another, which is handy for families trying to keep an eye on children or mixed-ability groups wanting to ski different slopes without getting separated. And there is a good variety of gradient within the bowl.
Beginners have nursery slopes serviced by two covered magic carpet lifts, and a choice of blue runs to progress onto, including one that winds its way down from the very top of the ski area at 2415m to the gondola station and restaurants at 1730m (you cannot ski back to Cauterets itself). Those learning to snowboard will also appreciate that you can reach all the pistes from chairlifts, so there is no need to take a drag lift. More confident skiers have a handful of red pistes (Malh Blanc is the steepest) and a couple of black runs. There is also an Oakley freestyle terrain park and some unofficial ‘between-the-piste’ freeriding inside the bowl; and more extensive off-piste and ski touring itineraries off the back of the bowl, for which a guide is needed.
The Cirque du Lys is only a small area: a strong keen skier can easily ski it all in a day. But it’s relatively high, north-east facing and naturally snowy, so it often has the best snow in the Pyrenees. And in a good year, it can set world records. Cauterets has a second ski area a short bus ride away – the beautiful wooded Pont d’Espagne – but it’s even smaller. Its gentle slopes make it a good spot for beginners though. Advanced skiers determined to ski more pistes will need to visit other nearby resorts such as Luz Ardiden and Grand Tourmalet, and there are special lift passes that include these as well.
Staying in Cauterets
Cauterets may be the second oldest ski resort in France, but skiing is only part of its appeal. It’s a lovely old town, full of beautiful 19th century buildings, and fun to stroll around with a covered market and plenty of cafes, bars, and restaurants. Almost all the restaurants, including the ones attached to Cauteret’s hotels, provide good value nourishing meals but for something a little bit special, try O Regent at 1 Place Maréchal Foch. There are also interesting shops selling local produce, such as Pyrenean cheese and Vin des Neiges. This is wine from Bordeaux stored under the snow in the mountains above Cauterets to help enhance its flavour.
Long before the sport of skiing was invented, the likes of Victor Hugo came to Cauterets for its thermal springs, and it still attracts winter holidaymakers looking for ‘ski & spa‘ wellness breaks. Spa Les Bains du Rocher is the place to visit; it has indoor and outdoor heated pools with strong currents and waterjets, saunas and steam rooms, and a wide range of massage and beauty treatments. Bring towels and flip-flops or else you will have to rent or buy some. Men should wear Speedo type briefs or close-fitting trunks as baggy swimming shorts are regarded as unhygienic.
For those wanting something more active, there is a good ice rink and a large swimming pool in town and excellent Nordic skiing, winter-walking and snowshoeing at Pont d’Espagne. And activities don’t have to stop when it gets dark. You can circulate around the whirlpools in the outdoor pool at Les Bains de Rocher until late in the evening or go on moonlit night walks through the woods in Pont d’Espagne with guiding companies like Acumpanyat who can teach you about the stars and the animal tracks, or even how to make igloos.
Accommodation in Cauterets: Hotels, Self-Catering Apartments, Travel Agencies… Read more >
How to get to Cauterets: Nearest Airports, Railway Stations, Airport Transfers… Read more >
Ski Schools & Guides in Cauterets: Ski & Snowboard Schools, Mountain Guides, Private Instructors… Read more >
Discounted Ski & Snowboard Rental in Cauterets:
– ALPINRESORTS.com work with three shops in Cauterets and offers discounted ski & board hire >
– SKISET has an outlet in Cauterets and offers discounts if you book online >
Cauterets Pros & Cons
+ Good value for money
+ Charming elegant resort
+ Good resort for beginners and families learning to ski
+ Good snow record for the Pyrenees
+ Quick airport transfer/ good for ski weekends
– Too few runs, unless you’re a beginner
– You cannot ski back to the resort from either ski area
– Not 100% snowsure