Motorcycle Travel Guide: France and the Pyrenees

Welcome to the France and Pyrenees Motorcycle Guide. You’ll find loads of information in here to help you plan your trip, top tips and a ride report to give you a taster of what to expect.

France Pyrenees Motorcycle Guide

Contents

Picture of By Ian Speight

By Ian Speight

Ex-police motorcyclist, advanced rider trainer and motorcycle tour guide.

The France and Pyrenees Motorcycle Guide

France has everything a motorcyclist could ask for, from the flat, open roads of the north to the gorgeous mountain passes and Cols of the Pyrenees, to the golden beaches and blue waters of the Mediterranean. This packed guide concentrates on a north to south ride through France and to the incredible Pyrenees. It’s got everything you need to know about the ride, route planning, a top ride report and our top tips and suggestions. And if there’s anything that’s not covered here, just leave us a comment at the bottom of the page and we’ll get back to you with the answer!

The best route and what not to miss

The best ride through the Pyrenees is the N260. On the French side, the list of brilliant Cols is endless. You only need to watch a few stages of the Tour de France to see some great roads for the touring motorcyclist.

With such a vast country brimming with so much history, picking top routes and places not to miss is pretty hard. From a city prospective, the Cities of Reims and Troyes are beautiful with great history and architecture. Towards Spain you should visit the walled city of Carcassonne and for those with a religious streak, head for Lourdes. The Millau Bridge is also a great attraction, but is best viewed from the underneath rather than actually riding over it. For great beaches, head to the Mediterranean coast line.

When to go?

When to go depends on which part of France you’re intending to visit. The north has a similar climate to the UK with July and August usually being the best months weather wise. However, if you’re planning to head towards the Med, then May, June and September still offer great weather but at slightly lower temperatures. 

If you’re heading for the Pyrenees, the roads can often be closed between December and April so you should check for the latest updates before setting off.

How much?

A trip to Europe is not much cheaper than the UK. Food can be expensive in the main tourist hot spots but less so in the smaller towns. The average price per litre of fuel  is £1.10 – £1.25, the average cost of dinner is £15 – £25 and the average hotel is around £65 – £110.

Accommodation 

There is a wide choice of accommodation available. My personal preference is always hotels I budget accordingly, but obviously there are cheaper alternatives such as camping, AirBnBs and wild camping. If you stay in the more rural locations prices will be lower than the major tourist hot spots. We recommend using Booking.com to find the best options. It can be worth booking in advance if you’re on a tight schedule too.

Paperwork

You should take originals of your driver’s licence, insurance certificate, MoT if required and your V5 (logbook). France has several motorways, most of which are toll roads, but not all. 

  • With the UK leaving the EU, you may need a International Driving permit (IDP) which is available from most post offices for around £5.
  • Separate IDPs are required for France and Spain.

Getting there and away

If travelling from the UK, there are various ferry options or the Channel Tunnel. Calais to the Spanish border is approximately 650-700 miles.

If you fancy going by boat, check out directferries.co.uk for up-to-date and current sailing times and routes and book in advance.

And, you could always opt for a transport company to take your bike to Europe so you don’t have to ride all those motorway miles. 

Or, if you’re flying to Europe to rent a motorcycle to ride the Alps, then we recommend using skyscanner.net to find the cheapest flights. Just make sure when selecting dates that you click ‘flexible dates’ and select by month. That way you’ll find the cheapest dates in green.

READ MORE: How to Transport Your Motorcycle from the UK to Europe

Motorcycle rentals and tours in France

Riding your own motorcycle to France is not the only option. If you’re strapped for time, don’t want the hassle of taking your own bike over, or even just fancy riding and trying a different bike, then you can always fly over and rent a motorcycle or join an organised tour. There are some great companies in France to choose from. Check out the recommended page here. 
 

Top tips

  • Speed limits in France are much more strictly enforced than years gone by and fines can now be routed back to UK riders due to information sharing with the DVLA. This may change once Brexit is finalised but at the moment you should take extra care. Unless you see a sign indicating otherwise, the speed limits in France are 130kmph (80mph) on motorways and can range from 50kph to 110kph on other roads. Some villages now have 30kph limits (18mph) and again these are often enforced.  
  • Take extra care on the mountain passes, motorcyclists, cyclists, camper vans and numerous other weird and wonderful car and auto clubs want to go too.
  • On a more general note, French drivers don’t believe in the 2 second rule and will follow you with only inches to spare, especially on the motorways where lane discipline is very good so if you don’t move over they will flash their headlights in order to ‘encourage’ you out of their way.

Pyrenees Motorcycle Ride Report

Plan B

In the summer of 2019, my partner Kim and I should have been sailing from Portsmouth to Santander for a two-week tour of the Picos and northern Spain. Unfortunately, due to issue with the Pont-Aven ferry, it was cancelled with only a few weeks to go and we had to come up with a plan B. We decided to ride through France to the Pyrenees and back. Hotels were cancelled, new hotels hastily booked along with the Channel Tunnel train and we agreed on avoiding motorways with the exception of the initial and last miles to and from Calais. We were off on an unplanned and unexpected adventure…

Day one saw us ride from Calais to Rouen. Rouen boasts an impressive Cathedral and is where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in May 1431. From Rouen, we headed to Le mans for our first night’s  stop.

Amongst petrol heads, Le Mans is probably best known for its 24-hour races, but the town itself is very beautiful with old and new parts. The old section is built up of narrow streets and alleyways with hidden bars tucked away and another impressive cathedral. 

After leaving Le mans we headed 190 miles to Cognac via lunch in Saumur. I can’t tell you much about Saumur other than it was very wet! Fortunately, the roads were fairly quiet and we were still able to make reasonable progress to Cognac.

To Spanish soil

The next day we rode from Cognac to Lourdes on the edge of the Pyrenees, stopping for lunch in the town of Bergerac. Bergerac is known for its cobbled streets and half-timbered buildings of its old town, which also has a statue of the man himself, Cyrano de Bergerac. It’s a pretty little town and well worth a lunch stop if it’s on your way.

Lourdes is the location where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in an apparition to a local peasant girl in 1858 and as a result, has become one of the world’s most important sites of pilgrimage and religious tourism. We had 2 nights in Lourdes and even though it can get extremely busy, it’s still a great place to visit, just be prepared for gift shop after gift shop selling everything and everything religion related.

From Lourdes we headed south over the Pyrenees and onto Jaca for our first night on Spanish soil. The route between the two was fantastic! The following Cols should not be missed, Tourmalet, Soular and D’Aubisque but watch out for the sheep, cattle and even wild horses! Jaca was a great little town with lots of bars and restaurants and a very impressive castle.

Welcome to the N260

Leaving Jaca we picked up the N260 and headed for Andorra. I’ve heard many tales of what an amazing road the N260 is and I have to say, it didn’t disappoint. Fast sweeping open bends led to narrower twisty sections and passed through small Spanish towns. It certainly was a road to remember and we will definitely be revisiting it in future.

Andorra is a great town nestled in the Pyrenees and is its own ‘principality’. It can get very busy and is very ‘towny’ which may not be to everyone’s liking, but if you like to mix it up a bit on your tours, I would recommend it as a great stop over. It was also less expensive than I was expecting. We stayed in a lovely city centre hotel with garaged parking for £41 a night!

To Millau

We initially retraced our route after leaving Andorra to enjoy some more of the N260 and the C38 before passing over the French border onto the D115 and finally the D900 to Saint-Cyprian on the Mediterranean coast just south of Perpignan, which would be our home for the next 3 nights. The hotel was great, we picked it for its beach front location, the plan being to spend a lazy three days on the beach and by the hotel pool.

Carcassonne was our next stop on route to Millau. Carcassonne is a walled medieval city dating back to 100BC. It has narrow streets, gift shops and cafes. It’s a great little place to visit and looks very impressive as it comes in to view on the approach.

After leaving Carcassonne we took the D118 to Mazamet then the D612, D93 through Brassac to Lacaune then the D32 and finally the D999 to Millau. Of course, no visit to Millau is complete without photos of the magnificent Millau Viaduct. Designed by English Architect, Norman Foster, and completed in December 2004, the bridge stems the Tarn Gorge and stands at a height of 890 feet (270M).

Gorges and race tracks

After Millau we headed through the Gorge du Tarn and on to Mende and Le Puy before arriving at Clermont Ferrand. The roads around the gorge and up through Mended and Le Puy are stunning but can suffer from low cloud and heavy rain.

The Clermont Ferrand surprised us, as we entered the city it looked ‘a bit dodgy’ but once the bike was away and we walked into town it was actually very nice. Kim even managed her own armed escort!

After leaving Clermont Ferrand we had 250 miles until Troyes. The weather was pretty rough and we ended up using the motorway for the last 50 or so miles. Troyes was another gem, beautiful old buildings mixed with modern shops, bars and restaurants. 

Our last day saw us ride from Troyes to Calais via the old race paddock and grandstands at Gueux just outside of Reims. It’s one of those places I’ve been meaning to go to for years but somehow never quite managed.

We loved the trip and never thought a Plan B could be so… Brilliant! The weather could have been kinder at times, but such is the life of a touring motorcyclist. But when it was dry and sunny, it was truly fantastic. You’ll love the ride down to the Pyrenees just as much as the gorgeous mountains themselves. We did and are going back soon!

About the author

Ian Speight has been riding motorcycles for 40 years with extensive touring experience in the UK and Europe. As an ex-police motorcyclist, Ian now works as a motorcycle tour guide and also owns and runs Ian Speight Advanced Rider Training. 

Read more on motorcycle travel in europe 

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Are you planning a motorcycle trip to France and the Pyrenees or do you have any questions or tips to share? Let us know in the comments below. 

14 thoughts on “Motorcycle Travel Guide: France and the Pyrenees”

  1. Are you doing the Pyrenees this year for a tour? I’m Canadian and keep a bike in Stuttgart, DE looking to do the Pyrenees this year. Would love to join a group doing this.

    Reply
  2. Hi there this is the type of trip we have planned for this coming August except we are getting the ferry to Bilbao then riding over the Pyrenees to Barcelona then back again, BUT we have just heard that the Spanish Gov has Banned motorcycles from certain parts of the Pyrenees because of noise pollution !!
    Can you confirm or have i been fooled ?, please help
    Kind regards
    Dave and Anna Overton

    Reply
    • Hi David,
      This is something they have been talking about for a while, but the new mandate has just only recently been announced. It’s still not 100% clear on where exactly motorcycles can’t ride. But it appears to be a small area in the High Pyrenees National Park and namely just one off-road trail.

      If you’re concerned, you could join the UK Bikers Touring in Europe UKBTE Facebook group and as new reports come in it will be announced in there. There’s already quite a few discussions with people trying to figure out where you can and can’t ride.

      But, as far as I’m aware, it’s just a single trail/route/off-road section and it won’t affect you at all. Go for August and have a great time!
      Hope this helps,
      Andy

      Reply
  3. Hi there,
    We wish to take our motorcycle in our van to France next summer (2024) do you know if the ATA carnets are required for transporting in a van or trailer?
    Any help gretaly appreciated,
    Cheers

    Reply
  4. Hi guys, I read with great interest your routes, advice and tips. So much so, I am just in the throws of planning a trip to the Pyrenees for June 24 with my motorcycling chums. We propose the return Santander ferry, and stopping in one place for say 5or 6 days, and spending the days on circular routes from our base. We thought of San Sebastián or Biarritz, or similar coastal town.
    My question is, do you have a coastal base recommendation, and are there some good daily tours from it ??
    Many thanks

    Reply
  5. Hi,
    Biarritz and San Sabastian are great locations with lots of hotels, bars and restaurants but might not be the best locations to get the best that the Pyrenees has to offer. For instance, it would be around 200 miles to Lourdes and back, 260 miles to Col Du Tourmalet and back and similar distances to the likes of Jaca and back on the Spanish side.
    Lots of riders chose locations along the N240 or N260, which together pretty much run the whole length of the Pyrenees. Jaca, Ainsa and Andorra are more centrally located to see more of the mountain range, but I accept that if you want a coastal base, then that’s what you want. With that in mind, the 2 locations you mention, will give you lots of options to see and do off the bike.
    Ian S

    Reply
    • Thank you….all very useful for sure, although we did want to stop on the coast, and have managed to book what appear to be nice digs in Saint Jean de Luz for 6 nights.

      Thanks again guys

      Paul Shepherd

      Reply
  6. Bonjour
    I live in France full time an hour and a half north of Toulouse, and will be off on a trip over the Pyrenees and round the Picos d Europe in a couple of weeks.
    I came across a very useful map produced by Michelin specifically for bikers:
    La France a Moto 772. The map covers the whole of France and details 83 circuits. For each route there is a description and a QR code, you can scan the code with a phone to access a GPX file on Michelin’s web page, which you can then download to follow on your chosen GPS device or phone app. As an example there are seven circuits stretching across Spain/France from San Sebastian to Perpignan, Route 31 on the map, Les Plus Beaux Cols Des Pyrenees, is a circuit of 428 km including the spectacular cols which Ian has recommended in the center of the Pyrenees.
    The map is well worth the 7 Euros that I paid for it and can easily be bought on line, or in France at places that sell Michelin maps.

    Peter Phillips

    Reply
  7. Hi Ian, I like the look of this route, would you possibly be able to send it to me, I have a Garmin Zumo but struggling to get to grips with it
    Many thanks
    Frank

    Reply

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