Known as the gateway to Spain, Saint Lary is one of the biggest resorts in the French Pyrenees.
This was the second day of our road trip and we had driven down to Saint Lary from Cauterets the evening before. It had been an easy drive through the French Pyrenees that took less than 2 hours.
Whilst driving through the town centre, my first impressions were that Saint Lary had a vibrant atmosphere with the streets bustling and the bars full. In fact, St Lary is a traditional town that has a welcoming warmth with a fusion of French and Spanish influences. This fusion can be seen in the bars, with many offering tapas with your après drink.
French Pyrenees Road Trip Day 2 – Saint Lary
Unlike the day before in Cauterets, our day at Saint Lary was blistering hot and real spring conditions for March.
We wanted to explore St Lary off-piste, so met up with Manuel Bernia who was our guide for the morning. Manuel knew the mountains like the back of his hand and we enjoyed incredible off-piste riding, making fresh tracks in spring powder, without actually straying too far away from the main runs, or having to hike up anywhere.
The resort is well equipped for advanced snowboarders or skiers with a total of 10 black and 13 red runs, but what really stood out for me was the seemingly endless off-piste opportunities that can be reached straight from the slopes.
For off-piste riding I would recommend getting a guide like Manuel for a few hours at least. Not only is it safer being in the hands of experts who really know the mountains you are riding on, you will spend less time exploring and more time riding the best parts of the mountain.
The snow park has several zones for all abilities, including a beginners bordercross run that is sponsored by the De Le Rue brothers. The De Le Rue family are from the French Pyrenees and are treated with God like status around these parts – and so they should! Unfortunately, the snow park was closed so we couldn’t check it out, but we could see the black line from the ski lift and the giant kickers looked awesome.
Although Saint Lary is a paradise for intermediate to advanced riders, it does have a beginners and family area as well, including a Kidpark with small humps, obstacles and cute animal figurines. And with a total of 26 Blue and 7 gentle green runs, there is enough to keep everyone happy.
What amazed me was that considering Saint Lary is one of the most popular resorts in the French Pyrenees, the slopes were relatively uncrowded and most of the ski lifts did not have queues, with only a few bottlenecks being the exception.
It was a true bluebird day and with the sun blazing on the snow all day, it did get a little slushy late afternoon. Slush can be more challenging but also great fun for snowboarders, so we had a mellow afternoon riding while enjoying the afternoon sun.
With a more relaxed feel and no where near as lively as the big boy resorts in the French Alps, Saint Lary has a great vibe. The centre is charming and traditionally French with Spanish influences.
On such a hot day, it would have been rude not to head straight to a bar to enjoy a cold lager, sitting outside, watching the world go by. With the price of a beer being very similar to the prices at home, it was a lot cheaper than most resorts in the Alps! We also enjoyed some tapas French style, which was a selection of cold meats, cheese and pickles.
For dinner we headed to the The ICC restaurant and bar. The ICC is a big, popular and busy place. After all the rich food we had been having, it was a welcome change to have more simplistic dishes. I had the cheeseburger which was incredible.
It is open plan and very informal. The bar section was absolutely heaving. This was probably due to a champions League game on tv between PSG and Barcelona. I was surprised that the whole bar seemed to be cheering on the Spanish rather than the French side! But as said, this is not a typical French resort and is right on the border of Spain.
Hotel La Pergola
Hotel La Pergola is a 3 star hotel in the centre of town. It is located in a secluded area off the road around a courtyard and is ideally sited for the town, has plenty of parking and is only a 10 minute walk from the main Gondola.
We stayed in a large log cabin which is a separate building to the hotel but only across the front courtyard. The main lobby has a traditional decor of a ski chalet, which is beautifully done with a lot of character, including a life-like sheep standing by the fire place! However, there is no lift which made for hard work carrying our snowboard bags up the narrow stairs.
The rooms were basic but pleasant and large. The bathrooms were also very large but had basic amenities.
The hotel has a nice bar area with reasonably priced drinks and comfortable armchair seating. It was very relaxing to sit down early evening with a cold beer and catch up with some work on the iPad.
When we had arrived the evening before, we ate at the hotel restaurant. The menu is in French without any translation, but the waiters are more than happy to help out and give suggestions. The food is typical of the area with many local dishes as specialities.
Breakfast is a self-service and a very meagre affair with not much on offer and no hot options at all.
St Lary is a quaint, charming and lively town with a lot of character that symbolises the uniqueness of the French Pyrenees. The French and Spanish fusion is a dynamic contrast, which is most evident in the cuisine where you can sample the Spanish concept of Tapas which are typically French in style.
The ski resort will suit all abilities but with great off-piste and the snow park, it is a winter playground for advanced snowboarders and skiers. With many off-piste runs being available straight off the lift or piste, it is also a great resort for anyone who is not experienced in off-piste, or for those who want to try out the art of powder surfing in relatively safe conditions.
The town of Saint Lary was going to be our base for the next few weeks and we were in no hurry to leave.