Pic du Midi: a delightful yet challenging road among the clouds
Pic du Midi de Bigorre (or simply Pic du Midi) is a high mountain peak located in the Hautes-Pyrénées department in the Occitan region of south-western France. A minor gravel road south of the peak tops out at 2.675m (8,776ft) above the sea level. It's one of the highest roads of the country.
Set high in the central Pyrenees, the road is totally unpaved. It’s a steep and loose-surfaced road, stunningly scenic with spectacular cliff edges and two short tunnels. But it is not for the inexperienced or unfit due to the combination of the altitude and technical road surface. The road was called the Old Toll Road (which is not a road). A large gate prevents users to go by car but a gate allows hikers and cyclists to pass.
The road can still be shut by snow at the end of June. It is very steep, hitting a 24% of maximum gradient through some of the ramps. Starting at Col du Tourmalet, beside the gift shop, the ascent is 5.9 km (3.66 miles) long. Over this distance the elevation gain is 548 meters. The average gradient is 9.28%.
The route includes an amazing scenery. The summit hosts an astronomical observatory, the Observatoire du Pic du Midi de Bigorre (Pic du Midi Observatory), part of the Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées (Midi-Pyrénées Observatory). The familiar outline, standing clearly apart from the main Pyrenean chain, the breathtaking views and the scientific observatory have largely contributed to the widespread fame of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre. Construction of the observatory began in 1878, and the 8 meter dome was completed in 1908. The scene at Pic du Midi is one out of a sci-fi movie: A fortified concrete-and-stone complex, packed full of metal domes, sprawls across the top of a precipitous peak above the clouds. On the top, there’s the highest museum in Europe, that will guide you through the history of Pic du Midi and over a century of scientific research and technological progress.
Pic: Philippe Péremans