El Portalet

Fires Old and New

Col du Pourtalet



El Portalet (also: Col du Pourtalet, Portalet d’Aneu, 1794 m) is a mountain pass in the main ridge of the Pyrenees, marking the border between Spain (province of Huesca) and France (department of Pyrenees-Atlantiques). The road that crosses the pass links the towns of Sallent de Gallego, in the Tena valley, and Laruns, in the Ossau valley.

The name of this ascent is often confused with the Oxytan Col de Portet (2215 m). However, this is not a surprising coincidence, as portet means ‘pass’ in French and pourtalet is the variation of this word in the Gascon dialect.

The Climb

Located just a handful of kilometres west from the most iconic Pyrenean passes, due to a relatively low degree of difficulty, El Portalet is a perfect ascent to test the legs before taking on more challenging Tourmalet, Luz Ardiden or Route des Lacs in the Néouvielle massif.

On the French side, the climb starts in the town of Laruns, where the Gave d’Ossau and Valentin streams cross (28.4 km, avg. 4.5%, max. 8.8%). Over a distance of nearly 30 kilometres, the gradient repeatedly rises and falls, but never exceeds 9%, allowing you to quite freely enjoy the views of steep gorges, high mountain plateaus and quiet small villages. The civilisation rarely shows any interest in these valleys, which is evidenced by the poor quality of the road leading through the pass, although it doesn’t discourage the locals from regularly using it to cross the border in search of cheaper liquor and cigarettes on the Spanish side.

From the summit you can see the Pic du Midi d’Ossau (2884 m), the highest peak in the region, towering proudly over the Ossau Valley. It is the remnant of a volcano whose crater collapsed in an explosion millions of years ago, reshaping its surroundings and giving rise to countless local legends.

In the less spectacular attractions department, there is an abandoned border post on the summit, used these days mainly by road maintenance services during winter.

Once over the border, the road surface significantly improves, as the existence of the Formigal ski station, located a few kilometres below the summit of El Portalet, creates a tangible reason to keep it in good condition. Monotonous as it is, a long and safe descent stretching as far as to Biescas (27.1 km, avg. 3.4%, max. 8.1%) makes it possible to finally pick up some speed and feel gusts of wind on your face after a long day in the saddle.


Due to its location on the border, El Portalet has been included in the routes of both Spanish (1992, 1995 and 2003) and French Grand Tour (1991), in each case as a mid-stage climb. Italian Joan Horrach, Lithuanian Peter Ugriumov, Colombian Julio Cesar Cadena and Belgian Peter le Clercq respectively led the first group through the pass.

On paper, that’s where the history of El Portalet in grand tours ends, unless the southern slopes of the pass are taken into account. Anyone who has closely followed road cycling in the past decade will no doubt remember the name of the Formigal ski station, located just 7 kilometres from the summit, which hosted a finish of a hilly stage of the 2016 Vuelta a España. It was supposed to be one of these days when nothing could change, and yet, thanks to Alberto Contador’s determination and tactical mastery, Chris Froome lost the whole race.


Location: Spanish-French border, Pyrenees
Beginning of the climb: Laruns
Length: 28,4 km
Average gradient: 4,5%
Max gradient: 8,8%
Elevation: 1300 m
Height: 1794 m a.s.l.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *