Wide view of mountains with skiers on piste above Piau Engaly.

Piau Engaly

Hautes-Pyrénées, France

Purpose-built Piau Engaly sits beside the Franco-Spanish frontier at the upper end of the Aure valley, where it offers the highest-altitude skiing in the French Pyrennees (2300m).

Relatively simple transfers from both Pau and Lourdes airports – and long drives from the Channel ports are repaid in some seasons by snowfalls which can even outperform the Alps.

Skiers looking at mountain scenery above Piau Engaly ski resort

The Ski Area

The highest skiing in the French Pyrenees is snow-sure and has long impressed us. This season (2015/2016) sees the worthwhile addition of 22km of cross-country ski terrain on the Spanish side above Sobrarbe. It’s a logical development since Piau has long attracted downhill skiers from Spain, who appreciate the exhilarating north-facing terrain.

The whole point of skiing here is having fun, so there’s a safe children’s area, some enjoyable blue-graded scenic cruising runs (including a seamlessly-linked succession of blues offering a remarkable 1100m vertical drop), plus some steeper sections to keep the reactions focused. After heavy snowfalls, and when temperatures drop, the ability to be able to ski out onto the lower runs give the village something of a mid-mountain feel.

Although almost surrounded by the tightly-protected landscapes of the Parc National des Pyrénées, a project is being studied to add new lifts and 8km of return pistes close to the exit of the newly-improved road tunnel which has long brought Spanish skiers to Piau. This improved access (with beginner terrain and dedicated parking areas) shaves around 10km off the previous journey, and removes the need to drive up to the ski village.

Resort Information

Altitude : 1420m - 2600m
Piau Engaly
Pistes Total:
65 km
4 Green
17 Blue
11 Red
7 Black
Ski Resort Lifts : 11
6 Draglifts
5 Chairlifts

Advertisement

Visitors at cafe tables in centre of ski village at Piau Engaly

The Ski Village

The village heart is compact and has a friendly vibe, particularly at weekends when the local skiers head up for a fun time. The best feature, though, is a mid-mountain setting – snow cover permitting, you can regard it as truly ski-in/ski-out.

Skiers visiting Piau will see some big changes no doubt spurred by the newly-established formal partnership between Piau and its Spanish counterpart Sobrarbe. A particularly welcome addition is the new *** Hotel 4 OURS, which will finally bring much-needed hotel accommodation to the village. It’s sited right beside the Office du Tourisme, and just a few metres away from the front-de neige pistes, ski lifts and bars. Another newcomer is the Edenéo Espace Ludique – an aqua centre with large heated indoor pool, hammam, sauna, lounge bar, etc., all of which should broaden Piau’s appeal significantly.

Piau’s highly-distinctive low visual impact apartments have high owner-occupation, particularly at weekends, and booked via the Office de Tourisme website (who offer some very attractive package pricing for Mon-Thur stays). However, the new partnership means that you can ski here and stay on the sunny Spanish side of the mountain – something Spanish skiers have been doing for many years.

Staying There

Value for Money Accommodation Dining Out Nightlife Village Charm

Advertisement

Skiers at drag-lift beside snow park

Best For

This is an affordable and fun place, if not exactly in the Val d’Isère league for entertainment. But you have to say that it’s a whole lot friendlier and more affordable. Terrain-wise, there’s something for most levels, and the natural setting is sensational – don’t expect much future expansion, as the surrounding landscapes are protected nature reserves.

Families and mixed-ability groups will appreciate the accessible novice areas, well-equipped snowpark, plus other activities like télémark, freeride, monoski, skibiking, snowscoots and kite-skiing. Finally, Piau’s own ESF ski instructors offer accompanied off-piste and freeride sessions.

Advertisement

Skiing There

Beginners / Families Intermediates Advanced / Expert Mountain Scenery

Snowboarding

Emphasis on fun with well-equipped snowpark and big air bag.
1 Snowparks
1 Snowboarder Cross


Cross-Country Skiing

Easy trails at Piau-Pineta (25 mins).
24km Cross-Country and Nordic Ski Trails

Handiski...

  • Very limited parking within the ski station though possible by arrangement.
  • Direct, flat access to the slopes from the ski station. Accessible chairlifts and beginners drag-lifts.
  • Adapted toilets in the reception building 'Le Pôle' where there's also a picnic room and ticket office with adapted counter.
  • Qualified specialist instructor at ESF. No equipment.
  • See Haute Pyrénées website for further details.

icon-smileyYes please...

  • High altitude guarantees snow.
  • Efficient lift system.
  • Ski-in/ski-out village location.
  • Car-free village centre.
  • Amazing mountain panoramas.
  • Reasonable prices, including food.
  • Vertical drop 1100m possible via successive Blue pistes.
  • Friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

icon-frowneyYes but...

  • Relatively compact terrain.
  • Treeless landscape offers little shelter during bad weather.
  • Limited accommodation options.

icon-winkingOur Tips

  • Look online for special inclusive offers.

Practical Information

Getting there

By car
The cheapest option if there’s a group of  3 or 4 passengers who can share the driving. Arriving at any of the western ports such as Caen, St.Malo, or Roscoff it is an easy drive south, most of which is on the autoroute. Allow about 150 euros for fuel and tolls and a full day’s drive. The recent A65 autoroute between Langon and Pau saves about an hour on the journey time (péage).

By air
Look out for flights to Lourdes-Tarbes airport (92km). You can also fly into Pau (140km) which has a greater choice of flights or Toulouse-Blagnac (170km) is a third possibility.

We recommend hiring a car for the transfer to Piau Engaly. You would then be able to access the nearby ski resorts at Saint-Lary Soulan or Peyragudes.

By train
Take the Eurostar to Paris then Paris - Tarbes TGV journey time just under 6 hours). Car hire available at the station.

Book your train travel from Paris with OUI.sncf


Things to do

Edenéo Spa Centre

Piau Engaly

Relax in this recently built spa centre with 360° views over the ski slopes and the Pyrenees National Park. There's a spa-relaxation pool, as well as a steam-bath, water jets, jacuzzi pools, heated benches, bubble beds and cold water fountains. Refreshments are served in a lounge area overlooking the pool.

Opening hours vary, family pass 46€ (2 adults, 2 children).


Where to stay

Village architecture, Piau Engaly

All accommodation in Piau Engaly is situated at the foot of the pistes in a purpose built village. The resort has recently acquired it's first hotel, the three star 4Ours (The 4 Bears), but most accommodation is self-catering apartments, quite basic but adequately equipped and all have easy pedestrian access to the slopes and the beginners' area. Parking is all outdoors and in the busiest periods, may be some way from the apartments but there is road access (depending on snow conditions) to all the buildings for unloading/loading.
Piau has a dedicated camping-car area with direct access to the pistes. Campers will find all the necessary services on-site.
Booking enquiries can be made to the Tourism Office in Piau on www.piau-engaly.com

There are more accommodation options in the valley at the spa and ski resort of Saint Lary Soulan, (about 20 minutes drive from Piau-Engaly) with a wide choice of hotels, chambres d'hôtes and self-catering apartments.


Where to Eat

Piau Engaly has a limited range of restaurants as all the accommodation is currently on a self-catering basis. The best choice is found at lunchtime when the two bar restaurants on the front de neige offer seating on south facing terraces and a large range of brasserie and cafeteria options.

Tried and testedPizzeria Chez Lolo

Piau Engaly
Tel: : 0033 (0)5 62 39 68 29

Friendly restaurant serving good value regional dishes and pizzas. Something here for all tastes and budgets.


Tried and testedLe Refuge du Lys

Piau Engaly
Tel: +33 (0)5 62 39 61 98

Friendly restaurant in a quiet spot on the far side of the shopping centre. We enjoyed a satisfying lunchtime 3 course menu of endive salad, chicken escalopes in mushroom sauce served with pasta, followed by a choice of dessert (€12). Open lunchtimes and evenings.


Daily Cieux

Piau Engaly

Snack bar serving organic and fresh local produce. This is the only on-mountain snack bar and is situated just below the top of the Campbielh chairlift with panoramic views from a snowy terrace set with chrome tables and bright blue parasols. The friendly owner is very welcoming - worth stopping by.


Insight: Piau Engaly

Chairlift and skiers at Piau Engaly, French Pyrenees

Insight: Piau Engaly

Passing through Saint-Lary Soulan en-route to Piau Engaly can sometimes be slightly unnerving for a powder-hungry skier. In late April, for example, it’s looking predictably leafy and springlike, but as we begin the final climb towards our much higher-altitude destination it’s not long before we hit the longed-for snow-line and breathe a heartfelt sigh of relief.

Half-way down I swerve to avoid a large marmotte, before the gradient eases and we have time to take in some of the amazing scenery of the Parc National des Pyrénées unfolding around us.
Skiers, Piau Engaly
ESF skier, Piau Engaly

Perfectly formed

In fact, for the last weekend of its long season Piau still manages to deliver almost unblemished snow-cover, thanks to sustained late falls. Today there’s no shortage of skiers determined to make the most of it… all the regulars are here, some of them having crossed the nearby border from Spain to take advantage of the better conditions on the North-facing French side of the mountains. Our mid-afternoon arrival finds energy levels winding down, so we must wait until the following morning for the snow beneath our skis to be at its best.

Sure enough, as we set off the winter sun is just beginning to soften the overnight ice, although things still feel decidedly crisp at 2528m as we slip off the Pic de Piau six-seater lift. So for our first runs we play safe until things feel a little less lively under our skis. Coming in the last week of the season means that not all the lifts are open, and the springtime snow-line denies us the pleasure of sampling one of Piau’s longest runs, but fortunately there’s still plenty of choice. The pistes fan-out from the lift in different directions, before reuniting for the final cruise back to the lift.

Village centre, Piau Engaly
6 seater chairlift, Piau Engaly

Piau Engaly’s Big Blue

A few weeks earlier we’d have been able to explore the full 6.5km length of the Grande Bleue piste, which begins at the Pic and drops down to Piau 1750, along the way picking up the Paou and Forêt pistes and continuing down through the treeline to Piau 1420. The resulting 1108m vertical drop is the highest figure in the French Pyrenees. Next time, for sure.

Meantime, there’s plenty to keep us entertained, particularly the Perdrix red piste, which we tackle before the sun has thawed the overnight ice. Reactions suddenly awakened, we drop down behind the Pic to the different world of the Vallée de Badet. Half-way down I swerve to avoid a large marmotte casually crossing the piste, before the gradient eases and we have time to take in some of the amazing scenery of the Parc National des Pyrénées unfolding around us.

All too soon we see ahead of us the Mouscades I chairlift, which we join for the gentle return haul up to the village of Piau 1850. The rest of our time in Piau is spent repeating favourite runs like these and filling in the gaps in our knowledge by skiing those we missed. We also take a look at some of the local skiers testing their speed and balance by skiing onto a section of water created within giant inflatable walls. When the time finally comes to leave we do so with regret, aware that we’ve just laid our last tracks of the season. But there’s something else: we’re going to miss the mood of relaxed fun we’ve enjoyed everywhere on and off the mountain during our all-too-brief stay. MountainPassions heart icon