Biking in the Basque Country…….
Eight friends, all with a Nottingham connection, and all biking fans. Some of them had been here before for work and holidays and knew that cycling was big news here. How were they going to get together for a long weekend trip to discover some more of the mythical roads and hills that the Basque Country had hidden away? They had seen the stages in the Pyrenees in the Tour de France, and the Tour of the Basque Country, but how to get it off the ground? And just as importantly, they wanted it to be more than just cycling, they wanted food, drink and a few laughs….
So it was with interest that in Autumn 2017 I received an email regarding putting together a unique tour here. I am not a biker, but arrange all manner of bespoke trips, and the thought of of curating a made-to-measure tour for 8 keen cyclists from the UK got me excited. However, it wasn’t just the biking, the clients wanted me to create something that combined time in the saddle with beautiful places & local traditions. A chance to show off our cuisine, our landscape and our hospitality. A true Tour of the Basque Country.
Cycling, biking, riding, however you call it, it always been big here in the Basque Country. Tour de France winners? Check. Stages of the Tour de France? Check. Long tradition of biking? Check. Varied terrain and excellent surfaces? Check…
Four night tour
Accommodation was organised months in advance. This level or preparedness is essential to ensure a smooth running tour, always! A mix of locations, and styles of beds just adds to the experience. From Camino de Santiago hostels to 4* hotels, we had it all covered. What about my bike? I hear you ask. Well, all spots were chosen with secure storage for your pride and joy uppermost in our selection criteria. Its the little details see…
On the road
Tour design and profile is essential, especially for a mixed group such as this. Routes were chosen in combination with the accommodation, distances, elevation, and activities post-biking. We decided on a post-to-post style tour to give variety and a different feel to everyday. A single base is also an option of course. It allows for less morning prep time, but doesn’t have the feel of a tour. In terms of bikes, it was a mix of own-bikes and rented. We used our good friends at Bizkairoute for the excellent hire bikes, and the GPS/Garmin/Strava apps to enable our riders to see where they were going! In addition we had a ‘Broom Wagon’ to carry all the bike boxes, luggage, spares, drinks etc. Essential on a biking tour in a new location.
A long weekend starting on Thursday saw our group of 8 enthusiasts visit a Txoko, a members-only dining club if you will, in the famous town of Gernika. The ritual of preparing food and dining together in the txoko here is a almost a religious thing, so as a visitor it rarely gets seen… It also meant the riders would be fully loaded for the days ahead….
Friday saw us embark from the hostel with San Sebastián as our destination. The route of saw us cover 115km along gorgeous coastal roads with little or no traffic. A couple of decent climbs and elevation of 1,900m, that included Itziar and Mendizorrotz. Passing through the Urdaibai Nature reserve, the villages of Lekeitio, Ondarroa, Deba and into San Sebastian was as one of the riders said afterwards. The best day’s riding I have ever done….
San Sebastian was a welcome respite from the long day in the saddle. Ice-cold beers, a beautiful beach and cool sea to soothe weary legs… Dinner was taken up in a Cider House another great Basque tradition, off-limits to all but the most ‘in-the-know’ travellers. Cider; free flowing, steaks, salt cod all delicious and served on long tables.. the tired legs were a memory…
A spritely start saw us head east and inland into the interior of the green Basque Country. Sunny start, but the weather soon became Basque with a couple of heavy downpours, adding to the biking experience! A day of 90km, and 1,800m elevation into the the charming Basque village of Elizondo, nestled in the lush Pyrenean foothills. Climbs included Cat 2s Aritxulegi and Agiña. A great traditional lunch followed by an evening of laughs, Gin Tonics and a carb-laden dinner saw everyone happy to bed.
Riders from the world over know these mountains. Harsh, rugged and with very unpredictable weather, they play a major part in the Tour de France every year. Cyclists such as 5-time Tour winner Indurain hailed from here. The Sky Team were spotted on the road here on another of our tours only days later…. Its big country.
Our final day saw us leave the threatening skies over Elizondo and head east up and over the Cat 2 Col de Izpegi and into France! Some incredible mountain views were taken in before we rolled down into Baigorri, St Jean Pied de Port, and the Camino de Santiago. The border into Spain took us up to the Cat 1 Alto de Ibañeta at 1,062m, and the lovely ride down into Pamplona, city of the Running of the Bulls and Ernest Hemingway! Overall a leg of 113km and climbs totalling 2,100m, the riders were over the moon!! A short biking tour of the Basque Country, into Navarra and the Pyrenees, all rounded off in the great 4* Hotel Maisonnave in Pamplona!!
Next Year.. 2019
Well of course!! We are early in the planning stagess for Basque Country Biking Tour II. Its something that was so successful that we feel we can make this into an event for every year. Great locations, great riding, super meals and the beautiful Basque Country to appreciate.
Speak to me if you fancy organising a similar biking and bike tour across the Basque country, it so much more than just riding here!!