Basque Country Touring

First sight came after 4 days riding down from the Arachorn Basin, through the forests of Landes

Oh My!

Suddenly there’s a skyline, and after a few intakes of breath, I can’t help but smile; game on.

First taste comes in Bayonne, France. In all the best ways it reminds me of Leith a bit. The road in through the docks and industrial estates, is busy with trucks, but I don’t care. Because it turns out I’m a mountain girl at heart and this road takes me there.

Bayonne has such a good vibe I decide to stay a day. Good choice. I eat one of the best meals of the trip, buy a map for Spain, visit the cathedral, and wander round absent-mindedly.

Bayonne

Bayonne

 

I set of round the coast, because I feel I ought to see Biaritz – I feel ambivalent about it. Then as I head inland the road gets lumpy, and I get reacquainted with my bottom gear.

The border is disappointingly devoid of appropriate signage to lean a bike up against. instead just alot of petrol stations- which don’t have the same photographic narrative. Then it’s over the Puerto de Otxondo (602m) to the Baztan valley.

The next day starts out flat enough, picking it’s way along the valley. It’s Market day in Doneztebe (Santesteban) and the town is busy. There’s garlic and onions piled high, and police direct traffic on the packed streets. Then there’s another climb, the valley twists, narrows and flares, while climbing constantly. The scenery is great, and there’s villages all the way up to the Porte de Usateguieta (695m). From Leitza to Tolosa comes the dowhill, the reward for those hours of climbing.

Saturday in The Basque Country and the bikes are out. There’s boys on hot bikes everywhere, all are imacuatly turned out. There’s no black shorts here – it’s full team kit and it’s way hot.

As I leave Tolosa I’m unsure about if I’m allowed onto the busy dual carriageway of the N1, but there large bunches of cyclists making use of the ample hard shoulder, so I figure I must be. Today’s climb (as recommended by the tourist info office) is from Villabonna to the coast at Zarautz. Traffic is mostly pedal powered, and I’m joined by an international group of three riders near the bottom. They tell me the climb is 7km long, then proceed to chat to me as we climb. I manage to keep pace for a respectable distance, about two thirds of the way, until I wave good bye and stop to take some pics and eat some food.

As I’m coming down I get passed 4 times by a guy in team sky kit doing his hill reps; in my defence I had stopped to take more photos. The red road (on the map) along the coast to Deba wasn’t very busy, and was very scenic.

Deba Beach

Deba, another surf beach

The road from Deba goes up; of course, but then you get an awesome descent into Gernika. (taking the longer sweeping road, rather than the busy short steep descent) Everyone’s heard of Gernika, bombed, then immortalised by Picaso. The town itself isn’t as pretty as many of it’s neighbours. The tourist office tipped me off that the coast road is in bad condition, so bad that it closes tomorrow for maintenance, so if I want to go that way I have to pass today.

In Bermeo I get another example of Basque hospitality, I think I’ve missed they junction, so pull over to check the map. A group of runners clock me and hurdle the barrier into the road to point me in the right direction, proudly extolling the beauty of my route choice. as I carry on round the coast, I’m intercepted by a motorbike who pulls me over for a chat about my bike, and touring in general. my surly is a bike geek magnet, which is fine by me, geeks rule.

The road is indeed in need of repair, but once again it’s soul food scenery. It would be hard to not feel happy riding here.

Gaztelugatxe

It is a very pretty, and pretty hilly coastline

The next day starts well, eucalyptus lines the road, thinning often enough to provide tantalising preludes to the vista that awaits at the top of the climb.

Then it’s off round the coast to Bilbao. I opt to stay in a hostel opposite the Guggenheim, this might be the best view in the city. I’m lucky enough to meet a Brazilian, with fluent Spanish, to hang out with, and it’s nice to be less solitary and have a laugh for a while. We spend a day eating, drinking, doing world class art, and riding trams. The Guggenheim is better than good, and I’m kinda blown away by it.

The road out of Bilbao makes its way through large towns and ports for a good while before you get to leave the urban area. The traffics not to bad though. As I pass under the sign that signals the end of the Basque Country I turn to give a little wave, but I’ve already promised myself I’m going back.

The afternoon’s pretty rough, copious coffee and the buzz of the city have left me sleepless, and it turns out that a handful of Liqueur Chocolates are not the ideal cycling lunch. Then again maybe I’m just coming down from my Basque trip.

The route and practicalities of my journey are here: Appendix , and there’s photos too