Tag: cycle touring

Loire Valley

The Loire valley is very geared up for cycle touring, in much the same way a railway is geared up for trains. The Loire à Vélo touring route goes sea to source, or vise-versa. It’s well signposted, its largely on quiet roads, or off road. Better yet the Loire valley has really bought into the route, tourist attractions all have bike parking, much of the accommodation has bike friendly certification,  apparently even the trains have special bike carriages.  You can imagine that in summer it’s rammed. I avoided that by going in October.

The Loire is famous for châteaus and wine,  so in some ways it’s not the kind of place you’d expect to find me; I don’t like wine, and nobility bores me quickly.

What I loved about the Loire was the quality of light.  The rivers mirror surface bounces this light around making everything seem a little ethereal.   The Autumn nights were cold, and come morning mist would rise off the river like smoke.  Mid mornings were still cold, but the mist’s  gone, instead the blue sky is everywhere.

Loire Barge

Cold clear mornings on the mirror of the Loire

“The river, a constant companion” is one of the route’s strap-lines, cheesy, but an unparalleled navigational aid. (We’ll neatly sidestep the day I got lost and cycled of the edge of my map; I was looking for a more challenging route – I found it.)  The Loire is a companion with a lot of character. Languid, and indulgent. The area isn’t cheap- it feels firmly aimed at the middle class traveller, there’s no backpacker circuit in evidence.  I was mainly camping, where sites were open, and these where generally nice three and four star sites.  Meals were of excellent quality – but prices also seemed notch above average. The harsh exchange rate no doubt exacerbating perceptions. All in all very sophisticated.

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More great reflections

I did check out a couple of the many Loire châteaus. On a rest day in Azay  le Rideau I visited the Château there. The palace is small and neat and both above and below stairs life is exhibited. Oak beams in the roof are like the innards of a ship.  The same afternoon I visited the troglodyte peasant village down the road, they cut their homes  and livestock shelters into limestone banks, complete with refuges for when raiders where sweeping through.  Its good to see both sides of the coin.

Azay-le-Rideau

There's a lot of Châteaus in the Loire. This one is Azay-le-Rideau.

The other château I visited was retirement home of Leonardo de vinci, Clos Lucé. The main theme here is the man, and his inventions and discoveries – reproductions abound in various sizes – could have done with a bit more interaction I reckoned though; of course I want to play with them, who wouldn’t?

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

Basque Country Appendix

I was in the Basque Country as part of a longer tour from St Malo to Santander in Autumn 2011. I cycled down the Landes coast, from Bordeaux to get there.

I blogged about the Basque bit of my trip here; that’s the colour, this is the practicalities of the journey.

My planned route was heavily influenced by molesoup, who blogged about the route they took from Hendyne to Santander.  I  decided to head inland from Bayonne, rather than head  further down the coast to the border. I also ended up heading coastward a bit earlier than them.

The Basque country is crisscrossed with pilgrm routes and as such there’s good provision of cheap, basic accommodation.  Some of it is only available to those carrying a Pilgrims Credential, worth getting your hands on one if you can.

Weather

I had great weather, warm but not to hot, with a mix of cloud cover and sunshine, no rain. Although I was informed that the weathers not usually this good and indeed I had just missed heavy flooding.

Day 1 : Bayonne

16th November 2011. Zero Kilometres

Bayonne

Bayonne

Together Bayonne, Anglet, and Biaritz make up one urban sprawl. Bayonne is the one with the history and character. Biaritz is grand and has lots of surfers, and Anglet kind of joins them up. You can probably tell which one I rated.

Unfortunately the Musée Bonnat art gallery was closed for refurbishment.

Accommodation: I stayed at the Hotel Monbar, located in the old town, the internal open stair well was pretty cool, and free wifi.

Day 2: Bayonne to Elizondo

17th November 2011. 65km.

I started off round the coast on the cycle track, to check out Biarritz, then headed inland along the D255 to St-Pee-San-Nivelle. A Short stretch on the D3 takes me to the border. From the Border the N121b heads up over the Puerto de Oxtondo (602m), then down into the Baztan Valley.

Accommodation; I stay at the Kortarixar Aterpea (Albergue)  in Elizondo

Day 3: Elizondo to Tolosa

18th November 2011. 63km.

Carry on along the valley bottom on the N121b, heading towards Doneztebe/Santesteban, from here I took the NA170. There’s a steady climb of 26km from here up to the Porte de Usateguieta (695m), then some down to Leitza.  Theres a bonus bump (495m) , but then it downhill all the way to Tolosa on the GI2130.

Tolosa

Market day in Tolosa

The tourist information in Tolosa were super helpful with advice about onward accommodation and route choices.

Accomodation: I stayed at the Municpal Youth Hotel in Tolosa, just 7 euros for a dorm bed.

Day 4: Tolosa to Deba

19th November 2011.  63km.

Leave Tolosa in the direction of Villabona.  There are some backroads, but you’ll end up on the N1 for a short distance,. From Villabona you cross the railway and backtrack a little (there might be a way to avoid this), before taking the GI 2631 over to Zarautz. From here i took the N634 round the coast to Zumaia, i was a little worried it would be busy, but it was quiet.  Stay on this road over another hill to Deba.

Zumaia

The Busy coastal port of Zumaia

Accommodation: I stayed in the Pilgrim Hostel (keys from the tourist info, but you need a pilgrim credential)

Day 5: Deba to Bakio

20th November 2011. 72km.

To leave Deba cross over the bridge by the train station and take the GI 638 round the coast to Lekeitio.  From here there’s a choice of carrying on round the coast, but i choose to follow some cute boys on bikes along the BI 2238 to Gernika.  From Gernika the BI 2235 to Bermeo isn’t to hilly, but be warned the cycle path out of Bermeo is crazy steep (25% maybe). The BI 3101 to Bakio is very pretty.

Accommodation: I stayed at the very lovely Turismo Rural Gaubeka, the only drawback is that it was up a pretty steep hill.

Day 6:  Bakio to Bilbao

21st November 2011.  50km.

Carrying on along the BI 31o1, the day starts with a climb,   – but the views worth every revolution as you look out over yesterdays hills.  I then caried on round the coast on the BI 3152, and then the BI 2122 and BI 637.  In Algorta I spotted a cycle way that followed the dual carriage way a good way along the estuary.  The cycle way ends near the Potrugalete suspension bridge.  From here I just kept the river on my right and made for Bilbao proper.

Portugalete Suspension Bridge

The Portugalete Suspension Bridge

 

Day 7: Bilbao

22nd November 2011. Zero km.

Bilbao is a great city – spent a rest day checking out the Guggenheim and eating lots of great food in the old town.

Bilbao

Bilbao - great city

 

Accommodation: I stayed at the Botxo Gallery Hostel – million dollar views straight over the river and the Guggenheim, for 17 euros a night.

Day 8: Bilbao to Laredo

23rd November 2011. 65km.

I once again kept the coast on my right to leave the city, although you could backtrack to Portugalete and cross the river at the rather cool suspension bridge.  Then headed towards Castro-Urdiales on the N634, then on to Laredo.  I took longer to get out of the city (or more rightly cities) than i thought, and its not pretty.  On the bright side traffic was mostly light.

P1000888

Alot of the day is spent going under and over the main highway

Day 9 Laredo to Santander

24th November 2011. 35km.

You can take in 2 different ferries on the route between Laredo and Santander – you can take bikes on both for a small surcharge. The first ferry takes you from  the tip of the Laredo peninsular to Santona.  I then followed the CA 141 to Somo and caught another small ferry (operated by Los Reginas) to Santander.  You can also catch this ferry at Pendrena. You dock right into the heart of Santander , next to the international ferry port – convenient.

Test ickles

an ickle tiny first tour

Testing my bike, and myself with a little mini tour.  After the incessant rain,  a weather window coincided with time off. Finished work mid afternoon and got the bike all loaded up then headed off South.

In an effort to recreate the forthcoming tour as completely as possible I got a ferry. OK so only across Winderemere, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to catch a ferry.

Windermere Ferry

The Windemere Ferry

 

The back roads to Cartmel, are very back, and not very road. Very cute though with grass down the middle – less cute with a hedge trimmer in full flow (no punctures though – first test passed!).

Cartmel village mostly means Pony club camp to me – so i have a big soft spot for it. I Stayed at the Cartmel Camping and Caravan site – which is right in the middle of the village. The village is pretty posh and very cute.  As I rode in, this sign greeted me -a good omen for me and my steel bike.

Steel Bikes

Good omen

 

Day two dawned with blue skys and a full moon. Time to decamp and head back to the Lakes

View to the Lakes

blue skys, heading home

Headed out to Greenod, picking up a bit of Cycle route 20 throught the Holker Estate, before heading down the east of Coniston Lake – Also time to test out my arty ‘me with bike somewhere pretty shots’ – not bad for a beginner!

Still Waters on Coniston

To pretty not to get the camera out

 

Nearly home and only one last thing, to ensure that all real tour ingredients where simulated fully – Cake.

Cake

In my head there will be lots of cake

 

Destination?

I have a [nother] plan – this one is to take myself and a bike off on a trip for a few months.

The plan was dreamt up in the heat of being newly dumped and hurting real bad.  The thing I most wanted was to be far away, the otherside of the world might just do. I’m not so newly dumped any more, but I”m still planning on going.

I think that i’m probably a tourer at heart.  I may ride a road bike – but i’m never going to be fast -and i love the big long days on the road (see, tourer).  There’s also some soul mending to be done, a restlessness that needs to be put to bed.  The journeys not about fixing me – but maybe more working out what it is that needs fixing.

If that all sounds quite dark – don’t worry it’s not. I’m quite excited by it too. Here’s some thoughts on destination

The other side of the world: New Zealand

It’s an amazing country – I’ve been and want to go back.  In particular i want to see more of the south island.  It’ll be right in terms of seasons – i’d be going for NZ summer.  I’ll also maybe never get a better opportunity to go back than this.

Set off from Home : Europe

This one is edging it slightly at the moment – it’s the one i feel more, but it needs more research.  I have some thoughts about what it might be like -but i need to investigate the reality.  I like the idea of not flying – and of setting off from home (although i don’t really have a home, but i know what i mean).  I like the idea of seeing France, and Spain, and Italy.  The language thing scares me a little – and the weather might not be that good.