Cycling from Bordeaux to Barcelona.
The group at the start in Bordeaux. L to R: Paul Smith, Lesley, Clare, Lizzi, Rob, Janice, David, Martin, Richard, Allan, KD, Hilda, Alston, Bill.
Earlier in the summer I rode the ‘Coast to Coast’,a supported camping tour from Lowestoft to St Davids head in Wales (the most easterly to westerly parts of Britain) but fortunately as the summer came to a close I realised that I had enough annual leave still owing to escape on another tour; so in mid August I found my self outside Bordeaux Station as part of a group of fourteen riders.
Sunflowers are ever present over the first three days in France.
Although I only rode from Bordeaux to Barcelona over the Pyrenees last summer, I had enjoyed it so much that I decided to ride it all over again, the same route and at exactly the same time of year, although this tour was to be hotel based compared to the previous camping trip; I had already had my quota of camping this summer so this offered some variety over the previous year.
By day three Rolling hills were and indication we were nearing the Pyrenees.
Many ask me what are the pros and cons of Camping versus Hotel based tours and more significantly which do I prefer. I have to say I enjoy both for different reasons, as for the pros of camping personally I love the back to basics living, essentially “am I dry and am I warm enough“, both are achievable with inexpensive modern equipment. I also love the camaraderie around the ‘camp fire‘ with the rest of the group, there is often more of a group feel to a camping tour as you don’t all whiz off to your rooms on arrival, I even enjoy the rainy nights tucked up in my tent! As for the cons drying wet kit on a rainy evening can be a challenge to say the least, plus during the night spending an hour or so convincing myself I don‘t really need to leave the comfort of my sleeping bag for a wee when I know that I really do! The Pros of Hotel; well for a start it can be far easier to dry washed kit especially if it‘s still raining of course, plus the home comforts of a hotel can be very welcoming when you get in from a long day in the saddle. As for the cons hotels are expectedly more of an indulgence financially, but the occasional indulgence if the mood so takes you seldom does any harm; budget allowing of course as camping tours do mean a significant saving on the overall cost; I can only repeat, quite simply I enjoy both.
Temporary lights fitted (then removed to put on the correct side for France), now ready for the start Port de Bales in the mist.
Although the route was essentially the same as last year the fact that I had a new set of new friends to ride with did mean that the tour had a fresh new perspective, at no point did I feel that I was simply going through the motions of getting from a to b. At home I ride along familiar routes, my favourites I have ridden more times than I can remember yet I still enjoy them, the same applied here, I was simply revisiting a favourite tour, the slight familiarity gave it a warm welcoming feeling that I enjoyed and looked forward to in equal measure. Having said that when I was heard several times on route to predict “I think this is the start of what is only a short little hill”, it often turned into a long one; it seemed as far as some of the ladies were concerned at least, a small one soon finished was definitely preferred to a long hard one!
Ascending the 'Port de Bales' in the mist.
Last year we would normally have our evening meal in what were often superb campsite restaurants, naturally this year we would normally invade the local town on mass and enjoy the local cuisine, in France 25-30 Euros would get us a three course evening meal with wine and a beer or two, although this would drop significantly when we got to Spain, 15 Euros and even less could achieve an equally good quality meal.
View from the cable car of Bagneres-de-Luchon where we again spent our rest day.
Although still warm and sunny with the odd very hot day, on the whole it was slightly cooler than last year, which made the ride through France to the Pyrenees much easier. As last year the first climb was the Port de Bales at 1755m, which we summated in the mist before we descended for over forty five minutes into the spa town of Bagneres-de-Luchon, where we again spent our rest day. Each year they hold a 'Flower festival' over a weekend, on the Saturday this consists of bands from local areas as well as those from abroad, we even met a group of bag pipers from Bristol! Each band wanders up and down the high street from mid day to mid night performing, each were of the highest standard, the evening finished with a large Firework display, the carnival atmosphere in such a superb setting all combined to make this a tour highlight; I would have gone there for that day alone.
The carnival atmosphere at Bagneres-de-Luchon was a tour highlight.
After the rest day we headed over over the wooded Col de Portillon into Spain to Arties, giving the tour a completely different feel from the first week in France, it’s one reason I enjoy place to place tours, especially when they include a rest day as looking back it is almost like I have had two tours in one. I loved France but confess it is the Spanish side of the Pyrenees I find the most stunning.
The Pyrenees, looking back after climbing the 'Col de Portillon', on route to Arties
By now we were into the higher mountains, the Port de la Bonaigua at 2072 metres above sea level was the next days climb, the highest of the tour yet one of the easiest, being the highest equated to stunning views down the valley and across to the surrounding high peaks, which means that many, myself included just had to stop for photo importunities on many occasions; making the ascent so much easier yet still affording us the indulgence of feeling all magnificent as we reached the summit.
Descending the ‘busy' 2072m Port de la Bonaigua!
Naturally from the highest point of the tour the only way is down, which we spent the rest of the day doing, only pausing for a slap up meal at the bottom of the climb. I confess cycle touring for me is often as much about these gourmet power rests as it is the cycling, especially when I know that I can enjoy and afternoon going down hill in the sunshine, perhaps power resting again for an ice cream, just to keep my core temperature down of course!
After climbing all morning, we would spend the afternoon descending!
One of the main reasons I wanted to repeat the tour so soon was because of one day in particular, the day from Organya (2009 was from the Coll de Nago) to Solsona last year was one of the best days ride I had ever had. I confess I was a bit apprehensive, would this year live up to my expectations? In short no, this year it surpassed them, that day on that road was amazing, a day where every turn in the road gave yet another breathtaking view, even though on that day we climbed more height than on any other, it just didn’t seem difficult, perhaps because I stopped so much to take pictures, perhaps because I ride so slowly just to take in the scenery, photographs just don’t do it justice, an amazing road on what was an amazing day.
The ride from Coll de Nargo to Solsona was once again absolutely stunning.
Solsana is one of those typical grey Spanish towns that we passed through, although at a glance they may seem as appealing as barium enema, as was the case more than once on this tour take the trouble to look closer and you may find a little gem, walking through the entrance of the old walled town took us into a maze of pretty close knit Spanish streets with bars and restaurants, an evening meal in this delightful setting of Paella washed down with wine and beer, which if I recall set me back eleven Euros!
The view from the ridge just before dropping down to Solsona.
The penultimate evening before Barcelona took us to Montserrat, this was to prove for most of us to be the hardest to the tour, in part as it was hot, although out of the Pyrenees this was the day with the second highest amount of climbing, it was also the longest day, with some sections on rough tracks as can be seen below, although even those who had full on race bikes were able to ride them. A hard but none the less varied and rewarding day, the tracks affording us superb views of the Pyrenees behind us as well as Montserrat in front, which was our destination for the evening, popular with tourists yet quiet and serine by the time that many of us arrived at near 7pm.
The first clear view of Montserrat
The last day into Barcelona had us descending from Montserrat, then through it had to be said not exactly easy on the eye Spanish suburbs before climbing into the foothills surrounding Barcelona, sweeping bends with viewpoints over this beautiful city bought this tour to a close, we all had an extra day before heading home to explore the sights. The end of a tour that I am pleased to say lived up to expectations, the route superb, as was the weather, the food and most important the new friends I made, I am not a lone tourer me, without them I would have not enjoyed it anywhere near as much. I’m writing this bank August bank holiday Monday while it‘s all still fresh in my memory, just off to spend the afternoon at the Carshalton Carnival, wonder if it will be as good as Bagneres-de-Luchon……
Descending into Barcelona; don’t be surprised if I do this tour next year!
Click for a slide show of this tour
This group tour was organised by please note that since this write up Bike Adventures has become a limited Company with new management, so the tours on offer may differ, although I have no experience with them under the new ownership I would hope they still offer quality tours; for anyone interested their is a link to their site below:
Tour organised by :www.Bikeadventures.co.uk