The Group; can't remember where!
I have always wanted to ride over the Pyrenees and this tour being from 'Bordeaux to Barcelona' for me seemed the perfect way to do it, with a variety of country side and terrain either side of the mountain range for good measure this camping tour with odd night in a hotel towards the end was ideal.
The old railway line out of Bordeaux
The tour started in Bordeaux on a fine Sunny Monday morning, crossing the river from Bordeaux Train station almost immediately had the group of seven of us cycling along a disused railway line that had been converted to a cycle track, with many of the stations and even platforms still in place this was one of the best starts to a tour out of a busy town than I could have hoped for as the line meandered through some lovely country side, connecting the small villages that I assume were not large enough to support a rail road!
We rode through Vineyards like this a lot in the early days
The paths lasted for most of the morning on route to the lunch stop, after which we headed through the Vineyards and sunflower fields that typify the area, all in all the first day was relatively flat and easy; no on complained though as we all knew that the Pyrenees with foot hills each side would be challenging enough in days to come. We all chose to eat at the camp site, in France especially the campsites often have a small restaurant, on occasions the food was quite simple, but plentiful and well received by a bunch of hungry bike riders, although on occasion we found the menu and quality were as good as any restaurant to be found in the local town and at a fraction of the cost.
Alan and Richard, Landes de Gascony Regional Park
Much of the second next day was again flat, the whole day all along deserted lanes of the Landes de Gascony Regional Park, in effect one huge pine forest, we could ride for miles without seeing a car, obsolete bliss compared to the after the London suburban roads I am used to that’s for sure! The next day after leaving the forest we visited a small 12th century church filled with cycling memorabilia called the ‘Notre Dame des Cyclistes‘, literally packed with Jerseys and old bikes; well worth a visit. This was to be our last easy day as we headed towards the Pyrenees.
‘Notre Dame des Cyclistes'
For many the harder days were not to be in the mountains, but in the foothills each side, in part as you climbed just as much overall during the course of a day as you would in the mountains, without the advantage of riding up in to the cooler air. None the less I personally found these days some of the best riding on the tour, the first view of the mountains on the horizon are magnificent, a stark contrast to what we had been riding through and hard to believe that we would soon be wobbling our way up and over them starting the very next day!
One of the first views we had of the Pyrenees
The first mountain was the Port de Bales at 1755m, at just under 12 miles long I was expecting a gradual climb and that is exactly what we got, a very gradual climb for the first half that had Louisa wondering what all the fuss about riding up a mountain was all about, I confess to being a tad concerned as this was infact not good news at all, we needed to go up and this simply wasn’t going up enough to get us to 1755m! Sure enough at the halfway point it promptly made up for lost time by making up the height with a steepness to rival any of the high mountains that I have ever ridden.
Yes yes yes I know you want a picture but quickkkkkkk it’s freeeeeeeezing
This climb was first used in the Tour De France in 2007, (Edit update and also the infamous climb where Andy Schleck's chain came off in the 2010 'Tour' arguably causing him overall vicorty) before then it had been little more than a goat track with many sections unpaved. The Port de Bales has far less traffic than the busier climbs of the Col de Peyresourde that it descended to join at the bottom, it turned out to be the toughest climb of the tour and indeed as tough as any I have ever ridden in the high Alps. When I finally got to the summit the visibility was such that while waiting for Louisa to arrive I turned on my camera to capture her arrival, only to hear her say that she could hear the peep of my camera and no way was I going to take a picture of her all sweaty and unnecessary, all a bit odd as I could hear her, I was looking in exactly the right direction yet still I couldn’t see her, so thick was the mist on what was a windless mountain top with only the every present sound of cowbells braking the eerie silence; the views we are told on clear day are spectacular! being a tour climb the road surface was good so the descent would have been fast if we could see where we were going, fortunately it did indeed clear after a mile or so which enabled us to descend into warmer air on route to the campsite at the pretty town of Bagneres-de-Luchon.
Bagneres-de-Luchon where we spent our rest day
The next day had us riding into Spain where the cooler greener climbs seemed to be immediately replaced with warmer browner versions, horses for courses as to which people preferred, personally each has a beauty and magnificence and I love each in equal measure.
Port de la Bonaigua. At 2072 metres above sea level
The highest pass on the tour was the Port de la Bonaigua at 2072 metres above sea level, from then on had a 25 mile descent to the next campsite, mind you the headwind when we had descended down into the valleys normally made the going tougher than expected, as did the heat, Spain can and does get very hot as it did on this tour, a few did indeed struggle with the heat and needed to keep themselves well covered, as heatstroke can take riders by surprise especially as they are often out in the sun longer than they would be normally at home; fortunately the support vehicle allowed some to take time out if necessary.
The Campsite at Arties was our first night in Spain
Day ten took us along the mountain route from Organya to Solsona, I have ridden what must be approaching 200’000 miles in my lifetime and I have to say this route is right up there with one of the best routes I have ever ridden, it had everything, quite roads, rugged beautiful climbs through gorges that simply took your breath away, with stunning views that seemed to vary with each turn of a corner, along the whole route frequent stops were required to take in each as they were so spectacular; we even rode through a lightning storm which made the whole day memorable that’s for sure!
The mountain route from Organya to Solsona was one of the best rides I have done; ever!
Solsona was to be the last night under canvas, as the next evening was at hotel at the monastery at Montserrat, although now out of the mountains the route was still quite hilly and took us along some rough tacks alongside a wind farm, from where we got our first view of Montserrat on the Horizon
Windfarm on route to Montserrat
Montserrat is the famous location and the spiritual home of the Catalunya and although very popular by the time we got there it was quiet and we were able to wander around in the piece and quiet; it gets my vote as well worth a visit as an evening stop on a cycle tour that‘s for sure, as did the Hotel and a welcome first night in a proper bed luxury of an ensuite bath room! Although I love camping I did make a point of getting up in the middle of the night in the hotel to go to the loo; just because I could! I dare say that I am not alone when camping when I confess to spending an eternity each night lying in my sleeping bag trying to convince myself that I don’t need to go; when I know that it’s just a matter of time before I just have to!
The view from our Hotel Window at Montserrat
The next day was a fairly short ride that took us briefly through the industrial suburbs of Barcelona before we headed into the quieter hill side route that took us right into Barcelona town itself, we all had an extra day at the end to take in the Barcelona sights which rounded off a superb tour perfectly.
This group tour was organised by www.bikeavdentures.co.uk ; 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 I have included a link to their website below: