An athletic ride, through one of Europe's most distinctive corners. Seafood, green hills, unique regional architecture and equally distinctive cuisine are highlights. If your trip begins with this itinerary, you will generally travel to Hendaye, our starting point, from Paris, Bordeaux, Madrid, Barcelona, or Lisbon. Depending on your selected route, you may arrive in Hendaye on Friday evening, or via overnight train on Saturday morning.
Hendaye is a pretty Basque town on the French side of the French-Spanish border. If you come in early, visit the spectacular beach, where surfing equipment is available for rental, and can be put to good use. Or stay above the fray with a seafood platter on a terrace overlooking the sweep of sand.
Day 1: We assemble at midday. An introductory cycle will carry you along the coast to the tuna port and beach resort of St.-Jean-de-Luz. Louis XIV married Maria Theresa here in the 1600’s, and the couple somehow gave birth to macaroons, or so the locals seem to believe. Our bicycles next point us inland, and up the valley of the Nivelle river to the typical Basque village of Ascain. Familiarize yourself with the structure of the typical Basque village, cafés surrounding a jai alai court; red, green and white on the shutters and the flags. If the skies are blue, a funicular climb to the top of a Pyrenee may be in order. Night in one or another of the inland villages. (30km)
Day 2: Lots of choices today, and some real distance if you want it, amidst some of France’s most spectacular scenery. Marathoners can visit the walled hill town of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, rallying point for the Santiago pilgrimage across the ages. On the way, pass the Pas de Roland, where Charlemagne’s nephew (a - official version) gave his life fighting off the Moors and thus prevented a muslim invasion of christian Europe, or (b - really) was killed by Basques testy over the sacking of Pamplona a few days prior. The rest of us will content ourselves with a charming cycle along the Nive valley, past the spa towns of Cambo and Ustarritz. Visit the French Basque capital, Bayonne, or skirt it, heading straight for Biarritz and its spectacular waterfront. The first of many days with 8 times too many things to do. (40km)
Day 3: An easy day. Spend the morning savoring Biarritz, her beautiful beaches, crashing surf and charming coves, wonderful views, yummy lunch spots. Then it’s time to head for Spain. We loosely follow the coast down to the border, sometimes along the ocean, sometimes testing the line of hills just a bit inland. An evening of tapas in Fuenterabbia’s old town will round out a wonderful day. Stay out late and over-indulge to insure tip-top physical condition for one of our favorite hills, tomorrow. (40k)
Day 4: Isn’t a “favorite hill” like a “favorite” way of sticking bamboo under your fingernails? No, not really. Imagine a tree-lined road looping slowly through the woods. Imagine a quaint village part-way up. Imagine a cider bar with long wooden tables under shade trees, and a refreshing mug. Visualize the road on a hillside above the coast. Imagine views to forever, and a spectacular decent to an amazing rabbit warren of a fishing village. From there, a ferry shuttles you to the outskirts of San Sebastian. Spend the evening celebrating your new “favorite” hill in yet another city whose ocean front will take your breath away (if you have any left after the hill ;-). (30km)
Day 5: The next day is given over to tooling around San Sebastian on our steeds, perhaps exploring the two sentinel hills that guard her beautiful port, perhaps going for a spin along the coast to the west, perhaps just lounging around on the beach. Take an evening ride into the neighboring orchards for a glass of the local cider, and perhaps a side of beef to go with it. (Variable km)
Day 6: Now we strike out along craggy outcroppings of the rugged coast, through fishing villages and past pristine beaches. Bar-hop in Ondarroa, rubbing elbows with the local machos, who wear berets and drink rosé. Watch the red and green fishing boats bob in Lekeito’s port. Stop in Bedarona for a terrace with a view so beautiful, it hurts. Visit Ea for the definition of an “out of the way” restaurant. The end of the day brings us to the Ria de Gernika, a tidal estuary that is now a nature preserve. The town of the same name is a repository of some depressing history, movingly commemorated by Picasso. The modern version, though, is alive and well as a commercial and social center. (50km)
Day 7: Lots of choices again today. Bermeo, at the bottom of the Ria, is the Basque coast’s largest fishing port. Visit the fishing museum, or check out the jai-alai fronton if there is a match. The other side of the Ria offers good beaches. When you are done with your swim, continue to Elantxobe, a fishing port built on such a steep cliff that the town has no streets, only staircases. And don’t neglect Gernika itself, home to an iconic tree that symbolizes Euro democracy, to the beautiful Viscaya parliament building, to prehistoric caves, and to a sporting goods store that has those great orange Euskatel biking shirts :-). (30-60km)
Day 8: Our last day along the beautiful Basque coast. Up and down the green hills to Bilbao, home to the famous Guggenheim, and center of the Basque social scene. Our trip disbands upon arrival in Bilbao, but most wisely choose to spend the night there: scoot in in time to “do the Gu,” and then retreat to the old town for Basque bingeing. (30km)
- Bike rental is included!
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