european road trip 2016 – part two

This years European Road Trip started in Santander and I wrote about the first couple of days in Part One which had seen us travel to an overnight stop in Irrurtzon and an overnight stay at the Hotel Plazaola.

Tuesday. The Plazaola had been good value and my total bill was less than €70 – which for bed, breakfast, evening meal and a few beers seemed decent enough and the secure parking for the bikes in the spacious underground garage was ideal.

Irrurtzon is in Navarre in Northern Spain and our stay there had left us set to ride to Bossost, a small Pyrenean village in Catalonia.

Our routine for the trip was pretty much as on most European trips, which was to meet for breakfast around 08:00am and almost immediately start the days p*ss taking  and banter  normally  before the first coffee was finished.  After that we would typically be on our way around 09:00am and that was pretty much the case when leaving the Hotel Plazaola.

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I mentioned in Part One that we take it in turns to sort a route for the day and the route to Bossost was sorted by Rich, which was as near a guarantee that we could get that we would be in for a fine days riding … and Rich didn’t disappoint.

I don’t really know quite which roads we took other than to say that I think for much of the day we were on the French side of the Pyrenees on empty twisting and well surfaced roads. For a little of  the day we we were on the NA-140 but we seemed to do a significant number of  passes (Col’s)  and which included the Col du Tourmalet, none of them were especially high but most of them were pretty good – either from a scenery or riding perspective or frequently from both.

We started off the day expecting to be damp – not because of rain, but because we were headed almost straight away into the mountains and the low hanging cloud and although that was how the day started, by the middle of the day the weather had turned and by and large we went on to have superb weather all week with temperatures in the 30’s and on occasion we saw temperatures up as high as 39c

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But Tuesday did start with low cloud and on a few sections of the mountain roads there were gravel sections that required a suitable amount of care as did the wild horses that were on the road and that loomed out of the mist. The day developed into a fabulous and full days riding and compared alongside some of the best days riding I have ever had over the years.

It’s never possible to capture everything that happens on any given day but one memory that will stay with me for a long time and that happened during this trip was when three red deer dashed across the road maybe just 10 yards or so in front of me, if I had arrived at that point a second or so earlier then maybe the memory might have been different!

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Not for the first time Rich had excelled in his route planning and his investment of time in advance of the trip paid handsome dividends as we rode mile after mile on roads that at  times were as scintillating as they were breathtaking as we headed first for Urroz  then Aoiz via the NA-150 and then towards the pretty and incredibly picturesque village of Ochagavía where we stopped for mid morning refreshments in the baking hot sun drenched square outside the Hotel Aunamendi.

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Before we crossed the Col du Tourmalet we stopped again for much needed cold drinks on the main street of an alpine village called Bareges within the national park (Le Parc national des Pyrénées). Here the clouds were low again but after crossing the Tourmalet we were back in hot and sunny conditions.

Eventually we ended out day in Bassost at the Shadows Hotel right next to the River Garona. The Shadows Hotel was a decent enough pace to stay, and it was another hotel with secure underground parking for the bikes.  The accommodation along  with a decent evening meal and breakfast proved to be good value at just over €50 (including a couple of beers).

It’s never really quite possible to capture the scenery,  and there is an inevitability  about it never really being possible to stop and capture the best and most dramatic views, but clicking on the first picture below will open a gallery of pictures from Tuesday, that will at least provide a flavor of the day.. To read more (from Wednesday) then scroll down past the picture gallery. 

Tuesday pictures below

Wednesday

We left the Shadows Hotel and headed for Lodeve in the Languedoc- Rousillon region of southern France, the climate in that part of France meant that unless something wholly unseasonable was about to happen we were near certain of enjoying a day that would be  typical of the Mediterranean climate.

I can’t recall the precise route we took, but it was another day for Rich to lead the route which meant it was another fine days riding.

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The heat was such that along the way we stopped for cold drinks at a couple of places  one of which was the picture book  village of Saint Lary, a little time spent on Google Earth will show you why its such a good place to be on a bike.

In Saint Lary we spoke with a lady who had moved out there 10 years ago and was worried about the UK’s Brexit vote  she was an ‘ex pat’ who had lived there for the last 10 years – she thought the vote was a disaster and added that French people she knew thought we were mad!

For what it’s worth as a small traveling group of friends we only allowed the ‘Brexit conversation’ to encroach on just one of our evenings – much more than that would have been just too much and our friendship may have been tested just a little too much.

We spent most of the day in the Pyrenees National Park, sort of heading north to go ‘over’ Andorra and then via the Col de Port (1,249 metres) and onto Bédeilhac-et-Aynat, and then ont0 Tarascon sur Ariege where we  had lunch at a small brasserie on the high street

On our way to Lodeve, we steered away from the walled city of Carcassone, and avoided the faster more tourist laden routes through Narbonne and Beziers preferring to head through the National Park area of Haut- Languedoc and the wine growing region from which the Minervois wines take their name.

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Wednesday had been another long but superb day on the bikes and it was around 7.20pm or so when we arrived at the Hotel du Nord in central Lodeve close to the River Lergue.

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Once again we had a hotel with superb secure garage accommodation and check in was straightforward with the pleasant and helpful owner.  Its actually quite an old fashioned and I suppose traditional type hotel – with a certain amount of charm.

We were quickly showered and out for a much needed cold beer – even after 8pm the temperature was still showing as 33c.  The only downside to staying in Lodeve on a Wednesday evening is that almost everything closes at 8pm, which meant that we hadn’t picked the best evening to stay there.

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It was the only night of the the trip when we had to resort to a take out – which we ate sat in the town square and which, to be fair was actually alright … so just in case you do find yourself in Lodeve on a Wednesday night and stuck for somewhere to eat then you could do worse than making your way down to the Chaud Devant fast food takeaway on Rue du Mazel.

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Thursday

We were away promptly on Thursday morning and headed for Beaucrossiant, in the south east of France (Auvergne Region) and in the fabulous Rhone Alps. It was Mick’s turn to lead the way and we headed out in the general direction of  Beaucroissiant  (sort of towards Grenoble) but traveling via Ganges, Uzes and Nyons and countless small places in between. Uzes had a ring of familiarity to it as we had stopped for a late lunch there on last years Road Trip, other than that the ride and roads were all new to me.

The weather was as fabulous as the roads and was around 26 degrees when we left and it was only set to get hotter.

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It was this day that provided us with some of the most spectacular scenery of the trip when we dropped down into a deep deep gorge before climbing up the other side on  tightly twisting hot tarmac … we had pretty much only stumbled on this road due to an earlier  road closure and diversion. It was truly stunning.

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I have been in the general area of the Rhone Alps a few times over the years (several times driving and I think maybe once or twice on a bike) but I have never seen or experienced it quite like this, we kept within the national parks and to be honest it felt like something of a revelation to me – it was a good day to be on a bike and all in all led to yet another hot but wonderful days riding.

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We spent the night in Beaucrossiant at the Logis Le Pont de Champ, which is actually a little outside the town centre but very accessible and well located due to its prominence near a major roundabout. Good accommodation, good food and a decent bar to sit in and watch the French football team make their way to the final of the European Championship by seeing off Germany that evening – the night was rounded off by plenty of beeping of horns and the sound of partying in the nearby town.

Although the accommodation and food were  good it did seem relatively expensive and bizarrely it turned out that we were all billed exactly the same amount €111 –  despite the fact that each of our bills ought really to have been different.

The remaining days of the trip would see us continue through France and Luxembourg and you can read about that in Part Three.

A collection of photographs from Wednesday and Thursday are posted below. Clicking on the first picture will open a scrolable gallery

Read more in the third and final part – click here for Part 3