Basque Trails

A few days of sublime trails in the company of friends.

One of my favourite things about travel by bicycle is the community that exists around that… the opportunities to make new friends and share adventures. With that in mind I’ve spent the last few days happily cruising (and at times slogging and hike-a-biking) around the Basque Country on a mix of wet woodland single track, high altitude dirt roads and superbly scenic valley ‘via verdes’, all in the company of friends I met while riding in the Himalayas a few years ago. It’s been wonderful… both the riding and the time spent renewing friendships over beer and pintxos. The kindness and generosity of my hosts has been overwhelming… how they managed to put up with me will remain forever one of the world’s great mysteries ;-)

I find as I get older it’s easily as much about the time with friends than purely the adventure alone…

As I write I’m in the Basque capital, Vitoria-Gasteiz, staying with a friend for a few days to explore, catch up with work, and tap into local knowledge for my onward journey. Apparently one of the most livable cities in Spain, Vitoria is certainly a powerful illustration of what happens when town councils/governments prioritise cycling and walking over the desire of the motorist to be able to take a car everywhere… the streets and abundant open spaces are full of social life and the happy chatter of people and children playing, the air is clear, and there are bicycles everywhere. I love it.

From Bilbao I headed east to Gernika to catch up with the first of my friends. We rode down to the coast near Mundaka where he generously left me with the keys to his “shed” (albeit a very nice shed…) for the night… surrounded by laden fruit trees and with stupendous views over the coast.
Rather than take the coast road all the way to San Sebastián, I looped inland for a couple of days on a mix of forested, and at times extremely wet and slippery, singletrack…
.. and dirt roads that were at times both extremely steep, and extremely muddy…
The village of Olatz.. a lovely spot nestled in the mountains with a soundtrack of nothing more than the rustle of leaves in the wind and cowbells in the surrounding hills. I dropped down out of those hills on a very muddy path to find the taverna sadly closed.. however the owner was outside and sorted me out with a couple of beers anyway and said I could camp behind the church.. so I did. It was a wet night.
Back to the coast and the port of Zumaia.
Leaden skies over San Sebastián… I stopped a couple of nights with friends who looked after me wonderfully. It was lovely to be able to catch up. I find as I get older it’s easily as much about the time with friends than purely the adventure alone. I’m becoming sentimental….
I loved San Sebastián, it’s a huge tourist draw but seems to have managed to not let that erode the local life of the town, it’s a hard balance to find and here it would appear to have been done well, at least to my jaundiced west Cornwall eyes… ;-) I didn’t photograph as such… too busy talking, being shown around, eating and drinking.
From San Sebastián we headed south for a couple of days into the mountains on a mix of lovely wooded vias verdes…
…and terrific highland dirt roads.
The riding was truly sublime…
.. albeit at times extremely steep, and hot. This climb took us up to somewhere around 2000m, initially on a rough dirt track but eventually on no track at all over baby-head boulders … a long push!
So very worth it however.
Spot the cyclists.
A few horses we came across looked distinctly unimpressed with our efforts….
My friends had planned this route; it was superb.
It was a long day, some 9 hours riding time, 11-ish hours on the road before arrival into Vitoria-Gasteiz for enormous ice creams on the fringes of the mediaeval centre.
The heart is a mediaeval walled city that has grown over the centuries in concentric rings, much as a tree deposits new growth over the years.
Contrasts in technology… happy to see a book instead of an electronic device over coffee.

From here I’ve been ‘ordered’ to head south to Burgos and then west on the Camino Frances towards Santiago de Compostela for a few days before turning south for Salamanca. Seems like a fine plan to me!


10 thoughts on “Basque Trails

  • Hey Mike from Dave in WA. How wonderful to experience such diversity of terrain and to share it with friends too is such a blessing. I agree too, its about time spent sharing with friends as it is the adventure. Thank you for sharing.

    Oh and by the way, I have found and bought an X100V. Its a used one with 100 shutter releases only! I have to wait until the 16th before my camera shop – where I buy my Fuji gear – will release it to me. It has to wait for Police clearance. I’m super excited.

    Cycle safe Mike.

  • Enjoyed the photos and ‘commentary’. I sent your newsletter to a friend and he is hooked! He belongs to a photography club, so appreciates the pictures you share. He checked out your older adventures and, like me, prefers 5* hotels – not teeny tents! To each his own, eh?

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