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Pyrenees

Crossing the solitary Pyrenees by bike

July 2021

DURATION: 6 days | DIFFICULTY: | MODALITY: Cycletouring

There is an unknown and authentic part of the Pyrenees where the roads preserve their genuine charm and the most primitive cycling can be found. The Solitary Pyrenees by bike Route is full of mountain passes that rise through sinuous gorges, between leafy beech and chestnut groves. This is a Pyrenees of green valleys, shepherd’s huts, farmhouses, master cheesemakers and small villages full of life.

This cyclo-touring journey through the Solitary Pyrenees is a proposal of Biking Through Spain, in collaboration with a Pair of Wheels. We propose an unpublished journey through the Navarrese Pyrenees and French Basque Country. The route combines ascents to memorable and uncrowded mountain passes, combined with the opportunity to experience quiet and contemplative cycling. Traveling without haste, we will overcome each of the stages, enjoying an itinerary that recovers the true essence of the Pyrenean adventure.

The Solitary Pyrenees by bike route combines the epic of the most genuine cycling with the experience of a true journey, which becomes a real challenge. There will be comfortable and continuous assistance, and we count with the support of an experienced cyclist like Sergi Fernandez Tolosa, who will serve the group to achieve its goal.

We will sleep in comfortable hotels and hostels with twin rooms with a bathroom included in each room. Breakfast and dinner is included, as well as mid-stage picnics during the bicycle stages. Each day, at the end of the day, we will communicate the refreshment points and plan the next day’s stage.

There will be a vehicle available to assist the participants in the points of confluence between bicycle routes and the van’s route. Every day we can consult these points to always know where we will have the vehicle nearby. In addition, the group and the van will be geolocated at all times via mobile phones.  

The most suitable bicycle for this route is a cycle-touring bicycle, with tyre covers prepared to face the short mountain paths and sections with rough or deteriorated asphalt. Even so, most of the route will be on quiet roads with good asphalt. Road bikes work perfectly as long as they have such tires. Mountain bikes may cause slower speeds to be reached, but they will be fine on the more rugged terrains. Rest assured that the rhythm that Sergio will set on the route will allow everyone to easily follow the stages.

The map shown partially reflects the route. There are sections of tracks that do not yet appear on the map and that will be displayed further on. The stages will surely not suffer variations beyond, and the final accommodation will be in the village of destination or within its vicinity

ACTIVITIES / ITINERARY

Duration: 6 days

Transfer day between Barcelona and Isaba where we will stay before the beginning of the first stage. Departure from Barcelona around 15h.

We will depart in the morning to face one of the first importants ports of the route: La Pierre Sant Martin. We enter the territories of the Basajaun, the mythological lord of the forests that we can find in all of the Irati extensions that we will cross. He is a hairy giant with a strong character and the protector of the cattle. He is the Pyrenean and friendly version of the Asian Yeti.

We will go through a gorge that is the gateway to the wide Belagua Valley, which is surrounded by imposing mountains that we will witness from the road, in continuous zigzags. The route will continue through an endless and labyrinthine chaos of limestone rocks that we will  see on both sides of the border. Once we arrive at the pass of La Pierre Sant Martin, a dizzying descent awaits us along a lonely road that crosses the Issaux forests until it reaches the more open valleys of Arette, Montory and finally Tardets

Basque Fronton

Today we will be facing the most demanding stage in terms of accumulated slope. But above all the lonely and little-known Ahusky pass, which has the same characteristics as most of the Iparralde passes so, being a  demanding and aerial pass with prodigious views of the Pyrenean chain. The first 5 kilometres through the Alçay – Alçabehéty valley are placid, until a sudden turn to the right shows its teeth. The pass is about 10km at an average of 8%, although we will find some peaks of 11%.

We will recover our strength at the Ahusky and from there we will link up with the Iraty Chalets, in the port of Bagargi, through the Col d’Arhansus. This is one of the most beautiful and sought-after sections of our route. We will bike on ancient tracks, that are now paved, but where hardly any local vehicles pass. These are winding and narrow routes where we must pay attention to the gravel or branches that we can find on the way, but with sections of a beauty of Stendhal syndrome, in this case, the path communicates with two nearby but distant orographic areas in the Pyrenean chain.

Irati Forest

From Bagargi we will continue along some spectacular routes that are part of the Irati nature reserves on the French side. We will enter the Navarrese side of the Irati forest through a pass that will take us to the Irabia reservoir. Here we will take a section of  the path in good condition that borders the reservoir until we reach the dam. From here we will follow the asphalted and regulated track at the entrance of the nature reserve, which will take us to the Mendilatz hostel. On the way we will pass through some of the areas with the most spectacular examples of Irati beech trees.

We will continue for a good part of the day enjoying the lush forests in the Irati beech forests. Today is the longest day of the route, yet we have the possibility of shortening it by 10 km if we cover this difference by an initial stretch of tracks to Roncesvalles.

Once in Roncesvalles, we will take a break to contemplate the monumental complex and see the atmosphere of the last pilgrims facing the first stage of the Way to Santiago. Then, we’ll follow a comfortable climb to the Ibañeta pass and the start of another of these sought-after stretches of local, aerial and fun tracks, with no traffic beyond the few hunters in the area. We will make a small 3 km stretch of a committed ascent, closed by a comfortable beech tree cover, to then start the long descent to the hidden valley of Aldudes and Urepel. This will be followed by a long descent of 13 km to this last village saving 750 mt of unevenness. From Urepel we start a 5 km. climb with some occasional sections of strong inclines. Then we will follow a lighter ascending section to start a comfortable and fast descent towards the Eugi reservoir through the spectacular forest domain of the Quinto Real. This frontier territory, already in the area of Navarre, but historically exploited by the French, takes its name from the Quinto Real that the kings and lords of these conquered areas gave as payment to the King of Navarre. Even today some French families living in this territory share, with the agreement of both parties, taxes and services on both sides of the border.

Near Ibañeta pass

Nearby we will find the remains of the Royal Factory of Arnas de Eugi, from where we will start the ascent of the last important pass of the day, the Artesiaga pass of 984 meters, which gives access to the Baztan Valley. The ascent to the pass is easy, 7 km to overcome a 300 mt. difference in level. The descent, much longer, will leave us in the vicinity of Elizondo, the capital of the Valley and which is worth a 4 km detour. Its labyrinthine streets on both sides of the Baztan (or Bidasoa) River and its stately homes are its greatest attractions. From here we are only 14 km away, gliding through the Valley to our destination in Doneztebe.

This day and the next are the two shortest ones of the tour, but they will need our commitment to complete them and enjoy a program full of captivating sport, landscape and culture. To begin, with 7 km from the start we will find a small but demanding pass of just 4 km to overcome 400 mt of unevenness. At the beginning of the ascent, we’ll find the most compromising ramps concentrated. Once we arrive at the pass we have spectacular views: on the one hand a magnificent watchtower dominating the villages of the Baztan Valley, and on the other hand the incredible forest reserves of the Señorío de Bertiz Natural Park, that we recommend crossing on another occasion. Finally we begin to contemplate one of the truly solitary routes of our Pyrenean journey:

To Zugarramurdi

Baztan Valley Track to Zugarramurdi: We’ll ride30 kilometres along a paved road that communicates the different scattered hamlets between the valleys of Baztan, Etxalar and the French valleys of Ainhoa – Sare. It is a long journey of silence and contemplation of exuberant nature, with continuous ups and downs between forests and small valleys. If we have enough time and strength we can make an approach to the interesting Infernuko Errota (Devil’s Mill). Although, we will also need to reserve a time to visit the caves of Zugarramurdi that we’ll come across towards the middle of the route, at the end of this long, lonely stretch. The first attraction of this route is its hidden and fascinating nature that we must cross on foot, and the second is the geological spectacle that was formed to drill some cavities of a gigantic size. But the caves also carry an interesting and terrible story behind them, which refers to the inquisitorial process that led several women accused of witchcraft, the Sorginak, to the stake in the 17th century. Alex de la Iglésia popularized the place and took indirect reference to the events in the well-known comedy of “the Witches of Zugarramurdi“.

From Zugarramurdi we have a quiet descent to the vicinity of the French village of Sare before starting the last climb of the day: The Lizarrieta pass that connects the valley of Sare with the valley of Etxalar: 10 km to save 400 mt between lush forests by a narrow and rough road, and then go to Etxalar by a fast and colorful descent.

No matter how tired we are, a visit to the village of Etxalar is obligatory.  Surrounded by mountains and green meadows, the village has received awards for the conservation of its popular architectural legacy. Its oldest houses are from the 16th and 17th centuries. The church is flanked by the old cemetery with discoid steles (Hilarris) typical of the Basque Country, carved in stone with specimens, in this case, from the 17th century.

Etxalar's house

From Etxalar, 7 comfortable km separate us from Lesaka. We will go down to the Bidasoa valley and go up the road on the opposite side to reach the small village of Lesaka, a town like Etxalar in the Navarre region of the Cinco Villas and the destination of the day.  After a well-deserved rest, it is worth discovering the charm of the village.

The last stage will take us from the mountains of the Navarrese Pyrenees to the waters of the Gulf of Biscay that bathe Donosti. In between, we’ll encounter two passes with moderate altitude but demanding climbs. The sea views will be rewarding throughout the day, with spectacular views of the Basque coast especially from the Jaizkibel.

The first pass is made up of two hills, Aguiña and Aritxulegi, both separated by the San Antón reservoir. The first pass of Agiña is 8 km long with an average of 6%, with small peaks a little higher towards the end of the pass. We will continue through a recurrent landscape of pastures and farmhouses that alternate with more wooded areas. We will continue with a 3 km descent that will bring us to the dam of San Antón, where we’ll begin the brief second hill, 3’5 km to an average of 5’5% to surpass 200 meters of unevenness. Once we have passed this second pass, the road, which is lonely and well paved, will take us to the town of Oiartzun in the province of Gipuzkoa.

We will continue towards Hondarribia through the Peñas de Aia Natural Park. Our senses will be quite busy in the midst of the contemplation of some extraordinary natural environments and the views of the Cantabrian Sea, with the Jaizquibel and Hondarrabia cut out on the horizon. The last few passes are beautiful but hard, with the Pyrenees being dropped gently into the sea.

In Hondarribia, if we have enough time, it will be worthwhile to take a walk through the old fishermen’s quarter. Here you will find a great variety of pintxos bars and restaurants along the street of Santiago.  The tempting gastronomic smells come from an endless succession of small wooden houses that decorate their brightly coloured facades. The old town has various treasures, such as the curious houses and palaces, like the Parador Nacional which was the old Castle of Carlos V, the Zuloaga Palace, the Eguiluz Palace, the Etxebestenea House-Palace, etc.

Hondarribia

From Hondarribia we will start the last pass of the route: a great classic of Basque cycling with spectacular views along the way. The mythical pass of Jaizkibel is 10 km long with a 455 mt. difference in level at an average of 4.6%. Between km 6 and 7 there is a peak of 10%. Except for this section, the rest of the route is very easy. At km 5 we’ll find the important hermitage of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with a beautiful view of the beach of Hondarribia and the exit of the river Bidasoa, with Hendaye dominating the other side of the river. We will follow the ascent and we will confront that km harder than the 9% average. The forests are left behind, and the areas of pasture appear. The last 3 km are gradually more bearable. 

The descent towards Lezo and the village of Pasaia is fast and with sensational views of the coast. There will be stops with camera to immortalize the landscapes, which will tempt us like the song of the sirens.

From Lezo we will move to the last accommodation, but before that we will stop to celebrate our journey through the Pyrenees Solitaire.

After the end of the party, we’ll travel calmly to Barcelona surely through the quite highways and fast roads, that are parallel to the Pyrenees.

SERVICES INCLUDED

Transportation of participants, luggages and bikes

Lodging and breakfasts

Picnic lunches

Dinners

Activity insurance. With increased coverage for participants outside Spain

Trip Guide

Assistance and maintenance of bikes

Photographic report

PRICES

Guided Route

1100€

Self-Guided Route

Tailored Route

* Prices include sales tax.
* Prices for groups of 8 participants. For groups of fewer participants consult us.

If you like this route, book it now and pedal with us!

BOOK YOUR EXPERIENCE
  1. Fill in the form or call us at +34 617 473 501
  2. Once your petition has been received it will be answered in 24 hr. (working days).
  3. A quotation will then be sent to make the deposit payment.
  4. 30 days before your trip begins the remaining amount must be paid.
  5. Accepted forms of payment: credit card through our website, bank transfer or Paypal.

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