Over the last 12 days we have cycled from Tolosa on the edge of the Pyrenees through to Olot and the Coll de Ares pass into France. We haven’t posted much during this time as the cycling, scenery and people we have met along the way have been enthralling us too much. Below are some snapshots of my memories of cycling the length of the Pyrenees on the Spanish side during April.
First off its really, really, really hilly but once you get over that and realise whenever you climb you eventually go down you become a bit more Zen about hill climbing. Its not unusual to climb for 2 – 3 hours (at our average speed of 7kph up hill) and then descend 15km in a rush of speed. The best descent was from Coll de Boixols into Coll de Nargo, amazing scenery and one of the best bakeries of the trip at the bottom.
We have been following a route based upon the very good Cicerrone guide which has taken us along valleys that border the Pyrenees rather than directly into their midst. This makes the mountains themselves a constant backdrop to the cycling and means every time you reach a pass the surrounding mountains never fail to astound you with their size and perfect snow covered peaks.
As we travelled the length we have moved from sleeping at 800m in every item of warm clothing we have and our bags to sleeping at 1000m in just our sleeping bags. Not only have the night time temperatures jumped up but the visible signs of spring are all around us with bright pink and white blossoms on trees and forests beginning to don their green summer colours. All of this takes place against the back-drop of slowly receding snow lines on the highest peaks. Day time cycling has seen us often wishing we could swim in the lakes and rivers we cycle alongside with average highs above 20 degrees.
Starting with our stay in Tolosa we have been made to feel welcome by the people we have met whether it is by local shop staff laughing over our broken Spanish, the French day trippers in Jaca that we tried to discuss our bikes with, the lovely folk at Gerbe, the weekend road cyclists encouraging us on as we climbed yet another pass while they raced by towards lunch or home, Sunday motorbike riders who upon trying to lift our touring bikes and failing declared us both mad and sped back to Barcelona as we cycled onwards, a chance meeting with Lachlan in Olot and accompanying lunch that saw us through afternoon thunderstorms and on to Oix.
We have stayed in campsites 6 out of the 12 days in the Pyrenees with mixed results. Some were lovely with hot showers, free internet and nice green grass, others were less good. The days away from campsites we had one unexpected offer of beds and found some of the best free camp spots of the trip so far. In particular camping beside Panta de la Baells on our own private hilltop and pitching our tent facing the sunrise at Coll de Canes stand out. Despite lack of showers and often rocky terrain the free camp spots are the ones we will remember most (see our route map for locations if you’re curious).
You’ll be pleased to know that second only to cycling, food is a still a big part of our day. The Pyrenees hasn’t disappointed on that front with a few of our most memorable meals being served along the way. The food highlights included:
- Bacon and Avocado burgers beside Panta de la Baells
- switching from sandwiches to salads and bread for lunch – its pretty much the same thing but more filling less bread the salad way
- finding soya sauce and promptly making yummy stir fry with Noodles we carried since London!
- deciding its OK to eat all the pastries for dessert even though we only cycled 30km
- eating our second Menu del Dia in Jaca and being served aubergine unexpectedly smothered in cheese after not having eaten cheese for 4 weeks
Righto, on to France!