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Biking from Nottingham to Gernika? Are you crazy?

Biking in the Basque Country…….

Eight friends, all with a Nottingham connection, and all biking fans. Some of them had been here before for work and holidays and knew that cycling was big news here. How were they going to get together for a long weekend trip to discover some more of the mythical roads and hills that the Basque Country had hidden away? They had seen the stages in the Pyrenees in the Tour de France, and the Tour of the Basque Country, but how to get it off the ground? And just as importantly, they wanted it to be more than just cycling, they wanted food, drink and a few laughs….

So it was with interest that in Autumn 2017 I received an email regarding putting together a unique tour here. I am not a biker, but arrange all manner of bespoke trips, and the thought of of curating a made-to-measure tour for 8 keen cyclists from the UK got me excited. However, it wasn’t just the biking, the clients wanted me to create something that combined time in the saddle with beautiful places & local traditions. A chance to show off our cuisine, our landscape and our hospitality. A true Tour of the Basque Country.

Cycling, biking, riding, however you call it, it always been big here in the Basque Country. Tour de France winners? Check. Stages of the Tour de France? Check. Long tradition of biking? Check. Varied terrain and excellent surfaces? Check…

Four night tour

Accommodation was organised months in advance. This level or preparedness is essential to ensure a smooth running tour, always! A mix of locations, and styles of beds just adds to the experience. From Camino de Santiago hostels to 4* hotels, we had it all covered. What about my bike? I hear you ask. Well, all spots were chosen with secure storage for your pride and joy uppermost in our selection criteria. Its the little details see…

On the road

Tour design and profile is essential, especially for a mixed group such as this. Routes were chosen in combination with the accommodation, distances, elevation, and activities post-biking. We decided on a post-to-post style tour to give variety and a different feel to everyday. A single base is also an option of course. It allows for less morning prep time, but doesn’t have the feel of a tour. In terms of bikes, it was a mix of own-bikes and rented. We used our good friends at Bizkairoute for the excellent hire bikes, and the GPS/Garmin/Strava apps to enable our riders to see where they were going! In addition we had a ‘Broom Wagon’ to carry all the bike boxes, luggage, spares, drinks etc. Essential on a biking tour in a new location.

The Tour

A long weekend starting on Thursday saw our group of 8 enthusiasts visit a Txoko, a members-only dining club if you will, in the famous town of Gernika. The ritual of preparing food and dining together in the txoko here is a almost a religious thing, so as a visitor it rarely gets seen… It also meant the riders would be fully loaded for the days ahead….

Friday saw us embark from the hostel with San Sebastián as our destination. The route of saw us cover 115km along gorgeous coastal roads with little or no traffic. A couple of decent climbs and elevation of 1,900m, that included Itziar and Mendizorrotz. Passing through the Urdaibai Nature reserve, the villages of Lekeitio, Ondarroa, Deba and into San Sebastian was as one of the riders said afterwards. The best day’s riding I have ever done….

San Sebastian was a welcome respite from the long day in the saddle. Ice-cold beers, a beautiful beach and cool sea to soothe weary legs… Dinner was taken up in a Cider House another great Basque tradition, off-limits to all but the most ‘in-the-know’ travellers. Cider; free flowing, steaks, salt cod all delicious and served on long tables.. the tired legs were a memory…

Heading Inland

A spritely start saw us head east and inland into the interior of the green Basque Country. Sunny start, but the weather soon became Basque with a couple of heavy downpours, adding to the biking experience! A day of 90km, and 1,800m elevation into the the charming Basque village of Elizondo, nestled in the lush Pyrenean foothills. Climbs included Cat 2s Aritxulegi and Agiña. A great traditional lunch followed by an evening of laughs, Gin Tonics and a carb-laden dinner saw everyone happy to bed.

Pyrenees

Riders from the world over know these mountains. Harsh, rugged and with very unpredictable weather, they play a major part in the Tour de France every year. Cyclists such as 5-time Tour winner Indurain hailed from here. The Sky Team were spotted on the road here on another of our tours only days later…. Its big country.

Our final day saw us leave the threatening skies over Elizondo and head east up and over the Cat 2 Col de Izpegi and into France! Some incredible mountain views were taken in before we rolled down into Baigorri, St Jean Pied de Port, and the Camino de Santiago. The border into Spain took us up to the Cat 1 Alto de Ibañeta at 1,062m, and the lovely ride down into Pamplona, city of the Running of the Bulls and Ernest Hemingway! Overall a leg of 113km and climbs totalling 2,100m, the riders were over the moon!! A short biking tour of the Basque Country, into Navarra and the Pyrenees, all rounded off in the great 4* Hotel Maisonnave in Pamplona!!

Next Year.. 2019

Well of course!! We are early in the planning stagess for Basque Country Biking Tour II. Its something that was so successful that we feel we can make this into an event for every year. Great locations, great riding, super meals and the beautiful Basque Country to appreciate.

Speak to me if you fancy organising a similar biking and bike tour across the Basque country, it so much more than just riding here!!

Trip Advisor

Just take a look at the comments left by our clients if you need more convincing….

 

 

  • Biking in the Basque Country
  • basque bike tour

Hiking the Pyrenees and Basque Country

‘We want to do some hiking in the Pyrenees and the Basque Country’

Hiking said the email. Friends of an old client of ours, Manu Feildel who came to record the TV Show ‘My France with Manu’ in 2015, I couldn’t refuse! 6 friends all the way from Sydney Australia.

Months of organising, hotels, hostels, mountain refuges, transport and guides. The tour was a complete success! Starting in San Sebastian at the Hotel Villa Soro we headed east into the Pyrenees via Pamplona. A night in the Hotel Santa Cristina in Canfranc was followed by a tough days hiking, 24km,  in the Pirineo Occidental National Park.  Tired and very weary the group, which included a professional guide and myself as a driver over-nighted in the Refugio de Lizara. The spas in the great hotels we arranged were a godsend!

Ziga

Day 2 and out of the refuge and a shortish 12km trek keeping to the GR -111 route to the Refugio de Gabardito. Picnic lunches everyday meant that the evening meals were hearty and our evening dinner in the Country House in Ziga was no different. The family-run Zigako Etxezuria was exactly what the doctor ordered. From Ziga we walked for part of the Camino de Santiago through leafy and verdant beech forests for a full-days trek. Finishing in Lanz the beers were cold and well deserved!

San Sebastian

Last day saw us make our way back to San Sebastian. The route out of Osses in France saw us visit Espelette, famous for its peppers and chocolate before having  a light lunch or oysters, sardines and wine in the charming seaside and fishing town of St Jean de Luz. The tour was rounded of with a superb dinner in the Ilunpe Sociedad Gastronomica in San Sebastiáns old town, who counts as a member the chef Martin Berasategui owner of 8 Michelin Stars!

 

  • Hiking Pyrenees
  • Basque Hike

Basque Experiences discover more of La Rioja

New La Rioja Wineries for 2018-19

As a Basque Country DMC and travel agency, we are always on the lookout for new product, people and activities to offer our clients. La Rioja offers a fantastic  variety of different experiences, and we have to keep up to speed on all of them!

It sounds like a really easy job, visiting wineries and driving around wine country, but believe me, we are doing it for you!

Modern and traditional

Developing relationships with all kinds of winemakers is fundamental. It means we can offer the best options to our clients. Small producers like Bodegas Tobelos in Briñas, who make around 200,000 bottles a year, and only crianzas and reservas. To the larger Valdemar or Bodegas Faustino, both famous internationally that produce millions of bottles.

Our visits took us to Bodegas Izadi, who along with fantastic wine give us the opportunity to be able to offer gastronomic experiences as well. Really special, tailor-made basque experiences!! In the village of Cenicero, is situated the historic and truly spectacular Bodegas Riojanas. Their superb installations, and excellent wine make for a fascinating contrast to the smaller, ‘garage’ bodegas.

Basque Wine Tours

At Basque Experiences we  will tailor-make your visit to La Rioja. Be you a small private family group, or an agency looking for a trusted DMC, with personalised attention. Its not all tasting wine you know!!

 

  • Basque Experiences Wine
  • Basque Experiences
  • Basque Experiences create wine tasting tours
  • Basque Experiences Wine Tours
  • Wine with Basque Experiences

 

 

 

Basque Cider House Rocks!

Basque Cider House

Any self-respecting trip to Donostia/San Sebastián has to include a visit to a Sagardotegi – A Basque Cider House. Traditional houses, dotted all over the hills in the hinterland around San Sebastián open their doors in spring. An invitation for foodie folk to come and enjoy the splendid results from the winter’s fermentation!

Cider

The autumn and winter months allow the juices of last season’s apples to ferment gently. Tanks and Chestnut tuns are used to create this heady brew. Popular for centuries by Basque sailors, its ant-scurvy properties enabled long voyages… Newfoundland, its whales and banks of cod were a mere row across the ocean! The result is a scrumpy-like concoction, full of acids and green flavours. Sour and sweet, fizzy yet flat…. There are many types and commercialisation has not pervaded into the production in the vast majority of thee family-run enterprises. Some now open all-year round, but we at Basque Experiences prefer the local ones. Family-run, friendly, smiles all-round and that warm welcoming feeling, and way better food & service than some of the larger ones!

Larre-gain.com

Larre-gain is a family-run business, located way up in the hills behind Hernani. With views of San Sebastian and the stunning Aiako Herria Natural Park, the location is spectacular. Small scale like I said but well respected! Guardian top 10 Cider Houses say so!

The menu; Salt-cod omelette, Fried Salt Cod, Bone-in steak and walnuts & cheese is classic. Quantities are always perfect, but the quality, and my fellow steak experts were speechless, was 10/10. The steak was superb we have to say! Check the pics! Many samples of cider later and we were part of the crowd! Serving the Cider from the barrels like we were born with apples trees coming out of our ears! What a great laugh!

San Sebastian

Staying for a weekend in one of the small hostels or great hotels in this great town is a perfect city break. Even Bilbao, the larger brother to San Sebastián is only an hour by bus (c.16€) and gives another angle to the Basque Country with more nightlife and variety. Wherever you stay though, the Sagardotegi is a must! As is the Gin ‘n’ Tonic we are so famous for as a digestif!! See you here soon! TXOTX!!!!

  • Cider Barrels
  • San Sebastian
  • Basque Cider House
  • Basque Cider House
  • Basque Experiences

 

 

 

Eneko – Michelin Star Restaurant

Eneko Restaurant

Hidden away up in the hills close to Bilbao sits a restaurant that has been gaining international acclaim. The Azurmendi is a Three Michelin Star restaurant that was named as 38th best restaurant in the Worlds’ 50 Best awards in 2017  However, it has a little brother, called Eneko

This off-shoot has been created by the Azurmendi’s main chef and owner, Eneko Atxa with the intention of making the restaurant more accesible. A holder of one Michelin Star by itself, the menu is focused on local provenance.

We at Basque Experiences were delighted to be invited in early March to sample the magnificent dishes…  The visit also included a tour and tastings of txakoli wines produced at their own Bodega!

Menu

Local produce is fundamental here and the principle runs through the Menu. Wines were their own; Gorka Izagirre, G22, 42, and Arima as well as a Campillo from Rioja Alavesa. Seven courses of which some of which you can see n the photos! Can you guess what was used though? The variety of methods, ingredients and presentation was great, and everything was delicious!! I had a couple of favourites but I am not going to give the game away… You will have to come with us and try or let us reserve a table for you and your group…

Pizarro

Talking groups, we have our Pizarro ‘Basque’ Gastronomy Tour in late 2018. For our final day with Jose Pizarro we will be visiting the Azurmendi Restaurant and kitchens, a unique chance to dine and discover this superb restaurant!

  • Basque Hake
  • Egg.... and peppers and corn....
  • Foie or Chestnut
  • Olives
  • Rich beef
  • Eneko's Team
  • Eneko restaurant
  • Dessert