Mark’s Pyrenees Trip: Days 9 to 12

In this episode, our intrepid trio continue their by now familiar routine – breakfast, biking, lunch, biking, pizza, beer, and snoring….

Day 9 (Sunday 30 June)

We got up on Sunday morning to be greeted by more glorious weather and steadily rising temperatures. Breakfast was once again in the cafe just down the road. Once that was consumed, it was time to return to the hotel, get the bikes out and head off for the day’s activities.

The object was to ride about 60 km to Ainsa, locate our next digs and then do a circular ride ending up back in Ainsa for the remainder of the day. It didn’t take too long to arrive in Ainsa; the ride there was enjoyable in the cooler (but steadily rising) morning temps. The road was one Jamie and I had travelled previously and was just as good as we remembered.

On arrival in Ainsa we pulled up by supermarket to buy cold drinks and to study the map . It was then that Jamie was told by a German biker that his exhaust was too loud, and that the noise wouldn’t make him any faster. I think it was a bit tongue in cheek, but I recently saw something in the bike press about German police really cracking down on loud exhausts so maybe he thought he was being helpful? Anyway, ignoring the German’s advice we pressed on towards lunch.

A picnic lunch was found, courtesy of a village shop in a small mountain town. The lady who had the shop was really nice and even tried some text book english out on us ” good day , how nice to meet you ” . With her english and my command of spanish , communication was not a problem !!!

Our route then took us along some really fast sweeping roads before dropping us at a small town by the end of a lake. The road by the lake was really scenic , but temperatures were by now stifling. Another road at the far end of the lake took us through some spectacular gorges and then on another race track of a road back towards Ainsa.

Checking in at the hotel , we parked the bikes and then found our rooms. I washed all my dirty laundry and hung it out on the balcony; it was dry in no time. Our evening meal was sourced in the hotel bar along with a few cold beers to wash it down. We discussed the next day’s ride out. It was going to be a long one, taking in several big Tour de France cols. An early start was needed, so off to bed for a rest ! 

Sorry folks, it seems that I once again forgot to take any meaningful pictures today…..

Day 10 (Monday 01 July)

After a good sleep, we breakfasted in the hotel restaurant, then got an early (for us) start. We set off back towards Jaca, but then headed up into the mountains towards France – the same road as 2 days ago, only this time on the French side. Ominous clouds filled the valley below us.

We headed off up the Col d’Aubisque in misty, drizzly weather, with worsening visibility as we climbed. It was actually very dodgy as it was almost impossible to see more than a few yards in front; there are some big drops at the side of that road, believe me!

Over the top and the descent was just as bad, if not worse. At one time I was following a cyclist to guide me down (I just hoped he didn’t ride off the edge, otherwise I would probably have followed him). The next col, the Col de Soulor was no better. Conditions didn’t improve until we dropped down into the next valley, when thankfully the Sun shone on us once again.

We were by now pretty hungry and managed to find a picnic lunch on some grass outside a supermarket in Argeles Gazost. Looking up the valley towards the Col de Tourmalet, the weather looked great. At 2115 metres, this is one of the highest Pyrenean cols the Tour De France crosses. The road was very busy with cyclists making the ascent.

The view from the top was stunning, so an ice cream stop was needed to take it all in. The descent was great fun, but care was necessary due to the cyclists and the numerous hairpin bends.

One more Col left to conquer today, the Col d’Aspin. This was another stunner , with fantastic views and riding. The summit was, as usual, busy with cyclists, camper vans, cars and motorbikes. Once the descent was made, we found ourselves on a valley road which slowly climbed towards the Spanish border. The Bielsa tunnel took us under the summit, across into Spain, from there it was a gradual, scenic descent back down to Ainsa.

The weather was once again back to it’s usual red hot self, in fact once we emerged from the tunnel onto the Spanish side , it was noticeably hotter. Once back at the digs, we showered, changed, then reconvened in a nearby bar for food and a few beers (to aid rehydration) . Looking back, we decided that this was probably one of our longest days on the bikes so far; it was certainly one of the most memorable. Time was getting on and mindful of the next days riding, we decided to call it a night and turn in.

Day 11 (Tuesday 02 July)

Today’s ride was to take us to our most easterly point on the trip, only about half a day’s ride away from the mediterranean coast. The objective, a town called Puigcerda, is close to the french border and also right next door to Andorra.

After breakfasting and packing the bikes up, it was time to head off. We retraced old ground to the dinner stop of 2 days ago at Campo, this time carrying on through town to follow the road, narrowly perched on the edge of a deep gorge cut by a river. It really was spectacular, almost like riding through a tunnel at times, also really narrow in places – if two vehicles were to meet in the wrong place it could get tricky.

Thankfully bikes are narrower than cars (even Brian’s Triumph Explorer, with a big metal box on either side). As we left the narrowest sections back onto full width two lane roads, we had to do a double take as an articulated lorry rumbled past us towards the gorge. Surely a sat nav following error? or a very brave driver who likes reversing?

Brian’s photo:

We carried on into the increasingly hot day, eventually arriving at a town called Sort. It was very busy. As we crossed a bridge over a large, rapid river, we could see canoeists doing tricks in the swirling waters. There were TV cameras set up and commentary over a PA system. Crowds lined the edges watching the action. Research later on that evening revealed it to be the world freestyle canoeing championships.

We pressed on over an amazing road, once more like a racetrack, but with lots of hairpins added for extra interest. Temperatures were by now well into the high 30s and were glad to arrive at our lunch stop and find some shade. We ate, filled our tanks with petrol and carried on to our night’s destination.

As we nearded Puigcerda, the sky in that direction was getting darker and darker – oh dear! As luck would have it we found the digs easily. Just as we checked in and started to unload, the heavens opened – torrential rain followed by large hailstones, thunder, lightning and then more rain. Ten minutes later arriving and we would have been drenched.

The digs were a bit on the basic side (compared with previous) but were adequate for our needs. We seemed to be out of the town centre but found a bar nearby which promised food. Communication with the staff was a little more difficult than previously, but it appeared that sandwiches were the only things on offer. We ordered what we fancied, then noticed other customers being given pizza! The butties didn’t fill us up so we managed to order a pizza afterwards to top us up. The place was closing by now, so we paid up and left. A bar on the way back was still open so in we went. A round of beers was ordered, then the selection of spirits on offer was spotted. It was now that we found out about the generous spanish measures: no need to order doubles in this bar !! We wobbled back to the digs and off to bed (earplugs again for me; Jamie was my room mate!). 

Day 12 (Wednesday 03 July)

We arose this morning in remarkably good condition (given last night’s spirit measures), packed up the bikes, checked out and went for breakfast in a cafe next door to the digs. We managed to get english tea at this place which was a great start to the day.

Once on the road it wasn’t long before we crossed the french border, then started the ascent of the Col de Puymorens. This led us over the top of the col before a brief descent and then a small climb to the Andorran border post. Crossing was a formality; I noticed a few folk in the queue having papers checked, but not us – we were just waved through and that was it, we were in.

Just past the border post was a ski resort, which was very busy with lots of folk looking for a tax free bargain. The first thing I noticed was that fuel was really cheap compared to Spain, roughly 35 cents a litre less (note to self – next time enter Andorra on an empty tank!!).

We then climbed up to the Port d’Envalira, which at 2408 metres could possibly be the highest point of the whole trip. The weather was great, visibility was fantastic and the scenery equally so.

The road then was basically one long descent all the way into the capital, Andorra la Vella. This is a really busy town, with tourists busily perusing all the tax free shopping opportunities. Brian was not going to miss out and got some bargain price cigs for himself.

We spent an hour or so wandering about. It was really hot in bike gear, even without jackets and helmets to carry (we had chained them to our bikes). We found some lunch from a sandwich bar and then decided we’d seen enough and it was time to hit the road once more. The border post on the way out was just as easy as coming in, no one gave us a second glance. Now we made our way back to Sort, where we’d come across the canoeing world championships, which were still taking place. We stopped just outside town to fuel up with both petrol and ice creams before leaving for our digs in Vielha.

The road we were now on had been recommended to us by a spanish biker in Andorra. He wasn’t wrong, it was great! We then started the ascent of the Port de la Bonaigua, but by now ominous clouds were on the horizon. It wasn’t long before we stopped and suited up, joined by a party of German lads doing the same. It was a real shame as it soon threw it down and spoilt the pleasure of the col and the views from it. There were roadworks in a couple of places on the descent, with mud and diesel on the road on top of the already slippery surface. Much care was needed.

As we arrived in Vielha, the weather cleared up and was soon bright and sunny again, although about 10 degrees cooler than earlier in the day. We found the digs, checked in, then had to search out the off site secure parking in a shared underground lot. This done, we walked back to the digs, showered, changed and went out on the town! The place was really touristy but therefore quite pricey by spanish standards. We ate in a bar which was nothing special, so we paid up and left. A couple more bars were tried: they were OK. I don’t think Vielha is a place I would stop in again, not that it’s bad, but I think there are much better places to stop in. It was by now getting late , so we returned to the digs for a night’s rest.

To be continued….

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