Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pyrenees Tour

Helen and I have just returned from a 2 week tour through France, Andorra and over the Pyrenees into Catalunya and back. We set out on Saturday 30th May and returned on Saturday 13th June. We have covered around 2,800 miles in total and climbed to over 2,400m in height. We have also been on some very twisty and well surfaced empty roads and also some rather less well surfaced roads. Below is a brief write up of our whole tour.


Sat 30th May – Home to Cirencester

We set out at around 10:00am and headed out on our bike tour. We decided that we would travel down to Cirencester avoiding all motorways. We went down through the centre of the country, through Buxton and then down through Ashbourne on the A515.


Tutbury Castle Near Burton Upon Trent we called in to Tutbury Castle as we were passing. The lady in the ticket office kindly allowed us to leave our bike gear with her for safe keeping. After a short visit we left the castle and proceeded down past Kenilworth and through Stow-On-The-Wold on our way to Cirencester on the A429.


We arrived at the Travelodge in Cirencester to find nobody about at check-in. After an hour’s wait somebody eventually turned up, we found out later that someone hadn’t bother to show up to work (we did get a refund on the room though thanks to Helen’s disappointed customer routine!). We went into Cirencester later that evening and had a meal in the Wagon & Horses, great food and a nice little place.


Sun 31st May – Cirencester to Nantes

Corfe Castle Up and out early and down the A350 to visit Corfe Castle in the morning. We were allowed to park free as we put the bikes somewhere that a car couldn’t go. It was pretty hot so we left the Castle and headed for the ferry. On the way down to the ferry we filtered past loads of stationary traffic that was waiting as the bridge over the harbour entrance was up.


For some reason security at the port was very tight and we, like everyone else, had to have all our luggage searched. Silly question of the day from the security lady was “Do you have any petrol cans in your luggage?” – like we had room!!!  After that it was a short wait and then we boarded the ferry pretty much first. They put our 2 bikes in the wheel clamps at the side of the boat and tied the bikes down by the handlebars. Seems a lot more secure than ratcheting the bike down over the seat on the side stand. We then went up to the lovely Club Class lounge we’d upgraded to and had a table to ourselves as the boat wasn’t that full. We used the Condor Fast Ferry that runs to St.Malo via Guernsey in around 4.5 hours.


After arriving in France we headed out of a very busy St.Malo and onto the motorway network. This was also very busy and much filtering had to be done to make any progress. Eventually we got out of the heavy traffic and could open the bikes up and get to our hotel on the outskirts of Nantes. Which thankfully had air-con as we were quite warm by then.


Mon 1st June – Nantes to Bordeaux

Up and out early today, everywhere was strangely and eerily quiet. Got around Nantes on the motorway without any fuss and hardly any traffic, then we arrived in Rochefort to utter chaos. Big queues and cars being abandoned all over the place, we managed to filter past most of the chaos and make decent progress.


St-Seurin d'Uzet Once we left Rochefort we were back on quiet roads and passing through small deserted towns. We then went to an Intermache to get some fuel from the automated station and lunch, but the Intermarche was closed even though it should have been open (we later found out it was a national holiday). We carried on back to the main road and managed to find a petrol station that was open and got some French bread. We then stopped at a beautiful and quiet little inlet in St-Seurin d’Uzet to have lunch and a break.


We then proceeded on more nice quiet country roads over several high bridges (to Helen’s dismay) and eventually arrived in Bordeaux and found our Etap Hotel for the night on a quiet industrial estate. We went across the road to a Courtepaille Grill and had a much needed bottle of wine, I also had some still partially alive burgers.


Tues 2nd June – Bordeaux to Carcasonne

Lake at Mauvezin We left Bordeaux at around 8:45am and quickly encountered very heavy traffic on the motorway. Traffic at times was pretty much stationary but we and all the other bikers where able to filter. However it is the first time that bikers have ever filter past me while I was filtering the cars! I just can’t believe how foolish some of them are, filtering near stationary traffic at up to 80mph in casual clothes beggars belief.


After Bordeaux we got off the motorway at Langdon and got on to quiet country roads again. We found some nice roads and headed on down through Condom (we just had to visit!) towards Auch. We stopped by a beautiful lake and watermill for lunch at Mauvezin.


La Cite Carcassonne After lunch we set out on country roads again and then joined the motorway at Toulouse. Helen didn’t like it around Toulouse as the traffic was very fast and heavy, and cars were changing lanes very erratically. We continued on the motorway to Carcassonne arriving around 3:00pm. Once we had unpacked we headed out on foot to La Cite. We walked around the walled town and took some nice photos and had the customary and much needed ice creams (pear and lemon for Helen and coffee and white chocolate for me). We walked back to the hotel and had dinner at the Buffalo Grill down the road, rather rare “medium” steak for Helen, good job she didn’t order medium-rare. We could see the Pyrenees in the distance and I was itching to get back on the bike and attack them.


Weds 3rd June – Carcassonne to L’escala

Up at 5:45am as we had a long day ahead of us, went down to breakfast and took a doggy bag of food for lunch later on. As I was setting up the camera and sat-nav on the bike we spoke to a Spanish guy on a Deauville.


Andorra here we come We set out and headed for the Pyrenees up the D118. We soon arrived in Quillan and then went on our first climb of the holiday on the D117 up the Col du Portel, a very rapid climb to 601m. Helen didn’t like this climb at all and I worried for the rest of the day – compared to what was ahead this climb was nothing really! At the top we took the D613 and briefly stopped at the Col de Marmare at 1,361m to take some photos. We then climbed to 1,431m on the Col de Chioula before dropping back down rapidly into Ax-les-Therms. We then took the N20 towards Andorra I though this would be a boring road, but much to my surprise it wasn’t and traffic wasn’t as heavy as I had anticipated. We climbed up to around 2,000m and hit some roadworks, we waited here for a while as they are building a new passport control building.  Because of this we got into Andorra without being checked at all. We then filled up with some very cheap fuel around 98 cents per litre. 


Helens Bike in Andorra After filling up we climbed up to Port d’Envalira at 2,408m (Ben Nevis is only 1,344m high) on the CG2. We then dropped down the other side (after Helen had bravely got off and took some pics of her bike) and through the empty looking ski resorts at Soldeu. We stopped at Canillo as I wanted to take a detour onto the CS340 and Helen didn’t like the look of it, so I arranged to meet her in Andorra La Vella in a little while. I then proceeded on the CS340 and a very rapid and tricky climb to the Col d’Ordino at 1,981m - nice surface, very tight hairpins, stunning views and immense drops. I dropped back down the otherside and stopped at a petrol station in Andorra La Vella to check my text messages from Helen on her whereabouts and by complete coincidence had stopped at the place where she was waiting for me!



Andorra CG2 over Port d'Envalira @2408m from Cavturbo on Vimeo   


My Bike at the Col d'Ordino in Andorra After a short break we left Andorra on the CG1 and was stopped at the border and had our luggage searched for cigarettes. They weren’t interested in seeing our passports at all. We then joined the N260 which has a nice set of long sweepers with good views. We stopped for lunch alongside the N260 at a picnic area then continued on the N260 and had to do a U-turn through the cones at a toll tunnel as we missed a turning. We then joined the C16 which was spoilt by nasty raised tar banding crack sealer that dragged the bike all over the place if you hit it.


We then joined the N152 which is a great road, with a wide variety of bends and a good road surface. There is also plenty to look at as well if you have the time and best of all due to the toll tunnel the road is virtually deserted. We climbed up to the Coll de Toses at 1,800m and stopped for a much needed break. We then dropped back down off the Coll through loads of sharp sweeping hairpin bends into Ribes de Freser. The N152 then turns into a completely different road with wide fast sweepers all the way to Ripoll. At Ripoll TomTom made a mistake and took us on the very twisty N260 over the Coll de Coubet and then on to Olot. I had planned to take the more simpler C26 through the Tunel de Collabos to Olot. By the time we arrived on the A26 we were very tired and so stopped in the small town of Besalu and had some cold refreshing Cokes in a little bar.



N152 - Climb of the Coll de Toses from Urtx. from Cavturbo on Vimeo


We then proceeded to the villa in L’escala on functional boring roads via the local Intermache for some essentials – wine and pizzas. We arrived at the villa and cooled down with a quick swim in the pool and reflected on an amazing but very tiring day. I am extremely proud of Helen as some of the roads we went on today were very high indeed, I don’t think Buttertubs pass will bother her anymore!


Thurs 4th June – Rest Day

Harbour at L'escala A good sleep in the very comfy bed and a lie in then a lazy breakfast while reviewing maps and routes of our journey. Then we went down to the local Intermache to do the main shop for the week. It’s amazing how much stuff you can fit in 4 panniers and 2 top boxes! As we arrived at the petrol station near the Intermarche Helen’s bulb warning lamp came on and one of her headlight bulbs had gone.  Some bits of Spanish and flashing fingers motions later the non-English speaking cashier pointed out the bulbs and we got the right one for around 8 Euros. After lunch we strolled down to L’escala and took some pics of the harbour and had some ice creams. We had Bolognese with Tomato soup (which we thought was tinned Tomatoes!) and Sangria for tea.


Fri 5th June – Tossa de Mar and Montseny

Up at 7:00am to an overcast sky, it started to rain as we got kitted up. We waited it out for around 15 minutes and it was looking clear to the West so we decided to do the Tossa de Mar route instead of the planned Valter 2000 route. Got the bikes out on to the road at which point Helen noticed that her bike was covered in ants, in her haste to get off the bike she almost ran me over and nearly dropped it. I initially tried razzing the bike round the block to blow the ants off but to no avail, they seemed to be pouring out of everywhere. Helen got a bucket to wash the ants off but dropped and broke it while having a hissy fit. I got the kettle out and used that to direct the water better, but in the end it was a simple case of removing them on a 1 by 1 basis. After approx 45 minutes I had managed to remove all the ants to Helen’s liking (comment from Helen – “no it wasn’t, they kept appearing in twos every time we slowed down or stopped at a junction!”).


Parc Natural del Montseny We set out and went over the Coll de la Ganga (220m) on the GI660 and into Sant Feliu de Guixols. We then took the legendary GI682 to Tossa de Mar. This road is nicknamed the ‘road of the year’ as it has a corner for everyday of the year. Yes 365 corners in around 11 miles on a tight and twisty mental coast road with nasty drops at the side to Helen’s dismay again. Luckily traffic was pretty light as it can be a busy road at times. I really enjoyed the road but it could be mind numbing if done at the end of a long day of riding. You are simply never out of a corner and can’t really have a rest from it unless you stop. After the 11 miles of twisties we stopped just outside Tossa de Mar for a much needed rest and fluids.


GI682 to Tossa De Mar on Honda VFR800 Vtec from Cavturbo on Vimeo.


Due to roadworks we couldn’t go the way we wanted and ended up being forced to go through the horrendous Lloret de Mar (chav package holiday hell). We eventually got through all the traffic on the roads and turned off on to the BV5301. This road climbs up through the Parc Natural del Montseny to 1,145m at Collformic where we stopped for lunch. Again this was a difficult twisty road but had a pretty good surface and some cracking views. We dropped down into Seva and then took another very twisty road the GI520 through Viladrau to the C25. We then headed back to the villa on this fast and functional road via the Intermache for the biggest can of ant killer you’ve ever seen. On arriving back at the villa I discovered that I had lost the rubber eyepiece of my camera, and Helen encircled her bike in a protective ring of anti-ant spray.


Sat 6th June – Valter 2000

After all the twisties of the recent days Helen decided that she had had enough of that so stayed at the villa to relax while I went out for a play. We had had an incredible thunderstorm overnight which had left the roads still a bit damp as the sky was still overcast.


I headed out at around 8:00am as it was starting to clear. I went on the N260 coast road from Llanca to Port-Vendres, over the Coll des Balitres on the Spanish/French border. I was expecting this road to be great, but alas it was damp and the surface wasn’t good, especially on the French side. However the views where good so I just took it easy and took in the atmosphere instead.


My bike at Coll d'Ares I then headed West on the D115 and climbed out of Arles-sur-Tech up the Coll de la Seille (1,185m) and then up the Col d’Ares (1,513m) on the Spanish border, where I stopped for a little break. I then went down the other side on the C38 on my way into Camprodon via a fuel stop. I turned off the main road at Camprodon and headed up the GIV5264 towards the Valter 2000 ski resort. This road climbs very steadily on a nice surface with some nice flowing fast sweepers. However once you reach Setcases the road suddenly changes. From this point it starts to climb more rapidly and the road surface isn’t as good. The road is fairly narrow at this point but still with plenty of room for 2 cars to pass. Due to this the road isn’t really one to attack but it is technical and the views are to die for as you climb up in a valley between some very tall mountains. Eventually I arrived at the bottom of the ski resort and then climbed very rapidly up some tight hairpin bends to the very top carpark, which is at around 2,000m. Due to it being the off season and hardly any snow about everywhere was closed, however about 10 or so cars where knocking about. I stopped up here to take in the views and have a spot of lunch and take some photos. While I was up there a big grey cloud came over and tried to drop a few snow flakes on me.


D115 Coll d'Ares Climb from Cavturbo on Vimeo


My bike at Valter2000 ski resort I left and dropped back down into Setcases and then went on back down to Camprodon. By the time I reached Camprodon the rain had been through, looked like it had been quite heavy. I turned on to the C38 and headed South and soon was back on dry roads again. In Sant Pau de Seguries I turned on to the C153a and went over the Coll de Capsacosta (870m), this roads was very twisty, had an excellent surface and was completely deserted of any other traffic. I then got on to the fast C26 with its beautiful following sweepers before joining the A26 and heading back to the villa.


I arrived back at around 2:00pm and Helen and I walked down to Montgo Beach for a bottle of wine and a brief spell on the Internet to look at the weather and log onto NUKB.


Sun 7th June – St Marti

Church in St Marti We had a lie in and a partial rest day as we were off to Barcelona the following day. Pootled down to St Marti on the bike and parked up with a few other bikes. Not really much to see, so a few quick photos and a brief walk and back to the villa via the Intermache.


We went down to L’escala at around 8:00pm for an evening meal. The restaurant at the port that we were going to go to was shut, so we went to a nice looking pizza/pasta place instead. We had Calamari and Octopus to start, followed by Rabbit for me a Steak for Helen. We also had a lovely bottle of Torres Cabernet Sauvignon/Tempranillo red wine.


Mon 8th June – Barcelona

Sagrada Famillia We got up and left at around 9:30am to go to Barcelona for the day. We went on the payage motorway to save time and to make life a bit easier. The traffic was quite clear really, not surprising though as it was 8 euros each for around 97 miles to Barcelona, much dearer then the French ones. I had already found a bike only parking place in Barcelona for us to park in and plotted its location on the satnav. Although the Spainish just park their bikes free anywhere, we though it best to park somewhere safe that was near a Metro station. We found the bikepark easily, however the traffic was a nightmare and the moped riders complete lunatics in flip flops and skimpy clothing. The bikepark was in a narrow street with little room to get the angle up the very steep curb into it, then there was a big steep slope down to the underground parking.


Although bike park has space for 200+ motorbikes, only a handful of bikes had been parked there. Worse of all they only had 4 lockers for storing bike gear. Fortunately we had already tested whether we could get all our gear into our luggage, and could so it wasn’t a major issue. Due to being me being hot/tired and flustered I some how managed to push my bike forward as I got off and it fell off the sidestand. I managed to catch it as it fell with Helen soon at the rescue too, but couldn’t stop one of my panniers touching - it now has a small scuff on it. It could have been so much worse though, a broken pannier (or even the fairing without the luggage on) doesn’t bear thinking about.


Fountains in Barcelona near Marina Anyway we left all our gear with the bikes and set off to find the Metro station. The Metro was a breeze as we got a 10 ride ticket for 7 Euros that you can share. We went to the Sagrada Famillia first but it was very busy, covered in scaffolding and had load of cranes around it. We then went to Porte D’Olympic to have our lunch by the marina, it was quite peaceful and fairly calm there. We then went back on the Metro and to Lar Rambles area to have a look at the Cathedral. Unfortunately it was covered in mesh and scaffolding also, so much so that a photo was pointless. After that we were fed up so went back to the bikes, put our gear back on and headed back to the villa by via the motorway for another 8 Euros each. All in all I would say going to Barcelona was a complete waste of money and time - stressful, disappointing and grubby too.


Tues 9th June – Sant Ferran Castle and Monastery

Sant Ferran Castle We set off late at around 10:30am and headed over to Figueres to visit Sant Ferran Castle. The carpark was gravel but not too bad really. The Castle is a huge fort with lots of defensive walls and structure. The audio tour was in English and had some very interesting facts about the Castle, that we would have otherwise missed out on.


After the Castle we headed over to the Monastery at Sant Pere de Rhodes. We when on the steep and twisty GIP6041 out of Vilajuiga. The road had a great new tarmac surface we had some nice following corners and great views. We turned the last corner before the carpark and were greeted with a stunning view of El Port de la Selva below and the Monastery ahead teetering on the edge of the mountain. There was a charge to park, but the attendant waived the fee for us as we could park where no cars could. The Monastery is in a beautiful setting and pretty much intact, best of all it is free to visit on a Tuesday for some odd reason.


View of Port de la Selva We had lunch in the carpark before setting off and then continued on the GIP6041 to El Port de la Selva. However the road on this side isn’t so good, the tarmac hadn’t been re-surfaced for a while and was showing it (holes and gravel here and there, mostly on corners). There was a particularly nasty patch of washed down gravel just as we got to El Port de la Selva, it ran diagonally across a very steep slope in a 10ft wide band, and the gravel was golf ball sized. After that the town itself was very nice and unique. We joined the GI613 and headed down this nice twisty road and the GI614 to Cadaques. We arrived and parked right by the bay in a bike only parking area and had some ice creams.


Monastery Sant Pere de Rhodes We headed back up the GI614 and temporarily got stuck behind a huge queue of traffic following a tipper truck going very slowly on the twisty road. But we were able to use the bikes to get past all the traffic and on to clear roads again. We soon got back to the villa via the Intermache for crisps and French bread before tea.


Weds 10th June – L’escala to Lavaur

We set off at around 8:30am and said bye to the villa that had been our home for the last week. We were soon back up in the Pyrenees and on the N152 headed up to the Coll de Toses again. It is such a great road that we just had to fit it in again, this time I took it a bit slower and took in some of the amazing views. We had a little break at the top and a German biker on a Fazer took an interest in Helen’s beemer.


N152 Ribes to the Coll de Toses from Cavturbo on Vimeo


We set off back down the Coll to Urtx and on to the N116 and back into France. We then climbed up over the Col de Louis (1,345m) and the Col de la Perche (1,579m). We then turned left at Mont-Louis and took the D118 to Axat. Unfortunately this road was very bumpy indeed and hard on the wrists and Helen’s dodgy neck, probably more so because we were running some preload because of the weigh of our luggage. We climbed up over the Col de la Quillane (1,713m) and once past Puyvalador the road started to drop down very gently and got very twisty and even bumpier. The road and views were beautiful with the adjacent river and overhanging trees lining the way. Towards the end of the road near Axat we passed through the Gorges de St-Georges and its overhanging rock faces. We stopped at a carpark in Axat for a spot of lunch and a break.


D118 Gorges de St-Georges from Cavturbo on Vimeo


Somewhere in French Countryside After lunch we arrived in Quillan and filled up with fuel. We then took the D117 up the short but very good climb of the Col du Portel (601m). You might remember from earlier that this is the climb that had Helen in fits of hysterics last time. After the climb I ask her over the intercom if she was alright this time. To which she replied ‘that wasn’t the same climb was it?’. So she had obviously got used to these types of roads after a week of doing them, don’t think anything in Great Britain should bother her now.


After that we were pretty much back down to the flat and took some nice tree lined straight country roads all the way to our hotel in Lavaur. It had some nice secure parking round the back, although the road was being dug up which caused a minor issue getting the bikes in.


Thurs 11th June – Lavaur to Rochefort

We woke up to very overcast sky and black clouds, it had also rained overnight. We set off out and within the hour we had to put on our rain gear. The majority of the morning consisted of wet roads and intermittent showers. We stopped for lunch in a quaint little town and the sun was now out so we decided to talk off our rain gear.


Rochefort Cathedral After lunch we set out on more nice quiet French roads and the weather for the rest of the day was hot and sunny. We soon arrived in Rochefort and found our hotel near the local courts. There was secure parking at the back that cost 5 Euros, we felt better paying and leaving the bikes safe and paid only 5 Euros as we got both bikes in 1 space. We had tea later in the middle of town in a large plaza, I had Duck and Helen had another perfect steak – French medium seems to equate to rareish in the UK. We finished the meal off with Cognac Creme Brulee, fantastic desserts.


Fri 12th June – Rochefort to Poole

We set out and headed for the port at St.Malo, we called in at Fouras to visit Fort Vauban and get a glimpse of Fort Boyard. However there was a parade on and most of the beach area had been closed off by soldiers (one of which shouted at Helen for wandering where she shouldn’t have!). We manage to see both forts at a distance and also saw a fly past by 4 WWII fighter planes.


Fort Vauban We left Fouras and headed past La Rochelle onto the payage motorway and into St.Malo. We parked in the harbour right by the ferry port and strolled down the beach to a cafe and had coffee and crepes (bananas and chocolate for me and Helen had caramelised apples). We then walked further round the harbour and took some photos before going back to the bikes and checking in at the ferry port.


Check-in at the port was chaos due to a previous sailing being delayed which caused our crossing to be also delayed by 45 mins. We got moved out of the correct lane and then they want us to turn around and move back again. We said no, we will walk to the check-in and then go through the gap in the barriers. At this point we met up with a couple of bikers heading back to Jersey. Unfortunately their planned trip to the Pyrenees had hit problems near Bordeaux, when 1 of the bikes (a VTR Firestorm) had broken down with a burnt out rectifier. Due to waiting for parts and repair they never actually made it as far as the Pyrenees, but they had had a good time non the less and found some nice roads near Bordeaux.

WWII Fighter Flyby at Fouras We boarded the ferry and went upstairs and saw the chatty young stewardess that had asked about Helen’s jacket on the way out. She had taken Helen’s advice and been to Hein Gericke to check out the jackets. We arrived in Poole at around 12:45am and went to our B&B for the night. The drive had very dense gravel on it so though it wise to park bikes on the road instead. The road was a very quiet dead end road so it wasn’t a problem really.


Sat 13th June – Poole to Home

Set off just after 9:00am and took the A roads up to meet the M40 just North of Stratford-upon-Avon. We then proceeded home via the motorways, stopping briefly at Hilton Park services for lunch and talked briefly to a biker on a Fireblade. On the way up the M6 we passed a load of bikers going South, presumably they had just got off the boat from the Isle of Man, having been to the TT races.


Mary and Roy F.,  26 June 2009 at 13:41  

Helen and Martin -- You obviously had a great first m/cycle tour abroad, by your account and pics / videos. We went into Andorra with you[!] and look forward to browsing the other videos. A lot of effort putting all this together. Thanks. R & M