At the airport, we meet our friends and partners to the adventure: Shmil and Louiza, who were together with us in our previous trip in France and Italy, Eitan and Anat, who were with me four years ago in a tour in Austria, Arik and Rachel, who are old acquaintances, but with whom I am travelling for the first time.
Our first stop is in Barcelona, where we will spend our first afternoon and night, and to where we will return at the end of the trip.
The first evening in Barcelona was mainly for arrangements and rest from the flight. We bought local SIM cards, Arik visited the Harley Davidson store in Barcelona to order some parts to take back with him to Israel, we set the schedule for the next day during a dinner at the Rambla, and went to enjoy a good night of sleep, important after waking up at 5AM in the beginning of the day.
At the end, at the time of 12:30, we were ready to go. First destination: Blanes, in the Costa Brava.
From Sant Feliú we continued to our last destination of the day: L'Escala.
L'Escala is a beautiful small town, built almost only on tourism. We arrived there almost at 19:00 (7PM), very tired from the long day we had and from the preparation of the motorcycles, but happy for a beautiful riding day which brought us to discover all the Southern Costa Brava.
We had a beautiful (but late) dinner by the L'Escala sea, and with that finished our day 1.
We began by Empuriabrava, a Tycoon's town near Roses, which is said to have one of the most luxurious yachting harbours in the world. It was definitely impressive.
Then we visited the town of Roses, another nice vacation place which is taken over by tourists who fill its beautiful beach during the summer. A small stop, and we continued to Portlligat, a beach in Cadaqués where the home of Salvador Dali is placed.
And then we continued travelling North, and into France.
Our final destination for that night was Argelles-Sur-Mer, in France. We could take the highway, but we decided to take the coastal road via Portbou. It was a wise decision. We had a beautiful ride of winding roads by the sea, nice small villages, and stunning scenery.
We arrived in Argelles-Sur-Mer around 19:30, happy and tired from the day we had. Around 21:00 we were walking around the town together with thousands of people, looking for a place to eat. At the end we decided to go simple, and went to a Kebbab house in the touristic center of the city for a fast meal. And that was the end of our second day.
In our plan we were heading through Ceret in France, and back to the North of Spain to Ripoll and La Molina.
In our way, we went through Ripoll, where we were caught by a popular procession, and stopped at a place called Siete Cascadas at Campdevànol. We were advised that this place was worth the stop. The tricky part is that you cannot find a sign for it, and it took us time until searching in the Internet I learned that we should look for signs to the "Ruta de Torrent de Cabana". It is a 10Km circular walk, from which we did only 1.5 Kms until the first waterfall and went back to our motorcycles in order to keep the time. If you have enough time and enjoy walking, it is worth the walk.
We were lucky enough that just after some quilometers we went through this building of the Hotel La Corba, which was also the house of the Restaurant La Corba, in Ribes de Freser. At first we passed through it, and then we noticed the Restaurant sign and the fact that there were some 6 motorcycles parked in front of it, so we decided to turn around and stop there.
I must say this is the place in which we had one of the best meals of the trip. If any of the readers of this post is there in the region one day, looking for a GREAT place to eat, search for Km 125.5 of the N-260 road, and you will find it.
At La Molina we have the scenery viewpoint which gives us a good idea of how great nature is.
Col D'Envalira is different from the other mountain passes. It is a stiff pass, but the road is wide, well signalized, and very well maintained, probably due to the great infrastructural organization of Andorra and also probably due to the need to lighten dangers that arise from the heavy fogs they have there.
So, let me try to blow a myth: first, Andorra La Vella is not necessary more expensive than anywhere else; we actually managed to get some good deals on riding shoes, helmets, and other riding equipment. Our wives, who went shopping by themselves, also did have trouble to push everything they bought into the already full motorcycle side and top boxes.
Besides that, Andorra is a paradise of Nature. The geological situation of the country, which is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains at all sides, makes it a beautiful place to visit, if one only looks for places nearby in the mountains outside of Andorra La Vella. There is also the motorcycle museum, which unfortunately was closed while we were there.
Here are some pictures:
Here are some pictures of the Peyresourde:
We parked the motorcycles at Lac D'Orédon, and visited around for some time.
I must say that all the people that were with us on this day remember Neouvielle as the most beautiful access road we did.
We spent this evening in Arreau, a small town nearby, which was perfect for an excellent pizza and a good night of sleep.
That was the mood in which we left the hotel early in the morning. Luckilly, the day proved to be stunning, even though some of the things we planned for it backfired due to the weather.
We began by riding Col d'Aspin from Arreau to La Mongie, a beautiful mountain pass, although not very difficult or exciting. At La Mongie, we were intending to take the cable car to the Pic du Midi, the highest peak in the Pyrenees, from where one can see all the area around. Unfortunately, the weather did not help us, and we noticed from below that the whole peak was covered by clouds, so there is no point in going up there. We settled for a good cup of tea at the cold La Mongie.
Here is a set of pictures taken on site:
Here are some photos:
After returning from the walk, we entered a restaurant at Gavarnie and ate lunch, while we wait for the rain to go away. And it did. When we left the restaurant, it was already sunny again.
Regarding the restaurant, we went into one of the biggest ones there, actually the only one that was not closed for the "siesta". We got to it some minutes before they closed, and it seems that this made the old lady, proprietary of the business, quite upset, if I want to be gentle with my words. In the beginning, the way we were received was not really nice, but I believe that with the time and as the conversation between us and the restaurant team went on, the lady overcame her feelings and became actually very nice. At the end of our meal, she came to us on her initiative and gave us as a present a bottle of home made muscat wine.
Our continuation road to Col du Soulor brought us to very small roads in which we were practically the only vehicles on the road. There was not more space for more than a motorcycle, anyway. The roads were narrow, filled gravel and very difficult to ride. However, they were beautiful. At some point we went into the main Col du Soulor road, which was not much wider but had a decent pavement on it. We began going up a beautiful mountain pass, until at some point the fog arrived and we couldn't see much of what we had around.
As you can see in the picture, we made it to the top of Col du Soulor, despite the fog. Around 1Km after this sign there was a roundabout which could take us down from the other side of the mountain pass, or bring you to the road that continues up to Col d'Aubisque. We took the road to Aubisque. After some 2Km, we noticed that the fog was harder, we couldn't see anything, and to make things worse, the white marks on the road finished and the road was unmarked from that point on. At this point, we could not see where the road is going anymore, around 3m from our noses. We stopped for a fast group reunion and reassessment of the situation, and decided that it was too dangerous to continue, and even if we did we wouldn't see anything anyway. So we turned around back to the roundabout and chose the way down via Col du Soulor's second side, on the way to our destination, Pau. Before Pau, we stopped for dinner in Lourdes, and had the chance to look around a little.
We arrived in Pau and found the reception of our hotel closed.... it was 21:30. A phone call to a phone number stamped at the door, and a nice lady instructed me in the phone how to open a small safe in the wall near the hotel entrance in which our keys were stored. We took the keys and went to our rooms to rest from the long day, which had begun at 7AM and was finishing at 10PM.
We left the hotel at 10AM, and went to visit the old city of Pau. We stayed there for nearly one hour, and around 11:30 we left Pau and took the road to Biarritz, France. We visited Biarritz and ate lunch there, and continued from there to San Sebastian, back to Spain, in the Basque Province.
We stayed two nights in San Sebastian, also locally called Donostia, and this gave us the time to enjoy and know the city while resting for the next riding days.
Here are some pictures of Pau, Biarritz and San Sebastian.
In the first day we made our way to Huesca. On the way, we made a small stop in Pamplona to see the city (yeah, we were there around 1 week before the bull race in the streets of Pamplona, so we missed it).
In Jaca, we arrived in time for the Jaca Festivities, and managed to see at least one procession in the streets of the old town:
The old town of Jaca was also the place in which we stopped for a nice lunch, in order to get the fuel for the rest of the day. And from there we continued to our next point of interest: the Montearagón Castle, near Huesca.
Here are some pictures of the castle ruins:
Our destination in the following day was Labuerda, a small town near Aínsa (which is not that big itself), but on our way we were to visit Monte Perdido (the Lost Mountain).
Monte Perdido is one of the mountains which is in the back side of the Cirque of Gavarnie, the mountains that form the circle and provide all the water which is seen from the French side.
So we left in the morning in our way to Boltaña, which is on our way to Monte Perdido. In the middle of the way, I suddenly saw a small crossing, and signs pointing to Boltaña via two different ways - from the main road, and via the Natural Park Guara. The GPS gave an 8 minutes advantage for taking the main road, while a smaller amount of Km through the park. Assuming that the road through the park would be more beautiful, we took it. We had no idea how right our assumption was.
The road is marked in maps as A-1604. It was one of the most beautiful roads we did. Stunning scenery at every meter, though very narrow and in a lower maintenance level. Definitely worth the time. During our trip there, we were practically alone in the road, except for two cars that crossed us in the opposite way. It was a beautiful trip, and I recommend it to anyone that wants to do it.
The A-1604 ends in the entry to Boltaña. We sat at Boltaña for a cup of coffee, and there met a couple of dutch people, man and wife. He was riding a BMW K1600GTL, and she was riding a BMW R1200R. They told us they have a motor home with a covered trailer for the bikes, and that they travel with the motor home following the good weather. Where they find good weather they stop at a camping, and spend the next days doing a star-tour with the bikes until either the good roads around are over or the weather becomes bad. Then they move to the next place. They had been travelling like this for a month already, and were still not seeing the end of it.... I must say, this is everything I wished for myself.... but dreams are dreams and we had to go on.
Here is a set of pictures from the A-1604 and Boltaña:
From Monte Perdido we continued to our hotel in Labuerda, which is around 2Km from Aínsa. At the time of the reservations, there were no hotels in Aínsa offering 4 rooms, so we decided to go for this hotel in Labuerda, the Turmo Hotel. Good decision. The hotel was excellent, the service even better, and the view was just beautiful. In any case, Aínsa was 3 minutes away by motorcycle, and we spent the evening there. Recommended hotel for everyone passing through the region.
The hotel is a nice and modern building, built at the side of a large lake, with a nice swiming-pool and the possibility for some kayaking at the lake. So, this was a case in which we chose the city for the hotel, and not the opposite.
The way to Cellers was very beautiful, full of lakes at the side of the road. There were very few towns on the way, and almost no place where to stop for a cup of coffee, but since that was a short riding day, there was no problem with it. We were in Cellers at lunch time (around 2PM), and enjoyed a nice lunch at the hotel's restaurant, which is also a road restaurant for anyone passing by.
Here are some pictures of the way from Labuerda to Cellers.
For the night in Cellers, there is a nice program to do: take the bikes, travel north to Tremp, and passing the town, after approximately 4-5 Km, at the C-13 Km 90, you will find a bar-restaurant called Lo Quiosc.
Lo Quiosc is a great place for eating good food, hearing good music, dancing a bit, all that while you see a stunning view of the lake and the dam. The restaurant is all built on the rock, and has received prizes of environmental architecture.
It is important to get there before dark, if you want to really enjoy the view. At the time of the year in which we were there, that doesn't need to be a problem, since daylight goes until 21:30. However we only began to take pictures after dark, and this is a real pity.
We left Cellers at 9:00, heading North in the direction of Coll de Nargó, actually the opposite direction from our final destination, Barcelona. We did that because we didn't want to miss our last Mountain Pass, the Col de Bóixols. This is an easy mountain pass, but a very beautiful one.
At Coll de Nargó we met Enric, from Andorra, who was waiting for us there in order to continue with us our way to Montserrat.
We continued our way together and made a stop in Solsona, in order to visit the old city and drink some coffee there.
From there, we continued straight to Montserrat, where some of the members of the Catalunya Burgman Club (who were my internet friends for some years) were expecting us for lunch together, and the ride in the motorcycles to Montserrat. They took us to a restaurant in the vivinities of Montserrat called Vinyanova de Collbató. This is a very interesting place, a typical Catalunyan restaurant with a very good menu, excellent "Porron de vino" which made the atmosphere very relaxed, and a series of other activities for before/after the meal and all the wine and until we could ride the motorcycles again.
We took the following days to enjoy Barcelona a little. In the first morning, I went to BMW to get an exhaust for my R1150RT which I ordered before the trip, Arik and Shmil went to the Harley Davidson distributor to get Arik's parts, and after that we all met at IMTBike to return the motorcycles.
I would like to divide this in some parts:
Bike rental - it was not cheap, but we've got great service and very new bikes. The motorcycles had done not more than 2000Km. They were brand new. If it wasn't for the BMW recall, we would also have the ESA suspension that would make them even better. So, I have nothing bad to say about IMTBike and the service they gave us. They were fair and perfect in every step of the way.
BOOKING.COM - another service that doesn't fail. We ordered all our hotels with them, and it all worked very well. But we have learned a couple of things about it and we would like to share it here: first, regarding ordering for a group; if you want a specific hotel and they don't have enough rooms available you should know, specially if you are ordering in advance of 2-3 months, that they might have the rooms, only not all in booking.com. In this case, call the hotel in the phone number that appears at booking.com, explain the number of rooms that you need, and ask them if they can make that number of rooms available for the same price or better than at booking.com. In most cases, you will get your desired rooms. Second, be careful with the type of room that you order, sometimes you don't understand exactly what they mean for the hotel. For example, in Arreau, we ordered double-studio apartments, and it turns out that this, on contrary to double apartments at the same hotel, means that instead of a double bed you have a two-stories bed. One cannot understand this from the website. If the hotel wouldn't be empty, and also understanding, we would have slept that night as in a youth hostel. But luckily they were understanding enough to change the rooms. And third: if you are travelling alone or only with your wife, and you need only one room, in many cases it will give you more freedom not to order in advance. Just enter the Booking.com smartphone application when you already are around the place where you intend to sleep and choose among the hotels nearby. But in case you need to order many rooms, do it in advance.
Photography and video: I had the following gear with me:
- WDV-5000 - a video and photo ACTION CAMERA from Vivitar, made in China, one of the competitors of the Gopro 3 Hero+. It is a waterproof wide-angle camera, which performed perfectly attached to the right side of my helmet.
- Canon SD-850 camera, an old but very nice and easy to use pocket camera, which was in my wife's hand at the back of the motorcycle the whole trip. Around 2/3 of the pictures in this article were taken by this camera.
- Sony Xperia Z1, which I would take out of my pocket when I went down from the bike in every stop, to take stills from the places we were, in order to publish on Facebook or in order to take pictures from a different point of view comparing to my wife's camera.
This setup proved to be very good. The WDV-5000 was good for shooting video during the riding, and also for video and stills in which the whole group, including me (using the remote control), appears. My wife used the SD-850 in parallel to me during the whole ride, and didn't loose a shot of all the beautiful roads we had. Additionally, once or twice, she used the camera to shoot to her back and record the other motorcycles following us. And last, the Xperia kept our Facebook friends happy with the photos, published in real-time.
Communications: we all bought local SIM cards from MasMovil. It was much cheaper than roaming with the Israeli card, but this company, which seamed to be the best option in prepaid cards, came out to be more expensive than others would be. So I suggest people do a thourought research of what are the best communication options for the region, and take into consideration that you will be both in Spain and France. Another thing: there was free wifi mostly in every stop we did.
The place: I can hardly find the words to describe the intensity of the beauty of the region. This is one place that MUST be visited at least once in a lifetime. I was happy that we disregarded comments from some people recommending that we shorten the trip by giving up on Costa Brava and San Sebastian, and travelling only through the internal roads. The Costa Brava, Biarritz and San Sebastian gave us the balance we needed between mountain and sea, the beauty of this and the beauty of that. We were happy that we decided to do it all.
The group: I was also happy to have travelled with such a good group of friends, and with such good riders. We always managed to find our way around, and did not waste much time on navigation mistakes. The four bikes rode all the time together, at the same pace, and there was no dealing with people staying back and getting lost. This is an important part of the trip experience, and I thank them all for doing this adventure with me.
And now, we get to the difficult part: waiting two years for the next adventure. Let's see when it will happen.
Below, you can find two versions of the trip video - the first, a short version of 18 minutes with only the headlines of the trip, for people who want to understand what the experience looks like. The second, the fully-edited version of 1 hour (from 9 hours of recorded material I had), for those who really want to enjoy the nature and the beautiful rides we had during the trip. Enjoy.