Mountain Bike Holidays in Spain. San Sebastian | Basque Country | Pyrenees

> Travel: Taking the Train to the Basque Country

When I returned to visit my parents this Christmas, with my mountain bike of course, I decided that I would take the train. The plan was to take travel from Hendaye to Paris, Paris to London and then hop onto the sleeper for the final leg to Inverness. Although the journey would take 24hrs my reasoning was that for 8 hours of that I would be asleep, 4 hours in a bar in London and the rest reading my book on the train. If you are thinking about taking the train to visit us, or to get elsewhere in Europe then read on for my honest review, directions and tips. 

Packing Your Mountain Bike

I packed my bike in a hurry and cut a few corners, I got away with most of them but made a couple of careless mistakes. Below are the steps I took to pack my bike and the extra measures I will take next time:

  • Remove wheels and put in wheel bag.
  • Remove rear mech and tape between dropouts.
  • Remove pedals.
  • Drop saddle.
  • Reduce fork travel.
  • Slacken face plate on stem and slide bars back towards saddle.

Extra Steps / Mistakes

  • I bent my disc rotors slightly. I wouldn’t remove them but next time will stuff some cardboard between them and the spokes.
  • My handlebars hit my frame and scratched it slightly. Next time I would put something round the frame to stop this happening.

Travel

I waved a tearful goodbye, (adios, au revoir) to Amaia at Hendaye station at 7:55am. Hendaye is 5 minutes from our accommodation for anyone thinking of doing this journey, don’t get off at Biarritz which is slightly further away. The baggage storage on the SNCF train was great and my bike fitted in just behind my head with no problems (see picture above). Once the train started I had a great latte and a croissant, for a very reasonable price, before settling into a combination of view-watching, reading and sleeping and before I knew it it was 1pm and I was in Paris. It caught me quite by surprise actually because we didn’t seem to have been travelling for long, and I had a panic trying to wake up / finish my drink / gather my belongings as the train pulled into the station.
At this point I should mention that my bags weighed around the weight of an attractive Basque girl, or 60kgs in old money! If you packed sensibly, to visit us you should have two bags weighing around 30-40kgs, so all the transfers will be easier for you. Getting across Paris could not have been easier, it took around an hour including the 30 minute Metro journey, but getting lost would have been nearly impossible. There are a few stairs to negotiate but never anything too testing and in general I found people friendly and everyone made way for the sweaty Scotsman with the heavy bags. Bearing in mind you have to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to departure I would leave around 2hrs to transfer in Paris and if it takes less you can have a nice cool beer while you wait.
The Eurostar is great with the journey to London taking around 3 and a half hours. I was lathered in sweat by this point and popped into the toilet to change my top before treating myself to a nice cold beer and sandwich. Baggage storage on the Eurostar was slightly more limited but my bike easily fitted in the storage between the train carriages and I could just see it the whole way. Arriving in St Pancras, London I let everyone leave from the train and then made my way to a bar for a drink with some friends. The walk to Kings Cross was fairly easy and I put my bike in the guards carriage and jumped on the sleeper for Inverness. The sleeper is great, with a cheap bar and decent food and I woke up in Inverness with a mild hangover but otherwise ready to go.

Top Travel Tips:

  • Arrive early for your trains and try to get on early so that you can get a luggage rack which you can see.
  • Take a change of tops if you are worried about getting sweaty in the transfers.
  • Make sure you have euros so you don’t have to detour in order to visit a bank machine.
  • Read a good book and tuck into some wine, we’ll pick you up off your train and take you for food or into your accommodation once you get here!

Travel Instructions

  • Changeover in Paris (way to Hendaye)
    • Gare du Nord to Gare Montparnasse
    •  Walk off the Eurostar platform, turn left, and follow the signs for Metro line M4.
    • Take metro line M4 direct to Montparnasse Bienvenue (follow signs ‘M4 direction Porte d’Orléans’). 
    • Leaving the Metro you need to follow the signs and head upstairs to Level 2 (Niveau 2) where all the trains are.
    • Note: I haven’t done the journey this way yet! Watch this space for more details after the 12th of January!
  • Changeover in Paris (way to London)
    • Gare Montparnasse to Gare du Nord
    • You need to take metro line M4 direct to the Gare du Nord (follow signs ‘M4 direction Porte Clignancourt’).
    • Leave your platform and almost immediately you should see the big overhead “M4″ signs. These will take you downstairs to the Metro on Sublevel 1 (Niveau -1).
    • There are ticket machines at the entry to the Metro. A ticket currently costs €1.70.
    • After passing the bariers you take a long moving walkway. Time for a rest :-)
    • Leaving the walkway you only have to follow the overhead signs to “M4 – Porte Clignancourt”. It is a bit of a walk but straightforward.
    • Once on the train you should have about 15 stops.
    • When you arrive in Gare du Nord you need to leave at one of the exits and follow the stairs upstairs.
    • Leaving the Metro there are lots of signs for Eurostar and it is a relatively short walk.
  • Changeover in London
    • St Pancras and Euston are very close to each other. I suggest you walk, it takes 10 minutes. Leave the train station and follow the signs for the exit towards Euston Road. From Euston you want to turn left on Euston Road to get to St Pancras and vice versa the other way! 

Booking Tickets

  • I used bargainberths to book my sleeper.
  • I used http://www.sncf.com/ to book my train from Hendaye to London. It was in french but google translate will help you there.

Useful Links

Map of the Paris Underground
A photo tour of the inside of Montparnasse station in Paris
A photo tour of the inside of the Metro stations in Paris
A photo tour of the inside of Gare du Nord station in Paris

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