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Tuesday Holidays and Mountain Biking in Spain

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Mountain bike in Navarra with big Pyrenees views.
Biking high above Spain and France with the Pyrenees in the background.
As the economic crisis rumbles on my friend from Pamplona, Antonio, finds himself with a holiday every Tuesday. So, Spain’s loss is our gain and we plan to use his holiday for mountain biking each week. This Tuesday Antonio told me he had a new route from a mountain which sits on the border with Spain and France, around equidistant from San Sebastian and Pamplona. I had taken my bike there previously and not found a route but Antonio assured me that this descent was one of the best he knows. That was enough to convince me! Read on for more about how we spend Antonio’s Tuesday holiday…
The old church in the little village where we started.Carved flagstones around the church.
We agreed to meet in a little Basque village at 10am. I was already on my way when Antonio texted to say he’d be 20 minutes late, that was no problem for me as it gave me time to get a coffee and take some photos. The little village was stunning, very traditionally Basque, even if officially Navarra is in Spain, not the Basque Country. The village consisted of an old church, a watermill and bunch of houses accessed through an old archway. A heavy mist still hung in the valleys but as I watched it started to lift giving stunning views of the mountains above.
The old village.
Walking through the old village I could hear noises from inside the houses and from one house I could smell bacon cooking and the faint aroma of coffee. After wandering for a while I spotted Antonio’s car and wandered back down to meet him. Antonio only speaks Spanish so today was going to be a great test the Spanish revision I had done while I was on holiday in Scotland. Antonio unloaded his bike, a Pivot Mach 5, while I gave my Cove GSpot a final greasing up. .
The old water-mill.
Climbing up through the bare, winter trees.Climbing on an old canal (aqueduct).
We started climbing through the village, and noticed there was a very nice looking hotel at the top of it. It would be a great base for some mountain biking and I made a mental note to suggest a holiday here with Amaia some time! We climbed past an old oven built into the ground. My Spanish struggled here but I think Antonio told me it was for limestone. We removed our backpacks and climbed inside, it was dry and sheltered and would make a fantastic bivvy spot sometime. We quickly picked up some singletrack and climbed rapidly on what we guessed was an old canal. The views were starting to open up and the temperature was climbing, time to remove some layers!
Stopping to admire the views of the snow-covered Pyrenees.
The final part of the climb was on an old tar road. It felt very strange, all the way up here, and was apparently put in to service an old American radar station during the cold war. God bless America because the climbing was easy and the views were incredible. It would also make a good uplift road for holiday guests on one of our mountain bike holidays. We could look out right over Spain, left over France and in the distance the Pyrenees were standing tall and proud under their covering of snow. There is great mountain biking in that part of the Pyrenees, but only for summer or autumn!
Cliff-top, mountain-top singletrack.More riding on the edge.
Reaching the top we sat for a while, staring out to the Pyrenees mountains. Ahead of us France was totally flat, giving open views down to Biarritz and the coasts of France and Spain. It was strange to be looking down on our local mountains; normally we are looking up to these peaks. We discussed how lucky we were to be here, grateful for Antonio’s holiday Tuesday. We also talked about how the view always appears better when you have earned the summit, rather than driven there. Finally, philosophising over, we set off on the descent. It started off with us pumping our bike through the tufty grassy singletrack which ran along the cliff edge. Fast, jumpy sections were interspersed with very tricky rocky challenges where we had to scrub off plenty of speed and bring the bike under tight control.
Dropping down into the empty hills.Contour singletrack round the mountain.
There was a very strange cloud formation sitting off the coast, mainly in the French part. It was a low bank of cloud, very well-defined. We enjoyed sunny skies and could see all the way to the coast, however it must have been very cloudy just out to sea. We dropped down into the empty hills, feeling very much in the middle of nowhere. Soon we turned and picked up a contour singletrack to take us back round the mountain to the Spanish side. This was the trail Antonio was most excited about. It all started off very rocky but fast. I was trying to pump, flow and float but many times I was just holding onto the bike and hoping, happy to let my Cove GSpot and big forks get me out of trouble!
Very technical contour singletrack.Big rocky sections through fallen stones.
The trail continued to contour with a very high degree of difficulty. It was almost pure trials in some sections and fast and committed in others. Every now and then we came to a little ‘corner’ in the mountain where the challenge was even higher. These ‘Rincones’, as they are called in Spain, required some thought and although we tackled them all some required a few goes.
Very tricky and committed corners.Tight switchbacks through the tree roots.
The descent took us around 2 hours. Pure, technical mountain biking in the most part. It wasn’t all down and the contour sections required plenty of pedalling. The final part was a rapid plummet on singletrack where we could open up and let the bike pick up as much speed as we dared. At the very end we picked up fireroad and made our way through the farms and houses back to the start point. I agree with Antonio, it’s one of the best bits of singletrack I’ve done. Pure concentration. Pure commitment. Pure challenge. Pure mountain biking. It won’t be for everyone, it’s at the upper level of difficulty. If it sounds like the sort of thing you like then mention it to me on your holiday and I’ll be sure to take you there!

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