Mention riding in Spain to most Europeans and the immediate image that comes to mind are the costas on the southern coast. The small strip of arid, over-developed coastline packed with fat, lobster-coloured Brits and Germans hiding from the Northern European winters in their final years. Sitting on the shores of the Bay of Biscay, the Basque Country is a world away from the concrete, fried food and expats of Malaga and Marbella. Big wave surfers have been flocking to the lush, green Basque Coast for years, so have food and wine connoisseurs, but until recently it hasn't been a mountain biking destination that many people consider.

Landing in Bilbao it is plain to see that this is prime territory for biking, with mountains coming right the way down to the foam-tipped crests of the Atlantic Ocean. Behind those first peaks the next row climb up well over 1,000m. Starting so close to sea-level, that means alpine-scale climbs and descents are on the cards, and with a bit of creativity, beaches at the end. While it may not be the perma-summer of the south, and the Atlantic means the weather dice will certainly be rolled, even in deepest winter in midst of the off-season for mountain biking in the region it wasn’t what you’d call cold - think of a mild Autumn day in Northern Europe, more than a pleasant climate to go riding in. Come summer, that translates to long, hot days, but not the harsh, oven-door feeling you get further south.

We took the small town of Hondarribia for our base. Just a few miles south of the French border and the more glamorous beaches of Biarritz, it's an old, fortified port town overlooking one of the biggest breaks in surfing. When the conditions are right the waves can go over ten metres high here. Watching the surf break out at the headlands is no bad way to start a day, although we were more than glad the weather wasn't wild enough for big wave riding... Doug, our excitable host, a Scotsman who set up here in the Basque Country some six years ago now, picked us up early to go and see if the promise we had seen from the boat matched up to the reality.



Basque Country trip January 2015.



Climbing in his van up above the morning clouds we were greeted with one of the biggest inversions we had ever seen - perfect, fluffy white clouds rolling in towards us from every angle, with just the single thread of the crestline we were about to ride weaving down away from us. In truth, it was hard to get on the bike from a view like that, but as soon as the wheels started rolling, the clouds were quickly forgotten as we reveled in the perfect, Basque dirt. Those first mountains that line the ocean didn't always keep guard of the coastline, once upon a time they were part of that same ocean, they were the seabed some untold millions of years ago. That means sand. Not deep, unrideable beach sand, but loose, soft soil that feels soft yet grippy beneath your wheels. Weaving between the rocks it felt like you could place your bike wherever you wanted, and after a small slide there would just be the traction that meant you could pick up speed.



Basque Country trip January 2015
Basque Country trip January 2015

Basque Country trip January 2015
Basque Country trip January 2015



All too soon we were some 500m below in the town of Pasajes de San Juan. There began what would become the rhythm of the trip - trails, followed by food and drinks, rinse and repeat. A short boat ride across the harbour and we found Muguruza Ardoak. It is a small cantina away from the tourist tracks that serves some of the weirder local dishes, like Falcons Crest, a sandwich of tuna anchovies and jalapeno peppers, that sounds like it shouldn't work, but somehow tastes incredible. A couple of short, dark coffees to mask the heavy lunch and we were climbing up towards the clifftops overlooking the ocean.



Basque Country trip January 2015
Basque Country trip January 2015



The trails lining the sea were much like the crestline trails - fast, flowing and just technical enough to be exciting. Alternating between descents and short, punchy climbs to get us to the next fun section we wiled away the afternoon in the blink of an eye. Before long, lunch seemed a very long way away and it was time for food once more. Dropping down the other side of the hill we descended all the way to the beach in San Sebastian and a beachfront bar for pinxtos and beer. Around the area there is a great train network - fast, reliable and frequent. They meant that you can cover fairly substantial distances on the trails, then when you've had enough you can pay a couple of Euros to jump on a train home. Two Euros and ten minutes later we were back with the van and ready to head home for some well-deserved rest.



Basque Country trip January 2015.

Basque Country trip January 2015.

Basque Country trip January 2015.
Basque Country trip January 2015.

Basque Country trip January 2015.
Basque Country trip January 2015.



As we woke the next morning it was clear that those weather dice hadn't landed in our favour. Storms lashed against the town, with rain coming in almost horizontally off the ocean. While it ruled bikes out, it did give us some time to explore the streets of Hondarribia, poking around the narrow streets of the walled town and marveling at the cannonball holes that still pock-mark what once was the castle keep some hundreds of years later. A slow lunch of more pinxtos and liberal glasses of the local Txakoli wine made waiting for the storm to pass all-too-easy, so easy it was hard to get out and enjoy the sunshine that broke in the afternoon. Yet as we rolled up towards the coastline of Faro de Hondarribia a few kilometres out of town, we knew we'd made the right decision.

Watching the sunset over the ocean is the kind of life experience usually only talked about in horrific chick-lit and flowery new age life guides, but ignore them. Here on the lower coastline you still have that perfect, sandy soil, the rounded limestone jutting up from the trail, the only difference is that the riding tempo is like a brutal interval session - steep, demanding climbs straight into fast, techy descents down towards the water, over and over again. It's hard work, but damn, it's worth it. Mix all that with the sky burning orange as the sun touches the Atlantic and the roar of the breakers below and you have an unforgettable evening; just don't go telling people you "found yourself" while you were there.



Basque Country trip January 2015.
Basque Country trip January 2015.

Basque Country trip January 2015.
Basque Country trip January 2015.

Basque Country trip January 2015

Basque Country trip January 2015.
Basque Country trip January 2015.

Basque Country trip January 2015.

Basque Country trip January 2015.



For our final day in the Basque country we got a pair of sixes on those weather dice, perfect blue skies to crown our all-too-short stay. Good weather meant we could venture higher, a chance to try out Doug's all new Red Comet trail - named after the Belgian special forces unit who used it during the Second World War. Leaving the ancient coastline hill behind we climbed up into what is more recognisable as Pyrenean terrain. Gone was the soft sand, but not soft soil, there was always good, forgiving dirt under your tyres. That is partly because this isn't a huge mountain biking destination right now, the trails feel fresh because they don't see bike park volumes of traffic to wear them down to the bedrock, even the relatively well-used trails feel somewhat untouched.

Red Comet was like nothing else we had seen on our stay. Along with the change of dirt there was a definite change of gradient - this was far steeper and less forgiving than anything we had ridden so far. Along the mountain tops you are running fast along the lines of the rock, bars scraping the inside at times as you tried to avoid the drop to your outside. Nature's sense of humour meant that these sections tended to be the nastiest too, with awkward rock steps just waiting to throw you down the mountainside if you made even the smallest error - the kind of trail that makes you feel alive. Lower down it got steeper and steeper, running almost straight down the fall-line under the winter canopy of the empty deciduous trees. It felt like classic alpine riding, where you try and control the speed with the rear brake, relying on the front for traction. Grinning and sliding your way to the end of the trail, some 700m below our start point on the summit of the mountain.



Basque Country trip January 2015.
Basque Country trip January 2015.

Basque Country trip January 2015.

Basque Country trip January 2015.

Basque Country Trip January 2015
Basque Country trip January 2015.

Basque Country trip January 2015.

Basque Country trip January 2015.



One final, long lunch and we decided that Red Comet had been so much fun we needed a second lap to cap off our stay in this beautiful corner of the world - a final 700m descent from the summit overlooking the beaches of Biarritz into the steep, dark valleys as the sun fell beneath the mountains. The Basque Country had been on my list of places to visit for nearly five years, and after our rather short stay, my only regret is that I didn't make time to go there sooner. Sure, there are clearly the trails to do a hardcore week or more here of smashing every possible corner and line, but for me that would miss the point of visiting the Basque Country. The pace of life here feels slow; sitting in the bars eating pinxtos and drinking the almost sparkling Txakoli wine; not rushing to get from one place to another; waking up slowly as the sun spills in over the bay: those things are almost as good as that perfect, sandy soil that makes the trails so special. It felt like the best thing a trip like this could feel like - like a complete break from the world, and what more can you ask for from a holiday?



Basque Country trip January 2015.

Basque Country trip January 2015.

A big thanks to our hosts, Doug and Antonio of Basque MTB.

Basque Country trip Janaury 2015
Basque Country trip Janaury 2015


MENTIONS: @DougBasqueMTB



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53 Comments

  • + 38
 Spain is one of the best place for bicycles sports, but the governments and authorities are the worst enemy for ride MTB. The laws are against MTB, and look with favor on hunters. No regularities, no laws pro MTB, no helps for races organizations, no sponsors for bike parks, no media coverage...we sometimes jealous of Canada or UK.
  • + 9
 THIS!!!
  • + 11
 "Sometimes".
Ahem.

Every day.
  • + 8
 sad but completely true.
  • + 8
 such a shame spain's like that for you, you have the great all year round weather and the mountains, you'd think the Spanish government would promote mtb'ing to help boost the tourism economy for its own country
  • + 1
 Yeah, that it's the true. Certainly from some years ago we have more places and MTB centers, bike parks, etc....Zona Zero Ainsa, is the most important center I think, and they have been able to have Enduro world series...bit by bit we have better MTB scene, but I don't understand that Spain don't be more advanced this topic. The tracks regularization are very poor...in french Alps you can find trails only for walkers, and right next a trail only for bikes, thats perfect!
  • + 7
 Guys I feel for you I really do. I live in a state that has recently passed laws that make a hobby of mine much more difficult for me. But there's an old saying....."If you're not part of the solution you are part of the problem. " Can you guys start a volunteer non profit group and hold meetings with land owners? Start a group that has a small fee for membership. Work with local bike shops so that a membership includes discounts on merchandise from them. This will bring more people in the bike shops and membership fees gives the group money for trail maintenance. Once the group is strong enough you can then talk with land owners and local governments and try to make progress. Biking isnt free. Trails need repair so that it doesnt ruin the land. Once a group proves they can not trash around and keeps the land clean and stable people will be more likely to say yes to you. Is hunting seasonal there? I cant ride a few of my favorite trails during hunting. We have shared use trails here. START A MTB GROUP AND START TO MAKE CHANGE!!!!! Nothing happens in life for you..you have to make life happen. Cheers and good luck.
  • + 3
 its ok guys... everyone is jealous of B.C.
  • + 17
 Been to San Sebastian in 2014. Even without a guide, one of the nicest places for all mountain riding that i've been to. Such an extensive network of "i don't know where the hell i'm going but getting there will be fun" trails, exposed areas with a 30m drop right down to the ocean, awesome forest and so much culture and great food on top of that. A must for people who prefer exploring natural terrain to banging out laps at bike parks.
  • + 2
 How was the food? I have heard good things.
  • + 4
 Awesome. That about sums it up. The old town in San Sebastian is full of pintxos bars which sell at least 50 different kinds of pinxtos, really the selection is astounding. Buy a few of these and a pint of beer and then hop on to the next bar... the atmosphere is unbeatable. Also, i've eaten something closely resembling a deep fried hamburger.
  • + 12
 Great report Matt and a pleasure to show you and Mary around. I believe I live in a truly special corner of the world and your words and photos really captured that. So nice to read, especially since I'm holed up in hospital, drugged out my head with a back injury!
We have such a cool place to bike here, amazing variety and great hills and it is one of the great privileges of my job to be able to share that with people from all over the world. We are working with the local authorities and opening access all the time and educating them about where we want to ride and the trails we want whilst at the same time showing we can be respectful of the amazing environment we are lucky enough to enjoy. Lots of secrets and dreams are made in the deep woods and a blind eye is turned as long as we are respectful. It is an exciting time to be mountain biking out here and I see the potential of Canada or New Zealand here for sure. I'm probably ranting, it's the drugs, but I wanted to say that it was an absolute pleasure showing you around and just as pleasurable to read about your trip on pinkbike. Gora Euskadi, viva España and happiness to all mountain bikers!
  • + 3
 Away from the obvious destinations, Spain is full of amazing untouched but easily accessible riding like this. Slighty easier to get to, if your coming into to Spain from around the world is Montseny national Park. Situated about an hours drive north of Barcelona the Montseny park centres around a mountain range thats perfect for all year round trail riding. These mountains are regular training haunts of various top roadie teams, but for some reason the trails seem pretty undiscovered, probably thanks the more obvious Pyrenees being just up the road. There is all types or riding, from technical singletrack climbs and hour-long decents to long XC fireroad halls. The scenery is incredible, from lush mountain forests to rocky red stone similar to what you find nearer the cost overlooking views of the Pyrenees which appear to float middair to the north and shimmering Mediterranean seas off the costa brava coast to the south. The weather is warmish in the winter (5-15 Degrees C) and not too hot in the summer (20-33c). The trails are marked but not particularly well travelled and you wont see many other MTB'ers, but if you're ok with GPS you can pick up routes and signs become more obvious so you can ride alone without too much fear of getting lost.

My inlaws live in a nearby regional centre Vic so i'm luck enough to get out here 3-4 times a year and i'm discovering new trails every trip. And thanks to the number of low cost flights available from UK to Barcelona (and girona which is even closer) its both quicker and cheaper for me to be riding here than it is to get to scotland. And the food, drink and weather is fantastic.

Anyone whos not ridden here i cant recommend it highly enough and i suggest getting here quickly before the hordes work it out Smile
  • + 2
 Be careful riding in Montseny natural park since, inside the park, it's forbiden to ride trails/roads with less than 2m width. That's why the trails are pretty undiscovered.
  • + 1
 thanks for the info and I'm surprised to hear that because the trails are marked on maps as mtb trails alot of which are singletrack too. I've also been out with a local guide 2 or 3 times and they've never mentioned any restrictions.
  • + 1
 Looks like someone know where is the creme of the creme in catalonia
  • + 3
 That is common in Spain, very often those rules are no enforced but you are at the expense of someone else's mood. I live close to La Pedriza a really beautiful place were no bike is allowed outside of the fire roads, although you're not going to get in any trouble as long as you don't do it in weekends or in big groups. Anyway it sucks, in my case I can understand as the area is heavily populated but in yours it is just a nonsense.
  • + 1
 I don't know any marked trail, nor trail center in Montseny but maybe there's something. I'm from Vic and when I go up there don't pay atention to the trail marks, mostly are hiker's GR and PR.
Regarding the restrictions, the majority of people believe that only vehicles are restricted to 2+m wide roads and the only place where you can't ride a bike is in Matagalls.
Anyway, when you come back, if you need a local, send me a PM
  • + 1
 Hi Muniato, I'm fairly new to the area so i'm sure you're right. The guy who showed me around told me it was cool to ride the GR trails and i think some of the signs are marked with a little green arrow to show the entrance to trails. I have a book of these marked trails but its out in Viladrau where we stay, so i cant be sure of the symbols. The trail i've ridden the most is up past Santa Fe, i'm not sure what the peak is called but its just above Càmping de Fontmartina and it runs all the way down to Campins. The other run which is longer and bit more exciting runs from the back the Matagalls down to Arbucies.

Where else do you ride near Vic i'm always looking for new places as my wifes family are spread all over the area, from Viladrau where we usually stay, to vic, taradell and Manlleu which means i have a lot of lunches to cycle off Smile
  • + 1
 Thanks so much for the local knowledge! Sounds like there are lots of rules that aren't enforced. Hmmm
  • + 1
 teknorob, I think the peak you are speaking of is el turo de l'home, the first part is steep singletrack full of rocks until you reach a fountain, then it goes inside the forest and it gets mellow. I ride all over the mountains surrounding ''la plana de Vic'', in Montseny from Taradell to Aiguafreda and also know something from Manlleu to Cantonigros. But where I spend more time riding is in the Guilleries from Taradell to Folgueroles, it's packed with singletracks and has a lot of different terrains the downside is that the descends tend to be short.
  • + 1
 @teknorob i live near montseny, since last year they enforced the rules about riding here, its a good place for road, enduro and DH, but now in the case of Dh trails are marked with signs that dont allow to ride it, and if you go to the GRs beware with the forestals.
All of this came with a new trail build near a house,and of course is a natural parl...even there are some complaints.

as i said you can ride it, just beware with the forestals
  • + 2
 Euskadi is one of the most amazing places I've been. You did a good job capturing the light and feel of the area Matt! It's often overcast and cooler but I recall looking up at the mountains and wondering how much diversity of trails might exist up there. I hope to get back there someday...preferably to live. Eskerrik asko!
  • + 4
 I've been there a couple of times, it is one of the nicest places I've ever been too. The beaches are a bit foggy but still very nice.
  • + 1
 Basque Country is a perfect place to ride, but don´t forget that there are lots of places in Spain where you can ride and enjoy... For instance, Sierra Madrona in centre of the country, but these kinds of places never shown in magazines or websites, so try to serch and investigate more places in Spain. It´s a good advice.
Appart of that, fantastic report.
  • + 1
 Was lucky enought to go on Doug and Ed Oxley's skills in Basque week last year. Top notch all round. Accomodation was plush boutique, food was incredible, riding was great, skills training from Ed was the best I've had and genuinely improved my riding. Most importantly the trails and scenery were first rate too!
  • + 2
 Euskadi is very beatiful. This is what I see when I open the window sierrasalvada.blogspot.com.es/2012/05/orduna-y-sierra-salvada-desde-san.html
  • + 1
 Going to girona with a bunch of roadies but i want to sneak off for a mtb ride or two. Any recommendations on places to ride close to girona or Barcelona? And best place to get maps/guide/bike rental?
  • + 2
 You have Las Gavarres close to Girona for MTBing, really until May and it gets hot. I really like Maçanet de Cabrenys, it's on the way to Perpignan from Barcelona by the french border. Depending qhen you go and if the snow has melted Andorra is nice too and towards Font Romeu as well. Catalonia is quite awesome.
  • + 1
 Thanks!
  • + 0
 If you are not scared of the uphills just check on Wikiloc. Most of the routes that all this companies that send to Pinkbike these pretty reports on Spain (in the last moth there's 3 or 4 different reports: Andalucía, Euskadi, Madrid, Urbión...) are on Wikiloc: donwload the tracks on your gps and you are set. You'll probably meet more locals this way.
  • + 4
 Actually Basque Country is not Spain at all. Must know that
  • + 2
 I read Mark Kurlansky's "The Basque History of the World" and I've wanted to visit there ever since. This makes me want to step it up!
  • + 2
 I grew up at the Pyrenees (Jaca). I hope near future politicians understand how good it is for tourism to promote MTB. Zona Zero in Aisa is a perfect example.
  • + 5
 Gora Euskadi !
  • + 3
 So happy to be doing a 8 day trip there in October!
  • + 2
 Yes scamp! Woop woop
  • + 3
 take your bike here and i will show you the best trails of the Basque country!
  • + 1
 I agree with everything you're saying about Malaga - it is grotty and pretty horrible, but the riding is world class and crucially IT'S DIRT CHEAP which I think needs adding
  • + 4
 Amazing images
  • + 3
 Spain on its whole os beautiful
  • + 2
 The BASQUE COUNTRY on its whole beauty, mas bien...
  • + 2
 I'm moving to Santander in August. Now I'm even sadder that i can't take my bike with me
  • + 2
 Time to book some ferry tickets! Only £60 from Plymouth to Santander!
  • + 1
 Great article and photos, Matt! I love riding in the Basque Country and this captures the spirit perfectly.
  • + 2
 Good luck keeping up with pro racer Mary Moncorgé!
  • + 1
 No kidding! I remember before she turned pro, and I couldn't even keep up then!
  • + 1
 My favourite place for riding and feasting. Lovely photos and words that sum up the vibe of the area well.
  • + 1
 great photos, such a great place with great people!
  • + 2
 Nice!!!
  • + 1
 Awesome photos and words Matt !
  • + 1
 These photo articles make for the best computer backgrounds at work
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