In June, my wife and I took two motorcycle tours in Europe in celebration of our 35th anniversary. This was the second tour of our trip. You can read about the first one, “A Motorcycle Tour of Eastern Europe: “Combat Touring” in the Balkans“.
Due to the rains and flooding in Europe in June, the river boat cruise on the Danube river we had planned to take between motorcycle tours was cancelled. So we spent time in Ljubljana, Slovenia and Munich, Germany and then caught our connection in Nuremberg to Barcelona which is the start of the Pyrenees “Rock and Roll” tour provided by Hispania Tours. This is our second guided Hispania Tour as we had so much fun on the first one the Extremadura tour, which now is a self-guided tour.
Sight Seeing in Barcelona
We arrived several days early to see some of the sights in Barcelona and stayed in the same hotel Hispania uses for the tour. The hotel is in the Olympic Village area as is the Hispania Tours Barcelona office. The Mediterranean is just down the street.
My wife had visited Barcelona before so she took care of the in town sight seeing planning.
Antoni Gaudi’s Parc Guell and Sagrada Familia
Gaudi was a very famous architect at the turn of the 20th century. We visited two of his Barcelona projects, Parc Guell and the world famous Sagrada Familia Bascillica. Sagrada Familia started in 1882 and is still under construction more than 100 years later. His architecture is original, stunning and life-affirming. You MUST see these if you get to Barcelona.
We walked through the Gothic section of Barcelona visiting the church of Santa Maria del Pi. We also took a tour of a home Gaudi designed, La Pedrera of Casa Mila. The design uses catenary arches in the attic, an undulating roof and air shaft atriums. Examples of the furniture and hardware he designed for the apartments fit the human form very well. In the attic are exhibits of his work and design for Sagarada Familia.
La Rambla and Dinner
The next day was the arrival day for the tour with a welcome dinner in the evening. After breakfast, we walked along the La Rambla seeing the sights including the mimes. They are motionless until someone puts a tip in their jar.
Our dinner was at a restaurant on the water with the “other” guest who was riding on this tour. So, we ended up with an almost private motorcycle tour. 🙂
Rochelle had a lot of pain in the left wrist and thumb during our Adriatic tour. Although several weeks had passed, she wasn’t sure if she could ride her own bike comfortably. Volker, our guide, made arrangements to have her bike in the van so she could ride any day or part of a day she wanted to. We both really appreciated the customer service.
[When we got back home, she visited her doctor and the x-rays showed her thumb was dislocated. Apparently, it was slipping out of the joint when stressed. No wonder her thumb and wrist hurt.]
Sunday: Leaving Barcelona
Traffic in Barcelona is “free spirited”, according to my wife. But on Sunday, the traffic was light and we left on a divided highway to the north. Very quickly we were in the foothills and valleys winding our way up into the mountains. Rochelle decided to ride on my bike today and get another day of rest for her thumb.
We stopped for coffee at old stone home winding up a dirt road to the front yard. The owner took care of us and provided first class coffee and pastries for a late morning pick-me up.
We continued our way up into the mountains riding through towns and up and down the mountain sides. The weather was overcast, but we avoided rain. Due to the summer solstic, many of the towns were setting up fireworks to celebrate.
We arrived at the hotel in Puigcerda with a small lake in front of the hotel and enjoyed our first “end of day” beer and wine. The day had cooled and it was cold that evening so we didn’t stay out to join those watching the fireworks in the evening.
Monday: On the Way to Vihala
We woke to cool, clear morning that was a bit nippy. After breakfast, Volker and Jesus, our van driver, motorcycle racer and mechanic par excellance, got Rochelle’s bike out of the van so she could ride. Today is a shorter ride, very scenic with great roads, so she wanted to join us.
We enter the small country of Andorra which is “owned” by the Bishop of Urquell in conjunction with the President of France. It’s history goes back to 900 AD. Today, it’s noted for being a tax haven resulting in a lot of “commercial Disneyland” type developments among the jaw-dropping natural beauty of the Pyrenees. It’s often quite jarring to round a corner and be met with commercialism writ large.
After entering Andorra, the ride continued to stay cool and clear as we carved up one mountain side and then down the next. It was a day for motorcycle riding and the scenery was stunning. As today was a national holiday, we did have to hunt to find a restaurant for lunch. Volker guided us to great location for our early afternoon coffee stop and siesta.
During the afternoon ride, we continued to stay very high in the mountains with a lot of snow still hanging around even though it was late June.
By late afternoon we arrived at our stop for the day in Viehla, the Parador de Vielha. The view from the back patio made a great backdrop as we enjoyed another well earned round of “end of the day” refreshments.
Tuesday: Riding to Casa de St. Martin via France
The mountains behind the Parador were even more spectacular as the morning light flooded the peaks and the morning ride was still cool and with brilliant sunshine.
Yesterday we had passed places where the road was damaged from the river and this morning, the damage was much more extensive. The storms that had flooded the Danube had also been dumping rain in the Pyrenees the week before and Volker said he would have cancelled this tour if it had been scheduled for last week due to the mud slides and closed roads. At one place, an old stone bridge over the river had a huge gaping hole in the stones on one side, likely from trees, debris and the force of the water driving them into it. Trees, rocks and debris were strewn along the river bed and the water was still an angry grey and brown color from the hillside erosion.
As we headed up to the mountain tops and border with France, we left the devastation of the river and returned to impossibly green valleys.
We stopped for morning coffee and crepes just inside France at the top of a pass, Col de Peyres Sourde. This route is used for the upcoming Tour De France, and we passed many riders peddling their way to the top. But this week, the road was open for us as well as the bicycles.
After our break, we road to the Col de Aspin pass. I have nothing by the utmost admiration for anyone who rides this route on a bicycle, let alone a race.
One road Volker usually takes was closed so we detoured to Lourdes and had our lunch break and then we were back into the mountains again as we headed toward the boarder with Spain.
At Col de Soulor, we were in the clouds with fog, mist and a light rain. We were met by a head of sheep as we rode along the ridge of the mountains on a narrow road with no guard rails, and drop offs of hundreds of meters to the valley below.
This combination of weather and road kept my attention firmly on negotiating safely to our next rest stop at Col d’Aubisque.
As we went down the other side of Col d’Aubisque, we descended below the cloud deck and eventually were greeted with sunshine and views to soaring mountain peaks as crossed back into Spain.
Several hours later we turned off the highway onto a dirt road to our accommodation for the next two nights, Casa de San Martin. After about 3 miles, we rounded a corner and looked down on the the old stone monastery that has been refurbished, updated and now operates as a hotel with gourmet breakfast and dinners. The property is over 1,000 years old and the monastery once belonged to the Abbot of San Victoria, the oldest monastery in Spain. Our rooms opened onto a deck overlooking the valley below. We enjoyed the traditional end-of-the-day beer and wine on the lower level patio and felt not a care in the world.
Dinner, one of the best meals on the tour, was served at 8:00 pm in a stone walled dinning room with no rush or fuss. Simply superb.
Wednesday: Sight Seeing in Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park
We woke very refreshed by the setting, absolute quiet, and stunning early morning sunshine in the valley.
We are going to ride in the Monte Perdido National Park and hike along one of the canyons. Rochelle decided to ride her bike today and enjoy the mountain roads of the canyon.
The road is one lane and supposed to be one way into the canyon with a separate one lane, one-way road out of the canyon. However, we encountered a traffic jam at a tunnel on our way in due to several vehicles heading the wrong way. On motorcycles, we were were able to squeeze by the offending car and camper.
The rode down the canyon was carved into the walls and provided spectacular views as we wound our way down to the river below.
At the end of the road was a parking area with trails to hike along the river. It was nice to do some walking and leg stretching. Along the path, we came across an overhang with a stone chapel built inside of it reminiscent of the Meas Verde cliff dwellings in our home state of Colorado.
After several hours of hiking along the river, we returned to mount up and head out on the other “one-way” route out of the canyon. We are headed to lunch in a smaller town with a Fortress. The lunch was an unexpected delight with excellent, nouveau cuisine served in a courtyard under a canopy of trees. After our meal, we walked through the village and toured the stone fortress.
Late in the afternoon, we headed back to Hotel Casa San Martin with anticipation of another superb meal preceded by adult beverages and relaxing on the patio overlooking the valley. Axel and Rochelle both love potato chips and it was decided that upon returning the Hotel Casa San Martin, they would relax and indulge in their joint addiction.
Thursday: Riding to Peramola
Today will be a long ride to Peramola. We really enjoyed to relaxing and quiet at Hotel Casa de San Martin and are a bit reluctant to leave this morning. Nonetheless, adventure awaits. It has been steadily warming up each day and this morning is perfect riding temperature.
Rochelle is going to ride with me today due to the number of corners, hairpins and required use of her left hand on the clutch. Although the Perdido river canyon yesterday didn’t show signs of flooding, we had a graphic demonstration of just how much rain had fallen last week when we rode past a dam with the spillway wide open and a mountainous torrent of water thundering from the sides of the mountain.
I had never seen a dam with its spillway wide open to keep the water from topping the dam. The power from that cascade was tremendous.
The route Volker took us on were roads he hadn’t ridden before and wanted to scout as possible additions to this ride. They were great, up and down hill and mountains sides, through fields and with curves, curves, hairpins and then more curves.
By mid-afternoon we arrived at our destination, the Hotel Can Boix which is nestled in the side of a canyon. It was a fabulous location, and almost entirely deserted.
As we parked out bikes in an empty garage, another couple arrived on a BMW R1200-GS. This Austrian couple had been on a self-guided tour provisioned by Volker and the plan was for them to join us this evening and then ride with us to Barcelona tomorrow. The language of the evening was German as Rochelle and I were the only non-German speakers. But after almost six weeks in Europe, we had grown accustomed to hearing numerous languages and inferring the general flow from gestures, tonal inflections and the wide range of non-verbal queues that are common regardless of one’s native tongue.
Friday, Final Day and Return to Barcelona
This morning we are going to ride to the town of Oliana and visit a motorcycle museum with a very wide collection of vintage and classic bikes. Many of the exhibits are Spanish bikes as this part of Spain was home to a large number of motorcycle companies including Bultaco, Ossa, Montessa and other lesser names.
I found a nice exhibit of my first motorcycle, a Bultaco Metralla done up in Spanish livery.
The exhibit had a great selection of motorcycles from around the world, some short-lived revolutionary designs and others that became the mainstream.
Then, it was on the road again with another healthy helping of curves, corners and mountain roads as we headed closer to Barcelona and the end of our tour.
It was Friday evening when we arrived at the outskirts of Barcelona. The traffic was going to be “interesting” as we were going to cross the city from the hills behind the city to the harbor where Hispania Tours office is located. We girded for the battle ahead, and then, like salmon swimming upstream, dove into the traffic with Volker leading the way.
At one point, as we headed out of a roundabout, a large red city tour bus next to us decided to move over into our lane. I accelerated with gusto to get out of his way and heard Rochelle’s exclamation as the front fender of the bus passed an inch or two by her right elbow. Space is tight in the city and folks seem comfortable using every inch of it. And, scooters are everywhere and like minnows in a stream, seem to fill any and all available space around the other vehicles. It’s expected that scooters and motorcycles should lane split at red lights and move to the head of the line. And if two motorcycles are next to each other with enough room to squeeze a scooter in between, expect that space to be filled.
We arrived back at the Hispania Tour office and had our last “end-of-day” beer standing around and recounting the highlights of our ride. Then, we reluctantly handed over the keys and unpacked our gear from the van. A fair well dinner at the hotel with toasts and celebration rounded out a most excellent week riding the spectacular scenery of the Pyrenees.