Val D’Aran – Day 1- BasqueMTB Pyrenees Mountain Bike

Mountains of Single Track in Spain with BasqueMTB,
Fall 2018

Day 1 – Val d’Aran

Locations were Val D’Aran – Day 1 || Benasque – Day 2 and Day 3 || Ainsa – Day 4 || Biescas Day 5 and Day 6
Then we spent three days riding in the Basque Coast
Then we spent another two weeks driving around Spain

With all the great places in the World to ride it’s tough to choose where to go for your next Mountain Bike Vacation. Trails, people, culture are always a draw. But many times marketing pap obscures the truth of what’s out there. Word of mouth and stunning pictures/video of biking in Spain have been more and more present of recent note and we felt the urge to check things out first-hand

The Pyrenees Mountains bordering Spain and France have always had an allure particularly due to views of epic topography via road riding tours. Despite there being so many strong Spanish bike brands and bikers there seems to be a bit of a blind spot for Spanish mountain-biking among North Americans. It makes one wonder if they could possibly have developed trails and a mountain bike culture with the distractions of such superlative mountain scenery.

Doug MacDonald of BasqueMTB was a constant word-of-mouth recommendation from mutual friends who’ve had first-hand experiences with biking in Spain; in large part for his local knowledge, his affable customer service and (importantly for us), his trailwork and trail advocacy volunteerism. After emailing back and forth with Doug ourselves and some of our friends were booked to go to Spain for late October of 2018

Spain Mountain biking. BasqueMTB High Pyrenees. Val Aran October 21, 2018.

After spending time in Spain on this BasqueMTB mountain-biking trip we can tell you that there is indeed a passion and spirit of mountain biking which is alive and well. And the FOOD! How are these people not fat?

BasqueMTB’s six day High Pyrenees trip had us sample riding in 4 Pyreneean locations from approximately the Central to West Pyrenees. Trails were the best we’ve ever had the privilege of riding in the high alpine in Europe. Travel was tight and well-organized, accomodations were well-chosen; FOOD was amazing (and copious); service was superb, and weather was incredible.

Overview of Pyrenees where we travelled. A – Val D’Aran, B – Benansque, C – Ainsa, D – Biescas

Day 1 – Val D’Aran.

We flew in from Vancouver to Barcelona where we did city and culture and ate a lot. It’s then but a short internal airline flight from Barcelona to Hondarribia’s airport then onward to San Sebastian for yet more food!

At San Sebastian we joined part of our group then were picked up by Igor of BasqueMTB. BasqueMTB had arranged for both Lee and I to try out Orbea Rallon bikes. These are 160mm front/150mm rear Carbon 29r bikes that are well-suited bikes for long, fast, varied descending technical terrain we were to encounter in the Pyrenees and the Basque Coast.

With the long descents the Rallon’s plush Horst Link suspension made the multiple runs do-able with comfort. BasqueMTB’s Pyreneean trips also involve pedalling; the Rallon’s anti-squat pedalling platform made the climbing efficient. These Orbea Rallon’s are tuned for Spanish technical terrain which is to say that they would be more than able to handle any rough, steep trails your area has to offer.

Lee and I rode Orbea Rallons on this trip. Very plush, good pedalling, confidence inspiring bikes.

We met the rest of our group who were a mix of visitors from the UK and various international destinations (Australia, Scotland, Canada) and loaded our bikes in the BasqueMTB Vans. This travel day is the longest as you are transported from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean 320km east to the small town of Seixes in the Val D’aran. The drive through the Pyrenees is well-worth doing in the daylight as the mountains rising from the flat plains are rather stunning in their vertical relief.

The evening was spent assembling and tuning bikes. We then had a great dinner and breakfast in the Hotel Seixes (A on the map below) waking up to weather of the most superlative order. The combination of a comfortable nights’ rest, nerding out about bikes and trails and food set the tone for the days to come.

Our first night at Hotel Seixes. Bike Friendly!

Dinner with our guides Antonio and Borja

Up at 7:00 for a massive Spanish continental breakfast.

Aran aka Val d’Aran is a geographical curiosity of the Spanish Pyrenees. Until an 5km tunnel was built through the mountains to link it southwards Aran was really hard to get to from the rest of Spain in winter and even in summer was a bit cut-off. It’s also a N-facing valley in the Spanish Pyrenees (most valleys face S) with the drainages oriented towards the Atlantic Ocean.. Climatically this means Aran is largely an Atlantic climate affected by Atlantic storms (as opposed to many other Pyreneean valleys which are drilled by Mediterranean weather and storms). From a mountain-biking perspective this means vast variety in changes in soil composition and trail character water depending on slope aspect..

Aran’s relative geographical isolation from the rest of Spain has contributed to its sparse population. At approximately 10,000 people for 650 square kms with most in the valleys Aran’s density is 15 people per sq km which puts it way down the list. This lack of crowds means lack of pressure on trails. In large part this has contributed to Aran’s friendliness to bikes and to outdoors activities in general with the local government, tourism association (see their quite useful website here) and ski hills helping to fund and build bike parks as well as a mix of paid and volunteer trail crews to help mark and maintain trails throughout the region.

Socially Val d’Aran is part of the Spanish state of Catalonia jutting into the Pyrenees abutting the state of Aragon to its west. Aranese speak Catalonian, Spanish and their own valley dialect of Aranese. Food here consequently receives a mixture of treatments with different regional combinations encountered.

Enduro trails.

No Dig No Ride! Aran Bike Parks!

Our first run on Enduromies

A sunny day to start and end. Riding through the fog lifting from the grass

Our guide Borja, also on an Orbea Rallon

Nick on a short pedal to our next series of trails for descents

Vast valleys and views in the Pyrenees

Traversing an old trail, fall colours are coming to the mountains.

Ken on a short hike a bike.

Down some old Pyreneen trails, so buff.

Meeting up for uplift 3

Borja on the buff trails in the Pyrenees

Doug and Borja

Lunch to refuel for two more afternoon uplifts.

Then we check out the ‘flow trails’ in the Aran Bike Park! Rob from England

Riding in the Pyrenees isn’t the same without at least one ride through an old town.

Paul from England, part of the group on our week trip.

Antonio from Pamplona, one of our guides this week.

Antonio, also on an Orbea Rallon

Buff trails, amazing views.

Doug starting on our last leg from the Museu Mina Victoria

This light!

Last run to beer.

Antonio on the last run of the day.

Overview of the rides in Val D’Aran

In Val d’Aran there is a large chunk of trails some marked on maps but many of the most cherry linkups aren’t marked.

We did 5 laps and 3335m of descending in Val D’aran in the North Western Pyrenees. We all rode together as a group. We were all very well matched and moved well despite the size of the group. We were shuttled in Val D’Aran by Aran Bike Parks, who also do trail maintenance and run events in this area.

– Lap1 – Enduromies
– Lap2 – Enduromies Pruedo
– Lap3 – Aran Bike Park – Bosc de Varicauva
– Lap4 – Museu Mina Victoria to Abres Dessus

Overview of the four uplifts, we did 5, but the last one isn’t here due to a tracking glitch.

Following our Val d’Aran rides we were off to Benasque just a short drive (90kms away) where we looked forward to more food, a different valley and different trails. Accomodations were at Hotel St Anton in Benasque which like Seixes in Aran was relatively deserted due to this time of the year being a shoulder season for travellers.

Bike maintenance, wine, beer and unwinding after a good day of riding with massively fantastic weather started the BasqueMTB trip off with good vibes

Next stop Hotel St Anton in Benasque. All the hotels we stayed at had secure bike storage, great food and comfortable rooms.

Dinner at Benasque. I don’t know how these people aren’t fat!

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