I adjusted the strap on the helmet, a helmet I was borrowing because I didn’t know I had to bring my own. That was mistake #1 on my first bike tour – and probably not my last. I put the helmet on, clicked the buckle into place and patted the top of my helmet a bit, as if I were making sure it was going to withstand an impact. The morning sun was shining outside the Guggenheim Bilbao museum as Sebastian and Luca showed us our bikes and we each eagerly adjusted the seats and gave them a spin. Little did I know that it was going to be the only morning the sun shone in the next week; I might have savored the warm sunlight more if I had known.
I took the bike for a little spin, a bit wobbly at first making a tight left turn, and wondering for a second if this week long bike tour was a good idea. Our guide, Sebastian, came over to ask me how I felt and show me the various components of the ebike I would need to get familiar with. It seemed pretty simple and he certainly had a reassuring tone. I’m sure it will all be fine I said in my head.
Before I knew it, all 15 of us were rolling down the street along the river in Bilbao ready to take off on a new adventure. And within a few minutes I was reminded that the old saying is true – you never forget how to ride a bike; however that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are as good at balancing as you were at 5 years old when you learned! Regardless, it all came back pretty quickly and within the first few blocks peddling through Bilbao old town in the early morning hours, I was already loving it!
My First Bike Tour Takes Me Through Basque Country
The Basque Country is located in the western Pyrenees, straddling the border between France and Spain on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. We covered a great deal of the region biking roughly 150 miles and busing up any long uphill sections of the Pyrenees and foothills.
A map of our nightly stops covering the entire region:
There is a beautiful ritual and routine to hiking or biking tours and this one was no exception. Each morning we’d get up, pack our bags, put them outside of our hotel door, go to breakfast, and then get on our bikes. We’d bike most of the morning until lunch, have an incredible picnic, and then bike to our hotel. Rest a bit, walk around town, meet for dinner, and repeat the next day. Even though our routine was the same every day, our landscapes changed drastically.
This was my first time in Basque Country Spain – or at least I thought it was. But then I realized that I did actually walk through a portion of it when I did the Camino de Santiago 6 years earlier! But instead of a brisk walk through one area, this time I was covering all of the regions of Basque Country in Northern Spain.
We rode on little pathways, gravel farm roads, lake trails, roads, through tunnels, on old railroad tracks, through forests, on beach promenades, and in little villages. Each day was different and exhilarating – see for yourself in my little Gopro handlebar video!
We started out in Bilbao where I was surprised to learn there was a Guggenheim museum there and a beautiful riverfront that people seemed to flock to! The area was full of incredible creative art displays, architecture, and public park spaces, and only a few years prior it was all industrial area along the river. We biked through the old city and markets, then through an industrial area out to the port, and eventually we bused south and were introduced to the rolling hills and countryside.
Crossing the Camino de Santiago
The next day we flirted with the Camino de Santiago and stayed in Estella, one of the towns I stayed in as a Pilgrim 6 years prior. We visited the pilgrim bridge in Puente la Reina and rode on a small section of the trail. My memories came flooding back as we biked through the rural fields and little towns while big rain storms were at our back. It was just how I remembered this region – moody. It is the rainiest part of Spain, but all of that rain means incredible lush, green countryside and some impressive storm watching!
This region is not only green, but it’s fertile and full of livestock. We biked by goats, sheep (I thanked each of them for their delicious cheese they provided us!), cows, pigs, and even miniature horses! And we ate like kings every night enjoying the local foods we had just biked by, minus the miniature horses! We learned about the Basque architecture, which reminded me a lot of Austria and Southern Germany; I frequently had to remind myself I was in Spain as most of the time Basque Country didn’t really feel like it.
Vive La France!
To my surprise we also biked into and stayed in France and Gracias turned to Merci in the blink of an eye – something that always amazes me about Europe. Was it possible that the French goat cheese tasted even better because we were in France – I think so.
San Sebastian Finish
We came down out of the rural French mountains, and crossed waterways by little boat ferries, while our bikes were being escorted by our van. We even walked a section of the Camino Norte to enjoy the stunning cliff top views. We were reunited with our bikes and coasted down to the beaches of the Bay of Biscay and rode into the bustling town of San Sebastian. It was time to celebrate and now learn about the exciting history and food culture of this coastal city.
Add this to your San Sebastian Plans
Get the most out of your stay in San Sebastian with a pinxto food tour! Learn about the history of the food culture, the special gastronomy societies while eating and drinking your way through the Old Town.
Biketours.com did an incredible job of suggesting a perfect beginning bike trip for me since it was all pretty flat and posh, and for the big uphill sections, we were normally bused up and then coasted down. In addition, I had an ebike that made the whole trip pretty effortless.
Biking in Luxury
This particular Basque Country tour was steeped in luxury. You didn’t have to ever lift a finger if you didn’t want to. Your luggage all miraculously appeared in your room and was picked up every morning from your room. We had a van following us or nearby the entire time, so if there was a section you didn’t want to do, or just wanted a break, you hopped in the van.
The lodging was high end in the larger cities of Bilbao and San Sebastian, and boutique-ish in the smaller towns and villages. We even stayed in two Paradors, luxury hotels located in buildings of historic importance such as fortresses, monasteries and castles.
And of course Basque Country is known for their delicious food culture. We ate at incredible local restaurants each night and picnicked every afternoon. One thing I looked forward to the most during biking was our picnic lunches along the trail each day. The spread our guides created on the table with local meats and cheeses was a work of art! And it wasn’t simply food, it was local wines, sangria, and ciders too. I’m pretty sure I ended up heavier after my biking tour!
What Made This First Bike Tour Perfect for a Beginner?
I think I loved this trip so much because it was the exact right kind of trip for my first bike trip. I worked closely with the tour advisors at Biketours.com to make sure I was signing up for a perfect beginner bike tour. That’s the advantage of working with a tour provider who is an expert in biking tours – they know the tours well and understand the fears of the beginning biker.
The good beginner elements were that they offered a trailing van that you could use if you were tired, and they bused you up the really steep sections so you could enjoy all of the scenery, but coast down. The mileage wasn’t huge each day (ranging from 15 to 40 miles a day), and they offered ebikes if you wanted them.
The Joy of Electric Bikes
It’s as if the hand of God came down from the sky, put a hand on your shoulder, and just gave you a little supporting push – that is an ebike. Electric bikes provide power on demand for a helping push to get up hills or to help catch up with your group when you stop to take lots of pictures as I do. It has a battery pack that is charged each night and you have 4 power settings you can easily switch through; Eco, Tour, Sport, and Turbo. And yes, you still do have to pedal, but it just takes less effort to get up the hills. I honestly kept mine in Eco mode most of the time and used the Tour for the bigger hill climbs – it was just the boost I needed to make this first time tour possible. The only thing I didn’t like about the ebike was the constant hum, but if the hum helps me enjoy an outdoor activity that I likely otherwise wouldn’t be enjoying – then it’s worth it.
I’m a pretty competitive person, and I’m most competitive with myself sadly. I would have been fighting not to walk on the hills out of pride. When I inevitably would have walked, I would have spent most of my time chastising myself for being out of shape. And what fun is that? I’m positive that my experience wouldn’t have been as enjoyable for me with a regular bike.
My first bike tour was a super introduction to the world of bike travel. Much like the hiking trips I love, it introduced me to a new part of Spain, while allowing me to see it at a slow, digestible pace. Plus, I survived even though I did zero preparation thanks to my ebike! So no longer do you have to wonder if you can do it, you can. This may have been my first bike tour, but it won’t be my last!
Don’t forget the biking gear!
Wondering what gear you should take with you on your first bike tour? I did buy a pair of those padded bike shorts, but wasn’t really a fan. Here’s some other biking gear suggestions from my buddies at Travel Past 50!
I was a guest of BikeTours.com for this trip, however all opinions expressed here are my own.