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Northern Spain Cycle - Hendaye to Santander, Sept 2009

In 2008, we cycled the West coast of France, from the ferry port in Roscoff to the train station at Hendaye, then took the train to Santander. This year, we found ourselves cycling in Northern Spain, cycling the Picos de Europa mountains for Brittany Ferries (click here for details of our journey) so we wanted to repeat the route from Hendaye to Santander, but this time by bike rather than by train.

To get from Santander to Hendaye, we reversed the train route detailed on the France page, namely a train from Santander to Bilbao, Bilbao to San Sebastian (Donostia) then San Sebastian to Hendaye.  Even though the trains were overloaded with bikes and cyclists, the guards still invited more on. An overnight stop in San Sebastian is well worth fitting into the schedule as San Seb. is such a lovely, cycle friendly coastal town.

Day 1, 18th September, Hendaye to Leitza 42 mls 4400'climb
Click here to view the route

The traffic is very busy from Hendaye to Irun. If you are lucky, you may find the quieter back roads shown on the route above, but to be honest, we kept on ending up on the very busy N1, with lorries squeezing past our left shoulder. However, it is only for a few miles before the route goes up into the National Park and mountains towards Oiartzun. The further into the mountains you go, the quieter the road becomes.

If you are hoping to use your school-boy Spanish to read road signs - forget it!  Here all signs are written in Basque and Spanish but the locals have been busy with their paint spray cans to ensure that only the Basque can be read. You are right in the heart of Basque country, where ETA signs are numerous. However, Spanish is understood and spoken along with Basque.

Don't be tempted to take the shorter route via Artikutza shown on some maps as, according to the locals, the route is only a walking route and not suitable for bikes or cars.  Today, the rain was descending in stair rods so not a good day to attempt to take touring bikes on a walking track.

The longer mountain route goes via Hernani. Once past Hernani, there is very little by way of food or accommodation until Leitza although there is a campsite near Goizueta. This pretty route, goes gently uphill first but then becomes steeper uphill once past Goizueta. Once the mountain road joins the N170, it is about 5Km downhill into Leitza.

Leitza has little going for it, apart from a couple of hotels, and a few bars and shops although our view may have been coloured by the still persistent heavy rain.

If this cycle is a continuation of your route through France, you will be pleasantly surprised just how much cheaper accommodation and food/drink is compared to France. You are only a few miles over the border, but a set meal reduces from
the €20-30 in France to €10 in Spain, and the Spanish meal includes a bottle of wine! The large quantities of wine consumed by white van drivers for lunch before hitting the road again was a constant concern when cycling in the afternoon.

Beware of bends

Day 2 Leitza to Bergara 44 mls 4000'climb
Click here to view the route

Today is another hilly day. The choice of route is either busy roads that follow the flat valleys or steep but much quieter roads that lead over the top of mountains. We tended to choose the latter.

From Leitza, the road leads down to Tolosa, then up and down to Azpeitia before climbing over another mountain pass to Bergara. At Askoitia, route through the town to avoid the road tunnels. Tolosa looked to be an interesting town, but due to the heavy rain, we decided to continue on.

Bergara is a strange town. Entry to the town is via a long street of social housing, where the tall unkempt flats are decorated with ETA signs, but once in the centre, it turns into this old medieval heart with a couple of lovely hotels and an old church. A very helpful tourist information informed us of an organ recital that was about to start in the church. Dinner followed the recital - the earliest dinner we could find started at 21:30. Beware if here on a Saturday night. The local disco started around midnight and continued until 7am.

Bergara - church and medieval center

                                   The church and medieval centre of Bergara

Day 3 Bergara to Arakaldo 44 mls 3800'climb
Click here to view the route

Another day of hills and rain. The first 10 miles out of Bergara is along a wide flat road. Today is Sunday and there is virtually no traffic apart from the odd bike. These are almost the first bikes we have seen on this route. Once past Mondragon, we take the hill roads on the 2620, which lulls us into a false sense of security by starting with gentle climbs before getting tougher nearer the top. The descent towards Artea is exhilarating, as always. We took a short cut towards Artea, via Lamindao, but this 2.5 miles was almost straight up and straight down, and far too steep for heavily laden bikes. The flatter but longer route via Igorre would have been better.

Past Artea, it is another climb before descending into Arakaldo.

In Artea, we had our most interesting meal of the trip. It was Sunday lunch and apart from the obligatory bottle of wine, the meal came with never ending food. The food was croquettes, egg halves, meat and bean soup, meat with potatoes, fried chicken, rice pudding and ice cream. As usual, no vegetables. Two very overweight waitresses, one who had a sore throat and could not speak and the other who just shouted louder if you were unable to understand her rapid Spanish, served all this. All this food came to

Day 4 Arakaldo to Laredo 38 mls 3100'climb
Click here to view the route

Another day of rain, but fortunately slightly less hills. We left Arakaldo on the busy route towards Laudio then took the quieter, wooded mountain road the 3632 to Sodupe. Here we followed the valley road, with its many factories, especially factories involved in wood processing, before taking the next mountain roads, the 3602 and 630. A right turn then took us towards the coast on the CA151. This delightful, almost no traffic, valley road is a gentle descent through eucalyptus woods all the way to the coastal road, the N634. This coastal road was surprisingly quiet and gently bounced up and down before entering the town of Laredo.

Laredo has a stunning location and beach, but is rather spoilt by the 1960 tower blocks along the sea front. However the town does have a stunning, although slightly run down, old town full of bars, restaurants, old houses and churches. The old church is a favourite place for people walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostella pilgrims' route.

Day 5 Laredo to Somo/Santander 28 mls 1000'climb
Click here to view the route

Our first dry day! We followed the attractive coastal road towards Santona, then continued on the CA-141  coastal road to Somo. The road is fairly quiet with a few campites and hotels on the way. Somo has wide, expansive beaches and is a favourite place for surfers hence the obligatory VW camper vans parked everywhere. Unless you are into surfing, there is not much to do here. A ferry runs every half hour between here and Santander via Pedrena and costs a few euros, including the bike. This ferry route from Somo or Pedrena is the safest way to enter or leave Santander by bike and arrives at a quay about 200m East of the Brittany Ferries port.

A tiring day
                                    The only thing to do after a long days cycle

So here's the choice for getting from the French border to Santander. It is either 2 days by train,  5 days by this 'quiet' inland route or about 3-4 days along the busy coastal road.

Finally, the only advert you will find on this site:
Are you cycling through Spain for charity and looking for a charity to support? Have a look here at a charity that is supporting the Maasai people in southern Kenya. All money raised goes to Kenya as there are no UK salaries or expenses. 

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