Trans-Pyrenees

This route is designed with two options in mind (NB there is an off-road Trans-Pyrenees route in the making!): a purely arbitrary, and very minor, distinction between ‘fast’ (Red) and ‘slow’ (Green) routes. What this means is their suitability for superbikes and heavily laden tourers. That’s not to say that either route isn’t rideable by any bike – heaven forbid – nor that the fast routes are boring for lightweight of dual-sports bikes.

Part of the reason for  designing the route is also that so many riders seem to be missing out on excellent routes that are just little bit away from the high Pyrenees, in a region called the Pre-Pyrennees. This is composed of limestone, as opposed to granite, and is given to high, even sierras, and deep, craggy ravines and canyons. Rides in this region offer wonderful views over to the high Pyrenees, often all the better from being at a distance, as well as dramatic roller-coaster rides and spectacular detail.

The Sierra de Montsec is typical of the Pre-Pyrenean ranges; offering rides over, under and through spectaular ravines and canyons!

The routes coincide at strategic points and cross over each other. Riders can follow any route, of course, and bad weather in the higher mountains can often be avoided by sticking to the ‘low’ route throughout. But the structure of the routes gives constant variation in the riding – both the roads themselves and the scenery, vegetation, etc.

Most of the river systems in the Pyrenees run north south, but there are two very important exceptions, the river Segre as it passes through a region called the Cerdanya in Catalonia, between La Seu d’Urgell and Puigcerda, and the section of the Rio Aragón between Sangüessa, near Pamplona, and Sabiñánigo. Both of these sectors harbour important trans-Pyrenean highways which draw very heavy with traffic and are also very boring from a riding point of view. So my routes steer well clear of these.

Riding right into the Ordessa national Park, normally closed to private vehicles, is one of the bonuses of riding the Pyrenees in winter!

Riding right into the Ordesa National Park, normally closed to private vehicles, is one of the bonuses of riding the Pyrenees in winter!

Places to stay

Rather than recommend accommodation as such it’s better to suggest good places to find digs – but I do suggest good camp sites – it’s worth remembering my notes on (the various types of hotels, hostals, albergues, etc. to help searching for digs (see Accommodation). One reason for selecting the places where the Red and Green Routes coincide is the usefulness of these places for digs, mechanics, etc. I don’t suggest places at each end of the route as not only will there be no shortage of accommodation but I guess most riders will want to begin or end the routes as part of a longer itinerary. So, going from West to East:

  • The Roncal Valley: this is just into Navarre and is within a half day’s ride from the western end of the Route. Both Red and Green routes pass through the valley, coinciding at its ‘capital’, Izaba. This is a small town, hardly more thana village, but it has several hostals (see Accommodation/Hotels and Hostals) and a good camp site a few kilometres north of the town. This is probably one of the most beautifully located sites in Spain, set in the forest some distance from the main road, and it also has an albergue, or youth hostel. It’s run by the Ajuntamiento (Town Hall), which is not usually a good sign, but I note that it’s now ‘Under New management’ – so hopefully it will have improved since my last stay there in 2009! There is more accommodation further down the valley in Roncal itself.
  • Ainsa – Boltaña: this is an ideal location for a half-way stage if you’re doing a route in two days riding (but see the note for Tremp, below). The small town is rather touristy based on its location near the French border, the  Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park and the towns restored medieval centre, but this does mean there’s plenty of accommodation. There is also a very good camp site in the nearby village of Boltaña – NB don’t confuse this with camp site in the village itself, which is entirely geared up for caravans. Boltaña is a pretty village and also has plenty of accommodation.
  • Tremp – La Pobla de Segur: another small town where both Green and Red routes converge – and like Ainsa a good half-way stage. Tremp is not developed for tourism but is an important business centre in this remote region, so there is plenty of accommodation. There is another village just to the north, La Pobla de Segur, which has hotels as well as an excellent camp site. For a longer stays exploring this fascinating region I have to recommend Casa Rafela – which is my holiday cottage! NB The routes between Ainsa and Tremp are quite hard riding – so beware of the temptation to carry on from one to the other at the end of a long day!
  • Port del Compte – St Lorenç de Morunys: Port del Comte is a low altitude ski station that is in effect second home village. St Lorenç is a ‘real’ village at the foot of the mountain that has become developed as a result of the Port de Compte. Between them they offer a wide range of hotel, hostal and albergue accommodation. There’s an ordinary camp site near St Lorenç but the Camping Molí de Fòrnols,  a short detour from Tuixent to the north of the pass, is out of this world! The Molí (a former watermill) is also a Casa Rural. The Lavansa valley of  is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt in the Pyrenees – well worth taking some time out to explore! Campers sh oud note that there is no shopping in this valley, but the restaurant is open to all and has menús in the evenings – slightly pricey but definitely worth the money!
  • Ripoll: is an important regional centre in the eastern Pyrenees. The town is famous for its monastery, which makes it quite a tourist destination for day trips and helps support a reasionable number of hotels, but is also a ‘real’ town, with a small but important textile industry -now replaced by the service sector. Like the other towns above Ripoll has a useful ‘satellite’ at Ribes de Freser just a few kilometres to the north. Ribes is a spa town and the base for the Vall de Nuria ski resort, which has the distinction of only being accessible by rack railway. As such Ribes supports quite a number of hotels and hostals. I’ve found a lovely looking camp site at Sant Joan de les Abadesses, just to the east of Ripoll, which I’ll look forward to trying out! Note: this camp site is located on the Red Route, but you can rejoin the Green Route via the GI-521 – a lovely ride in itself!
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