Seeing a new part of the world on a bicycle is one of my favorite experiences. But it’s even better if you are fully prepared. This is what I recently discovered when I fell off my bike in the middle of a week-long cycling tour of northern Spain.
Following the Ebro River
We chose this particular cycling tour (La Rioja – The Descent of the Ebro River) because it offered an opportunity to visit a part of Spain few tourists get to see. It was organized by Iberocycle (www.iberocycle.com), a small family-owned tour company headquartered in Santander, Spain. Simon Proffitt, the owner, and Ignacio Silva, our guide, planned it for us and all we had to do was cycle, follow instructions, and enjoy this amazing part of the world.
To get there we flew to Madrid and then took a bus to Bilbao where we spent a couple of days exploring the Guggenheim Museum, dining on tapas and paella, and trying to improve our limited Spanish. Simon and Ignacio picked us up at our hotel in Bilbao and drove us along the north coast of Spain and south over the Cordillera Cantábrica Mountains. The countryside was lush green from winter rains, the weather was sunny and mild, and we enjoyed views of the Ebro Valley and nearby snow-peaked mountains. We wound up at a small, cozy inn in a village near the source of the Ebro River. Simon and Ignacio fitted us with our bicycles, described the week ahead, and bought a round of welcome drinks.
The next morning we started cycling after breakfast, riding at a leisurely pace and stopping frequently for coffee, food, and water. It was the last week of May and the cool, cloudy weather was ideal for cycling. We rolled along quiet asphalt roads beside the river and relished the panorama of jagged canyons, ancient villages, and tumbling waterfalls.
A “Hybrid” Bicycle Tour
This was a “hybrid” bike tour, with elements of a fully-supported tour (cycling with guides) and self-guided (cycling on your own). Iberocycle supplied the bikes, accommodations, maps, and instructions and they moved our luggage each day to the next inn. They also provided a support van which was always nearby to help with flat tires, equipment problems, or tired riders. We cycled around 40 miles a day, starting when we wanted and stopping whenever we chose. It worked great for us because we enjoyed having other cyclists to ride with and share experiences, and we appreciated the ability to cycle at our own pace.
There were 11 of us, ranging in age from 22 to 67. Everyone was in good cycling shape, but we rode at different speeds. There were seven from the U.S. (a family of four and Patty, her cousin Tom, and me), David and Eva from Australia, and Dermod and Helen from Ireland.
Our guide was relatively new to Iberocycle and loved his job. Each day, he outlined the route and pointed out highlights, areas of danger, and good places to eat. After we took off, he loaded our luggage, drove it to our next inn, and then spent the rest of the day driving the route, making sure we were OK and offering advice and encouragement. At night, Ignacio recommended a restaurant and went there with those who wanted to join him, entertaining us with stories about this part of Spain.