Spain 2014

IMG 0444We were thinking of just popping over the Channel to France with the bikes but a chance comment from a friend suggested " Why don't you catch the ferry to Spain?". I didn't know that you could do that but it turns out that it is quite practical albeit a little expensive.

A bit later - we have a twin berth booked with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Bilbao. Leaves at 22:30 on sunday and arrives at 06:45 on Tuesday!

The A3 quickly takes us to Portsmouth and our new GPS finds Tripadvisors' 4.5 star Lady Hamilton pub in what appears to be a run down historic area just across from the Victory. Lord Nelson would doubtless be unpleasantly surprised at what they have done to the place. We certainly were. Perhaps it's just that it's dimly lit?

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IMG 0442Despite a good nights sleep and a first rate breakfast it's clear that cruising the high seas requires a rather sedentary disposition. After walking around the ship, listening to a talk about whales, doing some email (oh so slow) and thinking about lunch it's clear that the day is going to go past slowly.

The remains of the day passed slowly with drinking starting amongst the passengers very early, We waited until 6pm. The only highlight were dolphins (porpoises?) around the boat and a reasonable dinner.

Our friendly prison guard, Nick (I jest not), joined us for a drink on the poop again.





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IMG 0448A very early start at 05:30 with disembarkation starting at 06:45. Even so several car owners could not find their way to the car deck but we were able to get out fairly quickly and into the heart of Bilbao. In fairness it was the only place we could get to in order to park and programme the new Doreen.

Bilbao has a pleasant centre around the river and what look like top museums and galleries but we did not stop as we have to get to Cosgaya near Potes some 210 km to the west of Bilbao. Our hotel is prebooked (using the ferrys' "oh so slow" internet) on the fringe of the Picos de Europa national park.

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IMG 0455The rooms at the Hotel del Oso are quiet apart from the sound of the stream below which sounds like rain in the night. The result is that we sleep in until nearly 9 and don't get away 11:30.

Lunch at nearby Panes was a glass of water and a simple ham sandwich

Anyway it's a warm day in the Picos rising to over 30C in Potes. But our destination is the Garganta del Cares (Cares Gorge) with many popular walking trails. We pass these by and head up into the hills, strip off the bike kit (we have walking clothes underneath) for our own 30 minute walk through the gorge. It's not the Grand Canyon but it is very spectacular.

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IMG 0452We've booked for a hotel some way away in Olive, just south of Pamplona near the Pyrenees. The town is apparently very scenic and it's the closest we can find on the way we need to go to get back to the UK in a sensible time.

Google Maps says about 5:15 hours and the GPS nearer 6 hours if we avoid the coast road and the non scenic apartment block cities.

The times were probably very accurate as it turned out. A lot of the time was spent on twisty back roads interspersed with long sections of old national roads, sometimes paralleling the motorways and sometimes not. Hardly any traffic to speak of which was fantastic.

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IMG 0461More of the same this morning but without the crowds. These cattle seemed even more stressed and unwilling to play with the locals. Clearly a disappointment.

We broke away and went and looked around Olite's castle, a much better option. This is a complete restoration of a ruined original with, we suspect, many original features missed or fudged. What it does have is a great view of the town and surrounding area.

They clearly are taking whatever the fiesta is seriously with music and a procession involving large (4m?) mannequins, apparently kings and queens, parading around the town to music and stopping strangely at each bar of which there are quite a few.

We left the town at about 2 for a siesta ourselves and clearly the place is humming with many many people sitting around at the bars having a few. A brass band and a Mexican string band had also started in competition. Everyone seems pretty happy however.

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IMG 0469A respectable departure time allowed far a side trip to the hilltop castle at Ujue. Scenic but we did not walk up. The views were extensive from the road however.

The back roads to the mountains were a mixed bag. Some beautifully paved two lane affairs, then turning into single track bump fests and back to fabulous again. Quite inexplicable.

Lunch was a tea and coffee with a scrawny sandwich at an unmemorable town, near the bull ring again.

The road was stunning rising to over 1700 metres before dropping down into France. No announcement or indication of the border as seems to be commonplace in civilised communities now. What would be the point?

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IMG 0471Another longish day from Pau to La Roque-Gageac on the banks of the Dordogne River. By 4pm we had both had enough and were glad to get to our night stop of La Belle Etoile.

There are castles and a boat trip on offer here so we will cancel travel for tomorrow and stay on here. It's a long way across France and we will need to pace ourselves and not take on too much milage per day or we will run too many risks on the bikes

The weather is superb, not too hot, mid twenties - except for a brief period of fog near Pau this morning. The countryside is very rural and no where near as exotic as the Pyrenees but very pleasant none the less.

Dinner at Le Belle Etoile was pretty good after a welcome beer down at the wharf where the tourist boats leave from.


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IMG 0474Breakfast at La Belle Etoile was more than disappointing and the waiter (let's call him that) clearly gave not a single s**t. That coupled with a very uncomfortable night (air con kept switching itself off, the bed was lumpy and the pillow solid) and an upset tum left me in a fairly foul frame of mind.  

We also had to move to another room down the back as ours is rented today, the new occupants are welcome to it!

Anyway we came to have a walk and so we did. Google shows Jardins de Marqueyssac as being very near, and indeed they are but only horizontally! We walked 4-5 km down the road before we were able to get up to the gate and into them as they are on top of the cliff above the river.

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IMG 0480Another rubbish night at Le not-so-Belle Etoile. The bed in our new room was better although still hammock like but the window that opened onto the rear of the building allowed every early morning delivery to be heard right outside and at 7am some manic priest attacked the chapel bells with no little gusto. M was less than amused.

I was all set to give Mme a broadside this morning but regrettable she did not speak any of the magic phrases such as "Did you enjoy your stay?" or "Was everything to your satisfaction?". So instead I vented on Trip advisor, best to let others know since they plainly don't care.

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IMG 0478We decided that we should stay on in Loches as it is such a nice town and central to the chateaux.

Our B&B "La Maison de l'Argentier du Roy" (pictured below) has great charm and history being some 500 years old. We are up two flights in a garrett but it is great.

We spent the morning sorting laundry (there is a good laundrette), getting the chain on my bike adjusted at the local bike man (also pictured left) - he says it all needs replacing but if I understood correctly should get us back to the UK.

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IMG 0482After a very chilly and foggy start we made an excursion some 35km to the Chateau Royal at Amboise. By the time we got there at about 11:30 (no we are not rising early partly because it doesn't get light until 8am) the weather had warmed to the low 20C's.

Fortunately parking for motorcycles in France is still dead easy and after removing lots of clothing we were ready for our excursion.

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IMG 0486A sightly warmer morning and off to the gardens of Château de Villandry. The chateau is certainly well worth the visit but the gardens are just OMG, over the top splendid. Mary says they are the best she has ever seen. I shall not try to describe them other than to say that they would be a worthwhile addition to any bucket list.

Pictured is one of the vegetable gardens with the chateux in the background.

We remain based in our garret in Loches as we have no reason to believe that we would find anything nicer and this area has just so much to offer. We shall stay another couple of nights although dinner opportunities remain scarce. Add a comment

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IMG 0490A much longer drive today to the Chateau de Chambord. About an hour and a half each way. The owners have arranged matters to that you are obliged to park in the carpark for the same money as a car €4 each which is exorbitant and the toilet outside is €0.50 each. We later find out toilets are free inside included inside.

Anyway the chateau is spectacular. The audio guide is a must as much of it apart from the famous double helix staircase is not terribly self explanatory.

We spent 4 hours very happily wandering around before reversing our steps and back to Loches.

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IMG 0494It was hard to split from our new acquaintances (Frank and Amy and Ann and Vincent) after breakfast but we all have places to be and things to do. In our case off to Chartres to see the cathedral.

Once past Montrichard the drive becomes straight and flat through unrelenting industrial farmland. Great plains of land uninterrupted by trees or hedgerows. At one point we saw some people hunting but it's hard to imagine what could possibly live in such a wasteland.

There were a few trees at a cemetery and we ate the sandwiches we purchased at Blois in the shade of the trees there. As always the cemetery was well kept but a long way from anywhere. Add a comment

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IMG 0497Rain in the night is never what one wishes to hear on a motorcycle trip but that's what we got :( By morning everything was wet but the forecast is for it to clear to showers by afternoon.

The Timhotel offered a reasonable breakfast after which we settled down to wait the rain out. Luckily this did not take long and although we had to vacate the room we decided to go back into the city for another look at the cathedral and if possible climb the spire.

We were the only ones in the spire and getting to the top you can see why. The ledge is really really narrow. I stepped onto it but found it too hard to get all the way around the tower. We retreated, sweating!

Tea and coffee were needed in the square adjacent to the cathedral to recuperate and we had a chat to an English couple on a bus tour from "Souwthampton".

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IMG 0507Couldn't resist the little pun.

Anyway we stayed on in Ande after a delightful nights sleep. Much fog off the river this morning and we took a little stroll into the nearby town once it had cleared.

There are no alternatives to Jules and Jim's that can be found within walking distance. In any event they are closed tonight even if we were keen to return

After some discussion with Mme we strike on the idea of eating take out pizza in the gite. I am delegated as the fetcher of comestibles and make the trek on the Spyder to E Leclerk to buy mostly wine! Turns out they have escargot and pizza too.   Add a comment

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IMG 0511A slow start after a very sound nights sleep for me, not so much for all of us.

We bid Isabelle farewell and head for Les Andelys, still swathed in fog (pictured). An early lunch at the very lovely Lyons La Foret was very nice. We met a Hungarian who is arranging a memorial for a mosquito pilot who crashed nearby during the war. How did that happen.

The hotel (Jean de Bruge) is under even newer management, last years having gone bust. The place seems the same and we look forward to dinner over the road, hopefully that is as good as it has been in the past.

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Dinner at the cafe over the road St Riquer was as unmemorable as last time. Our favourite cafe was once again closed, perhaps for a meeting?

Anyway there was an early wake up call by a reversing cherry picker that statred "beep beeping" at 7:30 and continued for hours. Only some of us heard this.

Breakfast was not the usual grand affair of past times and overall we were not as pleased with the Jean de Bruges as we have been. We may not stay again.

M. had put us on to a local snail farm and, keen to see snails being herded and to get some fresh produce we headed off to the coast. The snail farm is unsurprisingly small but terribly closed. No response to our pressing the bell push.

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