Eurothrash 2017 – France, Spain and Andorra (the Pyrenees)

Well Eurothrash was upon us once again and this time it was decided that we – me, Yox and Purge again – would head once more to the Pyrenees. Yox as usual was charged with sorting out routes and he did us proud again:

Eurothrash 2017: the Route

So after work on the Friday, I headed down to Portsmouth to meet up with the two of them for a pint of two at a nearby pub before boarding the overnight ferry to Caen. The weather forecast was a bit dodgy but it didn’t really rain until it was time for boarding.

Once on board, the drinking theme continued, despite our knowing that the forecast was not particularly good:

“Let me explain…”

Les Miserables

After a couple of hours’ kip in our compact and bijou 4-berth cabin, we got up, had coffee and a croissant and ventured out into the light rain; I didn’t bother to put on my waterproof oversuit as I thought I’d leave it to the “waterproof” Triumph Taloc leathers, Alpinestars Gore-Tex boots and Rukka Gore-Tex gloves to sort things out, which they did. At one point during the day it got a little nippy, so at one fuel stop, I grabbed my Keis heated vest and plugged it in as well as turning on the heated grips and was toasty-warm!

After 500 miles or so, we got separated near to our first stop at Lurbe-Saint-Christau and I followed the Garmin to our hotel, the Au Bon Coin which, from the outside and being in the middle of nowhere, didn’t look like much. Inside, however, it was comfortable and our dinner – after a couple of beers – was really tasty.

Time for beer!

After breakfast on Day Two, we set off for Spain and the Hotel Cotori in El Pont de Suert where we’d stayed in 2013.  This really is a fabulous hotel and one I’d stay in again and again.

En route, we stopped off for some coffee as Yox had brought his coffee-making kit with him, so we did some off-roading (!) to ride down to a river – well, excluding Purge who refused to take the ZZR1400 down the gravel embankment – only to find that there was a disaster! Yox’s cafetière had smashed! So we ended up sieving the coffee through a tea towel to allow us to have the elixir of life before finishing our ride.

And here’s some video of Yox and I getting up the slope:

150-ish miles later and we arrived in the main square outside the Hotel Cotori where they were setting up for “La Nit del Foc” or the “Night of Fire” with wooden torches in all shapes and sizes everywhere. We weren’t sure whether it was actually a Wicker Man-style event for us, especially after the 19 beers that were consumed…

Day Three and we were heading to the Hotel Andria in Seo de Urgel, some 180 miles on our planned twisty routes. We stopped off at one point for some photos near Montferrer i Castellbò in Catalonia and saw some eagles – you won’t be able to make them out, I doubt, from my photos.

By the time we reached the hotel after a very warm day in the saddle – 32°C – we were pleased that they let us park the bikes up in their courtyard. A quick shower and a few beers on the verandah and we headed off into town for food, including Yox’s mini-penises…

Day Four was planned to be a biggie: 230-ish miles of bends and twisties from Spain into France and then up into Andorra before our overnight stop at the Hotel President.

And the roads indeed proved epic with lots of hairpins, ascents and descents all day long. And our first brush with the law: after a ‘spirited’ ride up some hairpins, we got pulled over by the police near Naut Aran in Catalonia:

After our stop, we decided to pull over so our Extreme Barista could do his stuff, this time using just the filter from the broken cafetière to filter the coffee.

Once we’d had coffee, we set off again and later found that we could experience a number of different weather conditions within a very short space of time once we were back into the Haute-Garonne of France:

After negotiating the perilous car park ramps at the Hotel President, it was time for beers and their buffet deal in the restaurant. Yox and Purge had adjoining rooms which featured their own shared ante-room with sofas and TV!

Day Five was planned as another 160-ish miles back into Spain, along the N260 and then back into France for our next stop at Thuir, the Domaine de La Fauvelle.

A slightly cooler 31°C but lots of effort on the roads led to us needing beers when we arrived before we’d even changed. They told us the restaurant was usually shut that day but as another older lady was staying, they’d got the chef coming in especially and would we like to dine there? On the basis that we were on the outskirts of Thuir and couldn’t be arsed to walk into town we said yes and were lucky to do so as the food was simply superb. Purge had already claimed he was all cheesed out but still managed some, giving up the chance to try what he mis-translated as “fish sorbet”…

The mileage had begun to take its toll on us, so for Day Six, our planned route of 200 miles back into the twisties before heading to the idiosyncratic Hôtel Renaissance at Castres was only followed by Yox and me, with Purge taking the more direct route to Castres.

The roads were great fun, but as even Yox was taking it easy which was not what I wanted to do, needing a bit more speed to take the weight off my wrists, so I rode past and made my own way on the planned route, with Yox catching me when I stopped for a well-earned break in Couiza.

By the time we got to Castres and had settled into our rooms, Purge had already arrived much earlier and was sitting drinking in one of the bars in the square, where we then met up before finding a restaurant to eat: burgers with goats cheese (and then more cheese). After dinner, we headed back to the hotel for a couple of beers/digestifs and then bed: we had a long day ahead of us planned…

Did I mention the roads were great?

Day Seven and we were starting our return journey, heading for the Domaine de Roiffé, some 320 miles from Castres. Purge had already decided he would take the direct motorway route and blast there whilst Yox and I would take a nicer route, even though we’d ride at our own pace – I’d stopped for petrol the night before, etc.

The weather was a little changeable and on one country road in the rain, I got flashed by a hidden speed camera on a double-bend; we’ll see if the ticket reaches me. Purge reached the hotel 15 minutes or so before me and Yox a little while after as he’d stopped for photos on the way. A quick shower and then off for beers and a lovely meal in our own vaulted roofed booth.

Day Eight and we planned an earlier departure as we were all booked on mid-afternoon Eurotunnel crossings. As I was on a FlexiPlus fare I was more relaxed and we’d all planned our own strategies for the final 340-odd miles: I was planning a two-stop, Yox a one-stop and Purge a “pin it to win it” blast/stop/repeat run.

It was warm and dry, but the rain clouds were ever-present and you dodged the clouds as much as possible, with the odd heavy downpour and then bright, warm sunshine.

As it transpired, we all arrived at the terminal within minutes of each other. After enduring the long wait at UK Border Agency, we boarded separate trains and then I headed home.

2,327 Miles

Once home, it was a cuppa, a shower, a Chinese takeaway and then back out to collect my partner from her flight back from Fuerteventura (landing at 1.10am!) into Gatwick. No rest for the wicked!

A couple of weeks later and my numb index finger (throttle side) is only gradually easing. Maybe that could be avoided in future by my fitting bar risers? One to try…

Eurothrash 2016: Normandy, Brittany and the Pays de la Loire

So with another girls’ weekend in Newquay ahead of Alison and none of my riding mates able to come with me if I went anywhere, I decided I’d head to a part of France I’d never visited before, so I thought I’d head to Le Mont-Saint-Michel.

I looked at the “Ride” magazine guide to France and some of their suggested routes around there and the Atlantic coast and booked a couple of other overnight stops at the end of a couple of routes, sight unseen.

I booked a Eurotunnel crossing with their Flexiplus fare so that I could be as pressure-free as possible on my way back with the longest leg of the tour. After a 4.30am start, I turned up in plenty of time and was waved straight through and onto a train waiting to leave. They even gave me my own personal carriage 🙂

The Sprint GT and an empty carriage

The Sprint GT and an empty carriage

After around 560km I arrived at my hotel, having had to talk my way around one of the barriers stopping entry to the town without a code – which I had, thinking it was the code to the hotel’s own carpark (which they don’t have). Thanks to Accor’s loyalty plan, I’d been able to check in early so I spent the afternoon wandering around the actual Mont-Saint-Michel with its narrow streets and steps. Perfect for pushchairs, apparently…

I decided to walk back to the hotel as the queue for the bus was very long and after dinner came back out to take some more photos as night fell. Here are some photos:

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My next stop was at Quimper. I’d found what was supposed to be a four star place to stay without really realising it was a campsite and that there weren’t really hotel-type rooms in the accepted sense in the Chateau itself. Worse than that was the 5.00pm check-in. I messaged them to see if I could check in earlier but hadn’t heard back before I set off so I enjoyed the lovely roads and stopped at Guingamp for coffee and lunch:

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I checked my emails to find I could check in earlier after all, so off I went. I arrived around 4.00pm and checked-in at Reception, rode around to the chateau and couldn’t find any way to get in. After 45 minutes, i was lucky enough to find someone who could point me in the right direction, by which point I was a sodden, sweaty lump thanks to the hot day and a full set of leathers.

Still it was nice and ‘authentic’ and I did enjoy my time there:

Parked-up for the night

Parked-up for the night

L'Orangerie de Lanniron

L’Orangerie de Lanniron

L'Orangerie de Lanniron

L’Orangerie de Lanniron

Check-out time was 10.00am so after breakfast I set out for St Nazaire on some more lovely roads, going via Quiberon, which meant filtering along through the traffic queues onto the peninsula. A nice stop for moules and a wave to America and I was back on the road.

Hello America!

Hello America!

Moules Mariniere

Moules Mariniere

I arrived at the Hotel Majestic La Baule and wandered off to take some photos and get a coffee and Coke … and a Cuba Libre.

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The next morning after a lovely breakfast I waved goodbye and set off for home: a small matter of 770km.

The sun's up and it's time to leave

The sun’s up and it’s time to leave

Saying goodbye

Saying goodbye

I made it to Calais in plenty of time and despite the “helpful” UK Border Agency making me remove my helmet – even though he could clearly see my face – which slowed things up, I got on to an earlier train back (see my earlier comment about Flexiplus).

Home and a shower and a coffee and I was almost human after 2002km. I do like the Triumph Sprint GT 1050 and I also like my new leathers: Triumph “Taloc” leather jacket and jeans which are heat-reflective with zipped ventilation to help you keep cool and they’re also weather-resistant/waterproof supposedly. I only had a couple of light showers so no chance to really test that out, but there are inner liners to let the rain run out if it makes it through the leather.

2002km

2002 kilometres

1244 miles

1244 miles

Switzerland 2016

So the plan was for us to take the Triumph Sprint GT for a two-up trip to the Alps with a couple of our friends this summer. But for various work-related reasons, that all fell through which just left Alison and me going alone. I found a lovely-looking hotel in Gstaad that looked the part, booked it and asked them to reserve a place for the bike in their garage.

And then Alison said, “Why don’t we take the MX-5? We could then even chat whilst we’re driving!” And so we changed plans and booked a Eurotunnel fare that was “Flexiplus” coming back for the MX-5. We’d have packed the Sprint’s top box and panniers relatively lightly, but the MX-5’s boot space gave us a little more space to play with; this is our luggage for a week away, comprising two holdalls, one wheeled bag and two running rucksacks with our running gear in:

Gstaad Luggage

Gstaad Luggage

London to Gstaad is quite a schlep so I found somewhere near Dijon to stay on the way down and the way back and booked those too and on the appointed day off we went with the roof up as it was an ‘oh-dark-hundred’ start.  Once we got to Folkestone, the roof came down and for the rest of the day’s drive it stayed down until we got to Gevrey-Chambertain and the Hotel Arts et Terroirs.  The hotel was quaint and comfortable but didn’t serve Dinner on a Sunday, so we walked into the town centre for a lovely meal at Chez Guy.

Monday morning after a lovely breakfast, we packed and set off towards Gstaad, making full use of the Sanef Tolling “Liber-t” tag e’d ordered in the UK and which allowed us to approach some péage toll booths at up to 30kph (the rest having to slow right down) and just drive through with no need to collect tickets or fumble for cards or cash.  Use this link to receive €5 off yours!

On arrival at the Hotel Gstaaderhof we drove into their underground car park and made our way to our lovely room with a hell of a view!

Hotel Gstaaderhof Balcony View

Hotel Gstaaderhof Balcony View

Tuesday saw us heading up the other side of the valley for a BBQ lunch laid on for us by the hotel which was a lovely gesture, followed by a rest day wandering around Gstaad. The plan was to go for a run in the late afternoon – I’d plotted out a couple of routes before we left – but a thunderstorm put paid to that.

Wednesday’s afternoon weather forecast was looking a little dodgy so after breakfast we borrowed a couple of mountain bikes from the hotel – at no charge! – and headed off for a shortish 20km ride:

Great fun!

Thursday was to be our drive up into the Alps with a plan to drive for a couple of hours to Innertkirchen and then start a figure of eight drive through the Five Passes. We hadn’t really left enough time for this and by the time we’d been stuck in some roadworks leading towards one of them, we decided that time wasn’t on our side, so we made do with just the Susken Pass, Furka Pass and Grimsel Pass.  Great fun, although the smell from the MX-5’s brakes showed we’d been pushing it quite hard…

Wave!

Wave!

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

Twisties

Twisties

Friday was another rest day. Well … if you count riding 42½km on mountain bikes as rest! But the day started with an invitation up to the top of the Höhi Wispily for breakfast cooked by our hotel’s owners. Fabulous views and a lovely breakfast.

Cheese!

Cheese!

Berghaus Wispile

Berghaus Wispile

After breakfast, we walked back to the hotel, changed and then hired mountain bikes from the hotel. We ended up doing some laps of Gstaad and out towards Saanen, stopping on each lap for a drink and a rest at one of the town’s restaurants. Sadly my Garmin fenix 3 has a habit of resetting itself when it’s paused for longer than 25 minutes (originally 5 minutes) and that’s just about as long as it takes to lock up a bike, find a table, order and drink a coke, a water and an espresso and then get the bill. So this ride got logged as four separate rides:

Saturday and we headed away from Gstaad. We’d decided to change our plans and rather than returning via Gevrey-Chambertain as originally booked, we’d earlier cancelled the booking and instead decided to go home via Strasbourg and the rather nice Château de l’Ile & Spa which had a pool. Very useful as temperatures had hit 33°C on the autobahns in Germany (where the MX-5 had hit 125mph and rising (with the roof down) before traffic built up and slowed us down).

 

First Beer of the Day

First Beer of the Day

After breakfast on the Sunday, we headed off for Calais and the Eurotunnel, still with the roof down. We almost managed a full continental trip with the roof down until an hour or so off our destination there was a torrential downpour. In the MX-5 we can keep above 80mph in rain and only get flicked with drops off the side window, but this rain was so heavy we couldn’t see far enough ahead to keep speed up and once we’d backed off sufficiently to be safe, we were getting very wet! Still, after half an hour or so, the sky lightened up and we dropped the roof for our return into Calais.

Having paid extra for Flexiplus, we were relatively quick through Border Agency and onto the next train, so well worth the extra money.

So, how did we fair? The MX-5 was lovely but – even with our 2.0 litre engine – it could have down with a little more oomph and possibly more fanfare? Ours puts out 160hp but that’s less than my RX-8 R3 at 230hp. The RX-8 has roughly the same power to  weight ratio as the new 170hp Abarth 124 Spider which is based on the Fiat 124 Spider which is in turn based on the Mazda MX-5…

So that got me thinking: I’d loved the open-top motoring of the MX-5 but wanted more pace and noise and we’d managed quite well with the limited luggage space in the MX-5, so as my RX-8 R3 is getting long in the tooth – 87,000 miles and 6½ years old – maybe it’s time to make the switch? So I’ve placed an order for one subject to a test drive on Sunday at Silverstone race circuit. Maybe next year, we’ll take the Abarth to the Pyrenees?

Ear-Popping Pyrenees

Eurothrash…

So it was holiday time again and despite working until late on the Friday and hence only doing last minute packing, I found myself heading off at Oh Dark Hundred on Saturday, 1st June to the Eurotunnel to meet up with Yox and Purge.

Yox had organised the crossing tickets as well as working out a route that linked up a number of great biking roads in and around the Pyrenees, so we were heading off there with a view to getting all the way down to the Pyrenees by nightfall. The benefit of travelling off-peak as far as the French are concerned should have been that we wouldn’t need to book any hotels in advance and hence we wouldn’t have any pressure to be at a pre-determined destination on any day.

They both took the mick out of the lack of tread on my sporty tyres which I’d though would be fine for the trip … without realising I’d done the 2,100 mile Ardèche trip on the same tyres before… And so we turned out onto the motorways and headed South. As it transpired, the motorways were a leeeetle bit abrasive and by the time we’d lost and found Purge around Paris and made our way down to Clermont-Ferrand, the tyres were well and truly shagged and wouldn’t make it home. Ah!

Purge and I were both using Tom-Tom Rider satnavs – mine a more recent model after my other one was stolen by my psycho ex-girlfriend – and both had been updated to the latest maps … which showed the hotel we selected as being halfway up a hill in a residential area. It wasn’t there, of course, but we went back to where Yox’s Co-Pilot Android software (the same I use on my iPhone) had guided him. I then went in and negotiated a decent room rate for the three of us with use of their own garage for the first overnight stay. Then shower, change, beers and a huge evening meal before bed.

Day Two and we were heading off via Millau towards Perpignan. The twisting roads of the Haute-Pyrenees were fabulous but tiring so as we rode into Quillan, we found a traditional-looking hotel, the Hotel La Chaumiere, to check into. As it was Yox’s birthday, the beers, the wine and the food were on Purge and I.

The view from my balcony

The view from my balcony

The meal also included the heaviest wine bottle I’ve ever seen: truly bizarre (but tasty)!

The heaviest wine bottle ever

The heaviest wine bottle ever

After dinner, it was up to our rooms … and I discovered that my carefully-arranged base layers had flown off the balcony and were laying in front of the restaurant. Ah!

Day Three and it was time to sort out my racing slicks. We delayed breakfast and I then spent the next half an hour ringing around all the motorcycle dealers and tyre depots to see if I could get sorted. They were all shut, despite it being a Monday, as they’d been open on the Saturday. Oh to be French! So I decided to press on into Andorra alone – our planned destination – to try to find tyres and let Yox and Purge head off into Spain to play on the roads. This included my first real view of some of the passes and cols and snow-capped peaks.

Note racing slicks...

Note racing slicks…

Instagram version!

Instagram version!

Some epic twisty roads towards Andorra then saw me going through the 2.8km long Túnel d’Envalira which was like going through a refrigerator!

Emerged from the Túnel d'Envalira

Emerged from the Túnel d’Envalira

Then it was down into Andorra. As I came close to Andorra la Vella, I passed by a KTM dealer and popped inside to see if they could sort me out with tyres using my best Spanglish. They were really helpful and directed me to a car/bike dealer nearby that happened to be a Kawasaki franchise. So in I went, agreed a deal to get new tyres fitted that afternoon and then went off to find us a hotel, the Novotel. While the tyres were being fitted – a process that took the entire afternoon… – I went out scouting for dinner and found an excellent tapas restaurant.

Out with the old...

Out with the old…

...in with the new

…in with the new

When Purge and Yox arrived after enjoying what they said were some of the best roads they’d seen, it was off to eat.

Allow me to explain through the medium of interpretive dance

Allow me to explain through the medium of interpretive dance

Day Four and we were heading off to Bagnères-de-Luchon via the twisties. Epic roads out of Andorra – back the way I’d come – and this time, I’d set up my helmet camera to capture some of the footage:

It was warm and sunny … and snowy at the top of the Pyrenees which meant the scenery was spectacular.

Once we were into the Haute-Pyrenees again, we went up a few of the Cols that feature in the Tour de France as well as a few others:

Col du Port

Col du Port

On one descent, I was able to coast for over 3 miles, overtaking cars and lorries with the engine off! Yox also did the reveal on his luxury item: he’d brought some fine coffee and a little fold-up stove to brew it on, so we had coffee at the Col du Port … and he set fire to a picnic table by mistake.

Finally we made it into Bagnères-de-Luchon where we pulled up in the square next to the Hôtel Panoramic where I did the usual and we checked in.

Bagnères-de-Luchon

Bagnères-de-Luchon

Bagnères-de-Luchon

Bagnères-de-Luchon

Bagnères-de-Luchon

Bagnères-de-Luchon

Day Five and we were headed off to Spain via a few more peaks which were covered in snow … which we duly played in. Obviously.

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I'm snow angel

I’m snow angel

2013-06-05 11.12.12

Eejit dance

Eejit dance

Talking of playing, Yox had rigged up his camera and followed me off down one of the descents:

After a day’s bend-swinging (including a visit to our spiritual home, a village called Perves), we were tired and decided to cut our intended journey short, so we checked in to the fabulous Hotel Cotori in El Pont de Suert.

Hotel Cotori

Hotel Cotori

That’s a pedestrian square… We were recommended a decent tapas restaurant where, despite the protestations of the owner, I went ahead and ordered us a whole selection of dishes that just kept on coming. Delicious! And all finished off by us.

Day Six and it was breakfast with two grumpy buggers. Something about a blue ZRX’s alarm going off at 3.15am. I was unaware of this, given I was sound asleep at the back of the hotel…

So the plan for the day was to head back into France, but we hadn’t reckoned on the nature of the route being so twisty and covering a large vertical variance: up and down like a whore’s drawers! This wasn’t helped by finding out when we were there that the famous Col du Tormalet was shut due to there being 6-9m of snow on the road at the summit!

More epic roads and scenery though. Tired and getting late, we diverted into Lourdes to find a hotel for the night … and we found one: a €29 a night one that we christened “Hotel Paradiso” that probably charged the rooms out by the hour too… What a dive! Lourdes in general – and our hotel in particular – was full of gangs of schoolkids with various coloured beanie hats and scarves being led around by Catholic priests. What a strange place!

I woke up quite hot at around 3am and my body heat had ‘refreshed’ the mattress such that there was a smell of urine from the depths of the mattress (itself on a plastic-covered bed base). I couldn’t wait to get a shower in the morning! Purge had the evening before found a dead insect in his sheets!

Day Seven. Keen to get a move on and put the Hotel Paradiso behind us, we headed back into Spain via a whole load more passes, peaks and valleys.

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Photo!

Photo!

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We got as far as Jaca in Aragon and after filling up we headed to the Hotel & Spa Real Jaca which did us a great deal for the rooms and underground parking with breakfast. The only downside was the Saga louts that checked in later: a whole coachload of OAPs that swooped on the restaurant to scoff the food.

Day Eight and I woke up to the “shh” of car tyres on wet roads. Looking out of the window, I could see it was absolutely tipping down: not good considering we were hoping to get to Le Mans by the evening. So we had breakfast, checked out and headed out into torrential rain at around 9.00am, up and up into the Pyrenees towards France. My vented race boots started leaking after 16 miles but fortunately the rest of my riding gear was keeping me dry. Stupidly, I’d not worn a base layer under my T-shirt and hadn’t zipped-in the liner to my riding gear either, so the combination of rain storms and altitude meant I was getting really cold. By the time of our first fuel stop into France, I was grateful to be able to put on some more clothes before we headed off back into the worst riding conditions any of us had ever seen (in my case, in 35 years of riding).

The autoroute around Bordeaux was more like a canal and at one point it felt like I was sitting on a chair while someone directed a fire hose at me, the rain was so heavy.

Towards Paris it stopped raining and near Tours at another fuel stop, we decided to pin it and win it: we wouldn’t bother stopping for the night near Le Mans; we’d just keep going for the other 300 miles to the Eurotunnel station and see if we could get on a day early, ratther than getting changed out of our wet gear and potentially facing another day’s wet riding on the Sunday.

We arrived at around 10.15pm, some 780 miles later and were pleased to be put onto the 11.45pm crossing, so we finally had something to eat and drink and on we went.

Homeward bound

Homeward bound

Back onto English soil at around 11.45pm UK time, we went our separate ways and I blasted back towards London and my apartment, which I reached at around 12.30am.

Roughly 2,100 miles again. Another epic Euroblast.

So yes, I’d ummed and ahhed about getting a new bike for the trip before I left and more or less settled on a new Triumph Sprint GT 1050 but knew I’d not be able to get it run in and sorted before the off. Blue Rex was epic in the twisties and looks the bollocks too, but on the motorways above 90mph for mile after mile and hour after hour it’s a bit of an effort plus some fixed luggage makes sense. So I’m test riding a Sprint next weekend and will probably place an order there and then so I can have it properly sorted before next year’s planned Eurothrash two-up with GT to the Alps.

Or maybe a late summer long weekend sortie across the Channel just to get a feel for it… ;)