The Basque Country, stretching down into Navarra and the western Pyrenees, offers some of the best mountain biking in Europe.
The trails are marked by their variety, from big mountain adventures in the Pyrenees down to technical coastal singletrack in the Basque Country.
The area also offers its rich culture, gastronomy and beautiful landscapes, making it a perfect place to explore by bike and Doug McDonald, who runs basqueMTB, gives you the inside track...
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Doug McDonald runs basqueMTB, a mountain bike holiday company which specialises in high quality, uplift assisted trips through the Pyrenees and on the Basque coast near San Sebastian. With a strong focus on the local culture, food and drink, basqueMTB´s holidays seek out the most spectacular trails to share with visitors from all over the world.
Guided or non-guided
There are lots of mountain bike holiday companies operating throughout Spain, how should you decide whether to take a guided option or explore by yourself. There are a couple of things to remember if you decide to go self guided. Firstly, do you have all the equipment relevant to the conditions and terrains you will be riding in? Secondly, do you have enough knowledge of Spanish to get yourself help if you should need it. A good guide will know the best trails, pitch them at a level to suit the group, offer help with techniques and give you the best local knowledge.
Choosing a guide
There are a couple of things that are important when choosing a guide. Your guide should be qualified and have an appropriate first aid certificate. You can ask them to show you these before you book. One of the best qualifications is the MBLA qualification from the UK, it is more mountain bike specific than the Spanish qualifications and is valid in Spain, although it is not valid in France.
Basque Coast mountain biking
The Basque Coast is very different to what many people imagine Spain to be like. Very green and hilly, with moutains reaching up to 1500m, and bordered by the wild Atlantic ocean it offers some of the most beautiful mountain biking in Europe. The two main cities on the coast are the beautiful San Sebastian, or Donostia in the local Basque language, and the more industrial Bilbao.
Both areas have fantastic mountain biking surrounding them, however San Sebastian has the lion's share in that respect. The hills along the coast, and to the south further inland hold a myriad of amazing singletrack with steep hills and technical trails.
For a technical adventure you can try following the Camino del Norte along the coast from San Sebastian westward. For a less challenging adventure the Via Verde running from Irun, on the French border, towards Doneztebe is a fantastic cycle and possible on almost any bike.
Navarran mountain biking
Although Pamplona sits in a flat zone, it is surrounded on all sides by mountains. The contrast between here and the Basque Country is incredible and the area is much drier and a lot less green. If the Basque Coast is wet you can normally find somewhere sunny to ride in Navarra. Pamplona is well worth a visit as well and a great adventure is to follow the Camino de Santiago from the Roncesvalles all the way to Pamplona, arriving in Pamplona on your bike.
Western Pyrenees mountain biking
The Pyrenees offer a more mountainous MTB experience. There are some dedicated tracks around Formigal and in Ainsa, however outside those areas the best bet is to follow walking paths. The scenery is amazing, with fantastic views of the spectacular geology of the area. A great day out is to take the Camino Aragonés from Canfranc down to Jaca, a beautiful day's riding from the mountains down to the valley floor.
Follow the Camino del Norte from San Sebastain towards Deba, passing through the Tkaxoli vineyards and the amazing Flysch.
Take the very gentle Via Verde which follows the Bidasoa Valley from Irun towards Doneztebe.
Camino de Santiago to Pamplona
Follow the Camino de Santiago from Roncevalles to Pamplona, starting in the mountains and finishing in the old town of Pamplona for pintxos.
Camino Aragonés to Jaca
Starting in Canfranc follow the Camino Aragonés to Jaca as you head from the mountains to the valley.
Formigal and Ainsa
Check out these dedicated tracks and take in stunning views in the Western Pyrenees.
Best times to go:
The southern region of the Pyrenees can get hot in summer. The best months to go are from March to June and then again from September to November.
In the Basque Country the winters can be wet but the summers don't get too hot, the best times of the year to go are from April to October.
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