Montpellier to Barcelona – 5 days on the Trans Europa
Back in 2010 I discovered the TDA and rode the first Indian Adventure in 2011. The experience remains up there as one of my greatest trips and the memories of the experiences and the people on it never left me. I’m still in contact with many of these guys – some have stayed with me here in London and I’ve taken my family to their homes abroad – such are the friendships you make on these tours. I got in touch with TDA and came out to help out and ride for a small stretch of the Trans Europa….
I hooked up with the support team to give a hand on this stretch of Southern France heading into Spain. Some days riding as a sweep at the back – some days marking the route up front and setting up the lunch for the ever hungry riders – some days simply riding. The tour runs from St. Petersburg to Lisbon and a handful or full-riders now push on to the finish. Some have already left, new riders joined in Venice and Barcelona and for my 5 days on a bike I will be riding with 12 bikers from all over the world – each with their own story from their own place – but united with a love of travel on two wheels.
You get straight back into the daily routine – up at 6.30, tent and bags packed away, breakfast then you are on your way following the mass of directions and notes you wrote down the night before. Some ride off fast, some ride slow, some get lost (you are never really lost – just riding on the wrong road for a while). Find the lunch stop to top up on fluids and consume the delicious fresh food that awaits. Local produce including salads, meats, cheese, fruits and bread along with the TDA staples of Peanut Butter and Nutella. Of course many riders will supplement this with stops for ice creams, cappuccinos, amazing pastries, perhaps fresh oysters at Gruisson’s harbour front bars overlooking the saltwater lagoon or sardines in Port Vendres to supress their hunger. After all you are burning 5000 calories per day on these tours.
In the afternoon you roll into camp hot and tired. Tent up, laundry, shower or a swim and maybe a look around town and a cool beer before the note taking and the brief rider meeting and camp dinner. These meals are big and tasty – you won’t go hungry here. We had salmon steaks, spicy chicken, paella to name a few washed down with a glass or two of wine before hitting the tent – usually around 9 to try to get a decent sleep in. These campsites in France and Spain are similar over the countries. People come and stay for a month and bring their whole home with them – including their pets. Not just their dogs but their cats, rabbits in hutches, birds in cages and I saw a couple of tortoise.
The riding itself was stunning. We travel through Frances largest wine producing region and you can see why – endless miles of red and white grapes grow in the vineyards – stopping to taste a few of these sweet fruits is an absolute pleasure. This stretch in Languedoc-Roussillon (billed as the new Provence) and across the border into the Catalonia region is magnificent. In temperatures exceeding 30c we climb the foothills of the Pyrenees and descend again into the small coves and harbours along the way. Avoiding the main roads where possible we ride along bike lanes and canal footpaths – sometimes smooth and sometimes hot, dusty and a little bumpy. There are some cross winds to cool you down on occasion blowing the numerous Catalan Flags proudly flying from homes and buildings along the way. The quietness and serenity of this well planned route can only put a smile on the face of the happy riders. If you can’t see the sea you will be back near it in an hour or so – just keep pedalling. I finished with a group ride along the beach into Barcelona for a few rest days.
So to sum up the week for me – starting in the magnificent old student town of Montpellier with its narrow winding alleyways, the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean, water jousting boats spotted along the canals, tapas and the stunning architecture of Barcelona, the glorious rides between villages and the continual need to stop for photographs, the hot climbs followed by the reward of a cooling descent, the understanding and patience of the car drivers here towards cycling (the opposite of the UK) and the friendliness of my fellow riders and staff. What a fantastic week on two wheels – just wish I was riding a bit longer now!
— Clive Smith (rider/assistant)