Perpignan to Alicante by Bike early March 2011

I planned to take the bike on Eurostar from Charing Cross to Paris and then the sleeper from Paris to Perpignan together with all the camping stuff for the 11 day solo trip on my aged Raleigh Record Ace with double butted 531 frame but with a lot of new stuff like metric wheels (but built with some old campag hubs), chainset etc, bull bars and two huge rear Altura panniers but no other panniers. Tyres 35 x 700 rear which is a bit of a squeeze with the frame and 32 x 700 on front - they are Schwalbe Marathon, they just never puncture and they did not on this trip. This was the last trip for my 30 year old Brooks saddle - just the best ride ever and now replaced with . . . exactly the same saddle. The green covered Michelin Zoom maps cover this whole coast at 1:150,000 and provide all the details one needs. Unlike the simlar French Michelin maps they do mark campsites which is useful though cannot be completely relied upon especially early in the season. To find campsites, the internet is a tme consuming exercise but it does come in useful for checking if a particular site is open. Internet is available in about half of the sites I visited and, with one exception, free. Map of the route - opens in new window which you can zoom to fullsize Each days ride is shown as either red or purple.

Snow on the oriental Pyrennees from Argeles sur mer.


The website 'The Man in Seat 61' is an excellent source of material along with various blogs. So I packed the bike up in a heavy duty plastic cover - an offcut from a polytunnel cover, removed wheels, pedals and handlebar and taped them to the frame. All just squeezed through the oversize security scanner - its the frame size which limits but I did not remove the saddle. Not a blink from the staff. The alternative would have been to book and pay to carry the bike - that may have been another train and I may have had to change at Lille to do that and there was no sleeper going south from there. I'm writing this 9 months later and I forget the precise details. I get the feeling that these regs are liable to change so next time in could be different but 'Seat 61' will be checked before another trip.

At Paris took the bike package through the Paris metro from Gare du Nord to Austerlitz station - this was a nightmare and not recommended. Hard to find gates to take a big package and I ended pressing an intercom button to get some disimbodied person to open and extra big gate to let me through - made worse by being late on a Sunday evening when staff were knocking off. Next time definitely assemble the bike at Gare du Nord and cycle to Austerlitz. The sleeper from Austerlitz, by contrast was well provided for cycle racks and I assembled mine on the train before disembarkation the following morning at Perpignan.

Collioure, Languedoc-Roussillon, France.

Day 1

Disembarked from the sleeper at 7.15am and spent 6-7ks just trying to get out of Perpignan and took a horrible expressway to Argeles then up and down to Port Bou. This sleeper train actually ran all the way to the Spanish border at Port Bou which might have been a good idea because the bit of road in France was not great. Quite arid country but with peach and almond in full flower, also French lavender and tree heather (Erica arborea). Port Bou still retains that strange garrison town feel of a border post and you can still imagine Franco being in power. Continued to Llancà where I camped at Camping L'Ombra for an amazing 7 Euros. 85km

Prunus persica - Peach Blossom.

Day 2

Left Llancà before 8am and took the Cadaques road to the junction with Roses and took that - a steady climb over 5ks or so - jolly cold esp on the long fast decent to Roses. Passed the hell on earth which is Empuriabrava - most of the Costa Brava retains its beauty but not this bit. Crossed a fertile plain area via St Perè Pescador with lots of blossoming Peach and Apricot and many apples still to flower. Lunch in Torroella de Montigri - nice town - seems to be a big muslim population. Then to Palafrugell and spent a couple of hours looking around Tamariu and Llafranc. Then towards Palamos and beyond to Platja de Oro and Camping International in the rain at dusk. Campsites in Catalunya are at a premium in early spring but farther south there was no problem in finding sites that are open. It is nice to have a shower at the end of the day and I like to start early and finish early to relax and enjoy the new place. 115km.

Tamariu, Costa Brava.

Day 3

Again left before 8am and got quickly to San feliu de Guixols then a long climb and up and down a delightful road along the coast with great garrigue vegetation - Viburnum tinus, tree heathers even sweetly scented wild narcissus flowering.

The Costa Brava coast, Spain between Sant Feliu de Guixols and Tossa del Mar

Beautiful Costa Brava scenery on a very quiet road to Tossa del Mar (nice town, fairly small). Lloret just a big touristy mess but at Blanes I went to the lovely Marimutra Botanic Garden with Aloes in full flower. Then to Malgrat on small roads with good market gardening. Then to Calella and a fairly expensive 19 Euro campsite - Botanic Bona Vista. 70km

Marimurtra Botanical Gardens - Aloe ferox

Day 4

Got away by 7.15am because I had Barcelona to transit. So cycled to Mataro and caught the local train to Sitges to avoid the urban traffic. Worked well, I had to change trains in some underground platform in Barcelona but in Spain they seemed very relaxed about taking overloaded bikes on trains and nobody challenged me. Cycled from Sitges to Pineda ( south of Tarragona) - botanically a very dull day and with continuous ribbon development along the coast. Beyond Tarragona this became heavy industry with all the big agrochemical players - Dow etc. Great campsite at Pineda and very friendly security chap on the site (he considered himself definitely Catalunyan NOT Spanish he told me). 90km

Olive trees in arid landscape south of Tarragona



Day 5

Left Pineda at 8am, heavy dew on tent, needed gloves. The Costa Daurada is now developed along its whole length to Miama Platja. I oscillated between minor roads along coast made annoying by much traffic calming and the main N340 which, on a Sunday morning, was quite quiet. Then Hospilaet and afterwards passed the Nuclear Power station at Vandellós. The rocks become a sort of conglomerate and botanically more interesting. Behind El Perello are 50+ wind turbines taking advantage, is seems, of the wind dropping off the plateau.

Looking Inland from Ebro Delta - Rice silos and Rice fields and there are wind turbines on those hills

Looking back from the Ebro Delta there was another group too. The delta itself is a strange area almost entirely devoted to rice production. Saw a few pink flamingoes and many little egrets and wagtails. Crossed the River Ebro by a new bridge at Deltebre and saw the first Red Admiral of the year.

River Ebro - the new bridge at Deltebre

I had almost given up hope of finding anywhere decent to stay when I dropped upon Camping La Tancada on the southern side of the delta - crucially this is a restaurant with some camping attached and used much by local for their Sunday paella. I had a gut bursting excellent paella for 11 Euros ( it was, I think, meant for two people) and all the wine I could drink. Passed 400km total today and did 97km.

Day 6

Left the campsite on the Ebro delta at 7.45am first 10kms flat and then quite a relief to get off the flat, south towards Vinaros. Around here the oranges started and continued all day, also Apricots in flower and Olives. Stopped at Alcala de Xivert for lunch - a small agricultural town with an olive oil plant and unsullied by tourism. Then south to Marina d'Or - a hideous complex of apartments and at least 4 campsites - all open and occupied by many north Europeans in their campervans - now on their seasonal migration north following the sun. 90km.

Day 7

Departed 7.30am, via the coast road and an as yet undeveloped section after Oropesa - wild jonquil daffodils.

Narcissus jonquilla growing wild in Mediterranean Garrigue

Somewhere north of Benacassim became a decent cycle track for a few km following an old railway bed. Kept to the coast as much as possible around Castellon to Almazora then Burriana. All through strange endless empty developments, some not finished and all (in early March) very, very empty.

Desolate coastal strip development in March - n of Valencia

Went wrong somewhere after Moncofa and ended up caught behind a fence in one of these partly completed areas. Found a mediocre campsite after some kms of busy roads approaching Valencia at Platja de Puçol. One of the nights I had to cook sardines and rice - no cafes nearby. 96km

Day 8

Eager to get through Valencia so got away by 7.30. Back to Puçol (town not the beach) and took the CV300 south to Valencia (some kms of cycle track along this route) and then used the old inbuilt satnav plus asking people to get to the cathedral and out again the other side.

Arrested development - building worked stopped when the credit cruch hit - now 5 million unemployed in Spain



Valencia

Clear of Valencia by 10.15 and a lovely rural route down along the coast through the Albufera - another wildlife and rice growing area. Delightful small towns and rich in oranges, tomatoes etc. Orange harvest in full swing and the ones I tried were superb. Saw some Martins and pretty yellow and fawn wagtails.

Lunch in the Albufera S of Valencia and warm enough for shorts

What holiday development there is is much better integrated into the existing settlement infrastructure. Camped 6-7kms south of Oliva. 115km.

Day 9

Down the old N332 at 8am - a gentle climb for the next hour or so and passed limestone quarries - some change in the flora. Long decent to Calpe - in one short stretch I must have stopped 8-10 times to look at plants. Kept on the N332 behind Benidorm which is HUGE - dozens of high rise blocks and stopped at Villajoyosa which thankfully was very very different.

Rough Med at Villajoyosa

I shared thoughts on Benidorm with the campsite receptionist who was from Benidorm but she could not explain its extraordinary tourism success because the beaches, she said, although sandy are not the best locally. Arrived 1.30pm. 76km.

Day 10

Last full day. Again left by 8am and followed N332 for a few kms and then dove off down the hill towards the coast and followed minor roads through suburban housing towards Alicante.

Nearing Alicante before I turned off the N332 it looks quite arid but there was lots of good flora here and this was one of the stops to look at it!

Some nice housing and good gardens. Took ages to get through Alicante and quite busy and followed the N332 to Santa Pola and a nice campsite. Dull windy and wet day 12C - it could be Devon! Passed close to the airport getting here and that should be about 12k tomorrow. Rained off and on all evening and night - my cheap plymsolls were leaking so walking around Santa Pola became a challenge between the puddles. 55k Total 915k from Perpignan.

Day 11

Rain in the night, packed a wet tent and got away in the dark to Alicante airport where I dismantled and packed the bike in the same heavy plastic bag I'd carried from UK. I did it this way round - out by train back by plane - in case Easyjet trashed my bike . . . but they didn't. I did have a job squeezing my carry on pannier bag into the standard measuring box they use for carry on luggage though! Got back to Bristol, assembled the bike and cycled as far as Bridgwater where I was ripped off about £13 for one stop on the train to Taunton - compare with Barcelona where the transit of the city (maybe 60-70k cost about 6 Euros)

Afterthoughts

It was much colder than I had expected - I only got into shorts for a few hours on a couple of days. Better to do the trip a few weeks later and that would have the advantage of more campsites being open. Do not go on the Paris metro with a dismantled bike and take the sleeper all the way to Port Bou. The train tickets are an absolute bargain if you buy them in advance and I found, for some strange reason that the French railways site was cheaper than the UK Eurostar site and they posted the tickets from France without a surcharge.