The N-240 runs out after Jaca and we pick-up the N-260 towards Ainsa, we’re gaining altitude now on this great road which gives us long sweepers, tight corners and 180 degree switchbacks, we’re lapping this up on this beautiful sunny day.
The surface turns rough for 9 kms and we stop on the side of a mountain overlooking a river with a rope bridge, there’s a notice board with messages left by passing travellers saying how beautiful this place is, I add a Motoeuro sticker for good measure. We ride through quaint towns, more corners and sweepers as the surface is better again, then stop at a ski resort closed for the summer; it’s eerily spooky, the only sign of life are grazing wild ponies.
The fast and perfectly surfaced N-230 takes us to Vielha and the famous 3 mile tunnel, this road, the higher stretches of which are impassable in winter, was the only route between the Val d’Aran and the rest of Spain before the opening of the Vielha tunnel in 1948. We take the twisty C-28 and then the C-13 towards Sort, at times, the road has been carved out the mountainside, we’re in Indiana Jones country, this is class! Wish we could stop for more photos but it’s impossible as the edge of the road is way too dangerous to park-up. It’s getting slightly cooler now as we descend to Sort and we’re ready for a beer.
We’ve ridden some serious roads today and we’re all feeling knackered with the heat and concentration needed – nothing to do with last night’s drinking session. Arrival in Sort we stop for coffee and stay here for tonight. Nice village, the Hotel Pey accommodates us so Mark can flood the bar from his bath upstairs. Good lord.
A few beers in the garden, we’re chilling and then…. BANG! we almost keel-over, WTF? Apparently, this is the start of the ‘Night of Fire’ in the village to celebrate St. John (or St. Joseph). Once one bang has gone off, everyone gets stuck in. Really? We take our beers and food outside of the Rock Bar and reflect on today’s roads and the route so far. I wander round the town for ‘fire photos’ but quickly retire for a quiet night. Quiet?
It’s all going well, great roads and fabulous weather, we all love this but I am having an extra-special time as I am delighted to have my bike running. Just pleased to be doing what I like best. The N-260 out of Sort is fantastic, the morning air is cool and we can see the mist on the Pyrenees Mountains as we descend towards the N-116 to Perpignan. This is great. As the day warms, it’s another scorcher in Spain. By lunchtime we stop for a light-bite at St.Marti dels Castells by the river. I order steak, chips, salad and coke; a really light lunch then. We shove on over the border into France and stop at Villefranche de Conflent; the original town dates from 1098 and is fortified because of its strategic position. The beautiful town is tightly packed within the original castle walls and is bounded on one side by the road running up into the Cerdagne and on the other by the Conflent of the rivers Tet and Cady. We like it here and pull up a seat to enjoy our first French coffee. Time for a tan top-up before heading to Antibes.
We’re all getting used to these roads, we’re typically spoilt with good tarmac and lots of quaint towns. The N-116 towards Perpignan is a good, twisty route and gradually gets less and less complex by the time we approach the busy town. We pass rivers and small lakes – this route has worked-out well; never ending corners, smooth tarmac, lots to see and the opportunity to all go a bit silly at times. There are smaller, even more twisty roads that climb into the Pyrenees, but lead only to mountain towns.
The N-116 takes us to the A9 motorway bypassing Perpignan, we’re still one-and-a-half days behind and want to make up time, plus we’re all looking forward to a day on the beach in Antibes. The A9 is a dull as the proverbial compared to the roads we’ve ridden but gives an opportunity to reflect on our time in Spain. We’re close to Montpellier by about 8pm but we’re playing catch-up and my legs are bloody killing me, I hate sporty bikes now. We know we’ve been ‘enthusiastic’ at times, but when a Police Bike behind us throws on the blues, I get a sinking feeling. We all pull in fearing hefty fines, but he overtakes and buggers off. Good wind-up thanks, very bloody funny.
French sunshine, N85 Napoleon Route and yet more fires.
Oh, and a knackered KTM 990 Adventure…
The pull of Antibes is too much so we push on to get there tonight, by 10pm arrival time, I want to chew my legs off. Steve and Mark are of course, absolutely fine on their adventure bikes. Welcome to the French Riviera, what could possibly go wrong ?….
On arrival in Antibes, Mark tries to get us in an old hotel he used to stay at when he worked here, (hotel Modern) it’s full. He wanders off in search of accom while I rest on a bench for leg-relief. GS smug-Steve chuckles at my agony. 20 mins later, we’re in a hotel room. Mark shows us old haunts and the old town of Antibes, we soak-up ice cold beer at a favourite bar. It’s busy here, but the atmosphere is fantastic. We are running late as usual for food, so we grab a restaurant. Oh, and the hotel owner wants our bikes in the hotel for our security, you want our bikes parked along the bar? Very odd.
We escape the busy old town and ride to Cap d’Antibes and the Hotel Miramar from 2008 the following day, we have no choice but to get 2 rooms this time and blow the budget out the water, but we get air-con which will later prove to be worth every penny. Still love that honesty bar. Towels, shorts, camera, cash, we’re off to the beach.
We enjoy our lunch and Sangria outside in the shade, rent 3 sun loungers and relax in the baking sun. Steve is off for a swim, Mark and I doze. I’m melting after an hour and join Steve who’s found an octopus moving around in the rocks, I swim over and we spot tiger fish too, it’s like a Sealife Centre here. A passing swimmer reminds us to watch for sea urchins, I’m off; no-one is weeing on my feet. We round off the day with ice-cold drinks and wander back to the hotel to grab a cheeky one before heading off for tonight’s grub and beer.
I wrap-up my bright pink shins in old T-shirts and we ride to Grasse for start of the N-85 Napoleon Route the next day. In the baking sun and my bike is running at 106 degrees, dumping the heat on my shins. Arse. I know all too soon we will be back in the crappy English weather, with yet more rain despite the false promises of Michael Fish, soak it up while we can.
Just outside of Grasse, Le ‘Snack Napoleon’ welcomes us with cold drinks before the classic ride to Gap on the superb Route Napoleon. We get on our bikes ready for the classic ride but Mark’s KTM 990 Adventure tries to throw him over a hill. What the hell…
The hydraulic clutch slave cylinder has broken. Arse, arse, arse. Mark calls AA bike recovery who are 100% useless it’s Google Maps to the rescue; there’s KTM dealer 6 kms away, (phew), we free-wheel and push the big Adventure to the dealer. The slave unit is not a stock item. The tight dealer won’t take it off a new bike for us, so Steve and I need to ride to a dealer in Nice (27 miles away) as they have the part in stock at a reasonable 240 Euros. Reasonable?
Baking heat, a heavy downpour and stupid, mad traffic means it’s around 3 hours before we’re back, just in time for the 5 minute, 10 Euro fix and we’re off at 7pm. Another heavy shower hits us as we touch the first turn on the N85, it gets dryer the further we ride and the ever impressive N-85 is still feels special regardless of damp roads. We’re on dry bits as we arrive in Castellane and the views over the French coast have disappeared, we’re rewarded with the impressive Verdon Gorge chapel at the top of a huge rock. The summit of this rock was originally the site of the Roman fortified town of Petra Castellana, but gradually, over the years, the people descended and settled at the base of the crag. By the 13th century the exodus was complete. The present town of Castellane in the Verdon Gorge, Provence sits at the junction of the Upper Verdon Road and Route Napoleon.
Castellane is a lovely town, with black clouds looming we grab a room in Hotel du Roc, food at an outside restaurant overlooking the town square and experience another ‘Night of Fire’. This time, we join in after a few beers jumping over bonfires with the locals. Well, it would be rude not to. Hic.
We ride the rest of the Napoleon route to around Gap in the brilliant sunshine with dry roads, we’re back to loving our bikes and these roads again, rain is forgotten. The N-85 Route Napoleon is just amazing and will always be a very exciting road for all bikes; timing is important so give yourself a whole day to fully experience these 200-ish miles of biking paradise and there are plenty of small towns to enjoy a coffee break, lunch or top-up on fuel.
We are massively behind now, little chance of getting to Lake Geneva or have a tasting session in the Champagne region. We pick-up a busy, if not twisty, road past Greoble, then on to the motorway heading for Troyes. We’ve missed the top part of the Napoleon route as we’ve got the ferry booked and gawp at the mega-miles still needed. It’s head down time. I hate sport bikes again. We manage a wrong turn and go cross-country on the N77 to Troyes, we’re very late arriving but the sight of the sun going down over the countryside and Chablis vineyards was worth it. A real sense of calm and adventure is felt by us – good things can happen when you take a wrong turn.
Next day, it’s the motorway heading for Calais which we remarkably make for 2pm. Steve heads for the Chunnel while Mark and I spend an hour in the old town of Calais. We take our last French Expresso’s in the sun and make an effort to ride the last miles along the coast to Zeebrugge.
We’re looking forward to tonight’s ferry band as we’re on the same boat from Motoeuro 2007, but we’re offered ‘Jedi’ – a odd shaped bloke for Portugal with a drum kit and guitar, oh, deary dear. The ferry is quiet and we’re the last ones to head off for bed after ending the trip with silly quantities of drink. Hung-over, knackered and confused where the A19 has gone, we get back to Tyneside mid-afternoon.
It wouldn’t be Motoeuro if it wasn’t a challenge.
It’s been eventful yet great fun, my personal highlight was those magic Spanish roads and mad evenings, but just being with your mates and riding everyday is a laugh, you should do it. Like Steve said “It wouldn’t be Motoeuro if it wasn’t a challenge!” In the back of my mind, I know the Daytona is too focussed for touring with my long and spider-like legs, but she’s great where it counts. The adventure-bike-boys never suffered much with distance and still enjoyed those great roads.
We had our problems on this trip that cost us time, dearly. But sometimes things just don’t go your way, we still managed 2,300 miles, still found fantastic roads and still had a great laugh. Every Motoeuro is different and we’ll still be smirking come the winter, get yourself away and enjoy it. Oh, and take a spare fuse.