Around here they say you belong to your land.
The smells, the flavours; they let you know you’re home.
The Basque Country is a place where life in general, and in particular cycling, is to be celebrated. It’s not unusual to ride through a quiet village and, on passing a group of children, find them running alongside clapping and shouting “¡Aupa Indurain!”.
San Sebastian – Donostia in the Basque language – is a picture postcard city filled with tradition, beaches, and generous gastronomy; rainy in autumn, friendly in summer.
Today, the menú del día is a 150km route
Which promises to reveal the charms of a region that tends to hide more than it shows – but when it does so, it is of unparallelled appeal.
Leaving the ocean behind, we pass Tolosa, a town famous for its bean dishes and its week-long Carnaval, then the villages of Legorreta, Itsasondo (its name, despite being some 40km inland, means ‘deep sea’) and the town of Beasain, and we begin the ascent of Gabiria, the first puerto of the day and a welcome stretch of the legs after the preceding flat river-valley kilometers, ideal for cycling holidays. Settling into an easy rhythm, we climb through verdant farm and forestry land, the smell of felled pine heavy in the air.
Over the top, and on to a more challenging climb and one of the day’s highlights, Mandubia – a staple in the Tour of the Basque Country, and a classic amongst the cycling aficionados of the Basque Highlands where the sport takes on an almost religious significance – and to whose slopes they come to test their legs and their times.
The smell and taste of the ocean again beckon from around the next curve.
The twisting, shaded descent through the forests of Bidania excites and charms in equal measure, and after a pause to regroup at the bottom, something urges us to do one more climb before returning home and we head to Regil. Ascending easily, enjoying the vistas opening up to the valley bottom as we pass the village from which the puerto takes its name, the road begins to make sharp hairpin turns reminiscent of those in the Alps, each one a reassuring step closer to the summit.
Cresting the top, the land falls away to the coast and, although never glimpsed, the smell and taste of the ocean again beckon from around the next curve.