Two hours into their European winter adventure, Richard Adams had a realisation…
His riding partner and girlfriend, Lori, was cruising at a fairly steady pace as she ran in the engine on her new Triumph Street Twin and it was messing with Richard’s head… not to mention his itinerary. But as they moved deeper into their 20-day ‘between-jobs’ getaway, he realised that speed isn’t always the answer: “We got out of that ‘everything now’ mentality we have back home and started to take our time and experience things we’d have missed otherwise.”
Their European adventure began in October when graphic designer Richard and hedge fund analyst Lori Bellomo found themselves at a loose end work-wise. “We wondered if the weather might be an issue but thought ‘do you know what, let’s just do it’. Rather than just sit around and vegetate we got on our bikes,” says Richard, who owns a 2012 Triumph Scrambler.
A rough itinerary included a ferry crossing from the UK to Santander in Spain with a plan to ride as far east as possible and back.
This is their diary.
Days 1 and 2 – Portsmouth to Santander, Santander to Javier
Spain was far more relaxed than we were used to in London. I was surprised by the lack of speed cameras, speed humps and volume of traffic, which meant we could enjoy the scenery. This was where I had my first doubts about Lori’s pace but the vibe was calm, so perhaps I’d get used to going a bit slower.
Day 3 – Javier to Bagneres de Luchon
Rode 250km through the Spanish Pyrenees over the border to France along long twisting roads with beautiful scenery. As soon as we emerged from the tunnel on the French side the road dipped steeply downwards, with some quite tight switchbacks… this trip was going to be brilliant!
Day 4 – Bagneres to Agde
After the thrill of long twisting roads through the Pyrenees we’ve stopped in Carcassonne, a beautiful town inside castle walls, and are struck by how golden the light is in the south of France. We booked a hotel in Agde, which seems like a nice little beach town, but I later found out from my mum that it’s a big nudist town (not sure how she knew this, not sure I want to know either). Didn’t see anyone running around naked in the supermarket though.
Day 5 – Agde to Marseille
Marseille seemed like it might be cool but to be honest, being in a city is a disappointment compared to the ride and scenery before.
Day 6 – Marseille to Golfe-Juan
Lori needed her oil changed for her bike’s first 500-mile service, so we stuck to the coast, passing through St Tropez, which seemed nice but made me feel glad we were on bikes among the expensive cars going nowhere in the traffic.
A guy we met suggested we take the D559 coast road after St Tropez, which passes by the Col du Cap Roux, a cool red mountainy bit that reminded me of Red Rocks in the US. It was an amazing, fun road to ride, beautiful at sunset.
Cannes at night is a must, with its neon casinos and twinkling fairy light coast road to Golfe Juan, where we’re staying.
Days 7 and 8 – Golfe-Juan to Cannes and Gréolières les Neiges to Golfe-Juan
While Lori’s bike was being serviced she got on the back of mine and we rode up the D2 road to the ski resort of Gréolières les Neiges. The road was great fun with fantastic panoramic views and high twisty precipices… passed a film company doing a Ferrari ad, which shows these roads are pretty cinematic!
Day 9 – Golfe-Juan to San Remo
On our way to Italy via Monaco, taking the Route de la Revere above Eze and then the Route de la Tête de Chien for alternative bird’s eye views of the Mediterranean and Monaco… one of the most amazing rides and views we’ve ever seen.
The atmosphere and traffic was more frenetic in Italy, although it still seemed to have a loose laid-back atmosphere that you don’t get in Britain. Maybe it was the sunshine that made me see it that way.
After five minutes of readjustment we were back in London mode, filtering through impossible gaps with the rest of the local bikers.
Day 10 – San Remo to Nervi, near Genoa
Despite the San Remo madness, the square in the centre was lovely in the morning for coffee and pastries.
Took the fantastically picturesque coast road and thought about finding a hotel in Genoa as it seemed it might be a cool city, but after the headache of Marseilles and San Remo we decided to go a bit further and found a lovely place in Nervi.
Day 11 – Nervi to Argegno, Lake Como
The ride through northern Italy towards Como was unspectacular compared to everything we’d seen. The roads were fine and pretty good but it was a flat, unremarkable landscape for the most part. We’d been spoiled.
We rode through Milan, which was pretty crazy but unremarkable, and an hour later the panoramic view of the bottom tip of Lake Como was truly breathtaking.
Day 12 – Argegno to Lugano, Switzerland
We were going to do one of the mountain passes in Switzerland but Lori had an encounter with gravity on one of the steep hairpin bends. She bruised her ego but the bike was fine, so we decided to explore more of Lake Como.
Day 13 – Argegno back to outskirts of Milan
Rode up to Villa del Balbianello, a stunningly picturesque villa, once run by monks, on the lake. We were fascinated by the fact Bond film Casino Royale and Star Wars were filmed there.
We then rode down through Como itself and up the twisty lakeside roads to Bellagio. As you enter the town there’s a big open marquee-like structure just for bikes, and it’s free.
Because we left Como mid-afternoon we got caught out as we skirted Milan in an evening rush hour traffic jam stretching 15 miles… we ended up riding Milanese motorways in the dark, which was a bit tense.
Day 14 – Milan to Oulx
As we got further towards the Alps a wild boar ran across the road just in front of me, which was cool. It was getting quite late again so we decided to leave the Alps until tomorrow and head for a lovely hotel on the Italy-France border for some local red wine and plate of free antipasti.
Day 15 – Oulx to Bollene, north of Avignon
We took the N94, D994 and D94, which were just amazing; fast, twisty and fun with great scenery, but by now that was pretty much a given.
Day 16 – Bollene to Florac
We’d been lucky with the weather for mid-October. Then, typically, as we crossed the Alps, Storm Brian reminded us not to be complacent.
We were riding high up into the Parc National de Cevennes on a dirt track and the mist. The only people we saw were an old couple collecting conkers and as we gingerly rode past them on the slippery narrow road, they looked at us as though we were mad. We agreed.
Waterproofs were useless against the storm so we found a hotel that had a small space heater – a godsend for us and our drenched gear.
Day 17 – Florac to Castelnaudary
Storm Brian was going to be our companion again, but we decided to go for it because there was still loads we wanted to see.
We set off from Florac and rode up a steep twisting mountain road (D16) that went on forever in the rain. Just as I thought we were pushing our luck, the mountain flattened out into a landscape that reminded me of the North Yorkshire Moors. As I’m from near there I felt quite at home, but as we neared the west side of the Parc de Cevennes the countryside suddenly went from Yorkshire to an alien planet.
On the road towards Le Rozier the scenery changed to a unique and breathtaking gorge flanked by strange tall rocky outcrops. The moody skies added to its other worldliness. It was such an unexpected treat after another hard day in the rain, but by now I think we were used to it and started to see the storm through different eyes.
Day 18 – Castelnaudary to Lourdes
Still raining… luckily there was an amazing boulangerie nearby where we consoled ourselves with coffee and cake before setting off. It was starting to feel a bit like an endurance test but as we rode on, the spectacular views of the Pyrenees opening up in the distance spurred us on.
Day 19 – Lourdes to San Sebastian, via Biarritz
As it didn’t look too great we headed for Biarritz and the view of the stormy Atlantic as we neared the coast was our dramatic reward.
Because we’d made up a bit of time by not doing the high bits of the Eastern French Pyrenees, the Picos mountains, which we hadn’t reckoned on being able to visit, were now becoming a possibility, so we pushed on to San Sebastian.
Day 20 – San Sebastian to Fuenta De (Picos Mountains)
A rainbow in the sky spurred us on to the Picos, even though it was effectively going to be a 350km detour. The 250km ride went by in a flash as the roads were a total joy and just got better the further we entered the Picos. The sun even reappeared. From here it was back to the ferry and back to rainy England!
7 things we learned
- Make sure you have heated grips
- Try to take only essentials to your ferry cabin. You can leave everything else on the bike – the hold is locked during the journey.
- Be careful boarding the ferry as there might be metal parts on the ramps and also shackles in the hold to ratchet down the bikes.
- Avoid staying in city centres unless you don’t mind paying for secure parking (especially in Italy). Avoid arriving at rush hour if you’re staying in a city.
- Some of the smaller, more remote petrol stations only accept cash.
- Not only take dry bags but actually put the stuff you want to keep dry in them (like my cigarette papers doh!). Cargo nets are great for packing things you want close to hand and also for drying out things when it’s sunny again.
- Don’t need to take loads of clothes but take more socks than you think you’ll need – you will use them.
Been on a trip? Send FTR your pictures and daily diary – doesn’t matter how long – and they’ll feature on For the Ride.