JRNL | 003
RIVIERIDE IN THE BASQUE COUNTRY
Words By: Gaetan Riou
Photo's By: Rivieride / Gaetan Riou
OWN ambassadors Rivieride – a passionate crew from the south of France consisting of Gaetan Riou, Andres Biersteker and Morgan
Icardi – have been busy throughout 2017, riding, riding, riding and creating some stunning images and video along the way. For
Journal 003, we sent them out on a mission to report back from a summertime jaunt to the Basque Country, a green land with a mix
of rolling hills and severe mountains, beautiful coastline, great culture and an abundance of trails.
This is the story of their trip…
If you don’t know who’s behind the Rivieride trio, I’ll first explain that we are from southeast France, a hotbed of mountain bike talent and history. Our names are Gaetan, Andres and Morgan and, as French Riviera raised kids, as soon as we started riding mountain bikes we became used to the limestone rocks, dry gravel and umbrella pines our region is known for. After years of riding this hostile terrain and watching endless edits filmed on loamy fern-lined trails, we could think of nothing more than the old adage, ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’.
The harsh terrain at home got us talking about destination ideas for a summer bike trip, and we quickly converged on the idea of a visit to the Basque Country, the autonomous region that straddles a small corner of southwest France and a northern tip of Spain. From our point of view, Basque people have mountains, forests, waves… and remembering an old edit we’d seen called Pista Prest Dago, it looked like they had plenty of trails to explore! It wouldn’t be BC, NZ or your classic web edit location, but we were unanimous in our decision to pursue the concept of a family trip made exotic simply by crossing the country east to west. When you consider the attraction of the region’s famous food culture, it’s easy to understand how we made this choice.
Let’s go for a coast-to-coast trip.
SETTING UP AND SCOUTING
Gaëtan and his family arrived first, set up camp and started scouting around.
To kick things off, we went for a touristy visit: Espelette village with its famous spice, a chilled-out day looking around an iconic Basque village. Oh, and the most epic chocolate tasting session with aforementioned spice packed inside!
Another specialty of the Basque Country beside the Espelette spice is its surf, so some time was also made to scope spots near Anglet to watch local surfers enjoying the daily waves during their lunchtimes or before/after work. It was funny to see the postman take off his jacket to go surf straight after his work tour, and a good sign that people in the Basque have the right way of life.
Morgan came later, having taken some time to fit out his utility van to something he could sleep in. Reunited, we started to find some places to ride. One thing was clear during the first days there: it’s easier to find surf spots than trails on the Internet with the Trailforks app! Basque riders quite rightly keep their rides offline to ensure the trails remain peaceful (and perhaps because one or two aren’t quite legal), so we had no chance of stalking Strava records. We asked around politely and Alex, a local friend, gave us some info about trails around the border, so we checked them out that night.
PICKING THE BEST CARD
Despite the wet weather that we are most definitely not used to (it doesn’t rain where we’re from!), we decided to go for a first ride. After a little hesitation, the group – including Gaetan’s wife, son and dog – left our smartphones alone and decided to go anywhere a nice landscape could be found. Guess what? We made our way straight into a legendary trail used a long time ago to shoot a classic French web edit! We had struck gold.
At this perfect location we found not only a dreamlike jump trail, but also several other options. Leveling up from right to left, a small trail network had opened up before us after just a 45-minute random ride. Our start point was chosen purely for its landscape, a decision based on chance, but we had picked the best card in the pack.
Our first ride would be on a flowy, natural downhill, like all real trails should be. It looked something like an enduro stage, but upgraded with perfect berms and well-placed jumps to create the best flow possible. Then, a warm-up jump trail to build enough (too much) confidence before hitting the bigger stuff; and finally the classic, with a really serious drop, bigger gaps and high speed jumps.
We had a perfect time discovering this spot and reaching our own limits trying to switch from chill trail to what would be a double black in any bike park. Here in the Basque, it was just a nugget of gold nestled on a forgotten peak.
EXPLORING THE SPANISH SIDE
Alex told us that Irun had some good trails that loop next to the Spanish border, only 30 minutes’ drive from our basecamp in France. Having asked around, we soon had details of a gravity trail, so we went on the hunt.
The trail didn't disappoint: a nice downhill with three different zones. The first part was fast between high trees and covered with leaves on the ground. Then it dropped into a loamy and wet zone with a lot of little canyons made by water. Half of the forest’s trees had fallen, the landscape was unique and locals had created senders out of the fallen trunks on the ground. The final part was a steep section of switchbacks before the climbing access to the top of the trail. The ride was short and fast, but so, so fun to ride. Carrying speed, flow, dropping under the fallen trees, riding turn-to-turn and shredding all the way down without questioning where it’s heading… who cares, it’s two minutes of fun in the Spanish forest, and exploring is all about surprises anyway!
One of the best aspects of after-ride in the Basque Country is the surfing. Even more so when, like us, you try to surf every autumn on the Mediterranean Sea. Some things don’t change where we live: no tides, the sand is more like thin gravel and the beach is a hundred metres long most of the time. So, we left the bikes at camp after filming four to six takes on every part of a trail and spent the night on a kilometre-long beach, with 1-200 surfers in the water and lovely smooth sand between our toes…
If you think mountain biking is a hard sport, don’t try to surf! Surfing is perhaps one of the most unthankful sports around: you spend a lot of energy for a few seconds of ride time and that’s only if you manage to stand up at the right timing for the powerful wave you are trying to master.
One night, the waves seemed peaceful and easy to surf, and the key now was simply to find a space to ride – there were so many surfers of all nationalities around. As the sun was setting behind the Spanish hills, we were all in the water searching for the perfect moment offered by the rhythm of the waves, watching the city streets from France to Spain light up, enjoying this surf session until night time truly fell.
THE OTHER SOUTH
Between two countries and united in one culture, the Basque Country, the other South of France, is definitely a goldmine in terms of mountain biking. We will most certainly be back one day. Furthermore, to fully enjoy this location and its epic trails we should really spend half a month or more there.
The Basque is like the French Riviera in some ways: the coast, the hills and some French cuisine. But at the same time it offers different weather, nature and culture. You could think you have just crossed the Atlantic to another country.
At the end of the day, it was a good experience to move away from the massive and mainstream spots people usually want to ride. Sometimes this hit-or-miss trail searching gives bad experiences, but exploring is all about living for the moment. It will not always fill your expectations, but you will take away endless memories to cherish forever.