Mountain Biking in the Basque Country
The Best Places to Mountain Bike in the Basque Country
The Basque Country is where the foothills of the Pyrenees meet the Atlantic coast. The terrain is steep and hugely varied with open mountain top trails dropping into loamy forest runs and fast flowy ridge top traverses interspersed with rocky technical sections.
There’s riding in the Basque Country to appeal to all abilities. But to get the most out of your trip you’ll want a good level of fitness to take on the ascents and be comfortable riding technical singletrack.
Straddling France and Spain, the mountain biking trails criss-cross the border and there’s two distinct flavours depending on which country you’re in. Crossing the border into Spain there’s a huge network of mountain biking trails. A total of 1500 km of tracks across 5 MTB areas allow you to get deep into the Spanish Basque Country. The biking is concentrated in 3 provinces – Biscaye, Gipuzkoa and Alava with straightforward access to the trails from Saint-Sebastien and Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Basque Country MTB Hire & Tours
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Where to go mountain biking in the Basque Country
1. Trans Basque (Grande Traversée du Pays Basque)
Spend a week riding from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic coast. The Trans-Basque is an epic multi-day MTB adventure from Saint-Palais to Hendaye covering a leg burning 8200 m of vertical ascent over 220 km. Depending on your level of fitness and the time you have available, you can split the ride into 6,7,8 or even 9 stages. Although graded red throughout, in typical Basque mountain biking style the terrain is steep, challenging and in parts very remote. The route has been pieced together by the Fédération Française de Cyclisme (FFC) and borrows sections of the GR 10 walking trail which follows ridgeline singletrack along the Spanish border.
2. Mountain biking at Col d’Ibardin (France)
From the Basque village of Urrugne just inland from Saint-Jean de Luz, you follow the Route d’Ibardin all the way to the col. You can either park at the bottom and cycle up or park at the top and finish with a climb back to the car. If you want to finish with a descent, park at the Col d’Ibardin campsite and cycle up to the col via the road. Alternatively, park at Camping Mendi Azpian and ride up the gravel track to the lake. Once on the col there are tracks all over the place. Don’t miss the singletrack along the ridge overlooking the sea, or the epic descent via the small bikepark to Bera on the Spanish side.
3. Tour de La Rhune (France)
The iconic peak of La Rhune punches the skyline behind Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the French Basque Country. Topping out at 905 metres, there’s plenty of vertical drop to play with and a network of MTB trails run up and down the mountain and across to neighbouring Col d’Ibardin. This classic loop criss-crosses the border between France and Spain and mixes up Roman roads, singletrack, loamy forest trails and walking trails. To access, park along the road at Olhette on the D4 between Ascain and Urrugne and take the Chemin de Inzola walking trail. The climb is a lung buster. The first 250 metres of vertical ascent is steep and technical and from then on it’s just steep. You’re rewarded with spectacular scenery and some amazing descending. Download the route.
4. Espelette (France)
Espelette is well known for growing the chillis that flavour a lot of local dishes. The steep and sunny hills that help the chillis thrive also make for great XC mountain biking through stunning Basque Country scenery. There are 2 waymarked loops that start straight from the village – the 13.9 km Basaburu-Atharri and the longer 17.4 km Circuit de la Montagne.
The Basaburu loop climbs steeply out of Espelette on narrow paved roads. After a short, steep rutted descent through farmland, the climb continues on tarmac zigzags with some brutally steep sections. Just when your legs are screaming for mercy, you turn left through a gate and onto a stony trail. A short climb leads to the best descent of the loop – a fast and technical 1.5 km descent with some rocky sections. From Pas de Roland at the bottom, you follow the banks of the Nive river through a beautiful gorge to the village of Itxassou. Climb out of the village to the glider club with its panoramic views over the Basque hills and the sea beyond, before dropping back down into Espelette. Download the route.
5. Tour of Pic de Jara (France)
The Pic de Jara forms the backdrop to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the start point for the full Camino. This 27 km mountain bike loop of the peak starts and ends in Saint-Martin-d’Arrossa, 13 kilometres to the north of Saint-Jean. Pick up the trail along the D918 just south of Hameau d’Eyharce. Look for a cattle grid and a farm track on the right hand side, the opposite side of the road to the railway track. The 9.5 km climb to the top is straightforward for the most part. However, after 5 kms, you’ll hang a sharp left into some steep switchbacks before the final push to the top. From the summit, you can either come back down the same way, or continue the ride down to Irouléguy and across to Eyheralde. Download the route.
6. Mountain Biking in Tolosaldea (Spain)
The Tolosaldea MTB centre is located in Tolosa just 15 minutes drive south of Saint-Sébastien. There are 239 km of waymarked trails, graded from green to black. The epic 57 km Txindokiko Itzala black XC loop is the hardest of the 8 waymarked rides. A varied and challenging ride aimed at experienced mountain bikers with a good level of fitness, there’s some tough climbs and super fun descents. About a third of the ride is within the boundaries of Aralar Natural Park. The town of Amezketa makes a convenient half way lunch stop. If you haven’t got the whole day, the 19 km Leaburu route is a good option. Graded red, the ride takes in picturesque Basque villages and some of the region’s most spectacular scenery.
7. Mountain Biking in Debabarrena (Spain)
If there’s one area that really epitomises mountain biking in the Spanish Basque Country it has to be Debabarrena. This is where the blue of the Atlantic Ocean contrasts with the intense green of the coastal mountains making for a pretty unique mountain biking experience. There’s a lot of riding here too; 388 km of waymarked trails straddle the provinces of Gipuzkoa and Biscaye. There’s 15 different loops graded from green to black with options for all abilities. A highlight is the Karakate red loop which starts and ends at the Mintxeta sports complex in Elgoibar. The route begins with long climb through Azkarate and Irukurutzeta before an undulating traverse brings you to the top of 765 m Mount Kortazar. From there it’s pure fun all the way back down to Mintxeta.
Please leave a comment below if you need specific advice for your mountain biking trip to the Basque Country, or if you have any recommendations to help us improve this article. Pozik oporrak !