15 September, 2016

Seeking Adventure: Doug McDonald: the Scot who fell in love with the Basque Country

Doug McDonald is one of our ambassadors, and the person responsible for BasqueMTB, a project that has joined forces with Basque Country Cycling to organize the best mountain experiences available on a bicycle. In this post, he shares his passion for the land that spawned Orbea, and he provides some first-hand insight into his favourite trails.

Hi! My name’s Doug McDonald and I run BasqueMTB, the organizer of MTB experiences as part of the Basque Country Cycling project. I’m Scottish, and after falling in love with a Basque girl I moved here to the Basque Country with her, and I was smitten by the mountains and the local culture. So for the past eight years I’ve been riding my Orbea bikes around the Basque Country and the Pyrenees.

There are loads of routes to be enjoyed in the Basque Country. Some of them are still the closely guarded secrets of bikers and locals. But there are still trails that provide countless hours of cycling heaven. This is something I’ve discovered over the years I’ve been living here. These are routes where one can discover that Basque bikers are very friendly indeed and they are delighted to tell you about the trails to follow, as well as help you along the way. I’m now going to tell you about my top five favourites, and why.

1. Hondarribia Donosti-San Sebastián (Gipuzkoa)

This is a difficult route, both physically and technically, but it has the stunning beauty of the scenery along the coastline of Gipuzkoa, the port of Pasajes, and then the arrival on the beach in Donosti-San Sebastián. It was one of the first routes I completed after arriving in the Basque Country. It links two of the prettiest cities in Gipuzkoa over a single trail accompanied by the sound of the sea and waves. Any biker will find it attractive because I doubt whether there are many unspoilt landscapes in the world where you can ride so close to the coastline.

2. Zumaia – Deba – Zumaia (Gipuzkoa)

Physically speaking, this is quite a demanding route, although it’s technically quite easy. Once again, there is the coastline that I find so fascinating. The Flysch rock formations are a geological wonder, and the contrast between the grey cliffs and the orange sandstone around Hondarribia is incredible. To end up in Zumaia at dusk and have a beer is an incredible experience. Or you could also take the train back to Deba with enough time for a couple of beers on the beach, which is another way of bringing the trip to a perfect end…

As for bikers, I would point out that the route here is mixed, with some single track and concrete surfaces. The views are exceptional, and going by bike enables you to see much more of the coast than if you did the same route on foot.

3. Bilbao – Plentzia (Bizkaia)

This is a very easy ride. There are not too many slopes, the trails flow together, and there are loads of interesting places to see. Make the experience even more complete by visiting the little villages along the way and drop into one of the beachside bars and have a drink and enjoy a few pintxos – the Basque name for tapas.

This route provides an opportunity to stop off at one of the restaurants along the coast and treat yourself to an amazing gastro-biker experience. This route is a round trip, so you can make the most of this to go wherever you want and return to the place of your choice. Or even take the metro back to Bilbao if you only want to ride one way.

4. Ernio (Gipuzkoa)

This is a physically very demanding route. You’ll have to dismount and push your bike for at least an hour, regardless of the route you choose for the climb. Technically, you go from a tremendously challenging area at the summit to other areas that are much easier.

You should also bear in mind that this is a popular path among hikers, and people on foot always have right of way. You must stop whenever necessary and greet people in a friendly way (“Kaixo”, pronounced kai-sho, means hello in Basque).

This was the first big Basque mountain I rode up. I stopped at the summit with my fellow riders to take a few photos of the sunset, and then we rode back down in the darkness with only our lights to guide us. It was a truly memorable experience, which is why that route is hugely special for me.

It is one of the highest mountains overlooking the Basque coast. It’s around a thousand-metre climb, and from the top in good weather you can see the waves breaking against the cliffs below. There are many ways of getting back down from the summit, but the higher slopes will pose a technical challenge for any biker, regardless of their experience.

5. Burdindogi (Navarra)

This is quite a difficult trail, both physically and technically. You can enjoy pedaling at a height of hundreds of metres without leaving the single track. The beech woods and moss-covered rocks create a very special environment, and the paths are very well organised. A number of enduro races have been held here and for a good reason, the trails are fantastic!

There are so many things I like about this route… such as stopping off to eat at the traditional Gau Txori in Zubiri and the start of the trails. If you like to let your technique flow, and then follow this with single track, you’ll be happy here!”