Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Col d'Ispeguy in the Pyrenees

French Village Diaries Col d'Ispeguy Pays Basque Pyrenees #KTTinyTourer
Col d'Ispeguy

Col d’Ispeguy

Cycling in the Pyrénées isn’t just for hardcore racers, there are plenty of gentle climbs, touring routes and coastal rides to enjoy too. Our first choice, as a good leg stretcher for our Basque cycling break, was one that has quickly become our favourite, the Col d’Ispeguy. A baby, in terms of cols (mountain passes) at only an 8km and 672m climb, to the Spanish border, we first conquered it in 2017 on the road bikes and managed to ascend (and descend) twice in five days on this trip with the Bromptons.
French Village Diaries Col d'Ispeguy Pays Basque Pyrenees #KTTinyTourer
St Etienne de Baïgorry
The weather the week before we left had been against us, the bikes were left folded and unused all week, allowing no training for legs that now needed to be able to climb mountains. We parked in St Etienne de Baïgorry, which allowed a kilometre or so of flat warm-up before the road crossed the river by the church, the Col sign appeared, and the gradient arrived. Cycling up these first few bends a French cyclist, older than us and a local, loomed up from behind. Through my ragged breaths, we exchanged bonjours and despite my obvious lack of fitness, he seemed keen to converse as well as climb. He was tackling the col for the second time that day but was interested in our Brompton’s and how they compared, gearing wise, to road bikes. I tried my best, but soon fell behind, leaving him and Adrian trying to chat around a subject they both knew about, but with language (and accent) issues. Ever the gentlemen Adrian soon let monsieur cycle on ahead and waited for me to catch up.
French Village Diaries Col d'Ispeguy Pays Basque Pyrenees #KTTinyTourer
Col d'Ispeguy
The scenery here is stunning, with green rolling hills, gently curving mountains, rocky peeks visible when you strain your neck upwards and ribbons of road snaking into the distance. 

French Village Diaries Col d'Ispeguy Pays Basque Pyrenees #KTTinyTourer
Foxgloves at the road side, Col d'Ispeguy
This alone makes it difficult to be anything but awed by the journey, even if it was tough going on my legs at times. Add in the shocking pink foxgloves, deep purple aquilegias and many more wild flowers tempting me further along the road, the streams tumbling down the rock side and the birds of prey circling and calling overhead and it was amazing to be engulfed in such beauty. 
French Village Diaries Col d'Ispeguy Pays Basque Pyrenees #KTTinyTourer
Top of the mountain! Col d'Ispeguy

I couldn’t have gone any faster than I was, but it would have been a shame to have rushed the experience, so slow and steady I went, drinking in all that nature had to offer me. 
French Village Diaries Col d'Ispeguy Pays Basque Pyrenees #KTTinyTourer
The restaurant at the Col d'Ispeguy
Unlike some cols, Ispeguy has the bonus of a tiny community when you reach the top. Two bars sandwiched between the now closed customs house on the Spanish/French border offer food and drinks as well as souvenirs and somewhere to rest for the weary cyclist. Once fully refreshed, I took a steady approach to the descent and soon found my rhythm sweeping around the corners in a cautious rather than graceful way, but overall so much happier with the centre of gravity on the Brompton compared to my road bike. It left me feeling positive about the rest of our plans for the week cycling in the mountains. 

Here are a few of my previous posts about the Pays Basque you might like:

I’m not the only one who thinks cycling in the Pyrénées is for everyone, here is a recent post from Adventure Creators with lots of ideas for cycling holidays in the mountains: Cycling in the Pyrenees For All.

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