Basque Bikepacking: Vuelta de Vasco
Tour In Tune
Starting from Bilbao, the route quickly joins a section of El Camino de Santiago del Norte on the way towards the north coast where it then passes through a series of fishing villages between Lekeitio and Zarautz. From the picturesque harbour of San Sebastian, the route steadily climbs on La Plazaola passing through many tunnels.
The village of Lekunberri provides a good opportunity for supplies before a climb into Aralar Natural Park, where there are plenty of alternate route options for extending the journey. After the singletrack descent through Aralar to Lizarrusti, it’s a switchback road climb up to Urbasa, where a new landscape unfolds on the plateau. An undulating gravel road leads to the top of El Nacedero del Urederra where the route continues west on backroads before descending to join the GR-25 and Via Verde Ferrocarril Vasco Navarro en route to the medieval city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the old capital of the Basque Country.
The final and highest climb crawls up the south side of Mount Gorbea with a bit of hike-a-bike to the summit, before a long descent to finish the loop in Bilbao’s Casco Viejo.
267 Mi.(430 KM)
% Rideable (time)
- Must Know
- Trail Notes
- Nice ocean views along the coastal section between Lekuitio and San Sebastian.
- The michelin star cuisine in San Sebastian definitely trickles down to the more affordable pintxos and street food. Check out La Cuchara de San Telmo in the old town.
- La Plazaola via verde (greenway) is a repurposed old railroads, providing traffic free gravel travel.
- Aralar Park offers stunning panoramic views, good singletrack and easy wild camping.
- Urbasa-Andia Park known for its Neolithic remains and an incredible gorge called Nacedero de Urederra, it also hosts a good network of trails and backroads.
- The medieval centre of Vitoria-Gasteiz contains impressive buildings and lots of parks.
- Gorbea Park is perhaps the most rugged and vast of the three parks, featuring a 360 degree view and plenty of options for detours with nearby GR-25.
- Flights into Bilbao are probably the most cost effective way to arrive from within the EU. If travelling from farther afield, you may need a connecting flight to London or Paris.
- If you are incorporating this into a longer cycling tour, you could approach from the Pyrenees and join the loop in clockwise fashion.
- The bells of the livestock are charming during the daytime, but they can be pretty noisy when you are trying to sleep, so earplugs are recommended in case this bothers you.
- There is a frequent Basque drizzle throughout the year, but August-Sept tend to receive less precipitation and the land will have had more chance to dry out. Waterproof clothing and shelter are strongly recommended. The drizzle is more frequent near the coast whilst Aralar and Urbasa tend to be more dry.
- Be careful to stock up on supplies on Saturday, because supermarkets and shops are closed on Sundays without exception.
- As with the rest of Spain, most shops will close in the afternoon between 2-4pm for lunch, but they tend to stay open later in the evening.
- The colourful trail markings on trees and posts are well organised and easy to follow. Look for signs saying BTT (meaning ‘bici total terrain’, basically the same as MTB for ‘mountain bike’).
- Single night wild camping is tolerated in the larger parks (Aralar, Urbasa and Gorbea) as long as you set up late and strike early and stay out of sight of the main roads.
- Pay campsites are common throughout the region, but the prices are unreasonably high and they are often crowded with families in camper vans.
- There are many Warm Showers hosts, with some especially friendly mountain bikers in San Sebastian.
- The Hostal Catedral in Vitoria is exceptional for the price. It features gorgeous double rooms for €40 with a view of the Cathedral and perfectly located for exploring this old medieval city.
- Drinking water is plentiful and safe throughout this route. Ask locals for public fountains in towns in villages. Some of the rural fountains on El Camino and the greenways will have a small drinking cup for walkers. These are probably safe to drink, but you may want to purify if you have a sensitive disposition.
- The local Idiazabal cheese and membrillo (quince) with walnuts is a great cycling super food; you will find this traditional Basque snack throughout the region. You can buy this locally made cheese in most shops and supermarkets.
- The tasty Basque pintxos are not to be missed. You will find them served daily at bars in most towns. San Sebastian has some of the very best pintxos, though it helps to get a local recommendation to avoid the tourist traps. Try La Cuchara de San Telmo in the old town of San Sebastian.
- If you find the pintxos don’t satisfy your massive cyclist appetite, then ask for el menu del dia or porciones grandes in the restaurants.
- Chorizo and salchichón are dense with high energy and they last a long time at room temperature making them perfect for the bikepacking kitchen.
- This route is formed from select sections of various trails and backroads. As such, it is not well marked and would be difficult to follow without a GPS.
- Most of this route is very rideable, but there are a few sections which may require some hike-a-bike; for example, the coastal section between Deba and Zumaia and the climb up Mount Gorbea.
- This circular route provides a good way of linking together the three parks (Aralar-Urbasa-Gorbea), but there are also plenty of alternate routes if you prefer to stay in one area, for example: The G20 loop around Aralar Park would be an excellent extension for that area; The GR-25 offers a challenging sidecar loop around Vitoria, albeit with some hike-a-bike sections; There are 100 MTB routes near Vitoria posted by a local rider known as Gabirel BTT; The Bidasoaka Pedalak is 190km loop between San Sebastian and the foot hills to the Pyrenees.; The Euskadi Extrem 2015 is 100km local MTB race loop starting and ending in Vitoria.
- Basque BTT Centres – a list of the trail centres including Izki and Ametzia
- Ametzia Centro – a popular trail centre southeast of San Sebastian, connected with the Basque MTB crew
- Izki Centro – a collection of longer day rides near the south border of the Basque region (GPX files available for each route)