The Alps, The Wedding and the Motorbike


Jane Cooksey heads off on a European bike adventure after attending a friend’s wedding

As soon as I mentioned a wedding in France, I knew it wouldn’t be simple. Amongst other things, there would be transport issues and a lads mountaineering trip to fit in beforehand. It’s not easy to get four blokes, four sets of mountaineering and camping gear and a Honda Africa Twin into a Toyota HiAce van, but they managed it and headed off to La Grave in the French Ecrin mountains.

The Alps trip is another story, so I’ll keep it brief. A few days of brilliant climbing and fabulous roads in the Ecrins was followed by a trip to Chamonix via the Col du Galibier. The highlight of this trip was a three-day ascent of Mont Blanc via the Innominata Ridge from Italy. The ascent included no mechanical uplift and a night in one of the Alps’ smallest and most isolated bivi huts.

Perfect Mountain Scenery

Summitting on Andy’s (my husband) 50th Birthday as planned (the weather played ball for once), it was then time to hit the road and head to Brest in Brittany for our friend’s wedding. He nearly made it in a day but had to give up with 150 miles to go and doss in a cornfield for the evening. He arrived the following morning, dishevelled and road-weary, but revived after strong coffee and suitably scrubbed and re-clothed, we headed to the wedding.

It was fabulous in true French style, laid back and sunny with lots of good food, wine and dancing. After the festivities, we had planned our motorcycle tour to start immediately, unloading the Africa Twin from the HiAce and setting our sights on Spain. I had to jettison a lot of stuff in order to get my kit into the small pannier, and then we were off.

Africa Twin in the Van

The sun was shining, the temperatures were rising and we were on our way down the west coast of France, heading to Bielsa in the Spanish Pyrenees. Andy believes in full emersion, so I had to endure 600 miles on day one, which culminated in a thunderstorm as we approached Lourdes, before camping at Luz in the heart of the Pyrenees.

The forecast was for heavy rain by mid-morning the next day, so we had an early start over the Col du Tourmalet. It’s a great road switch-backing under the ski tows to its summit in glorious sunshine at 2,115m, making it the highest paved mountain pass in the French Pyrenees. We descended into a thick cloud inversion on the Spanish side, with the weird sight of a herd of llamas wandering around the deserted (and hideous) ski resort of La Mongie.

This was our first fully-loaded ascent of a major pass, after an initial light feeling at the front-end, Andy soon relaxed as it began to feel normal. After more passes and the Bielsa tunnel, we arrived at our first destination. We couldn’t find any accommodation and, with the forecast promising an impending storm, we yet again had to revert to the ‘emergency’ tent.

San Glorio Pass

Andy had promised me that this would only be used in dire situations as it was so small, only slightly bigger than a bivvy bag. It was not the best of nights as the storm pounded around us, soaking our gear in the process. Emerging from the tent that morning, it was like we’d been transported to another world. The sun was shining and hot coffee and croissants made a welcome difference. We then headed to Potes in the Picos de Europa National Park, a place that’s famous for its fizzy cider and amazing mountains.

Once again, we couldn’t get any accommodation as it was so busy, and we realised that we were going to have to revert to the ‘emergency’ tent. We did eventually find a campsite and ended up in an area with a load of Spanish bikers who, despite looking mean and tough with their leather jackets, tattoos and Harleys, were a great bunch and we had a couple of very lively nights with them.

Cares Gorge

We left a few days later heading for Bonar over the N621, which was possibly the best of all the roads we had the pleasure of riding. It’s an incredible route through the most amazing scenery and Andy was in his element negotiating the perfect switchbacks whilst absorbing the breath-taking views. We had a coffee stop at Riano sitting in the sunshine on the shore of the beautifully blue lake surrounded by magnificent mountains and lush vegetation. The road from here to Bonar was so good that we rode back a few days later, luggage free, to walk the spectacular Cares Gorge.

After more nights than I would have liked in the emergency tent (which was now becoming home), I insisted that we go on the hunt for some ‘proper’ accommodation. We found a very unusual offer of a ‘Bell tent’ on a meadow, with stunning views and easy access into the bustling town. We booked, but couldn’t find it on Google Maps. Strange as this seemed, the reality was just as odd. We were informed that the site isn’t actually documented anywhere, and we were to meet the owner in a bar in the village. Only then would he reveal the location of our accommodation.

Heading up to the ‘Secret’ Meadow

This sounded right up our street and added a welcome air of adventure to the evening. We found the bar and eventually a small, battered van turned up. A guy with a rollie hanging out of his mouth spoke to us through the open window and announced that he was taking us to the meadow. Andy asked if the road would be OK for the bike and he assured us it would be but, to be on the safe side, we chucked all the luggage in the van and I hopped in too.

Andy followed close behind on the bike. The journey started off OK, a nice tarmac road winding up into the hills, but then it turned into a dirt track which I knew would be a nightmare on the bike considering Andy had never ridden off tarmac before. We eventually got to the meadow after stopping a few times to see if Andy was OK, he looked quite pale despite his tan, but by this time he was committed so had to keep going.

Nature’s Swimming Pool

The site was amazing and worth all of the effort. Basically, a couple had driven over from the UK in an old full-sized bus, got as far as Bonar, drove the bus up into the hills to find somewhere to park, found the meadow, parked and then couldn’t move it, so decided to stay and buy the meadow. They had a few Bell tents with proper double beds and other luxuries, a Yurt, a wooden gypsy caravan and a dwelling they had made themselves from wood and mud. We had a fabulous time as we could walk into town but had the most amazing unique campsite with our own garden, superb views and a basic, yet functional shower and toilet.

The bike however, stayed at the bottom of the dirt road, one trip up on it was enough of a hair-raiser for Andy. After Bonar, we headed to Quiros in the Asturias National park, another excellent climbing area, and booked an apartment in a mountain village up five miles of seriously Lake District-like single track. Furthermore, when we eventually got up there, we discovered there was no shop or bar. This could have been a disaster but fortuitously and through sheer determination, we found an old barn with a few locals who appeared to be drinking.

Andy’s Africa Twin

Obviously, they were very wary of us but the fact we had a bike stood us in good stead and was a talking point which eventually led to cold beer and acceptance! After a few nights in this stunning area we discovered that the oldest yew tree in Europe (over 2,000 years old) was in the very village we were staying and is a national monument, so it was worth the long, arduous ride up the hill. After leaving Asturias we headed towards Santander and the ferry home with a stop off at San Vincente De La Barquera with the idea of some chilled beach time.

It was horrific after the relative tranquillity of the mountains. People were sandwiched wall to wall on a sea of towels, sunbeds and umbrellas. The only advantage being that at least we could park right next to the beach and keep an eye on the luggage. We managed one swim then back to the bike and off to find a bar away from the crowds and vehicle mayhem. When we arrived at the ferry, we were directed away from the cars and sent to join the huge convoy of bikes already queuing to get on.

It was amazing to be part of such a huge number of bikes, the camaraderie and banter was infectious and hilarious and continued on board with drinks and songs. The worst part of the whole trip as a passenger was the ride back from Portsmouth. After the longest disembarkation in history, we didn’t hit the road until 7 pm.

A long, wet and cold journey got us home in the early hours, signalling the end of our wonderful adventure. It was worth it though as we had the most amazing and venturesome trip meeting very interesting people and exploring new places. For me, I realised that you don’t need much to have a great time when travelling – just two wheels, sunshine and an adventurous spirit.

Four great ways to tour the roads of Spain

BillyGoatGarage: The one and only Triumph Official experience centre at Costa del Sol


  • What is it: A nine-day Andalusian Experience Motorcycle Tour
  • Cost: €2,969

Ride an exciting motorcycle tour through Andalusia discovering the best cities in southern Spain while on a Triumph Tiger 1200 XCx. Spend nine days visiting the city of Seville, the Mosque of Cordoba, and the Alhambra of Grenada. Arcos de la Frontera, Montes de Malaga, and the Sierra Nevada mountains provide the world-class roads, and you’ll get to enjoy the best Mediterranean gastronomy thanks to its tapas and the intense and fun Spanish culture.

Find out more: visit

McTours: Western Spain and Northern Portugal


  • What is it: A tour of some of the best motorcycle routes in Spain west of Madrid and in the Douro region of Portugal
  • Cost: From €2,750

On this tour, you will begin and end in Madrid and ride west to Portugal and back through the Parque Regional Cuenca Alta Manzanares, Parc Natural de Arribes del Duero, and Parque National de Montesinho, one of the most remote areas in all of Europe. All in all, this is a stunning ride through incredible countryside and outstanding windy roads. Several of your stops will be at UNESCO World Heritage sites, including a 14th-century castle, where you will be staying overnight. All accommodation along the route is in four-star hotels.

Find out more: visit

Catalan Adventure


  • What is it: Motorcycle friendly accommodation and hire in Catalonia
  • Cost: From €60

The roads around More D’Ebre are superb, generally quiet and very well maintained. There’s a perfect blend of mountain curves and long straights to free your biking spirit.

Whether you want to stay for a week and explore the local tarmac or use Catalan Adventure as a stopover and oil your chain, they can help. If trail riding is your thing, or if you haven’t tried it before, you will love the endless, unmade tracks that run all around here.

Either bring your own bike or ride one our the company’s three new Honda CRF250 trail bikes, and Catalan Adventure can show you around on the trails, offering bespoke packages for road and trail tours to suit all timescales and requirements.

Find out more: visit

Overland Motorcycle Tours


  • What is it: Guided motorcycle tours of the Pyrenees mountains
  • Cost: £1,295

Overland Motorcycle Tours specialise in offering unforgettable biking holidays at reasonable prices. Their many years of experience and intimate knowledge of European and North African motorcycle travel means you’re guaranteed to ride the best roads and discover hidden secrets wherever you travel.

On their Pyrenean tour you’ll join them on a spectacular and scenic tour. Ride coast to coast along some of the most exciting roads in Europe, rising higher than 3,400m in elevation. Suitable for new and experienced riders, this is the perfect choice for those looking to discover the best that the Pyrenees have to offer.

Find out more: visit