Author: James Oxley & Ollie Rooke

Discover the best motorcycle routes in Northern Spain

James Oxley and Ollie Rooke plot three sensational day motorcycle routes in Northern Spain which make for the perfect addition to any tour of the region.

There are plenty of reasons why so many motorcyclists return to Northern Spain year after year in search of summer adventures on two wheels.

For starters, the landscape is spectacular and the riding is sublime. Whether you’re snaking your way over mountains passes in the Pyrenees and the Picos de Europa, or kicking up dust in the badlands of the Bardenas Reales semi-desert, there’s no shortage of superb motorcycling roads and trails to explore.

However, man and woman can’t live on biking alone, which is why a world class motorcycle touring destination also needs to offer great places to stay, delicious food, fascinating sights to explore, and a warm welcome from the locals. Thankfully, Northern Spain has all this and more.

From the grand architecture and Michelin-starred dining rooms of the coastal city of San Sebastian, to the remote beauty and rich history of Sos del Rey Católico in the Aragon region, there’s no shortage of sights to uncover.

And, handily for us bikers in the UK, you can take a ferry from the south coast of England and relax onboard for a day or two before disembarking at the ports of Santander or Bilbao on Spain’s north coast. From either port, it’s less than a day’s ride to the mountains.

So, to help you get the most out of your next adventure to this incredible country, ABR’s staff writer Ollie and myself joined forces with TomTom to plot three sensational day routes through Northern Spain that are guaranteed to add a wow factor to any motorcycle tour.

Three sensational day-long motorcycle routes in Northern Spain

Both of us drew upon our experiences of riding in the area to come up with three routes that take in the region’s motorcycle touring highlights, as well as revealing a selection of lesser-known gems off the main tourist trail.

Of course, the riding is the star of the show, but we’ve also purposefully chosen start and finish points with overnight accommodation nearby where you can sample the food, culture, and laidback lifestyle Northern Spain has to offer.

We start with a sublime route taking in the best of the Picos de Europa, just a couple of hours riding time from the port of Santander, during which you’ll be able to gorge on mountain views and stunning roads. We then travel east for our second route, starting with a ride through the wild and remote semi-desert of the Bardenas Reales, before heading north through rolling countryside and into the foothills of the Pyrenees for some fun in the mountains.

We venture further into the Pyrenees for our third and final day route which takes us across the border into France through the heart of the mountain range. If you love twisting roads, hairpin turns, and awe-inspiring views, you’re in for a treat. And, following a pulsating day in the saddle, we finish in the chilled-out Spanish mountain town of Viehla for a well-earned beer or two.

Combine all three of these incredible routes, and you’ve got a recipe for an unforgettable summer tour through Northern Spain. Enjoy!

The Picos de Europa and beyond

motorcycle routes in northern spain picos de europa

Words: Ollie Rooke

Spain’s Picos de Europa is something of a paradise for motorcyclists. It boasts warm weather that begins in early spring and lingers long into autumn, smooth tarmac roads that wiggle around towering limestone massifs, and stunning views that’ll have you snapping a photo at every roadside stop. The locals are also incredibly welcoming to bikers, the food is delicious, and there are plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in the history and culture of this spectacular area of Northern Spain.

Chances are, I’m preaching to the choir here, but if you haven’t visited the region yet, take it from me, it’s a trip you won’t regret making when travel restrictions allow. Many visiting motorcyclists follow what’s become known as the ‘Potes Triangle’, which is a 125-mile triangular loop of the Picos de Europa National Park.

It’s certainly a must-ride if you’re in the area, which is why I’ve included elements of it in this route. However, I’ve also taken you off the popular path on a series of sublime roads I found myself during an extended trip to Northern Spain a couple of years ago.

Our journey begins and ends in the small motorcycle-friendly town of Potes, taking you on a 173-mile journey through the Picos and beyond. Yes, it’s a long day in the saddle, but don’t let that put you off because it is well worth it.

An iconic photo stop

Picos de Europa

The quality of riding is supreme from the start as we pick up the San Glorio Pass out of Potes and climb into the mountains. Tight hairpins and unblemished tarmac are the order of the day here, but keep your eyes on the road as I encountered plenty of errant cows loitering around blind bends during my time in this area.

As the pass heads towards its 1,610m summit, you’ll spot a solitary statue of an ibex up ahead. Pull into the adjacent layby, admire the views back down the valley, and grab an obligatory photo with the little fella before continuing on your way.

Further along the pass, we turn off the main road for the first time, taking the lesser-travelled LE-2703 for a short stretch of empty tarmac and gorgeous views, before we pick up the N-625 at the perfect time to ride its most winding and exciting hairpin-filled section.

We then loop back on ourselves by following a series of tight lanes along the base of a rocky gorge, before briefly rejoining the N-625 to skirt the vast Riano reservoir, another worthy stop to soak up the spectacular Spanish landscape. It’s here we rejoin a fresh section of the N-621 as the road sweeps through the countryside, allowing us to build some speed along its flowing bends. We then ride the magnificent San Glorio Pass once again, but this time in the opposite direction, before returning to Potes after a thoroughly fulfilling day in the saddle.

Motorcycle routes in Northern Spain – Picos de Europa

You can download this route by heading HERE. Alternatively, plug these way points into your SatNav and you’ll be taken as close to the route as possible.

  • Potes
  • Portilla de la Reina
  • Posada de Valdeón
  • Cangas de Onís
  • Lugar Sevares
  • Cazo
  • Beleño
  • Riano
  • Potes

Distance: 173 miles

Desert trails and remote roads

routes in northern spain bardenas reales

Words: James Oxley

While there are few pleasures in life more rewarding than riding over mountain passes on a motorcycle tour, it’s also fun to mix things up once in a while. This is why I’ve started this day route with some big-bike friendly trail riding in the Bardenas Reales semi-desert, followed by a relaxing cruising through the Spanish countryside, before finishing up with a rollercoaster ride over the foothills of the Pyrenees. So, let’s get going.

Located about two-and-a-half hours from the ferry port at Bilbao, the barren semi-desert landscape of the Bardenas Reales is home to a network of brilliant trails that take you past spectacular rock formations through 100,000 acres of wilderness.

The Bardenas Reales badlands can get uncomfortably hot (I was a sweaty mess by midday), so I’ve started this route in nearby Tudela. Spend a night exploring the town’s historic architecture, bars, and restaurants, before getting an early start the following day in cooler temperatures.

The gravel roads are easy to explore in dry conditions (although they can be slippery when wet) on a fully loaded adventure bike and you could easily spend all day doing so, but we’ve got plenty of riding ahead of us. With this in mind, our route follows the Carretera Vuelta Poligono de Tiro, and the Camino las Bardenas Reales dirt roads in a large loop, which will give you a real flavour of this remote corner of the Europe.

Head to the mountains

bardenas reales northern spain

After playing on the trails, we cruise northwards along arrow straight roads through the Spanish countryside, before twisting our way up into the hills surrounding the ancient town of Sos del Rey Católico. Its labyrinth of historic streets has changed little over the past 500 years, making it a fascinating place to stop for a mid-morning coffee.

Leaving the town and hills behind, we enjoy more easy riding as we motor through farmland towards the city of Pamplona, famous throughout the world for the Running of the Bulls, held during the San Fermin Festival each year. Navigate through the city’s street, park up next to the impressive main square, the Plaza del Castillo, and indulge in some tapas while soaking up the atmosphere of this Spanish city.

From Pamplona, we head northwest towards France, starting with a gentle ride along the N-135. The road meanders along tree-lined roads into the foothills of the Pyrenees, and then presents a series of twisty sections to get the pulse racing. At the border village of Arneguy you have two choices. Either carry on along the N-135 for another five miles to our finishing point, the bustling French tourist town of Saint Jean Pied de Port, where there are plenty of places to eat, drink, and lay your head for the night.

Alternatively, take the D128 at the roundabout in Arneguy, and then the D428, as you snake your way along narrow, single-lane tarmac for 16 miles to Saint Jean Pied de Port. It demands focus, and your speeds will be slow, but riding this remote road feels like you’re on a proper adventure. I travelled it a few years ago and enjoyed every mile. 

Motorcycle routes in Northern Spain – Bardenas Reales

You can download this route by heading HERE. Alternatively, plug these way points into your SatNav and you’ll be taken as close to the route as possible.

  • Tudela
  • Bardenas Reales (follow Carretera Vuelta Poligono de Tiro, then the Camino las Bardenas Reales in a loop)
  • Sos del Rey Católico
  • Urroz
  • Plaza del Castillo (Pamplona)
  • Arnéguy
  • Etcheverrigaraya (via D128 and D428)
  • St Jean Pied de Port

Distance: 186 miles

Mountain passes of the Pyrenees

Words: Ollie Rooke

Those who visit the Pyrenees mountain range, which spans the length of the border between Spain and France, return gushing with tales of outrageously tight hairpins, snaking passes hugging mountainsides, and luscious green valleys that stretch as far as the eye can see. So, next time you find yourself in northern Spain, or in southern France, I’d recommend dedicating some time to exploring the Pyrenees yourself.

To help you do just that, this 192-mile route is designed to take you on an unforgettable journey, taking in seven of the most iconic mountain passes in the Pyrenees. It’s a long day, but one that will leave you grinning from ear to ear.

The route starts and finishes in Spain, but it also spends plenty of time over the border in France. While this might not quite be in the spirit of the title of this ABR feature (The Best Day Rides in Northern Spain), it would be a crime to visit the Pyrenees and not ride some of the best mountain passes on the French side of the border, which is why I’ve included them. I guarantee you’ll be pleased I did when you ride them.

The great riding begins immediately

Pyrenees riding

The day begins on the Spanish side of the border in the charming mountain town of Torla-Ordesa, which lies less than a day’s ride away from the ferry ports of northern Spain. The sublime riding starts as soon as you leave the town along the N-260 which meanders through foothills before you cut between the mountains and cross the border into France.

From here, the riding only gets better as you spend the day ticking off iconic mountain passes along writhing roads that carry you westward. The thrills begin shortly after leaving the town of Laruns as you start the climb up one of the icons of the Pyrenees, the Col d’Aubisque.

This thin ribbon of tarmac is sandwiched between the rocky walls of a valley and features a sheer, unprotected drop. Try and snatch views of the valley opening up before you if you can, but don’t stare too long as this is a technical ride that demands your full attention to navigate the constant twists and turns.

Next up is the Col du Soulor, which gradually takes you down to the valley floor and the town of Argelès-Gazost, an ideal stop for a hit of something caffeinated. After a brief ride along the valley floor, the road rises quickly in the direction of our next pass of the day, the Col du Tourmalet. Topping out at an altitude of 2,115m, it’s another brilliant biking road which then takes you onto the equally impressive Col d’Aspin.

Next up, you’ll enjoy some of the most technical riding of the day with the steep, tight hairpins of the Col d’Azet, Col de Peyresourde, and Col de Portillon in quick succession. Soon after you’ll cross into Spain, navigating a few more hairpins for good measure before reaching the end of our route, and your bed for the night, in the bustling town of Viehla, a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts to base themselves in the summer months.

Here you can kick back and relax after a long day’s ride. “Dos cervezas, por favor.” You’ve earned it.

Motorcycle routes in Northern Spain – Pyrenees

You can download this route by heading HERE. Alternatively, plug these way points into your SatNav and you’ll be taken as close to the route as possible.

  • Torla-Ordesa
  • Laruns
  • Arrens Marsous
  • Argelès-Gazost Col du Soulor
  • Le Doumet
  • La Mongie
  • Sainte-Marie de Campan
  • Arreau
  • Azet
  • Bossòst
  • Vielha

Distance: 192 miles