Let’s Get Physical
with Ian Pendry, UIMLA International Mountain leader and Mountain bike guide
The Pyrénées Orientales are a mountain Biking paradise – and one of the best-kept secrets in the mountain bike world.
For those of us in the know there is an unfathomable amount of mountain biking potential here. Between the summits and the sea you can ride to your heart’s content on trails suited to all abilities, thousands of kilometres of waymarked and non-waymarked trails.
Essentially there are three types of mountain biker: those who like to only go downhill, with lifts to get them back up; those who like to ride cross country trails (including everything from families to long distance trail riders), and those who will do anything to access those out-of-the-way, hard-to- reach gems hidden in the mountains. This third category generally needs a high standard of cross country fitness and downhill technique on natural trails.
Here in the P.O. we have some great downhill bike parks.
Les Angles ski station offers trails with lift access using its gondola from mid-June to mid- September. La Molina ski station just across the border in Spain offers the same, using its gondola, and in Andorra there is the world famous Vallnord bike park, and a second bike park at Soldeu.
Whilst the idea of taking a lift up and screaming down the mountain appeals to many, a word of warning. Do not just turn up at one of these bike parks, rent a bike and a helmet and think it will be plain sailing. Noooooooo. These places require a certain level of skill and ability, and injuries (some serious) are common, so if you are not sure of your ability, get an instructor to show you the ropes. It is not for nothing that Full Face helmets and back protectors are standard protection!
1 Families with kids of all ages can ride on some beautiful trails in the Capcir valley. The main parking area at Lake Matemale also opens up the potential for non-riding members of the family to take part in one of the many other activities on offer around the lake – from high ropes to canoe rental on the lake.
The Tourist office at La Quillane can supply you with a trail map to follow for all levels: green, blue, red, black – with green being the easiest, just like the ski pistes. The map has over 700km of trails marked throughout the Cerdagne, Capcir and Têt valleys, so you’ll never run out of track.
If you need to rent a bike there is also a hire centre at the lake. For those of you who like the idea of a bike with some assistance, electric mountain bikes can be rented at the Col De La Llose cross country ski station.
For more information on the trails and bike rental stations check out http://www.capcir-pyrenees.com/Destination-VTT
When you hire your bike, ask the rental guy to switch your brakes to UK style as grabbing a handful of brake in an emergency – only to find that it is the front brake – is a nasty surprise. Remember this is mountain biking so always wear a helmet!
2 Hard core!
Get a guide.
It will save you an enormous amount of wasted energy and time. The trail options are endless and the guides know how to get you to the best of them (and how to get home again afterwards).
These trails are not way marked (sometimes not even on the map!). You will need a good level of skill, experience and fitness, but the rewards are awesome. You can ride anything from a one-day epic with over 2000m of natural single-track descent, to a multi-day voyage on incredible trails from the “Summits to the Sea”.
♣ Bike – Your own or a rental bike adapted to the type of riding you are planning on doing.
♣ Cycle clothing
♣ Drinks, snacks a pump and spare inner tubes.
♣ Phone and waterproof jacket. If you have a problem or the weather changes these could save you a lot of unnecessary hassle.
♣ Lake Matemale – Pony trekking, high ropes, canoe and pedalo rental, swimming in the lake, husky sled rides and much more
♣ Canyoning – Mainly done nearer to Prades in the Llech and other canyons, this is a fantastic day of thrills in stunning natural environments. Contact Stéphane Roucal Tel. 0681898991 to get one of the nicest guides out there.
♣Zip lines – Head to Llo or Porte Puymorens to get your kicks whizzing from cliff to cliff on zip wires. High adrenaline fun!
♣ Hot springs – For something a bit more relaxing or soothing after all that effort, the hot spring spas at St Thomas les Bains, Llo, and Dorres make for a great treat. Natural hot thermals provide the water, which has a multitude of health benefits.
♣ Take a journey on the Yellow Train from Villefranche de Conflent to La Tour de Carol. It is a beautiful journey through historic villages on this incredible railway line.