Motorcycle Diaries head honcho PJ leaps onto the Wrenchmonkees travel bike in Paris for a quick drink at his Spanish local
HOW TO EARN YOUR SANGRIA THE HARD WAY
Where next for the intrepid WM70 and its hardy rider? A trip down to Spain, of course! There were three routes I could take to Valencia. The first was a simple 1100km, the second a slightly longer 1400, and the third? A 1617km epic. Which one did we decide to do on our soft-as-silk touring bike? Yes, that's right. The longest. And when I say soft-as-silk, I really mean hard-as-nails. People say a Panigale is extreme, but maybe they should give the WM70 a go.
The route we chose (obviously in a fit of lunacy) didn't include any highways at all, apart from leaving Paris and arriving in Valencia. But we also tried to avoid too many hairpins – they really don't suit our bike. It was a tricky business getting the balance right! We budgeted six days for the jaunt, but we think you can do it quite easily in three: filming and taking pictures takes rather a lot of time, limiting us to between 250 and 300km per day. (D120)
Let's jump straight into the action.
We leave from a chaotic central Paris, with traffic almost impossibly dense due to major tramway works. It's a slow flow that takes us from the Boulevard Montpernasse onto the A6 and past Orly, but here we leave the bustling city behind us. We quickly cut through the suburbs on the N20 towards Arpajon. We have to watch our speed on this busy national road, as there are several speed cameras reminding you that of the Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, there’s not much left of the first word.
From the moment you turn off the National Road in Arpajon you really feel like you've left Paris far behind. Small villages and open fields lie before you and even if the road is not particularly exciting, the feeling you get in these first kilometres is that you’re finally on the move.
Castles start to appear to the right and left as we close in on the Loire Valley. When we actually cross the Loire in Jargeau, we're welcomed by a wonderful view over the river. Some sun-loving locals interrupt our frantic snapping and suggest an even better view they know of closer to Orleans. Only problem with that is a total lack of other bridges between here and there. We consider our options and look back at the straight and narrow Jargeau bridge. It's then we understand why this small link between north and south looks like it's home to an eternal traffic jam. We continue south, cross the A71 and end our first day in the wonderful Maison Le Mousseau. Here in the forests south of Orleans, we have our first glimpse of tomorrow's beautiful scenery. (BB)
The next morning we leave the Loire on flowing forest roads and ride towards Vierzon. Where, you ask? Vierzon. We have travelled a lot in France but never to Vierzon. Now, apologies in advance to the people who live in Vierzon, but I can't think of a single reason to go there. Apart from, that is, because Jacques Brel made it a title of one of his songs. Who, you ask? Jacques Brel. A Belgium singer well-known in France, okay?
After Vierzon the road straight-lines towards the vineyards of Reuilly and our surroundings are suddenly completely different. So much so that a tree is abruptly a rare occurrence. It's the vines that invade the landscape, lying like a patterned carpet over endless fields and surrounding countless anonymous towns. Why would someone want to live here? Maybe just for this view, the endless skies, or maybe for the Festival de Guitare of Issoudun. We spot an advert for the same Guitar Festival by the side of the road. Being a fan of guitars all my life I quickly scan the names on the poster. Top of the bill is John Scofield, a very big name in jazz. If he comes to play here, the festival really has something to offer. It's on the last weekend in October this year. Maybe you could check it out on the way to the Valencia GP.
From Issoudun on there’s fields, fields, fields, fields, the headquarters of Louis Vuitton, fields, fields and fields. I always thought LV would be run from Paris, but no, it seems they prefer the silence and the nothingness of central France over the hectic big city.
We become accustomed to the area's monotonous beauty and make quick progress on the D940 to Guéret, Thauron, Pontarion and Bourganeuf. A broken damper causes an unwanted midday break, but luckily the local carrossier is helpful and welds it back together. Back on the road, we dig deeper into the Limousin and although this green area of France is rather pretty, claustrophobic roads shut in by forest make us long for the grand vistas we've so recently left behind.
After a night at Le Parc Des 4 Saisons in Corèze we’re refreshed and ready for more gorgeous curves. We enter the Dordogne where there’s more well-driven cars then anywhere else in France. I catch myself wondering whether Le Parc Des 4 Saisons is a front for an alien organisation that transported me to the UK in the middle of the night. From Argentat on we follow the mighty Dordogne for a while and drive through towns called Brivezac, Astillac, Fourmageac, Figeac – you get the idea.
We have to enter the Lot region and pass the final -ac village (Gaillac, if you really want to know) before the landscape finally starts to offer something new. We honestly love trees here at Motorcycle Diaries, but the vineyards and fields do give you a little more variation. Now the roads are lined with maple, giving us an inspiring visual flow through the landscape. The Domaine Saint-Joly farmhouse puts us up for the night. Corageous Belgians turned it from a wreck into an exquisite B'n'B. We think it's the morning view of the Pyrenees that made them fall in love with the place.
We're running out of time. We must get to Valencia in three days, so the Pyrenees are attacked with fervour and we race between picturesque villages with a strong whiff of history about them. A night is dispatched in the Lasbordes Hotel and we head on through the Pays Cathare. Ruins of castles are everywhere to be seen. No time. We need to move on. Puivert, Ax Les Thermes, the French/Spanish border. Andorra is avoided: questions about the video and photography equipment we carry would set us back too much. And besides, we prefer riding roads instead of queuing at borders. We leave the mini-state tucked away in the mountains for next time.
We love Spain. For the food, the landscapes, the people, the culture, history and probably the most for the roads. We have a sneaking suspicion the director of the Spanish roadwork ministry is a major fan of motorcycling and therefore the flow of the roads are just perfect. The surfaces are racetrack-grade tarmac as well, where they've been rebuilt by European funding of course. Puigcerda, La Seu d’Urgell, Ponts, Belaguer... It seems we are simply flying. We make quick work of the straighter roads around Lleida: we've caught the scent of the beautiful Monegros area to the east.
However, we finally slow down. We leave Flix in the Delta del Ebre and choose the C12B as a shortcut towards Gandessa. Then we don't just slow down – we actually stop. Not just to stop, either, but to turn right around and head back to Flix. Then back to the N420. Then back to Flix. Then the whole thing once more. And once more! I dare you to ride that road and not turn round to experience it again.
We’re pretty exhausted when we arrive at the Hotel Consolacion in Monroyo, but who cares? This must be one of the best hotels in Spain. Really. No discussion allowed. Twelve rooms only, views that knock your socks off across the bedroom, food that tastes delicious. This is the first time we've managed to grab a few rooms in the hotel's seven year history, and now we've been once we must come back.
From Monroyo there’s an easy way to Valencia. You pass Morella and from there you take the N232 to the east and from there the motorway. That's the easy route, but we want to enjoy the roads a little more. Today is a day stuffed full of contrasting roads. There’s the A1701 to Mosqueruela that has probably been under construction for ten years now, and due to limited funds is still not finished. This road will break you, except on a comfortable adventure bike. Where's one of those when you want it? “Teruel Existe” was for long the slogan of this remote area, but hell we know it ‘exists’ just by the way our neck and wrists endure the bumps.
By the time we get to the blissful CV-20 from Olba to Onda we’re so broken we wonder why we chose to experience hell and heaven in the same day. Same counts for the road to Segorbe. Heaven, it is. Just be careful for the low sun at this time of the year. We take the motorway from Segorbe to Valencia, and our backs, necks and wrists breathe a sigh of relief. Some fast flowing corners bring us to the A7 and from there we head to the centre of Valencia. 1617km. Now where's that sangria?