Three languages, two climate zones and an infinite number of mountains, the Basque country has more than just a few tricks up its sleeve to entice riders. Stray off the beaten tourist track and you’ll encounter even more breathtaking scenery, cider on tap and the ideal testing grounds for the new Mavic XA Pro Carbon wheels. So what are the rewards for ditching the better-known routes in favour of the unknown and how much closer is adventure than we realize?

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The hotel complexes, the sea and the bright beaches of San Sebastian have long since disappeared from view, and other than odd wild pony or herd of sheep that roam on the mountainside, there’s complete silence. We’re a motley group of riders, made up of the adventurous Tito Tomasi, Mavic’s marketing manager Michel, our guide Doug, and a handful of journalists, myself included, who have seized the opportunity to explore the region and try out the new Mavic XA Pro Carbon wheels.

We’ve been grinding our way uphill since the Basque MTB shuttle dropped us on the edge of the town, taking the first break after an hour, and giving us a hint of what to expect at the summit. Some singletrack takes us up to the ridge, and the gradient continues to increase. The final effort comes in the form of an exposed rocky section, where we carry the bikes for 20 minutes and try not to slip. After two hours we reach the summit and tuck into hastily self-made baguettes and fresh fruit. The phenomenal view over idyllic Basque mountain villages and remote farms renders us all speechless.

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As the wind picks up, we get back on the bikes, drifting over mountainous singletrack, no two sections the same and with more than our fair share of technical bits. I’m in my element, and the exertion of the climb is forgiven. We’ve earned this descent. Fact. Our guide Doug leads us into his village, a small hamlet called Arantza that’s reliant on agriculture with its residents toiling the fields each day. Realising it’s not worth asking about phone reception, let alone Wifi, we’re put up for the night in an intimate hotel. The showers are across the yard, and eight of us share a dorm, barely noticing the hard mattresses after the day’s ride.


The following day’s breakfast is a generous affair with baguettes, ham and all manner of jams. There are no plates; it’s just a matter of tearing the bread and eating it in chunks. After a quick coffee, we’re back on the bikes, laden down with fresh spring water in our hydration bladders. The trail goes up quickly at first, and then we traverse the valley following an ancient aqueduct. While the mountains are bathed in majestic sunshine, the valley is still victim to the low-lying clouds. The structure we’re following is in pieces at times, and we have to carry the bikes over obstacles. The narrow path is littered with branches and boulders, pesky intruders on the trail.

There’s a steep climb waiting for us on the other side of the valley, which we push up to save energy. It’s getting warmer as the sun reaches the highest point of the day, and we’re sweating profusely despite shedding layers. We take more frequent breaks, and the rocky access road saps our remaining energy. Reaching a plateau with a prehistoric stone circle, we decide to soak up some rays. It’s virtually all downhill from here, we’re assured.

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I shred down a technical trail after Michel, following his lines. The wheels are rapid, with brilliant handling and a level of flex that keeps them planted on the trail. I jump playfully over root gardens, carving the Mondraker Foxy test bike on and around rocks. One, two, three tree branches block the trail; I jump them with ease.


But doesn’t pride come before a fall? Paying too little attention but wanting to jump yet another branch, I don’t spot the root ahead of me and the front wheel lands awkwardly between the branch and the root. I fly over the bars, alerting Michel with a yell. I’m dazed, struggling to catch my breath. Tito and the guide Doug spring into action, doing bits of first aid, but my adventure has reached an untimely end. I’m picked up by the Basque MTB shuttle after a short, humble walk. There’s relief at the hospital: it’s just surface wounds and bruises. Nothing broken. I’ve been lucky.

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Tito, Doug, Michel and the rest of the crowd enjoy the insanely good descent back down to the sea. The shuttle’s waiting for them at the lighthouse in San Sebastian. Back in civilization, there’s a stark contrast to the previous 24 hours.
That evening the adventure draws to a close with an authentic meal in an ancient rustic cider mill on the edge of the town. The Sagardoa, a type of apple cider, is poured directly from barrels at a height of around 2 metres so that it’ll splash into the glass and aerate. A sight to behold, the spectacle is as good as the drink.

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There are no plates for eating and everything is shared amongst us. The fish and the meat are exquisite, and we’re stuffed when we return to the hotel, destined to sleep well.


Just an hour’s flight from Madrid, the culture of this spectacular area has its own distinctive flair, and reminds us that adventures don’t have to be halfway across the globe. But other than this geography lesson about the proximity of adventure, what else did I pick up on this trip? Well, a hell of a lot, with snapshots of unspoilt nature imprinted into my memory and a bandage on my wrist.



The guides at Basque MTB are all multi-lingual locals (expect Spanish, English and French). They know all the best trails in the region and have a ton of insider tips to share. Moreover, they can take care of accommodation and airport transfers. Information is on their Website.


San Sebastian has its own airport, which is about an hour’s flight from Barcelona or Madrid. Alternatively, fly direct to Bilbao and take transport or a hire car.

Must do’s

A visit to a cider mill should be on anyone’s agenda, ideally with a visit to an old cider house. If beer is more your scene then try one of the Basqueland Brewing Projects. Plus take a dip in the sea come summer.

All Informationen about the new products can be found in our First Ride: Mavic XA Pro Carbon and XA Elite.

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Words: Photos: Jeremie Reullier