Edelweiss Royal Spanish Castle Tour | Motorcycle Travel
The first rule of an Edelweiss tour is reassuringly simple: You are never lost. “And in our case,” the tour guide added just prior to departing Barcelona, “as long as you don’t cross a border, you know you’re somewhere in Spain.” He had a point. And with that calming rationale wisely imparted to assuage any angst we intrepid adventurers might have, armed with an array of detailed maps, we were let loose upon Spain.
We were 15 strong—one guide and seven couples astride eight BMWs. For the moment, as we threaded our way through the morning streets of Barcelona, we were temporary strangers on the brink of friendships that would be forged during the two-week, 1,700-mile journey ahead. As we broke free of the city, we journeyed inland. We were immediately introduced to the uncluttered, twisting roads that would carry us through the heart of the Pyrenees mountain range that straddles the French border from the Mediterranean all the way to the Atlantic. Ascending into the mountains, the guide’s words continued to resonate through my thoughts, nurturing the realization that we had all slipped from our various tethers and were now wholly committed to being “somewhere in Spain.” (Click image to enlarge)
After several weeks of anticipation—evenings spent poring over the road maps and pertinent materials Edelweiss had sent us in advance of our trip—my lady and I were embarking on one of the company’s most exclusive offerings, the Royal Spanish Castle Tour. As the name implies, the tour’s theme is travel through some of Spain’s history in a rolling tapestry of medieval villages, Gothic cathedrals, and ancient castles, laced together by a variety of beautiful, motorcycle-friendly roads that are, for the most part, delightfully devoid of automobiles and traffic.
Picturesque, winding roads like these straddle the Pyrennees from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and attract all brands of bikes. (Click image to enlarge)
Over the ensuing two weeks, we would eat our way from Barcelona to the Atlantic coast through assorted paellas, salads, meat dishes, pastries, soups, sandwiches, tapas and cheeses. And in the evenings, after the motorcycles were parked, plenty of beer and wine helped to loosen stories and laughter from our traveling companions. The circuitous route would take us into the Pyrenees to Seo de Urgel, the mountain village of Arties, through the famous streets of Pamplona, and on to Argomaniz, finally delivering us into the historical Atlantic coastal city of Santillana del Mar. The return trip would take us through Rioja, the beautiful city of Zaragoza, with its massive cathedral, and on to the restored castle of Cardona before eventually returning us several thousand kilometers—and many memories—later, back to Barcelona.
Travelling through the postcards of Spain’s history. (Click images to enlarge)
Photograph by Amber Watson. (Click image to enlarge)
There is a wonderful irresponsibility to going on an organized tour where every detail has been arranged—the route, the restaurants, the hotels, and the motorcycles. It is the essence of what a vacation should be: free of stress and hassles. Even the afternoon coffee stops—an essential Spanish routine—are scouted in advance. It didn’t take long for us to acquire a taste for that midday cortado (basically a double espresso with a dash of warm milk) to give us a caffeine jolt to get us through the day’s remaining miles. At one mountain village, the local bar had a signature blend for this creation, adding a touch of sugar and chocolate, just the thing when waiting out the sometimes temperamental weather. It was the bartender, indicating the clearing skies as he poured his prized creation, who told me an old saying that rang true: “If you don’t like the weather in Spain, just wait 10 minutes.”
Accommodations on the Royal tours are predominantly paradors—monasteries that have been converted to luxury hotels with modern amenities, yet retaining their old-world charm. There was even a sleepover in a restored castle. The Royal tours have a romantic flair that makes them perfect for couples.
Travelling through the postcards of Spain’s history. (Click images to enlarge)
The scout, forever invisibly moving ahead of the tour in the support vehicle, arrives at the evening’s hotel ahead of the group and gets everyone checked in. All you need to do is pick up your key and head to your room, where your bags will be waiting for you. These nice touches become a welcome alternative to scrounging around in an unfamiliar town late at night trying to find decent lodging and a satisfying meal. Also, by utilizing the chase vehicle to carry luggage, riders and passengers are free of the additional weight and hassle of packing and unpacking bikes each day. This is one motorcycle trip on which you can bring more clothes than fit in your saddlebags.
Although Edelweiss tours are steeped in sightseeing, cultural highlights, and fine cuisine, the company understands its clientele are motorcycle enthusiasts and designs every tour to include plenty of riding, with an emphasis on finding routes well suited for motorcycles. The riding pace is leisurely—with everyone riding at his own comfort level—and covers between 80 and 200 miles a day. Edelweiss encourages its tour participants to ride on their own, if desired, for some private time and to seek out experiences and places not in the tour book. Just let the guides know you are going your own way for the day and you’re set. They won’t get worried unless you fail to show up for dinner. There are several free days during the tour to allow people to lounge, shop, or explore—though usually there were enough willing souls (read “fanatics”) who chose to go riding.
The tour guides are knowledgeable regarding the regions being traversed and dole out entertaining bits of trivia each morning during the route briefings, and again around the dinner table in the evenings. Safety is a top priority and guides stay apprised of road hazards and weather conditions and advise accordingly.
Top:The possibilities abound at each fork of the road. Bottom: The essence of an Edelweiss tour: far away from the beaten track. (Click images to enlarge)
Spain is a country with a propensity for festivals and holidays, and there seems to be a limitless number of excuses to celebrate. As a result, it is easy to randomly stumble upon various festivities and encounter the local color. Whether it’s a bicycle race (which virtually shut down Seo de Urgel one morning) or the running of the bulls in Laredo (a smaller version of Pamplona’s famous event), entire townships turn out ready for a good time. In the villages, you can wander through street markets or watch crusty old men argue passionately over a single point in a game of boccie. The locals are always ready to engage foreigners in conversation. We had attempted to brush up on our Spanish prior to traveling; evidently, it wasn’t quite enough. No matter, Spaniards tend to be easygoing, patient people, always willing to forgive a limited Spanish vocabulary in exchange for a smile.
Many people may have misconceptions about organized tours. It is all too easy to conjure up visions of large, picture-windowed buses filled with little old blue-haired ladies disbursing their late husband’s pensions on cheap knickknacks. You can forget all that. Edelweiss was created by motorcyclists for motorcyclists and crafts its tours to accommodate our independent and nomadic spirit that has a penchant for adventure and good riding.
Top:A daredevil bull jumper. Bottom: The streets of Laredo are given over to celebration and the annual running of the bulls. (Click images to enlarge)
During our two weeks together, we had the opportunity to spend some quality time with all of our travel mates. Everyone got along exceedingly well, due in no small part to a shared passion for motorcycles and travel. Riding in close proximity demands trust and respect that, once earned, creates a unique foundation for friendships. Some of the women riding pillion had stories of being reticent about getting on a motorcycle prior to meeting their husband. Now, years later, after thousands of miles riding two-up, they said they couldn’t imagine motorcycles not being an integral part of their lives. More than one of the women told me that sharing the motorcycle touring experience had strengthened her marriage.
If you have ever dreamed of traveling by motorcycle in foreign countries, but trepidation of the unknown has kept you from pursuing it, an Edelweiss tour is an excellent starting point. It is a perfect confidence builder, getting you acquainted with the nuances of foreign traffic etiquette. It will make your trip and future travel—whether solo or with others—considerably safer and more enjoyable.
Since returning home, I’ve noticed that we’re making our coffee a little stronger and taking longer to savor it. I’ve also noticed we’re spending more time in the travel section at the bookstore, perusing picture books of faraway places. The Edelweiss catalog is now well thumbed, the result of frequently flipping through the pages and contemplating other interesting places to visit on a motorcycle.
Strangely enough, not only the castles and museums or the brilliant, big sights and sounds color the mind with indelible memories of foreign places. Quite often, it is the simple, seemingly forgettable aspects of travel that stay with you, carrying their own fond appeal—a refueling stop at a roadside petrol station; sipping a Limonata in a peacefully quiet moment by the side of the road; a fleeting conversation with a local in a small village. The memories continue to coalesce and resurface, unchecked, long after the experience has passed. It’s these magic little elements of seeming insignificance that conspire to whisk you back to a day, somewhere in Spain.
Planning your escape.
For a motorcycling enthusiast, there is nothing quite as liberating as being given the keys to a good machine in a foreign country. Throw in a dozen or so days wandering through its landscape via the most scenic roads, without a care or concern about where you are staying or where you are going to eat, and you pretty much have attained motorcycling nirvana. This is exactly the kind of indelible experience Edelweiss Bike Travel has been perfecting for 25 years: escape on two wheels to destinations all over the world. If international motorcycle travel is an art form, Edelweiss has mastered it. (Click image to enlarge)
Accomplice in the escape: The BMW R 1200 GS
Last year, the editorial staff of Robb Report gave a well-deserved Best of the Best award to the BMW R 1200 GS as Best Touring Machine. The GS is perhaps the finest all-around motorcycle built today. For long distance travel, the machine is surprisingly comfortable for both rider and passenger. Possessing an abundance of raw torque and horsepower, a smooth ride, exacting handling and stopping power, coupled with BMW’s legendary dependability—all essential ingredients for successful touring—the GS remains a favorite among the adventure-minded motorcycle enthusiast. www.bmwmotorcycles.com
A little help from your friends.
Several Spanish tourism boards operate in the U.S. and are more than eager to help you plan your trip by supplying maps and materials, as well as advice. www.tourspain.es. (Click image to enlarge)
British Airways serves most major U.S. cities with connections to all of Europe. www.britishairways.com
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