Mainly In The Plain

Staying high and dry, the Edelweiss way

"It's nuts--we've been soaked for three days straight. Then you guys show up and suddenly it's sunny and 70!" These were the mixed tidings that greeted us at the hotel outside Valencia where Escape publisher Fred Koplin and I had arrived for an Edelweiss bike tour of southeastern Spain sponsored by Motorcyclist magazine. We weren't about to complain about our good fortune; apparently the rain in Spain does not fall mainly on the plain. From October through December, it falls anywhere it pleases, and when you're trying to negotiate the twisting caminos and careterras of the Spanish countryside astride a strange motorcycle, this can translate into a real predicament. Then again, if you've sprung for the luxury of a fully supported, organized tour from Edelweiss, such chaos won't dampen your experience.

If you're short on time and patience, aren't quite up to fumbling around a foreign land and are willing to shell out the extra euros, it's not a bad idea to let the professionals organize an overseas trip for you. Annoying little details like itineraries, bike rentals and accommodations can be arranged in advance if you book a group package tour with a reliable operator. You also know you'll see things off the beaten path, not just the exclamation points on the tourist map. All Edelweiss guides are experts on their territory. (Imagine what cool things you'd show out-of-towners who came to ride for the first time in your favorite stomping ground.)

Edelweiss has been leading motorcycle rides around the world for more than 20 years, so if you're looking for an organized, upscale touring experience, this Austrian outfit is the ultimate choice. Upon our arrival in the country, all we had to do was meet the chase van at the hotel, pass over our heavy luggage and hop aboard the new BMW bikes the company had prepped for us. Maps were exchanged, directions given, and just like that we were off for a three-hour ride to catch the rest of the group in Cuenca, a lovely medieval town nestled in the remote hills northwest of the Valencia province. The sun was shining and the roads were clean and conspicuously SUV-free. We didn't have a care in the world.

It was a perfect plan, because even in the off months Spain is a (usually) sunny solution for snowbound Europeans or Yanks looking to extend their riding season. For road quality, accessibility and culture, the Iberian Peninsula's hard to beat, and if you opt for a visit to southern Spain, you'll experience excellent riding when the rest of Europe is under a blanket of the white stuff.

Our Motorcyclist-sponsored Spanish GP tour meandered through nearly 1500 miles of the most beautiful parts of the Valencia province and beyond. A boot-shaped area the size of Connecticut, this part of the Mediterranean coast of Spain includes two very different scenic landscapes--the coastal portion consists of rich soil covered with orchards that give it a green checkerboard pattern, while the inland mountains take on a wilder demeanor riddled with dusty canyons. It's an area full of rugged spurs where you'll find ancient medieval towns surrounded by vineyards and almond and olive groves. The whole tapestry's strung together with a series of narrow, twisting lanes, and set in a climate similar to that of Southern California. What's not to love?

The itinerary proved to be a perfect example of the Edelweiss template. Devouring marvelous tarmac on current-model BMWs with a chase van safely hauling all our worldly crap meant rides became virtually carefree. Maps, most meals and accommodations were all part of the bill (though fuel for our trusty BMW rentals was not). What's more, the bilingual tour guides were knowledgeable about every road and side trip on the route, so we got insider tips on any little 12th-century village we passed. Edelweiss encourages participants to break away from the pack and explore on their own, and I found myself going back to savor ancient hilltop towns more than once.

Each day we'd complete the ride before sundown, check into our comfortable hotel and meet the group for dinner a few hours later. After a good night's sleep we'd assemble for a communal breakfast, followed by an orientation meeting and route briefing. Heavy luggage was then loaded onto the chase van that would meet up with us (usually at lunch), and off we'd go, some riders following tour leaders, some striking off on their own. It was a nice change of pace to be able to concentrate solely on the surroundings without agonizing about which turn to take or where we'd be shacking up for the night.

Still, it was a good thing I'd boned up on the language--Spain is one of those few countries in Europe that doesn't provide handy roadside English translations for travelers. Not every person I stopped on the street spoke ingles, either, and it helped to know the native tongue to get by. But then, anyone who watches The Simpsons knows a few Spanish phrases, right?

Another thing to consider is the route--Spanish roads may lack the high passes of the snowy Alps, but they're every bit as demanding in their undulations. While the asphalt was smooth and generally well-paved, we occasionally encountered primitive narrow lanes in the hills and slippery cobblestones in the older villages. It also helped to be alert in rural areas because road signs point the way to the next town, not the compass direction of the route (i.e. north or south). We found ourselves frequently checking the map to note which cities linked to our overnight destination.

The starting point and finish line on our tour was Valencia, a hospitable Mediterranean city with Gothic-style architecture, energetic natives and a mouth-watering version of that singular Spanish dish, paella. The Spanish GP tour is one of Edelweiss' most recent offerings, and it culminates in a stop at one of Spain's top-notch race circuits for the Spanish Grand Prix race (motorcycle-crazy Spaniards are huge fans, and, of course, MotoGP is the Big Daddy of motorcycle racing). But after a week of arcing our own lines through the gorgeous Spanish hills, this event was just caramel on the flan. In fact, even with the threat of rain, the whole Edelweiss experience would be hard to top--sometimes a good guide is all it takes to keep you high and dry, no matter where you are.

Adventurometer
Tour: Ten-Day Spanish GP Tour
Location: Valencia, Spain--Cuenca, Valencia
Tour Company: Edelweiss Bike Travel
Contact Info: (800) 507-4459, www.edelweissbiketravel.com
Cost: Varies depending on bike chosen and level of luxury; this specialized trip would be $3040
Tour Includes: Bike rental, airport transfers, accommodations, information package, breakfast, dinner, support vehicle
Time Required: 10-12 days, but you can customize trip length
Riding Season: All year 'round; November-February can be cold; June-September can be unbearably hot
Avg. Mileage: 175 miles per day
Gear & Goodies: Long- and short-sleeved shirts, warm riding jacket/rain gear, waterproof boots
Other Activities: Hiking, boating, cycling, horseback riding, theater
Roads: 4 stars
Scenery: 4 stars
Eats: 4stars
Digs : 5 stars
Bikes : 4 stars


How To: SPAIN

A temperate climate, clean roads and alert drivers make Spain a dream to travel in. Be sure to lock up your bike, though; theft can be a problem, especially at large venues like racetracks. That said, however, I never felt unsafe in my travels through Spain.

Driving
Most of the Edelweiss Spain GP tour twists through secondary and back roads, with some goat paths thrown in for good measure. The tracks are fairly smooth and clean, though shoulders and pavement can be spotty out in the sticks. Beware of farm equipment, too.

Urban traffic in Spain, however, tends to be chaotic; even towns and villages are honeycombed with narrow streets and alleyways bursting with determined vehicles. The madness can be easily deciphered in a day, and from what I've seen, Spaniards are terrific drivers who adhere to basic traffic rules and are considerate of motorcyclists. They don't suffer doddering, aimless drivers gladly, though, so stay alert, especially on the autopistas--everybody goes like hell on these freeways. Familiarize yourself with the roads, plan your route and get the heck out of the fast lane once you've completed a pass--somebody else is sure to be going faster than you.

Navigation
Getting around Spain can be tricky, so you might want to tag along with tour leaders for a few days until you get your bearings. The guides are extremely well-informed, and Edelweiss provides you with a thick booklet before your overseas departure, containing maps, key Spanish phrases, a packing list and each day's itinerary, including optional scenic loops. It's a wealth of information. (Have to say, though, even our guides got lost once or twice...)

Passengers
If you're going to pick any tour, an Edelweiss trip would be the perfect one to drag your lovey along on. Even if she doesn't like the ride, she'll be won over by the posh accommodations at the end of each day's ride. And the BMW machines Edelweiss specializes in are exceedingly easy on passengers' butts (especially the 1200GT or LT, or the R1150 RT or GS models).

Tourist Visa & Passport
Citizens of the U.S. and Canada require a valid passport to enter Spain; visas are required for visits longer than three months.

Language
You may want to learn a bit of Spanish (the official version is Castilian), particularly if you plan on riding solo, because not all Spaniards speak English. It's just as well; Spanish is an easy language to learn and you'll be rewarded with a much richer experience if you try your hand at the native tongue. On the other hand, all Edelweiss guides speak fluent Spanish, so if you stick with the group you'll be well taken care of.

Money
Unfortunately, the euro is strong and getting stronger. One U.S. dollar in January 2004 was worth only 0.799 euros. Meals and lodgings are still generally reasonable, but gas can be outrageous. It shouldn't be too difficult to get cash (and a good exchange rate) from ATM machines in all but the smallest cities; not all machines will accept American cards, however. Carry at least 200 euros in cash and a credit card.

It's hard to beat an Edelweiss tour for sheer organization, solid equipment and overall comfort--worldly needs are taken care of on these trips. We liked that the guides encouraged us to go out on our own, too, giving us insider tips and suggestions for great scenic day rides.

 
Edelweiss Wordwide Tours 2004: A Small Sampling
 
CountryJun '04Jul '04Aug '04Sep '04Oct '04Nov '04
EuropeHigh AlpineAlps TouringMunichSeptember 17-26 Motorcyclist magazine Alps Challenge TourDolomites Touring Center 
Africa    Scrouting South Africa 
Australia/New Zealand     GP Australia TourNew Zealand Tour
North AmericaCanadian Rockies TourAlaska TourYellowstone Adventure Tour Arizona Touring Center 
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