They seem to have these petit tchu tchu trains everywhere in France. You can step foot in just about any town, chateau or coastal resort and see one driving around, filled with photo happy tourists. Much to the delight of Theo, my two-year-old, who’s greatest pleasure at the moment is trains, France is his mecca!
We decided to check out the winding Basque Country lanes and found ourselves about 40 minutes through the valley from where we were staying in Les Alludes in Mount Baigura. Low and behold, there was one of these trains at the foot of the mountain; however, it’s not the most conventional of trains. This one was decked out in full country style and had a tractor at the front and trailer at the back. I noticed a group of five people right outside the activity centre on what can only be described as mountain bikes with no seats. I ran over to the desk and asked what was going on and what kind of crazy contraptions they were and he replied that it was a mountain bike scooter. Suddenly, all the bike scooters were being loaded onto the train’s trailer.
I had to get in on this! ‘Can I join you guys?’ I asked the instructor; inspecting a firm no. ‘Sure thing!’ he replied. I had no idea what to expect from the mountain bike scooter, especially considering that the first thing we would be doing is heading down Baigura Mountain.
He gave me a bike to try out in their set-up obstacle course at the foot of the centre. The bike, or should I say, scooter, had dual suspension, was super light and looked like you could throw them around a bit. It was going to be weird getting used to now having a seat; only one way to find out!
After I finished flapping around trying to get my head around this new toy, I loaded it onto the trailer and off we went. Theo was over the moon to be back on a train, as well as a tractor. The train ride up was absolutely stunning. I never knew these types of places existed in the Basque Country; you could have easily mistaken it for the Alps. They weren’t as high, but certainly as picturesque.
We wound our way through the twists and turns of Baigura in the Basque Country passing the odd hiker, sheep, and circling vultures. I sure hoped they weren’t on the hunt for any downhill mountain bike scooters in the next hour! We got through the cloud line and after about a 20-minute ride, we made it to the top.
I said goodbye to Kat and Theo as they stayed at the top for a while, before taking the train back down. The other option is to hike down the track, which takes about 2 hours for the 6 km trek.
I couldn’t have asked for better conditions up there. It’s not uncommon for The Basque to piss it down, so it was epic that the rain held off. Alex our instructor from Basque Country Bike Camp told us to follow him across the single track mix of rolling grass hills and dirt. The scooter picked up a bit of speed fairly quickly, so there was no need to push. Alex mentioned to bend the knees on the bumps; something I thought I wouldn’t hear jumping off a tractor train. It was like a full-blown enduro dual bike, but just with no saddle… oh and gears. A Fixie pushbike with no seat. Al was hitting the jumps, leading the pack.
Coming off this thing, negotiating a few corners, I kept on forgetting that you just need to jump to one side, unlike being tangle up on a normal mountain bike. I felt like I was in some purpose-built bike park; the place was insane! It was so much fun cruising around through the ferns. The single tracks were really narrow, but not too technical. The bike scooters had decent brakes, so you could go at your own pace.
There were plenty of chances to stop, grab some water, take a pic and soak it all in. There are massive vultures in the Basque country called Griffon vultures. Alex pointed out a few animal bones and skulls along the side of the track. ‘What’s that?’ I asked; ‘horses’ he replied. He said that the farmers leave the dead bodies up there and the vultures come down to get them. On that nice note, it was back on the scooter and time to head to the hill to grab a drink and lunch at the restaurant La Gaita.
Overall, this experience was so much better than I expected it to be. Hopping onto ‘the Arapaho’ scooter for the first time was an interesting sensation but once you get the hang of things, it’s a whole new world of fun! I would definitely go again in a heartbeat!
The base of the leisure centre is located on the departmental road 119 from Helette to Louhossoa, at the foot of the Baigura massif. The easiest way to get there is via car, as public transport is not available in the area. If you are travelling from surrounding areas, it is possible to take the train to Louhossoa station and catch a ride from the town.
The Baigura Leisure Centre offers three main circuits. The Tariffs VTT is available in a circuit loop for 30 euros or decent for 34 euros. For the Arapaho scooters, the initiation descent takes around 45 minutes and is available for 28 euros. Finally, the sports downhill circuit takes around 90 minutes and is available for 34 euros. Reservations are recommended.
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