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Caen to Cantabria

Caen to Cantabria

September 2024

Our Caen to Cantabria tour will take you through some of the finest regions of France and into Spain for an easy return to Portsmouth on the Santander ferry. You will ride through Normandy, the Loire Valley, the ancient Poitou region, Cognac, Dordogne and Gascony before traversing the Pyrenees at St Jean Pied de Port, for centuries the crossing point for pilgrims on their way to Santiago to Compostella. Five days in Spain will end in Santander, in the Cantabria region,  where the ferry return with take you back to where you began two weeks earlier - you may even spot some whales in the Bay of Biscay as you relax on deck. Spectacular scenery is guaranteed!

The ride is graded 'expert' as to ride for 15 days in a row is a big ask for most people - even the pros on the Tour de France don't do this. The route gets more challenging as you ride south with the Spanish section offering some good climbs; however the gradients are mostly shallower than many hills back home and it should be within the grasp of all regular cyclists.

Meals are included as follows: Breakfast every day; picnic lunch on 4 days; dinner on 11 nights. 

Daily distances range from 41 miles to 80 miles with the great majority being in the 60 - 70 mile range (see daily descriptions for details of individual daily distances). If you have never done a ride like this before the key, as always, is steady progress at your own pace and we will ensure that you are looked after by our support team. As the ride progresses you will find out what routine suits you and adapt your speed or strategy accordingly; we have great experience and one of the most satisfying aspects of the job is helping people to achieve a ride across France successfully. 


View Overall Route Map


Highlights include:

  • Beautiful lush Normandy and its produce

  • The Loire Valley and its chateaux

  • Cognac, an elegant town known the world over

  • Beautiful unspoilt Gascony

  • Pau, a civilised town at the gateway to the impressive Pyrenees

  • The tranquility of the Pyrenees

  • Sublime scenery of the Basque country

  • Sophisticated Santander

  • Hotels of character & quality

  • Cake & Coffee stops

  • Opportunity to continue straight onto our Spanish end to end ride in 2023 thus creating a truly epic ride from Caen to Cape Trafalgar!

Your Next Adventure Awaits

What you need to know...

Start Location
Caen / Ouistreham

Finish Location
Santander (Spain)

End to End (UK and European rides)


Shortest Day
64 km / 39 miles

Longest Day
134 km / 83 miles

Total Days

Total Miles

Departure Dates & Prices

MonthDatesTour PriceSingle Supplement*Bike Hire FromEnquireBook
September 20247th to 22nd September 20247/9/24 to 22/9/24£2,995£895Check AvailabilityBook Now

*A single supplement is only payable if you would like a guaranteed room to yourself. If you are happy to share with another traveller of the same gender, no supplement is payable.


Day 1

Many people come over the day before (on the Friday) so that they can get a good night's sleep in Ouistreham before setting off the next day (riding starts on the Saturday). Alternatively you can come over on the overnight ferry and start immediately you set foot in France. (Friday).

After breakfast and briefing, we take the obligotary departure photograph in Ouistreham and set of on our journey south! Skirting east of Caen, we stop for coffee in a wonderful old village full of half-timbered houses and this is the first chance you will get to experience of our famous coffee stops. Ground coffee, loose-leaf tea and home made cakes will be produced for your enjoyment and consumption, before setting you on your way again through wonderful verdant and lush Normandy. Apples, cider and cream are everywhere in this landscape which is wonderfully rural and very pretty. The second half of the day is hillier as we ride to a famous spa town with its lake and casino. (77 miles / 857m). (Saturday)

Day 2

Striking south we head through the lower reaches of Normandy along quiet roads through oak forests and rolling farmland. There are some lovely views to enjoy as you make good progress to our coffee stop next to a chateau by a lake. Continuing to a picnic lunch, there is more of the same after lunch as we head for our wonderful hotel in the pretty small town of Solesmes, famous for its abbey. 71 miles. (Sunday)

Day 3

Two famous rivers are crossed today - the Loir and the Loire - the latter being known the world over for its famous chateaux. The riding is benign and you will not find it difficult, arriving in plenty of time to explore the wonderful abbey at Fontevraud where we spend the night in a nice hotel with a great restaurant. With luck we can eat outside as the warmer climate begins to manifest itself - they always say that it is when you get south of the Loire that you notice that it is noticeably warmer. (100 km / 63 miles / 568m). (Monday).

Day 4

From Fontevraud the countryside is easy and you will speed along, encountering your first vines of the trip. There are several options for lunch stops, and you begin to feel that you are really getting into rural France - 'La France profonde' as they say! It is a little more undulating after lunch but not what we would describe as hilly. Overnight we are on the edge of a medium sized town in a small hotel in a quiet position. The food here is exceptional and you will enjoy a fine feast after a dip in the pool perhaps. (104 km / 65 miles / 1156m). (Tuesday).

Day 5

Apart from the Loire where we saw a small area of vineyards, we have not yet seen much evidence of France's most famous product. That will change over the next few days, but first, another by-product of the vine, brandy, is the order of the day. We are riding to Cognac where the famous producers' warehouses still line the river and where, if in time, you can take a tour; in any case, tonight there will be the opportunity to try the delicious drink. It is a little hillier today as although the elevation figure is less than yesterday, the height is gained in small climbs rather than very gentle long sections. Our hotel tonight is one of our favourites, in the heart of the town and extremely comfortable. (114 km / 72 miles / 997m). (Wednesday).

Day 6

From Cognac to St Emilion; two towns of great charm with some great riding in between. The terrain is more varied with a succession of ups and downs but these are not big hills as the elevation figure shows. In fact, this is one of our favourite day's riding in all of France as it seems to encompass so much of what the country is all about. Our destination is a Roman town and a charming hotel right in the centre, from where you can wander the cobbled streets seeking out a wine bar or tasty morsel to eat. The produce of the land is at the forefront in this region and there is so much of it to enjoy! Tonight is a free night where dinner is not included and you can eat in any of the multitude of restaurants of wonderful St Emilion. (116 km / 72 miles / 1215m ). (Thursday).

Day 7

The Dordogne needs no introduction and we cross the famous river today; another landmark checked off on our way south. We only really skirt the Dordogne region, however, as we are heading into Gascony, an old and proud region and home of d'Artagnan. There are vineyards galore today and some really lovely countryside; the views are truly exceptional on a clear day. It is little hiller so sensible pacing is required, but by now you will have found your rythm. Tonight's hotel is simpler; modern and spotlessly clean and they are used to welcoming cyclists. There is a good breakfast to look forward to and the evening meal in the past has always been well-received. (104 km / 65 miles / 1389m). (Friday).

Day 8

You have spent a week on the road and are now over half way to our final destination in northern Spain! Along the way you will have seen famous sights and some unexpected delights, as so often happens when touring by bike, as you stumble across an old chateau or a pretty view. With the Pyrenees getting closer you may be thinking they look rather high, and although you will inevitably have to cross them, the crossing point is lower than the section you can see today! There are some wonderful old villages and castles on the ride today and it is hillier, although the last third is predominantly flat or downhill. Our hotel is in an old bastide (a mediaeval village based around a central square) amidst glorious countryside. (98 km / 61 miles / 1574m). (Saturday).

Day 9

Today we cycle to glorious Pau. It is a short day, allowing you time to relax and enjoy this civilized town at the foot of the mountains which has been a favourite with the British for many centuries. With its old chateau, charming streets and abundance of cafes and bars, there is plenty to do whilst passing the afternoon, or you could simply sit on a bench on the Boulevard des Pyrenees looking at the glorious mountains. (80 km / 50 miles / 961m). (Sunday).

Day 10

With the mountains on our left we exit Pau along the river cycle path which avoids main roads and is a pleasant ride, before turning south and heading into the hills. The geography is hillier and you will appreciate that you are now approaching the higher mountains with a number of climbs to contend with along the way. At the halfway point there are several options to find lunch, including a supermarket where many riders stock up on their favourite riding snacks and drinks for the next few days. After lunch you will cross more quiet roads before the final climb up to one of best-positioned hotels of any of our rides. Sitting in a small Pyrenean mountain village, it has a superb kitchen and you will be spoilt without doubt tonight and at breakfast - of all of our hotels this is the one that was consistently rated as a favourite when we invited our riders' feedback. The views down the valley are sublime; the tranquility deafening and that growing sense of both achievement and the anticipation of the final stages of your journey just add to a great atmosphere. (106 km/ 66 miles / 1978m). (Monday).

Day 11

A fast descent from the hotel leads to the first proper test of the ride with the climb up the Col de Bagargui. At the top we pause for coffee and refreshments and wonder how Tyler Hamilton managed it with a broken collarbone. The col has a rude nickname given by Tour riders which is not suitable for a family website. The payoff is a great descent and then another simply stunning climb showing the best of the French section of the Basque country. Massive rock formations and long views will take your mind off this not inconsiderable climb, before you plunge down to St Jean Pied de Port for lunch, a town which for centuries has been the crossing place for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella. It is then an easy ten miles or so to our overnight stop, where you can relax and anticipate the entry into Spain early tomorrow morning. (80 km / 50 miles / 1200m) (Tuesday).


Day 12

Straight from the hotel you are climbing the 8km stretch to the Spanish frontier. It is not a steep climb and as you reach the top you are rewarded with lovely views on you left of the country you have ridden through this morning and yesterday. Birds of prey will be in abundance, and at the top, the van will be there to cheer you on into the Navarre region. After a fabulous down, where you may see wild pigs grazing on acorns, you are essentially in a valley for 20 miles or so with no major undulations. We stop for a picnic lunch before a long and gradual climb which our riders all seem to enjoy. Down the other side, a few shorter climbs and you are soon on the run-in to our overnight stop in a larger town with plenty of options for an evening meal. (Wednesday).

Day 13

We are still in the Basque country and the ride continues to inspire with great views and pretty villages. The roads in this part of Spain are a little perplexing to begin with: when you first see them you imagine they will be busy because they are wide, well surfaced and modern. But no one lives here and the major routes run north-south which is not our direction of travel, with all of the east-west traffic on the shiny new motorway. Once out of town there is a long climb and fantastic associated descent, and then a wooded climb to our coffee spot with superb views and where, on a clear day, you should see the Bay of Biscay laid out before you. After exiting the next valley there is a very steep section but keep going and it levels out soon enough. The remainder of the day stays like this with ups and downs, and it may be that you find this the hardest day of the tour. We have altered the route for 2020 to avoid the last hill and enjoy the coastal road to the wonderful fishing village where we stay the night. The hotel is great, and is another rider favourite, with another good breakfast overlooking the bay.  (85 km / 54 miles / 3382m). (Thursday). 

Day 14

Riding inland we stop for coffee near Gernika, a town which became renowned for all the wrong reasons when it was flattened during the Spanish civil war in the first example of carpet bombing. It remains the centre of the Basque country symbolically and emotionally. Exiting its valley, the route heads for the famous transporter bridge at Getxo, where we pause for lunch. Crossing the river it is a little busier until you get past the old port (although there are cycle lanes) and turn off the road into the usual quiet lanes once more. A section of old railway runs right along the coast with spectacular views of the sea, a part of the route which will have you stopping to take photographs for sure. There are another two decent climbs to get you to our Paradore for the night, housed in a wonderful old palace with a wonderful banquet infused with that 'almost there' feeling (and the knowledge that you don't have to wash any more socks!).  (122 km / 78 miles / 2412m). (Friday).

Day 15

The final day! Caen will seem a long way away and indeed it as you have ridden 875 miles to get to this point. The last day always seems easier and as you head to the coast the hills ease off. You will arrive in Santander at about 3pm judging from previous experience, ready to relax with a swim on one of the sandy beaches before celebrating your achievement that night. (75 km / 47 miles / 990m). (Saturday).

Day 16

After breakfast there is plenty of time to explore the famous beaches of Santander, the island of Magdalena and the old town, before the ferry departure for the overnight sailing to Portsmouth (Sunday) or stay an extra night and return to Plymouth on the Monday sailing.

Some Tour Photos...

Travel Information

The best way to travel on this trip is by ferry, which is round-trip from Portsmouth so you can either catch a train to Portsmouth or park a car at the port or in various other locations nearby. The return ferry gets in during the afternoon so you may wish to book accommodation in Portsmouth that night. Alternatively book an extra night in Santander and return to Plymouth. (Ferry not included).

Click here for our Travel Information page.