In 2004 four of us decided to ride to Fez in Morocco. Why Fez? Its in the south, its an achievable distance, there are good roads, dramatic scenery and much cultural interest on the way. Fez is also the largest traffic free urban space in the world, thats if you don’t include people and donkeys as traffic. That time two of us got as far as Algeciras. In 2010 Patrick Field rode the full route and in 2014 there were six participants, two of whom rode the whole way.
The ride takes a seasoned cyclist about three weeks but there are no restrictions on route or time scale. The ride is testing, but it is not a sporting endeavour, more a discipline. En route there are plenty of hotels, campsites and some opportunities for wild camping, and there are some beautiful places to visit and lots of good food. There are a plethora of public transport options both on the way out and for getting you and your bike home.
The nicest time to do it is probably October, as you can escape the northern cold and the summer heat and if you are lucky you will ride back into summer weather. There is also a yet untested version which could do the route in reverse in the spring.
Fez is almost due south of London, mountains and sea present natural desire lines with a few beautiful places making logical punctuation points. Crossing the channel to Caen gives an easy route down through Normandy, Maine, Anjou and then down the Atlantic coast to cross the border at Irun. From there a good road leads to Pamplona where good food and accomodation is plentiful. Through Castilla-La Mancha until it is time to cross the Sierra Moreno into Andalusia. Take the ferry from Algeciras to Ceuta, cross the border into Morocco then ride through the Rif nountains to Chefchouan and then to Fez. You can download the GPS file here
Who To Ride With
Riding alone suits some people best, but we are social creatures and sharing the experience has its own pleasures. Every group has its own dynamic and experienced riders will know when to compromise. Whatever you do, be self reliant at all times. Otherwise you may become the responsibility of your fellow travellers. Likewise you should expect them to be able to solve their own problems. Normally the larger the group, the slower, so be prepared to split up.
In France camping is often a good option and although some campsites are closed in the Autumn the municipal sites are often still usable. There are also plenty of reasonably priced hotels. Campsites in Spain are much harder to find, but hotels are very cheap, and there are possibilities for wild camping in the hills. I like to sleep in my hammock. In Morocco the easiest thing is hotels, but the locals are very hospitable and asking around can sometimes get you somewhere to put your tent and even an invitation home!
Eating and Drinking
Of course verybody has their own preferences but I would recommend French pastries, Spanish coffee and spicy Moroccan olive oil!
There are trains and buses to Tangier and Ceuta for ferries to Algeciras or Tarifa in Spain. You can get bikes on the buses in Morocco or you may prefer just to use the post or a courier service so you can get home unencumbered. From Algeciras there is a high speed train to Barcelona which connects to the TGV to Paris. There are also flights from Fez back to London.
My top tips
Buy the Michelin road map books of France (1:200 000) and Spain (1:400 000), about £12 each, and take the pages you need.
Get up early and stop for lunch when the French do; 12pm sharp. Have a long rest and then ride till dark.
See you in Fez!