In Brief: We meet in Barcelona, capital of Cataluña and widely considered Spain’s favourite city. From here we are shuttled out to our first hotel just outside Barcelona where you’ll get chance to have a gentle spin on either your own bike, or one of ours before we embark on the first stage of Hannibal’s odyssey. Stage 1 takes us up through Cataluña following in the bike tracks of some of Europe’s premier bike teams that are based here – Lance Armstrong still has a house near Olot – as we build up our strength to cross the Pyrenees. Climbing over the iconic Pyrenees takes us into the Languedoc-Roussillon region, France’s most productive wine making area. From here we head over the Rhone River and we encounter a rich Roman heritage entwined in the rural idyll of Provence. Stage 1 ends in the beautiful city of Avignon which was the home of the Pope for most of the 14th century.
Cycling Highlights: Exploring the beauty of Garroxta Volcanic zone: Climbing over the Pyrenees: Cruising along on quiet French country roads; Overload your senses as we pedal through Provence.
Hannibal Highlights: Barcelona, Gallic France, Crossing the Rhone, Maillaine, Avignon.
Gastronomic Highlights: Compare the respective merits of crema catalana and crème brûlée; Catalan style cod; Jamon Serrano; Cote du Rhone wines; Provencal tapenade; Pastis aperitif.
Hanniballic Itinerary: Barcelona – Spain’s favourite city. Few visitors would know that according to the city’s legends, the name Barcelona comes from Hannibal’s family: the Barcas. Hamilcar, Hannibal’s father is thought to have founded the settlement. Barca in Hannibal’s language Punic means lightning and hopefully this good omen will set us on a good start as we ride north towards the Pyrenees on Hannibal’s trail.
It is not known where Hannibal crossed the Pyrenees but it will be the first test and we will take the quietest route over the peaks and descend into France. The ride up through Cataluña before the Pyrenees is the perfect preparation for getting over these iconic mountains.
Hannibal’s arrival in what is now modern day France alarmed the local Gauls gathered to resist him. However, he charmed them and they fed his army and kept him supplied throughout his journey through southern France. However I doubt he ate drank or enjoyed the scenery as much as we will!
The French section of the journey will make for particularly scenic cycling – endless vineyards, quiet country roads, picturesque French towns & villages - cycling at its best. Sigean has one of the largest African bio-parks in Europe so if you wish to see your marching predecessors the Elephants you can. Pezenas and Sommieres are beautiful unmolested towns with atmospheric medieval streets and a renowned French rural cuisine.
The Rhone was a formidable test for Hannibal. As well as having to convince his elephants against their nature to climb aboard rafts to cross he had some unfriendly Gauls on the other side of the river waiting to attack. For Hannibal this was the start of the challenges both natural and man-made. Hannibal destroyed the Gallic force, routing them by sending a force upstream to surround them. He also persuaded his elephants across the river.
Once over the Rhone we enter the region of Provence. We will cycle through classic Provincial towns such as Uzes and St Remy and marvel at the cultural depth they offer. We will also discover further clues about Hannibal such as the skeleton of an elephant found in Maillane. Discovered here in the late 18th century by a man digging in his cellar it is believed by some to be one of Hannibal’s war elephants. The name of the street where it was found - ‘Rue de Geant’ (Giant Street) - pays tribute to this find.
We end Stage 1 in the stunning ‘Papal’ city of Avignon. We offer a guided tour of this spectacular walled city that acts as a great transit point for our next stage that takes us over the Alps and in to Italy.