Coast to coast, in Southern Spain, sounds like a plan!
We all meet up in the airport in Almeria, greeted by our Spanish guides, Dan, who has roots in North Yorkshire, but has spent a huge chunk of his life living here in Spain. Also with Dan was crazy Steve, who turns out to be such a laugh, with an amazing history. They soon makes us all welcome as we transfer to the fishing village of San Jose in the Cabo de Gata Natural Park.
Ritual bike building starts, and for this trip I packed my old faithful steel winter bike, which has a 10 speed, 28 tooth cassette, but I have been using a 38/48 chainset. This might not have been my best idea!
Once assembled, we walk in to the centre of the village and soak up the sun while we eat lunch, followed by a walk to the harbour.
In the morning we hit the road about 09:30, which marks the change to “Spanish time”, start late, lunch late, finish late, dine late, very relaxed.
These trip normally require a minimum of six people to run, but often have double that. There were only six on this, so it took no time to get to know your fellow travellers.
We take a right and head uphill then start to roll through the ancient gold mining town of Rodalquilar, then we drop back to see the Mediterranean for one last time before we head inland.
The landscape changes dramatically as we wind through the wild sierras, passing through Nijar, typical of many Moorish villages found in this area of Spain. The villages is on the edge of one of Europe’s driest areas, the Tabernas Desert, and the location used for most of the popular spaghetti westerns. We pass by the Almerian equivalent of Paramount theme park, with cowboys greeting visitors on horse back, very odd.
The lads do a great job of putting a picnic lunch together, and continue to do so throughout the journey.
After lunch we roll along out of the Sierra Almahilla and down to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada on sweeping smooth roads all the way to the rest spot for that night at Instincion, in ‘Las Alpujarras’.
By now we are aware of how much effort the team have gone to in order to ensure we use small local accommodation, using local produce, all to help sustain the local economy.
The following day starts after a relaxed breakfast and a traverses along the lower edge of the Sierra Nevada National Park, as we climb up to Travales, before dropping back to our hotel at Pitres .
The entire days ride was beautiful, despite being on major roads, they were reasonably traffic free, and the loop off the A4130, on to the A4132 eventually reaches its high point at Trevelez, at nearly 1500m, it claims to be Spain’s highest village and producing some of the country’s best cured ham.
The next day we start to head south, almost down to the coast at Lobres, before turning North West again, on our way to Alhama de Granada. We start with a short climb up to Molvizar at 500m, as we head to the next national park, Sierras de Tejeda, then after a small descent we pull all the way up to 1400m, past the impressive Bermejales Reservoir.
We leave this behind and descend to our rustic hotel, just over the road from the Le Pantaneta lake.
I wake up and wander across the road in the morning to admire the lake and realise I am beginning to really feel Spain, and loving it. It is a country with so much to offer as far as cyclists are concerned, beautiful scenery, quiet roads and cautious drivers, who are prepared to follow you up a mountain road until it is absolutely safe to pass, then pip the horn and say thank you.
We hit the road this morning on a roller coaster ride to El Chorro, which our guides have been telling us is a very special place.
To get there we need to climb over the Puerto de Zafarraya, and head across the high mountain plain in the shadow of the Maroma mountainside. Along this stretch we find a great roadside restaurant, which looks like it dropped out if a cowboy film and as we arrive a horse drawn buggy is disappearing up the road.
Refreshed, we head on, rolling over steady climbs for many kilometers, before dropping to the lowest point of the day at Villanueva de la Concepcion. There is just one big pull left after this to take us over and on to the descent in to El Chorro and our amazing hotel.
The hotel is a converted industrial building, linked to the reservoir it overlooked, and the location was amazing. Check it out the hotel here, I was lucky enough to be in the whacky ‘double duplex room’, totally nuts, getting in to the bath was tricky, good job I am skinny.
The legs were tight this morning, but they were about to get tighter, as we have a 16Km warm up and then, vertical for a while, hitting ramps between 6% and 14% over 10Km, until we hit the base of the Puerto del Viento (The Windy Pass) at 1190m, then another 14Km of climbing, but so worth it.
After the climb we have a relaxing descent through some lovely tree lined roads, on to a plateau until we reach the surreal town of Ronda. Built right up to, and dropping off the edge of the plateau, Ronda is a real gem, with its bull ring, horse drawn carriages and views of the Tajo gorge.
After a quick ice cream and a few photos, we head onwards and, as you might expect by now, upwards. This time the treat is the Puerto de las Palomas, (Pass of the Doves) 1347m, with views of the Garganta Verde (Green Gorge), then on to the final, short ramp up to the town of Grazalema, an idyllic Pueblo Blanco (white village). The hotel has a great view of Grazalema and the valley, providing the early morning photo used as the cover for this post.
Well, the end of the trip came around as quick as usual and we start the day at just over 1000m and finish at the sea. That can only mean one thing, down hill all the way……wrong. We start by climbing another 100m before plummeting to Ubrique.
From Ubrique we head out of town and up again, over the Puerto del Mojon de le Vibora and Puerto de Galiz, riding along through cork forests, where you could see the trees that had been harvested.
Once over these two lumps all that is left is the rolling journey in to the coast.
We start to raise the pace as we get in to a rhythm and can see the sky darkening in the distance. It’s been a dry, sunny week, it would be a shame if we got caught in a down pour now. A short stop for an ice cream, then a roll in to Zahora.
The final nights accommodation was very different, small white buildings with thatched roofs, around a communal grass area. Really nice and right on the edge of the sea.
This trip sparked my interest in Spain and the way we were looked after by the lads inspired me to book my next trip in August.