It’s been a long, cold and very damp winter, which seems to have been bad since I got back from Flanders in October. I have stuck it out for 3,200Km since the beginning of November, now it’s time for some warmth, Spanish style.
Well, arriving at Malaga airport all hopes of a sunny spell in Spain were dashed. It was pouring down, British style, and as we climbed up to Ronda it gradually got worse.
Firstly, our hotel for the week, Enfrente Arte, what an amazing place. We were told to help ourselves to any drinks from behind the bar, and if there was any food on the bar, it was also free.
Everywhere you looked showed creative flair, from the Seat 600, cut in two halves, the front being the reception desk and the rear serving two functions, a seat in the small bar, and the engine bay was a store for the cutlery and crockery for breakfast.
There was also a large lounge area with an open fire where we assembled our bikes.
Once the bike was built it was time for food, I needed a bocadillo, and quickly, as I had been travelling all day and not had chance to get food.
Monfay morning, and we set off on our first day on the road and the skies looked heavy as we left Ronda heading down the A394, which winds it’s way up through a beautiful gorge for about 18Km. We then swing left and the road takes a steep ramp up, but only for a couple of Km. The views on this section are really breath taking, large boulders breaking through the landscape.
Once over the climb the sun breaks through and, with 25Km under the wheels, we reach a small town of Montejaque and take the first coffee break of the day.
After the break we drop out of town to the roundabout then it’s uphill again, through Benaojan, but only for a couple of Kilometres, before we drop down for about 6km to a junction and take a left.
The next climb takes us through Jimera de Libar, and is almost 8Km in length, and tops out just under 750m, averaging only 5%, but with a few good ramps above that. It is a stunning climb, twisting and turning it’s way to the top through great scenery. At the top it meets the A369, the main road to Ronda, and we take a left.
Shortly after this turn we stop at a mirador overlooking the town of Atajate. Here we have our picnic lunch, a bit wind swept, but with beautiful views.
After we have topped up with food, we jump back on the bikes and head up the climb for another 7Km, until it tops out around 1000m. As Ronda is around 750m, it means it’s all downhill from here, well almost.
The day was only 63Km, but took us over 1360m of climbing, a real good way to start the week.
We have a lovely meal out in Ronda that evening and discuss the planned route for tomorrow, as the poor weather forecast will mean a few adjustments in order to get the best of the area.
The second day starts dry and the plan is to take in a well known local pass. A gentle 3Km of climbing out of Ronda and we find ourselves already on the Puerto del Viento, a beautiful 12Km climb rising 350m. However, today the climb was shrouded in mist, but no less dramatic for it, clouds hanging over the peaks. The temperature drop slowly as we get closer to the top, and there was no need to guess where it gets its name from, the ‘Door of the Wind’.
We drop over the top and head down about 4Km before we have another small ramp, then roll in to El Burgo for our first coffee break. There are no tables available when we arrive at the café, but within seconds the owner has it all sorted, and spare tables and chairs materialise and we settle down to a brew.
From El Burgo we start the second climb of the day, and it is a real shock to the system as we hit one 18% ramp, then another before it levels off to 10%. Not ideal with café legs!
The climb takes 9.5Km and 350m elevation, and it peaks 40Km in to the day. We regroup, then drop to Sarrato where we meet the main road, the A367. We turn left on to that road and start what should have been a gentle 3% climb for 8Km to lunch, but a strong headwind makes this section a real chore.
We have a hearty lunch in a restaurant in Cuavas del Becerro, as it was too cold for a picnic, and it looked like this was going to be the plan for the rest of the week.
After lunch we head on up the hill for another 3Km, feeling better for a big lunch and some shelter. There was a great descent from the top of this climb, down through some small villages until we hit a small town of Setenil del las Bodegas.
We regroup and ride through town, taking the road to Ronda, which quickly ramps up to an average of 6%, at which point people’s tired legs are starting to show, and we slowly spread out. I know there is someone about 50m behind me on the climb, but as we crest the support van passes me and I see no one behind, so roll in to what turns in to a fast descent, down to the town of Arriate.
Arriate is a mass of twisty streets, just wide enough for one car and there are vehicles all over the place. I spot an area at the side of the road, clear of traffic, with some benches, so I park up and wait to regroup. It takes nearly 30 minutes, so the hill this late in the day really did split us up.
The next 8Km back to Ronda are as a group, and along busy roads.
We had a great 85Km day out with 1800m of climbing, certainly not an easy one.
We wake on Wednesday to really overcast skies in Ronda and the guides suggest we use this day to head for the Mediterranean, as it’s one of the long days and the temperature should get warmer as we reach the coast.
As we head out if Ronda you can see the cloud hanging over the top of the mountains, so you know this is going to get wet. Just outside Ronda we take the A369 South and I jump on to the wheel of Alvaro, the guide, as we start our first climb, and we share the duties on the front as we head into the grey mist. When we crest the first climb, at around 12Km, we have to break out the ‘waterproof’ jacket, mainly to reduce the wind, as it is now cold as well as wet. The van is waiting in a layby just over the crest and Manuel tells us to keep going and head for the coffee stop at the 30Km mark, in Algatocin.
We spot the van at the restaurant, by which time we are soaking wet and cold, and morale appears to be dropping. I change my base layer for a long sleeved Merino and put on a pair of Merino wool sock and Seal Skins. Yes, it is that wet and that cold.
As people arrive they start to remove the wet clothes and hang them over the fireplace to dry. Manuel and Ramon (posing as an elf above) have it all under control, and order up some egg and potato meals to share and the morale starts to rise, as the rain comes down.
We leave the town and are instructed to stay behind Alvaro on the next descent as it will be steep and slippery, and they are right. Sadly, one if the riders took a tumble yesterday and we didn’t want a repeat. This would have been a beautiful descent, on a dry day, being twisty and open.
Once at the base, we start the assent to lunch, only about 10Km from the coffee break, but very welcome and on this climb it takes 45 minutes.
Lunch in Jubrique was chicken soup in a glass, then a shared potato cake. Real ‘mountain food’ and just the ticket.
The clouds are still hanging over the mountains as we set off again, but this climb is just stunning. The road is lined with cork trees, that have all been harvested and have the bark missing from the lower 1.5m of the trunk. The recent rains have also made the area so green, it reminds me of Costa Rica and the cloud forests. A truly epic 16Km climb.
A small bunch of us arrive at the top and it’s suggested we follow Alvaro to the coast before we get too cold. So, we start the descent to the coast with some enthusiasm, but the damp roads and strong cross winds are making it dangerous, so we back off until we get much lower and the roads dry out.
It’s 20Km of descending before we finally arrive in the coastal town of Estapona, with big grins on our faces and this strange thing called ‘the sun’ on our backs. We head straight to the harbour and start eating snacks and getting hot drinks down us, waiting for the rest to catch up.
It’s over an hour to transfer back to Ronda in a minibus and as we leave Estapona the temperature is 18 degrees, and on the display in the minibus we slowly watch this drop to 9 degrees before we arrive in Ronda.
Another 80Km and 1700m of climbing, which is a good day in anyone’s books, especially in those conditions.
We have strong winds and torrential rain over night. I had promised myself a day off the bike so I could go sight-seeing in Ronda, so I decide today is that day. I visited the Arabic baths, which gives a great insight in to the history of Ronda, then have look around the bull ring and museum. A really interesting day in a fascinating town.
The day off the bike gave my clothes chance to dry, which was a bonus, let’s hope they stay that way.
Our last day looked a lot better weather wise, so the guides had planned a trip over the Puerto de las Palomas, (Pass of the Doves), which we knew would be wet at that altitude. We left town up the in the same direction as day 1, up the A374, through the gorge and on past the turn we took on Monday. We caught four guys from the UK on the climb and had a chat before we all took a left on to the A372, were we stopped and regrouped.
At 21Km we crest the climb and descend a gorgeous road down to the Zahara reservoir. We ride along the edge of the water until we reach the town of Zahara and take a left on to the start of the Puerto de las Palomas. On the right is the café where we have the first stop of the day, and prepare for the climb.
After coffee, we take a right, and set off, only to find the road is closed due to a land slip, caused by all of the recent rain.
The guides think quickly on their feet and decide that it is going to be safer to take an alternative route to Grazalema, which meant rolling back along the reservoir to the junction on the right, sign-posted Grazalema.
As we arrived at the junction, Manuel discovers his back tyre is starting to fall apart, so he has to replace it.
Once we set off I realise this is the climb I used up to Grazalema back in 2013, and I remember it being a beautiful climb. As we started, the sun came out and it really warmed up. I got in to a rhythm and progressed up the 7Km climb, which really starts to bite in the last Km. It was as beautiful as I remembered it to be.
We all regrouped in Grazalema and climbed in to town to a nice little restaurant, where we were treated to soup, pork and chips and a dessert.
While we were sat there eating, the heavens opened and water was pouring down the streets. By the time we got on our bikes it had started to hail, then just before we set off, out came the sun again.
We dropped out of town and up the 2Km climb out of the valley, then took a left turn in the direction of Ronda. The next 10Km is a gradually rolling down hill, through more cork forests, which leads to A372, where we had started our loop this morning. We soon pop out on to the A374 again and head in to Ronda down the gorge, a great 10Km descent on the main road. The only drawback to this route was the final steep 7Km climb along the main road back in to town. At this point the reality that this trip is almost over hits me and I start to slow down and soak up as much as possible.
The day turned out to be around 98Km with 1600m of climbing and a great way to finish the trip.
This trip has been just what I needed, not quite the weather, but certainly the climbing and scenery. It was a great group people, all eager to get out there, despite the weather. Hopefully, our paths will cross again on a trip in the future.