Published: November 12th 2010November 8th 2010
Our first look at the bikes we would be riding.
I have finished my bike ride through Andalucia and I'm so happy I decided to do it. I haven't done a lot of riding over the last few montths (well, ever actually), so finishing the route was a big thing for me. The gist of it is this ... seven days of cycling, 420km including some decent (for me) hills, nice sites along the way, and not having to use the support van once!
The company I went with is called Cycling Country, and I can't speak highly enough of them. They've been doing this route for nearly six years and they knew exactly what and when to do something on the road. My tour was called Moorish Andalucia and it covered an area from Seville, up to Cordoba and over to Granada. We did seven days of cycling, riding on average 55-60km per day. It's called the Moorish route because a lot of the places we visited had a lot of Islamic history, with Granada being the last Muslim kingdom to be taken back by the Christians in 1492. I'm not a huge history person, but a lot of the major buildings we saw had elements of both
Palma del Rio
Our dining room at the hotel that was formerly a monastery.
Muslim and Christian design. Apparently years ago the Muslims were really good at designing and building things, so when an area was reconquered, the buildings weren't knocked down but kept and added to... like the Mezquita in Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada.
Our tour group had only six riders ... a Melbourne man in his sixties, two Canadian couples in their thirties and fifties, and myself. There was also Geoff (the guy who owns it) and Dean (his helper and a former professional ride cyclist). The support van was always on the road passing us by making sure we were okay and stopping at various points to give directions, offer lifts, top up our water bottles, or just to regroup the riders at certain points. Both Geoff and Dean know how to ride a bike and one or the other was always riding the roads with us. I did feel a bit embarrassed sometimes when they were riding beside me up a hill, me being in the lowest gear I had (apparently call "Granny gear") and them riding like it was a leisurely weekend ride. And then they would tear off up the hill to get in front
of the quicker riders, while I was too buggered to go on and would stop for a rest and a drink (I let them think I was stopping for photos though).
Although the tour started in Seville, we got the van out of town and started riding from a small town called Carmona. The towns we stayed in were Palma del Rio, Cordoba, Baena, Zuheros, Iznajar, Alhama de Granada, and Granada. The first day and a half was flat roads, getting us used to the bikes and riding them. I rode a hybrid bike, which is a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike. The tyres are thinner than a mountain bike, but you don't have to lean over as far as with a road bike. Now I'd like to think it was just me and my peak physical fitness, but the first day we were doing about 33km/h and I've now put it down to the slicker tyres and riding in a group (I'd still like to think I have a bit of talent though). The first day we covered 55km, and considering up till that point the longest I had done in a day was
The Alcazar at Cordoba
There was a big gum tree inside the gardens of the Alcazar
36km, I was a very happy lad that evening. And to top it off, we stayed in a hotel that was once a monastery ... it was all converted but still had an incredibly rustic feel. The dining room felt medieval, but the shower was one of the best I have ever had!
The second day of riding I realised I should have done a bit more practice, simply to harded up my backside. Sitting on your tailbone for four hours a day gets a bit much, even with padded bike shorts ... I did get used to it by the end of the tour, but I've now got so much more sympathy for the professional riders. Before we set off each morning Geoff would show us a map of the route, and also a profile showing the heights, distances and gradients of the hills and flats. Some looked okay and some looked scarey ... I was always willing to give it a go though. As it turns out, for me at least, you just put it in Granny gear and start turning your legs. It certainly wasn't a race and no one was going to get left behind
Cordoba to Baena
The start of the hill climbs.
... at the top of most climbs the guys would be waiting to take your picture. Dean, the helper, was an incredibly nice guy, and he was so encouraging to everyone and made it so much fun.
In general we would set off by about 9.30am and be on the road riding for about two hours. Lunch would be at a cafe in a small town, usually lasting about 90 minutes. We'd then ride for maybe another two hours and be at our hotel by 4pm. Lunch was anything from bocadillos de jamon (bread roll with a slice of ham) to diced pork in a sauce with chips. Sometimes I would fit in an iceceam (helado) with lunch, otherwise it was the first thing I looked for at the end of the day. The others usually finsihed off lunch was a cafe con leche (coffee with milk). Do you like my Spanish vocab? I've now got about 20 words up my sleeve.
Now, you also have to understand the Spanish timing of meals. Things seem to revolve around the traditional siesta, with breakfast at 9am, lunch at 2pm (usually a three course meal with the family), and dinner
at 9pm. I didn't mind the breakfast and lunch times, but dinner was another story. But I wasn't going to complain because I did come here to experience other cultures, the good and the bad. Most times we were having group dinners at restaurants that Geoff knew well, and the place was usually empty when we got there at 8.30pm. It was really weird, but when we were leaving at 10pm, most others were just arriving to start their meals. The meals I tried were Rabo de Toro (bull tails), conejo (rabbit), seafood paella (I picked out the seafood bits, but the rice was yummy), and a dish called Lamb Sweetbread. Now if anyone knows was sweetbread is exactly, please let me know. About halfway through the dish it occurred to me what it may be, and I couldn't finish it (every piece was roughly the same size and each still had a membrane covering it). Oh well, I'm still alive to tell the story.
Before I came to Andalucia I hadn't seen many olive trees. Now I see them in my sleep. After we left Cordoba there were olive groves literally for as far as the eye could
see. Big, little, some being picked, some being fumigated (non-organic method obviously). Spain is the leading producer of olives, and the area we cycled in is the centre of that production. You would see the occasional rabbit darting between the trees, and sometimes you would see the hunting dogs with the inevitable gunshot ringing out behind you. Even so, I did enjoy the rabbit on my dinner plate. We did pass other crops, such as oranges, almomds and asparagus.
Now I know you are all wondering about the massive distances I covered each day. Well our biggest day was 68km, and that included a 14km climb. I'm not ashamed to say that I stopped lots of times (only to take pictures of course), but I didn't use the support van once for the entire ride. Before I came here I had a goal of doing maybe two thirds of the distance each day, but either I'm so much better than I thought, or the route was easier (and we had more time) than I expected. I'll let you make up your own miinds on that. I have to say though, even though it was an effort getting up the
Zuheros to Iznajar
Yes I know it's a bright shirt ... that's the point.
hills, it was worth it when the downhill rides were so much fun! I reckon I was getting over 50kmp sometimes, but only when the surface was good and the road was straight. Did I mention how much fun it is going downhill !!?
The roads we used were mostly country roads, with not much traffic. They sometimes had animal droppings on them from herds being led from one field to another. We did ride on the Via Verde, which is a former railway line that has been converted to a bicycle track. I came across a herd of goats, and when I passed the old man herding them I saw he had an iPhone ... it was a weird picture of centuries-old practice meeting new-age technology.
As we got closer to Granada you started seeing the Sierra Nevada mountains. It had snowed about a week beforehand so the peaks were now white. It's strange going from sparse countryside to seeing snow-capped mountains. When we got to Granada Dean led us through the city to the hotel, and I was so happy it wasn't funny. I had never dreamed of going the whole distance on the bike (apart
Zuheros to Iznajar
All morning the views were of the mountain ridge and old farmhouses.
from the 100m I walked of a 750m section of road at 12% incline!), but I know now that I would like to try something similar elsewhere. I now go up to Madrid for six days before I head over to Egypt. I liked Madrid when I was there last time, but I read on the weather site that it will be 5 degrees at night... I'm glad I packed the Antarctic gear.
There are more photos below