Bicycle trip through Spain 1994

Travel report


Route maps

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Utrecht-Cambrils (bicycle bus)    
Route: Tarragona-AlbarracínInspired by an article in my favorite outdoor magazine Op Pad and staring in the atlas and road maps for weeks (months, years?) I've always dreamt about a cycle trip through the interior of Spain. At the end of May 1994 I consider it's time to realize this dream. I book an 'open jaw' bus ticket from Utrecht to the Costa Brava at the north-eastern coast and (five weeks later) return to Holland from Irun near the Spanish/French border at the Atlantic coast. Although the bus is equipped with a special trailer for bikes, only a few cycle tourists show up in Utrecht. Most people in the bus seem to have planned a sun and beach vacation, since Salou is a very popular sun destination for the Dutch. After a long bus ride we arrive the following morning in Catalunya. With three other bicyclists I'm dropped off near a shabby looking hotel along the dusty main highway. After finding a heavily guarded campsite in Salou (to my surprise they even speak Dutch at the office) I cycle north along the coast to visit Tarragona, a nice town with a few ancient Roman buildings. 
Salou-Mora d'Ebro-Valderrobres (130 km) 
The next day I leave all the beach fun behind and head for the mountainous inland. It's an enjoyable ride along small country roads through the hilly, desolate countryside of El Maestrazgo. This region is famous for ham and not surprisingly I pass a lot of pig farms. As usual, I am not in my greatest shape yet and also the hot weather (35 C) makes the first stage of the trip very hard. After a dinner stop at a nice viewpoint of the Puertos de Beseit, I replenish my water supply and buy some groceries in Valderrobres. Just outside of town I find a small bush along the road where I can pitch my tent for the night. 

Puertos de Beseit 

Valderrobles-Morella-Mirambel (95 km) 
The road is now climbing steadily until reaching the Puerto de Torre Miro pass at 1259 m elevation. After the pass I descend to the beautifully walled medieval city of Morella, soon followed by another gem, Mirambel. Here I refill my plastic water container and a few kilometers down the road I find a dry river bed where I can pitch my tent at a nice and quiet spot.


Mirambel-La Virgen de la Vega (82 km) 
For breakfast I usually make a stop in the very first town to look for a panaderia (bakery). In most tiny places I often couldn't distinguish them from normal houses, though it was not very difficult to find them. Just ask (even with my small Spanish vocabulary) or follow people, or just follow your nose! Another ritual during the trip is refilling water bottles. Best place to get agua potable is the local fuente or tap, often located near the central square close to the church. During the hottest hours of the day a mad cycle tourist like me often attracts a lot of attention from the locals. 
Apparently since the recent victories of Indurain, cycling became very popular in this country. In almost every town I've been received enthusiastically by locals. It seems I've made some progress since the last time I visited Spain. At the time people cheered Delgado's name, now I'm Indurain! 

The route remains hilly. Especially the climb to Cantavieja, a fortified town on top of a hill, is strenuous, but the views are spectacular and rewarding. After following the TE 800, climbing several passes of the Sierra de Gudar (1600-1700 m), I find a small and empty campsite in la Virgen de la Vega, a desolate ski resort. In the evening I visit the village of Alcala, which is a much more lively and attractive place.

La Virgen-Mora de Rublielos-Teruel-Albarracin (99 km) 
After Mora de Rublielos a long descent and a busy highway N-234 brings me in Teruel. Teruel has a scenic old center, worth a visit. Cycling over long straight and flat roads, I leave the bustling city behind. In the distance my next destination meets the eye: the mountains of Sierra de Albarracin. The city of Albarracin is named after a Berber king and is located in an impressive rugged mountainous landscape. I pitch my tent at a relatively new campsite in the outskirts of town. Walking through the city center I feel like I'm stepping back in time, like I'm part of a fairy tale of 1001 arabian nights. The medieval city walls winding over the hills, reminiscent of the great wall of China and the beautiful Moorish buildings make a big impression on me. Luckily this town isn't spoiled by the mass tourism (yet), even with the Mediterranean coast and its crowded beaches at close distance. 

Guadalaviar valley / Montes Universales

Albarracin-Alto de la Vega (78 km) 
Albarracín-CazorlaFollowing the river Guadalaviar through a narrow gorge I cycle along a valley with fresh green meadows full of wild flowers, surrounded by eroded red rocks. The national park of Montes Universales, higher on the plateau, consists of bald limestone rocks sparsely covered with shrubs, which are formed in a strange, circular pattern. The west side of the mountain range is called Serrania de Cuenca, the source of Rio Tajo (Tagus river). This side of the mountains captures more precipitation and is densely forested. A few kilometers outside the village of Tragacete I try to find a zona acampada. It is shown on the Michelin map on top of the Alto de la Vega pass. However, after a short but steep climb (some parts 10% or even more) I find only a picnic area without water. Luckily a few kilometers down I find another spot, including fresh water from the tap and lush green meadows, a much better place to camp! 

Ciudad Encantada

Alto de la Vega-Cuenca (99 km) 
After some back tracking to Tragacete I head to the dam of La Toba lake. Near the lake a small back road climbs to a plateau where another wonder of nature can be visited: La Ciudad Encantada, the 'enchanted city'. This part of the limestone plateau has eroded into weird shapes of mushroom like rock sculptures. Of course it's a famous tourist trap and you've to pay an entrance fee, but it is worth a visit anyway. A quick descent brings me in Cuenca. The old and scenic town center is built high above a narrow canyon. Although it's early June, the temperatures have risen to unbearable levels (42 C). I decide to book a hostel in town instead of cycling back to the campsite, a few kilometers outside of town and still closed during the siesta.

Cuenca-Villarrobledo (154 km) 
It's not easy to find the right way out of this crowded and busy city but finally I'm on my way on the wide and not too busy N-420 highway, heading south to the relatively flat La Mancha region. It is a nice change cycling downhill with a tail wind at high speed, after all those strenuous small mountain roads. And every 10 km or so there are nice gas stations to fill up gas (=agua y cola). Belmonte has strikingly white houses and a castle on top of a hill. After las Pedroneras and El Provincio I finally reach Villarrobledo, where I stay in a very luxurious looking (but in fact rather inexpensive) hotel. 

Villarobledo-Peñascosa (91 km) 
When I wake up I'm glad I've had a roof above my head, because that night there was a severe thunderstorm. But when I try to open the tap, there's no running water! Apparently the thunderstorm caused some problems. There's even no electricity to make coffee. Sigh, wish I had just gone camping! Back on the road, the landscape reminds me often of Tuscany, rolling hills of farmland, a few lonesome trees here and there. Just before the next mountain range, Sierra de Alcaraz, I pitch my tent in a campsite near Peñascosa. 

Peñascosa-Puente de las Herrerias (161 km) 
Although tempting, I decide not to take the mountainous road through Sierra de Alcaraz, but choose the faster and easier main highway through the valley. The part preceding la Puerta de Segura (70 km beyond) is indeed very fast and easy. With a tail wind I manage to keep my speed between 30-40 km/hr! When I take a left turn to the Sierra de Cazorla it's uphill and slowing down again. The landscape changes again, with remarkable green coniferous forests. Along the road is a beautiful view on the village of Hornos, situated like an eagle's nest on top of a rock. For the first time on this trip I meet four other cycle tourists! They're also from Holland, started from Malaga and now glad to ride through a 'normal' forest after having cycled for days and days between olive trees. Too bad the campsite just past Cottorios is still closed, which means another climb to the next campground in Puente de las Herrerias, 10 km further. 

Puente de las Herrerias- Huelma (104 km) 
From the campsite it's only a short climb to the top of the Puerto de las Palomas pass (1290 m). On the other side of the pass lies a totally different landscape. In the distance the white villages of Burunchel and Iruela and as far as the eye can see a yellow white sea of rolling hills, lots and lots of olive trees! This is the real Andalucia! 
Cazorla, after a long downhill, is a very nice busy little town with an indoor market in Moorish style. Too bad I cannot find a Michelin road map of southern Spain, so I've to use my RV/Euroatlas until Granada. Although its scale (1:300,000) is larger than the Michelin maps (1:400,000), the latter is more accurate and reliable. On the RV maps the quality of the roads are badly marked. For instance the C-328 road between Cazorla and Jodar looks like a major highway on the RV map, but in fact it turned out to be a very narrow and a poorly paved, bumpy road. 

After the turnoff to Jodar (C-325) the road is remarkably better improved. However, the suffering is not yet over, because of the strong head winds and the heat. Although the road improvements result in a smoother surface and wider road, not all the reconstructions are beneficial for cyclists. Especially when hills are encountered, the old winding road makes the climb easier than the straight and short (which means steeper) new road. Also the many trees along the road, which provide some shade, have been removed.  Anyway, after the hard labor I find a comfortable and inexpensive hostal in Huelma (2600 Pts including dinner and breakfast). Until so far the best I've had on my trip. 

Huelma-La Calahorra (91 km) 
I continue my route heading to Guadix on the N325. Until Guadahortuna there are some reconstructions of the highway, but most of the highway is remarkably narrow and quiet. The landscape is now very dry, consisting of badlands in a semi-desert like environment. 
Near Purullena the narrow two lane highway ends at the four lane freeway Granada-Guadix, forbidden for bicyclists! What to do now, the maps show no alternative! Where the N325 stops, a small back road descends down into a green forested valley, but this road isn't shown on the map and I have no idea where this road is heading to. 
I decide to follow the old highway, but after a mile or so it bends from the freeway and ends at a gravel pit. Following the sand lorries over bumpy gravel roads, I'm finally back on the busy freeway. Since there's no other alternative to get to Purrullena I continue trespassing the law and risking my life. 

In Purrullena and Guadix cave dwellings can be found: white buildings, carved in the soft volcanic tuff bedrock. It's a funny sight seeing all those television antennas and chimneys rising like plants out of the earth. I spend the night in a hostal in Lacalahorra, situated on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The village is dominated by an medieval castle on top of a hill. In the evening I stroll up this hill, watching the sunset and enjoying a wonderful view of the surrounding plains.


Cave dwelling in Guadix (l), Lacallahorra (r)

Lacalahorra-Trevelez (82 km) 
The next morning a difficult task is waiting for me. A long climb over the Puerto de la Ragua, with 2,000 meters elevation one of highest paved mountain passes in Spain. Luckily the 12 km climb turns out to be very gradual and not steep at all. The first winding kilometers I'm enjoying the excellent views on Lacalahorra and surroundings. On top of the pass the temperatures are 20 C, cool and refreshing! My strains are rewarded by a nice descent which brings me now in the Alpujarras. Probably one of the most scenic roads of Spain is the GR 421 from Lanjaron to Trevelez. I cycle along lush semi-tropical vegetation and picturesque white Moorish villages. On the narrow, winding road, accompanied by the sound of birds, murmuring water streams of irrigation channels and splendid views of the rugged mountain scenery, cycling here is absolutely a feast. I meet a lot of other local cyclists, training or touring in large groups on mountain bikes. 

Trevelez, which claims to be the highest village of Spain (1700 m), is covered in a dense fog. Since my body is used to the heat, it suddenly feels if it's freezing cold! I pitch my tent on the local campground and spend some time sight-seeing. The village is built on the steep slopes and is divided in three different levels. As everywhere in Spain this town has also its fiesta, with a lot of music, food stands and fireworks! 

Altitude graph Lacallahorra-Trevelez-Granada

Street in Moorish district

Trevelez-Granada (90 km) 
Heading west to Orjiva, I continue cycling the scenic road through the Alpujarras. Especially the view of 'white' villages Pampaneira, Bubion and Capileira is hauntingly beautiful. From Capileira an unpaved mountain road is leading to the Pico Veleta, the highest paved mountain road in Europe (3398 m). On the other side it descends to Granada, my destination for today...The very tough climb is tempting, but the climb is unpaved and I wonder if the climb is feasible with my Giant touring bike. Besides, the mountains are covered in clouds, so I doubt if it's all worth the effort. 
Finally I decide to get to Granada via Lanjaron and the less difficult Puerto del Suspiro del Moro pass. The heat and the heavy traffic makes the climb more difficult than I thought. Along busy roads I arrive in the smoggy city of Granada, where I find a nice campground in the suburb of Zubia. Here I meet again other cycle tourists. A Swiss couple just arrived from the Pico Veleta. They've done the climb from Capileira from the south side and have made a great trip! Although they were on mountain bikes, it seemed not impossible with a touring bike. Guess I'd made a wrong decision... :-(   

Granada (rest day) 
Since I'm half way of my trip and little exhausted by the heat and mountainous terrain, I've no courage and motivation to tackle the 40 km long climb to Pico Veleta today, even this would mean an altitude record. Granada itself is a very interesting city to spend the whole day sight seeing though. The Moorish district Albaicin and of course the famous palace of Alhambra with the beautiful gardens of Generalife are certainly worth a visit.

Granada: view on Alhambra

I am still considering to cover one leg of the trip (Granada-Madrid) by train. At the RENFE railroad station I gather some information for trains heading north. The situation seems quite complicated and nobody speaks English. It seems that the only train which carries bikes runs at night. Since I've covered the first part of my trip on scheme, I decide to cycle the whole way to Toledo (about 475 km) without cheating. 

Granada-Andujar (154 km) 
The next morning I meet two other Dutch guys at the campground. They've the same Vaude tent as me and another remarkable co-incidence is that they've also cycled two weeks to get to Granada, more or less via the same route, they only covered more km's starting at the Spanish/French border! And just like me, they are heading to the north coast as well, taking the bus back from Hendaye, in Southern France. They only have less time, so probably need to do some 'cheating' by taking busses or trains. 

A few hours later I leave Granada behind, cycling on the (for cyclists forbidden!) freeway. Since there's no other alternative, I'm again breaking the law...;-) The first 100 km until Jaen flies by very fast. The next 50 km are tough, rolling hills of farmland and olive trees, providing no shade, high temperatures (35-40 C) and melting asphalt. Exhausted and thoroughly baked I arrive at a nice and empty campground, located in the middle of the city center of Andujar. 

Profile Granada-Andújar-Puertollano

Andújar-ÁvilaAndujar-Puertollano (131 km) 
My map tells me that the next part is going through a very desolate region. Between Andujar and the next village almost 80 kilometers nothing but farmland. Considering the heat I take another extra water bottle. Luckily it's a cloudy day with not too much sunshine and it's even drizzling a little bit for the first time! 
The first leg of the trip to the sanctuary of Virgen de la Cabeza I'm accompanied by two local riders on fancy racing bikes. The smooth paved road turns into a bumpy narrow climb and I beat one of the riders on my fully packed bicycle. On top of the climb the two riders return back to town. 
After visiting the monastery (the last change of getting supplies) I head north into the desolate region of the Sierra Morena. Cycling on a traffic free narrow road along nicely smelling herbs and shrubs, brings back sweet memories of former trips in the French Provence and Corsica. Andalucia lies now behind me and I'm again in the district of Castilla-La Mancha. The Sierra Madrona mountains are covered with green forests with protruding bare red rocks. A difficult narrow and winding mountain road is climbing to a pass of 980 m elevation. A few hundred meters below the rim a back road is leading to the mountain village Solana del Pino. Supposing this is the most easiest way, I'm heading down to the village. But after the village the road climbs again and even steeper than before. The last meters are even too steep and for the first time I've to push the bike. Just beyond the actual pass the ruta fatigosa joins the main road. After a long descent I'm back again in the hot valleys with rolling hills and olive trees and no shade. In the busy city of Puertollano I book a room in a hostel. 

Puertollano-Consuegra (121 km) 
After cycling the not-so-busy highway to Ciudad Real I follow a back road near the national park Tablas de Daimiel. This park, consisting of wetlands, is now suffering from long periods of drought. The rivers shown on the map are actually nothing but dry river beds. Past Urda the white windmills of Don Quixote are visible from way in the distance, an impressive sight. Consuegra, dominated by a hill on which a dozen windmills and a ruin can be visited, seems a very attractive place to stay. 

Windmills of Consuegra

Consuegra-Toledo (75 km) 
Short ride to Toledo. Via Mora and the ruin of Almonacid I arrive in the early afternoon in Toledo. Approaching the outskirts of town my first impression is that's it's just another city. But when I'm climbing out of the narrow gorge of the river Tagus, the majestic panorama of the Toledo's skyline is revealing. Riding on the skyline road is like being spectator in a movie. Campground 'El Greco', on the other side of town, is filled with people. Although a lot of them are also Dutch, unfortunately I meet no other bicyclists. The afternoon I spend exploring the inner city, nice though crowded with tourists. 

Toledo-Mombeltran (123 km) 
Highway 502 follows the Tagus river for a while, then bends into rolling hills. After La Puebla long straight roads are leading to Talavera, the center of the ceramic industry. Approaching from the south, the sight on the vast wall of the Gredos mountains, rising high (almost 2000 m) above the low plains of the Tietar valley, is very impressive. 
On the foothills just before Mombeltran, I find a nice campground. Most of the campgrounds in Spain have nice, clean and modern facilities. The rest rooms make almost a luxurious impression compared with most of the French camping municipal.

Puerto del Pico

Mombeltran-Navarredonda de Gredos (75 km) 
From the very first meters I've to conquer an elevation difference of 700 m. The 12 km long climb over Puerto del Pico (1352 m) is not too bad, however. It is just a very nice climb, constantly winding and twisting, every time another beautiful view over the Tietar valley. On the other side of the pass the road stays more or less on the same high altitude, going through alpine meadows. Near San Martin del Pimpollar I turn left into a valley. From here, on the north side slope, the peaks of the Gredos mountains are still covered with snow, even in this hot summer! 
On one of the (dead ending) mountain roads I find a beautifully located campground in the forest. Here I pitch my tent and leave my luggage, heading for the snow capped mountains in the distance. 
On 1,750 m elevation the pavement ends and a small rocky trail continues from the parking lot. After some hiking through alpine meadows I return to the campground. 

Sierra de Gredos-Avila (81 km) 
Short stage to Avila (elevation 1,100 m), the highest located provincial capital in Spain. The mountain scenery along the highway consists of green alpine meadows. I've always wanted to visit this town, inspired by the television broadcasts of the impressive arrival in the Vuelta d' España (Tour of Spain). 

In the afternoon I've still plenty of time to visit the inner city, walking distance from the campground. The city center is enclosed by an impressive, well preserved medieval city wall. Personally, I like this town more than the tourist trap of Toledo, it has more ambience and fewer tourists. 


Ávila-NájeraAvila-Segovia (89 km) 
Another short stage to the next historical highlight, Segovia. Instead of taking the direct route to Segovia (highway N-110) I take a back road to El Espinar. Like most of the 'white' roads on the Michelin map this is not a bad decision. After the hamlet of Bernuy-Salinero the road leads through a desolate landscape full of alpine meadows. Beyond El Espinar I descend on a wide two lane highway, followed by small country roads near the Riofrio palace. Arriving in Segovia, home town of the famous rider Pedro Delgado. His name is frequently written on the road and I meet a lot of cyclists training on racing bikes. As usual the last couple of days, I spend the afternoon sight-seeing. Lots of things to see, like the impressive aqueduct, the walled inner city with cathedral and the Alcazar castle. 

Segovia-Aranda de Duero (131 km) 
On the campground I'm repairing for the third time a flat tire. My rear Continental touring tire is after 6,000 km totally worn out! In a cycling minded city as Segovia it's easy to find a good bike shop where I buy a new touring tire. 
From Segovia I head north to Aranda de Duero. The farther north I go, the greener the landscape. Near Cantalejo I cycle on traffic free back roads. The asymmetrical ridges here are called cuestas, hills with a long gentle slope on one side and a sharp, steep face on the other side. In Aranda the visitor center directs me to a campground 5 km outside of town. The cheap camping municipal is nothing more than an empty meadow behind the swimming pool. Rest rooms and a (cold) shower are at the swimming pool. 

Gorge of the Yecla

Aranda de Duero-Quintanar de la Sierra (91 km) 
Beautiful ride through the limestone Peñas de Cervera mountains. I wonder what all those busses loaded with tourists are doing at the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos. Later I find out that the monks are very popular in the music charts everywhere in Europe. Near the monastery I follow the spectacular narrow gorge of the Yecla river. Until Sales de los Infantes I'm cycling through a landscape of impressive folded limestone rock formations. The camping municipal in Quintanar is not yet opened for the season. Because of the rainy and cool weather I decide to book a room in hostal 'Domingo'.

Quintanar-Najera (121 km) 
Until so far the next mountain range of Sierra de la Demanda disappoints me a bit (or is it just the fact that I'm a bit saturated?). On a crossroad not shown on the map I take the wrong turn, leading to Laguna Negra on 1,900 m. elevation. Because of the dense fog I can't enjoy the landscape. At the turn off to Neila I can take a short cut to Villavelayo, 12 km less than the main route. 
According to a passing hiker, the shortcut is not recommended due to the bad quality of the roads, so I decide to stay on the main road heading to Huerta de Arriba. After the descent I discover too late I've missed the turn and find myself in Huerta Abajo (low) instead of Huerta Arriba (high). Instead of returning and climbing back, I continue the descent going west and then head back east through another valley, another detour of 25 km. 
Despite all those detours and the rainy and cool weather (10-15 C!) the ride is becoming more enjoyable and the landscape of the rugged Najerilla valley spectacular. 
Finally, after frequently seeking shelter for the rain and thunderstorms (in a bar, a shepherds' shed and a small overhanging cliff) the weather is clearing up again when I arrive in Najera. The campground is at walking distance of the city center, where in the evening a fiesta is being held, with live music until early in the morning.

Profile S. de Gredos - Najera

Najera-Alsasua (113 km) 
Crossing the Ebro river, I'm facing the next obstruction: the Sierra de Cantabria mountains rising high above the Rioja hills and valleys (photo). This region is famous for its wine. Passing little picturesque villages like Laguardia and Cripan the road gradually emerge from the valley. Past Lapoblacion the road follows the ridge, with awesome views on both sides of the crest. The valleys on the other (north) side of the mountains always seems greener than on the other (south) side. I'm now in Basque Country. The green hills and bare limestone rocks are reminding me of the Jura mountains in Switzerland. After the descent from the Puerto Opacua pass I've to take the very busy N1 highway to Alsasua. 

Rioja valley

Nájera-Hendaye (F)Alsasua-Hondaribbia (130 km) 
It's not fun riding on the main freeway to Pamplona. I decide to leave the crowded highway as soon as possible. A small mountain road from Uhuarte Arakil to the monastery San Migel de Aralar seems a good alternative. However, the map did not tell me how terrible steep the climb was... On some parts I'm zig-zagging trying to hold my pace on the 15% steep slopes. A whole bunch of vultures sits high in a tree and circle above the road. They are patiently waiting until the huffing and puffing cyclist finally collapses.... Too bad for them, I make it alive to the monastery on 1,235 m. elevation. Here I treat myself to ice cream and enjoy the views of the Arakil valley.

After descending to Lekunberri and the narrow valley of the Urumea, I finally reach the coastal plains, cycling for the first time during my trip on a bike path in Oyarzun. The last kilometers until Irun are dominated by Monte Jaizkibel, a well known climb in the classic bicycle race San Sebastian-San Sebastian. On the foothills of the climb I find a campsite in the seaside resort Hondaribbia. 

Hondaribbia-San Sebastian-Hondaribbia (73 km) 
The last day of the trip I treat myself with a climb on Monte Jaizkibel (448 m). Leaving my luggage on the campground, this climb is a piece of cake and a really dessert of the trip. Marvelous views on the Bay of Biscay and the interior. On the other side of the climb I visit the picturesque fishing town of Pasaia Donibane, consisting of only one narrow street. Taking the awful 4-lane highways I arrive in San Sebastian, a pretty bustling city, situated along a scenic bay. 

Heading back to the campground I can't resist cycling once again over Monte Jaizkibel. On top of the mountain I leave my bike behind and hike up a small trail. I spend a few hours on the rim, taking pictures and enjoying the views. After the first clouds arrive from the seaside, the whole mountain is soon covered in dense fog. Time to go back to the campground. One hour later the weather has changed completely, heavy overcast and a strong breeze. A very symbolic end of my trip. After thirty days and 3,018 kilometers on Spanish roads I pack up my tent for the last time and cycle the last 5 kilometers to Irun, where I board the bus back to Holland.