It was Saturday 16th June, and I was on my way to Dublin airport. I had excitedly counted down the days to this particular day, the day where i would commence my 9 day cycle through Spain which would see me cycle from Santander to Malaga.
Waiting for my flight to Santander, i was hoping that my bike would arrive in Santander in one piece.
I had paid Ryanair an additional €60 each way to transport my bike, a bike which I had wrapped in bubble wrap and then placed in a bike bag.
We boarded the flight early and took off on time. After a great chat with Pedro, a teacher from Cantabria who had just spent the last 10 days in Dublin with a group of students, we started making our decent into Santander.
Flying above the coast in our approach to Santander, you can't but admire the beautiful landscape. The green fields, the fabulous beaches and in the distance the Asturian mountains which would be my playground during day 2 of my cycle.
Upon touchdown, I was welcomed by the sun and temperatures of around 20 degrees. The small airport of Santander (Seve Ballesteros airport) is easy to navigate and it didn't take long before i was reunited with my bike.
Where the bike bag is large, it wasn't large enough to take the entire bike. So the next hour was used to put the bike back together and getting everything ready for my adventure. And I must say I was delighted to find my bike in 1 piece.
Rolling out of the airport at 5pm, I knew that the cycle on day 1 was the easiest one in the saddle. With a total distance of 36 kilometers to the coastal town of Suances, I would take the smaller countryside roads to reach my destination.
As Seve Ballesteros airport is in a quieter area of Santander, navigating my way towards Suances was never a big issue, but what became apparent was that the countryside in Asturias isn't flat at all. Climbing up the first hill leaving the airport behind me, it gave me an immediate impression of what to expect on this adventure.
Navigating my way around another turn, I was greeted by the clanging of bells. Cows in Asturias have bells around their necks, and it is their movement which filled the green pastures along my route with a continuous clanging noise. But cycling through the Asturian Countryside is fun, especially mixing tarmac with gravel, and the time in thwe saddle passed quickly.
The last 5 kilometers of the day was a cycle along a designated cycle path along the river Saja, a brilliant location for birdwatching.
Walking from the hotel direction town is beautiful. After a short stroll, i decided to eat in one of the local restaurants where I enjoyed Scorpion Fish pate, steak and a chocolate mousse, all washed down with a bottle of white wine.
The entire meal and the bottle of wine came to €12 , not bad for a great meal.
After the meal, it was an uphill stroll back to the hotel where i turned in for an early night with in mind all the cycling which had to be done on day 2.
After a great sleep in Hotel Miralba (https://hotelmiralba.com/) , I was woken up by the sound of goats outside my bedroom window.
Sliding the curtains away, blue sky and a fabulous sunrise welcomed me to my third day of cycling. Breakfast was prepared by my host who made me a fabulous toasted sandwich with smoked ham, fresh coffee and a nice slice of cake....
After having said my goodbye, I took off for another long day in the saddle.
Cycling early in the morning at 1325 meters under a blue sky was just fabulous, admiring the beauty of parque natural de Fuentes Carrionas y Fuente. The natural park was in full bloom, the many yellow flowers standing in stark contrast with the dark blue of the lake below me.
By lunchtime, I reached the town of Cistierna where I enjoyed a picnic under the heat of the Spanish sun. To be honest, my legs were getting sore, especially after the tough cycle from the previous day where I had climbed approx. 4000 meter through the Cantabrian mountains. And today wasn't any different, turning onto the L 4606 I started progressively climbing again. The roads were quiet, and it was a pleasure to cycle along these roads enjoying the scenery. The weather started changing and by the time I reached La Robla, the rain made an appearance. Climbing steadily out of the valley towards Riello, my mindset wasn't in the right place.
I hadn't put enough training in as preparation for this cycle, and with every push on the bike, I felt my muscles burn.
I arrived at my hotel for the night at around 8:30pm, the beautiful Gran Hotel Pandorado located at 1100 meters. With an empty car park and a closed door, I feared the worst , trying to work out where I could find another place to stay in this remote part of Spain.
A note on one of the windows had a telephone number on it, so i decided to ring it and got talking to the owner (Carlos) who arrived 10 minutes later and opened the hotel for me.
After getting shown around, a retreated back to my room where I enjoyed an hour long bath relaxing my sore legs and went to sleep at 9:30pm tired but relaxed.
On day# 4, I was welcomed by a fabulous breakfast of bread, cake, cheese and honey and even received a surprise lunch pack from my host. After having said goodbye to my friendly host, I cycled downhill into Riello. Riello was still asleep, so I carried on my cycle towards Portugal.
Day#4 was going to be the longest day of the trip, in the end I would cycle 230km in total over hilly terrain. One thing I learned quickly in Spain is that Spain isn't flat at all, so after approx. 10 km into the cycle I was already climbing again to a height of 1300m ... But then it was all gradually downhill leaving the Cantabrian mountains behind me heading towards my first destination of the day, Astorga.
Astorga is located in the province of Leon and is a gateway for anyone walking the French route, the most popular path and via de la plata route. Astorga is the European birthplace of chocolate, and the chocolate museum is worth a visit. The town is also famous for the 19th century Episcopal palace which was designed by the Spanish Catalan architect Gaudi.
After having admired the buildings, I climbed back in the saddle for a cycle through the rolling hills between Astorga and the Portuguese border. These hills became gradually steeper and steeper, and the milage of the day was taking it's toll on the legs, but the scenery kept me going. One thing which mesmerized me was the amount of butterflies which were all sitting on the warm tarmac, all flying away just in time when I got to close for their own good. But butterflies were not the only animals which crossed my path, the area north of the Portuguese border has many deer, all of them enjoying the wild landscape of this region.
The air was filled with the smell of flowers, cars were almost non existent and the views were fabulous, ... and to top it all off, the sun was providing me with a pleasant 23 degrees.
When you select your route in this region, you have to be very careful... a lot of the roads are untarmacced and can get very rough at times slowing your progress down to a snail pace, especially when you are trying to cover a decent distance.
When I arrived in the village of Brandilanes from where I would cross into Portugal, i discovered that the road was blocked for traffic. My next best option was a 20km detour in order to cross the border which as it turned out was my only option.
Crossing the border into Portugal, the sun started to set in the distance. A goat herder was gathering his goats together with his dog who decided it was more fun to run after a lonely cyclist while ignoring the calls of his owner.
The lonely cyclist, me in this case, started to cycle a good bit faster as the dog was the size of a small horse. Escaping the dog, I pushed myself out of the valley up the last climb of the day. I had forgotten that there was an hour difference between Spain and Portugal, and by the time I arrived at my accommodation for the night (Casas Campo Cimo da Quinta) it was 8:30pm.
I was welcomed by a friendly girl who showed me to my room which turned out to be a 2 bedroom apartment.
After a great sleep, I woke up early in the morning and took a refreshing shower. Afterwards, I headed to the breakfast room where the owner delivered another feast, again a set menu delivered directly to your table.
After saying my goodbyes, I was welcomed by blue skies and the warm morning sun. And as predicted, the first hour of the day was a long climb out of the Douro valley
Climbing higher and higher out of the valley, i reached Mirador de la Puerta de las Arribes where I took a well deserved rest while admiring the fabulous vista.
Next destination was the city of Cuidad Rodrigo, a sleepy medieval walled city off the beaten track away from the popular tourist routes.
So far, day# 6 was turning into my favorite day of the trip, the legs were in great shape, the sun was beaming down and i had for the first time wind pushing me along rather than the headwind I got accustomed to during the first few days.
Cycling towards Cuidad Rodrigo, i could see the mountain range of Las Batuecas - Sierra de Francia Natural Park which would be my playground for the afternoon.
The roads were in brilliant condition, and before I knew it I had reached Cuidad Rodrigo which I left soon afterwards. My plan was to push along knowing that the toughest climbs of the entire route were ahead of me. And I also wanted to arrive early enough at my destination as I had booked dinner.
The meals were really important for me during this cycle, this as they were key to replace the 1000s of calories I burned during this cycle. During the cycle itself, I just tend to snack as I find it difficult to eat lunch and then carry on the cycle. So my preference is to snack and then replenish calories during dinner and breakfast.
The barren landscape soon made way for evergreen forests, lizards running right in front of my wheels oblivious about my presence , the scent of pine trees filling the warm summer air.
The road gradually climbed higher and higher into the mountains, and my water ration was fast depleting. I always carried about 5 liters of liquid with me, and believe me, staying dehydrated was a task in itself.
When I reached the village of Serradilla del Llano, it was time to replenish my water supply which i did in one of the local shops. This rural shop didn't have any till, the owner just calculated the overall price on the countertop. In the village, I got in conversation with a local man who explained to me that the next 10km would be tough climbing non-stop out of the village. And he was right, under a blistering sun, i made steady progress and entered an undiscovered part of Spain off the beaten path.
When I turned onto the EX366, a desolate road which brought me through miles and miles of pine forests, I knew this was one of my favourite parts of Spain. When I reached the almost deserted village of Riomalo de Arriba, I was surprised to find an elderly couple seated along the road enjoying a quiet life.
Following the river towards Las Mestas, I reached this pretty village with it's river swimming pool. This would be the place where I would stay for the night, and I must say that I didn't expect to find a fabulous hotel like Hospederia Hurdes reales in these remote parts.
Sitting under a tree drinking another bottle of water, I was experiencing the hottest day so far. The streets of the village were deserted, most people choosing the comfort of their own home rather than walking the streets in 36 degree heat.
In the morning, I had left Las Mestras bright and early after a huge breakfast, and after some tough climbs the landscape had turned more hilly rather than mountainous. Eagles were circling around looking for their next prey, olive trees were now a regular feature in the landscape and the lakes were missing a lot of water. It was definitely hot, but that was to be expected in this part of Spain.
And I had watched the weather forecast, a heatwave was on the way from the south (Sahara) which resulted in a constant warm headwind.
It was Saturday, and I was looking forward to a night in the town of Caceres. When I reached the Tagus, it was obvious that this region doesn't receive much precipitation. The roman bridge which once crossed the river was well visible. Carrying on, i slowly started to climb towards Caceres, a Roman city located in Extremadura, a Unesco world heritage site. The city retains evidence of many different cultures.
Reaching the suburbs, modern flats are the main buildings, but getting closer to the old town, Ciudad Monumental, a mix of gothic and Renaissance architecture is widely represented.
Having booked into my accommodation, I walked the cobbled medieval streets and admired the fortified palaces and houses. The town is encircled by 12th Century Moorish walls, but the town is also known for it's 30 towers, each of them having nesting storks on them.
It was busy in Caceres, many families enjoying an evening out on this sunny Saturday. I found a great place for pintos , placed myself on the terras and watched the hustle and bustle of this busy city.
Leaving Caceres behind me, it was 7am and already getting hot. The heatwave had arrived and it would make for a tough day in the saddle.
With another 5 liter strapped to the bike, I cycled along long straight stretches of dusty roads in between fields of grain, sunflowers,...
The hills were gone and good progress was made along the flat roads of this region, but I was consuming a lot of my water which meant I had to top it up on a few occasions.
Reaching the foothills of Parque Natural Sierra de Hornachuelos, the climbing in 35 degree heat was tough. When I reached the beautiful town of Guadalcanal, I decided to take a break and seek out some shade. A small festival was just starting and I enjoyed watching the parade,...
Leaving the comforts behind me of the shaded village square, I took the long road towards Cazalla de la sierra. After a quick decent, it was uphill all the way towards Cazalla.
The odd car which passed me gave me a friendly supportive beep, one driver even stopping and offering me some water. I was delighted when i reached the outskirts of Cazalla, a lively town where I checked into my accommodation.
About the Author
We are Peter & Dolores De Bie. We love the great outdoors, discovering new parts of the world and writing about our adventures along the Wild Atlantic Way and further afield