Daylight was just breaking through the morning clouds and the birds were waking up.
It was day# 9 of my cycle through Spain, and on this fresh morning I found myself cycling through the hills of Parque Natural de Hornachuelos. I was on my way to Osuna on a short 110km cycle and I was super excited. Today, I would meet up with my parents and oldest son in Osuna and stay with them for 2 days. I was looking forward to the break and spending some quality time with my parents and son. I reached the town of Constantina in record time and from there it was downhill towards Lora Del Rio.
Lora Del Rio is a bustling rural town along the Genil and Guadalquivir rivers.
From here onwards, i was cycling between fertile fields as far as the eye could reach. The roads were significant busier, especially with trucks carrying the many vegetables, grain and sunflowers which were grown in this region. Cycling towards Ecija, I noticed a very bright light which turned out to be the solar tower plant Gemasolar where they capture and focus the sun’s thermal energy with thousands of tracking mirrors.
The road from Ecija to Osuna was the straightest road UI had ever experienced. Along the route, I was able to see Osuna in the distance which was still 17km away. Roadkill along the road was mainly snakes and rabbits, and knowing my youngest son would be interested in the snakes, i decided to snap a few pictures of the larger ones.
By 2 o'clock, I reached the town of Osuna, This beautiful town was a film location for Game of Thrones, but has remained unchanged and is a sleepy rural town which is worth a visit due to the many architectural treasures which can be found in the town. Navigating the small streets, I reached the house where my parents stayed in and was welcomed by a refreshing drink and a fantastic BBQ.
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.
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.
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.
When i walked into the breakfast room of Casas Campo Cimo da Quinta, I was welcomed by the same friendly girl of the evening before. She showed me all the food on offer which was to be honest a spread fit for a king. You could get absolutely anything under the sun, from cakes to a fry, from fruit to yoghurts, it was a feast fit for a hungry cyclist.
Day# 5 was one of the shorter days, so i only left around 10:30 am on my cycle through Parque Natural de Arribes Del Duero, a fabulous park which stretches along the Douro between the Portuguese and Spanish border.
First stop of the day was the beautiful town of Miranda Do Douro, a gem located high above the Douro valley. The town has many preserved buildings of its medieval and renaissance era, all of them well kept.
The town is popular with tourists who are travelling through the Portuguese Tras-os-Montes region, but it also attract locals from the countryside.
After having played the tourist for a while, I carried on my cycle... After a few miles, I knew it would be a difficult day in the saddle. My legs felt like jelly and every rotation of the pedals hurt as bad as the previous one. But what do you do if you have a planned itinerary, you just carry on and absorb the beauty of the region.
And this region is beautiful... it is marked by steep cliff edges and sleepy hamlets, all of them to be reached by small rural roads which carve themselves up and down the steep cliffs and hills.
which meant that I had to climb up and down a lot, especially the latter part of the day.
Especially the afternoon was tough, climbing higher and higher under a pleasant 26 degrees which made for a relaxing afternoon in the saddle.
By 7pm, I reached the Douro again. As my B&B was at the river bankement of the Douro, i had to make my way down into the Douro valley which has carved itself through the rocks over 1000s of years.
A 10 minute descend into the Douro valley trough a series of hairpin turns was scary, and I was thankful I had disc brakes on my Trek gravel bike. Salto de Saucelle is a very small town which is overlooked by a dam , and on either side 300m high cliffs. Where i descended in a record time, i wasn't looking forward starting the next day with a steep climb out of the valley.
My accommodation for the night was Posada Real Quinta de la concepcion, a fabulous B&B overlooking the Douro. The swimming pool looked inviting, but I decided to give it a miss as I had booked myself in for dinner.
The dining room was full, and it wasn't hard to see why. There was only one set menu, but the food was just fantastic. After a fabulous meal and a bottle of wine (yes, it was a night where I spoiled myself), a went to bed to recover my legs.
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 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.
Leaving Suances behind me , my legs were burning after the first few kilometers navigating my way around the coastal hills of Northern Spain. It was day# 2 of my Santander to Malaga cycle, and the day had started off in thick fog hindering my views across the northern Spanish coast.
This particular day would be the toughest day in the saddle, 160km of cycling with 4000 meters of climbing. Heading towards Santillana Del Mar, I made good progress and rolled into this beautiful medieval town around 9:30am. Santillana del Mar is a postcard perfect village with its cobbled stoned streets and houses with flower filled wooden balconies. (https://www.outdoorfitnesssligo.com/destinations-further-afield-travel-blog/santillana-del-mar-cantabria ).
After having cycled through the quiet streets, and believe me, these streets get very busy during high season, I carried on towards Valle along the CA-180 making brilliant progress.
After a lunch in Valle, I knew that from here onwards it would turn into a constant climbing. As it was already 12pm, I decided to push on and follow the CA 182 which meandered through forest and mountain meadows providing me with the most spectacular views across the Cantabrian Mountains. Descending back into the valleys was quick and painless, but also too short to fully recover from the long climbs.
Reaching the town of La Lastra, i knew it would be a long day in the saddle . But the scenery made up for the pedal pushing, breathtaking views being presented around every corner.
My favourite road of the day was the road from La Lastra to La Laguna which follows the canyon of the Rio Nansa, winding itself up the mountains through multiple hairpin bends with protective netting above the road to protect the traffic beneath from falling rocks. Traffic on this road is scarce, the odd cyclists or car making their way up this steep road towards the imposing dam of embalse de la Cohilla.
Reaching Mirador de Piedrasluengas which is located at 1355m height was a milestone, but with another 50km ahead of me and already being 7:30pm, i knew it would be another couple of hours before I would reach my destination of Alba de los de Cardanos which is located deep in natural park of Fuentes Carrionas and Fuente Cobre-Montana.
By the time I rolled into the busy town of Cervera de Pisuerga at 9pm, i had to make a decision... look for new accommodation in this busy town or head deep into the natural park knowing that I would have to climb across the highest mountain pass of the day.
As this trip was supposed to be an adventure where I would push myself harder than I had ever done before, I made the decision to carry on. While climbing out of the village into this beautiful national park, I wasn't sure I had made the right decision.
By the time I reached Embalse de Cervera-Ruesga, nighttime had arrived. But my stubbornness is my strength, having really never thrown in the towel before, I carried along in darkness. And it was dark, this natural park has only a few villages, so no light pollution at all. The stars high in the night sky, the noise of my tyres on the rough surface was the only sound which broke the silence on this June night.
Climbing higher and higher into the mountains, I finally reached La Varga which with its 1413m was the highest point of the day. While descending towards the village of Triollo , my only regret was that I couldn't admire the scenery due to it being pitch dark. Descending at high speed in the dark is fun, but my fun got interrupted abruptly by a herd of deer who had decided to have a gathering in the middle of the road. It is at such moments that the technological advancements in bike engineering come into play, squeezing my brakes hard, the bike came to an almost immediate stop thanks to the hydraulic disc brakes saving me from a painful collision with a bunch of full grown deer.
After this lucky escape, I finally reached my destination at 11:30 that night where I was welcomed by my host who explained to me that I was the only guest. After having been told to place my bike in his private garage, I took the most refreshing and well deserved shower ever. Hungry and thirsty, I made my way downstairs to the bar where I enjoyed a well deserved drink and a tapa. It was her that I explained to some of the locals in the little Spanish I have that i was lucky missing the deer when they showed me some pictures of wolves and bears and told me I was lucky not having met any of these friendly animals instead. Soon afterwards, I said my goodbyes and went for a well deserved rest to my room.
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.
Rolling into Suances, it becomes apparent how popular this town is with Spanish tourists. Navigating the busy streets, I found my hotel for the night just outside the town. Hotel Albatros is located up a hill overlooking Suances and 2 beautiful beaches.
Upon check in, I was told I could place my bike behind the counter for the night, an offer which I gladly accepted.
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.