The great summer ride guide – (Part 3/4)
Here’s part three of our summer special!
You’ve read about the finest roads in France and Luxembourg. Now it’s the turn of Spain – a country rich with great biking tarmac. Every road has been ridden and rated by biking travel writer Simon Weir, who spends his working week exploring and mapping the best routes in Europe and Britain.
1. Puerto De Las Palomas
There’s much more to Spain than the beach – roads like this for a start
I know, you’re trying to work out how that road manages to wrap itself round those hills, disappearing and then reappearing so many times. I could explain but it’s probably better if I explain how you can get to ride it and see for yourself.
The road is the CA531, the Puerto de las Palomas in the Sierra de Grazalema, about two hours west of Malaga in Andalucia. This area of southern Spain is packed full of amazing roads. Andalucia may be a long way from the UK but it is easy to ride there. You don’t have to ride to Spain: you could take a ferry to Santander. Easier still is shipping your bike direct to Malaga and then getting a budget airline flight out. Or you can just take a cheap flight and then hire a bike. That’s what I did when I first discovered this road. The fly-ride solution like many, I was a bit sceptical about fly-ride trips, too. That scepticism lasted precisely until I had the key for a tidy BMW R1200GS Adventure in my hand, courtesy of www.bmwmotohire.com. A great bike, warm Spanish sunshine and amazing roads waiting to be discovered – what’s not to love?
There’s the A397 from Marbella to Ronda, the A366 from Coin to Ronda, the A2300 around Lake Zahara… “Have you ridden the pass between Zahara and Grazalema?” asked Mark of BMW Motohire. “Oh, you’ve got to ride that.” Which brings us back to the picture again. It’s a fairly short road – barely 10 miles long – but has more corners than all of Holland and one of the best roads I’ve ridden – enhanced by the fact that (a) there are great cafes in the villages at either end and (b) all the roads around it are only slightly less brilliant. Great roads everywhere that’s the real beauty of southern Spain. It isn’t the handful of roads already mentioned that are worth riding. From Carboneras on the east coast to Cadiz in the west, there are brilliant roads everywhere. I’d say about two-thirds of the roads are better than anything you’ll find within half a day’s ride of London – and the gems are better than anything in the UK. So for an unrivalled riding experience, you need to come to southern Spain. Fabulous weather, spectacular scenery, immaculate road surfaces and brilliant corners… the only thing they don’t have is traffic. It sounds too good to be true – but look at that picture again. It’s here, just waiting for you to ride it.
When to go: March to November
Where to stay: Ronda, Teba, Granada or Carboneras
How to get there: Budget flight to Malaga
How long: 4-9 days (10-21 days if riding out)
Budget: Spain is good value. Budget £70-£100 a day (plus flights and bike hire).
For bike-hire info, see www.bmwmotohire.com
2. Picos De Europa
Roll off the ferry, get straight onto amazing mountain roads
Spotting a group of English bikes beside a café, I rolled to a stop. Nods were exchanged. We got chatting. I’d been off the ferry for exactly one hour. These chaps had been in Northern Spain’s Picos de Europa for a week. “It’s just fantastic,” one rider said. “The best roads I’ve ever ridden,” said another. “Just a shame about the weather today… It’s been scorching all week.” I won’t pretend that you’ll never see rain in the mountains of Spain’s north coast, even in summer – it is possible.
But most of the time it’s just perfect for riding bikes: dry, bright and sunny, hot without being too hot. Ideal for making the most of the grippy roads that twist
over passes between grey-crowned peaks, through shady gorges and into fascinating small towns. Northern Spain is close to paradise for the British biker. The pound goes a long way (three-course meal with wine for €10? Don’t mind if I do), which helps justify the cost of the ferry to Santander – though that works out about the same as riding across France and back. The difference being that 24 hours on the boat gets you into Spain for your whole trip… rather than wasting half of it on French motorways. And once you’re in Spain every second is precious. These roads have everything that’s great about the Alps – with half the traffic. It’s as if the secret hasn’t got out to the rest of Europe: you’ll bump into the occasional bunch of Brits but there are no crowds of Swiss GS riders. Maybe they heard it rains here? As long as that puts people off, it’ll stay perfect for us.
When to go: May to October (but July to September is driest)
Where to stay: Potes, Cangas de Onis, Luarca or Ponferrada
How long: 9-10 days between ferries How to get there: Ferry to Santander or Bilbao (see www.brittany-ferries.com)
Budget: The pound buys a lot in Northern Spain – budget £70-£100 a day (plus the ferry crossing)
Words: Simon Weir Photos: Mark Manning