Odette and Jerry biked in southern Spain from September 22nd to October 13th of 2018:
Odette had a vacation problem. The county doesn’t pay physicians too well, but it makes up for it by giving an extraordinary amount of time off. Odette hasn’t been able to take all of her vacation for years and usually at some point there is a crisis and they want her to stick around so they allow her to carry over extra days. Last year they wouldn’t make an exception so she ended up giving weeks of vacation away to colleagues needing extensions of their leave. She was determined not to have that happen again.
Before we went to France she put in for three more weeks off in the fall. We talked a lot about where to go – a second trip to France, some other place in Europe, maybe even a non-bike trip… She was attracted by the idea of traveling without bike cases and pushed the idea of renting bikes at our destination, even knowing that would mean riding under her own power. Eventually she decided that October would be a good time to go someplace warm and that we were better off on the tandem. Spain, and southern Spain in particular, seemed like a good place to go. Odette bought plane tickets as far as Madrid figuring we’d sort out the rest once we knew where we needed to be
There was some drama in finding a tour agency that would offer a self-guided tour of Andalucia. My only requirement was that we needed to start and end in the same city so that we could leave the cases. We disagreed on side trips to Morocco and/or Gibraltar. Eventually Odette found a company she liked – Cycle Fiesta – and put down a deposit. That meant we had dates and plane tickets and a destination – and we figured we’d work out the details later. Then I left for Tibet.
While I was gone Odette worked out an itinerary that started with their standard Seville to Grenada tour and then looped back to Seville. She arranged lay-over days in Cordoba and Grenada and extra days in Seville at the beginning and end. Her concept was that this was a tour and that bicycling was just kind of incidental to trip – something I repeated when I explained to people that my Tibet trip was a real bike tour but that I was also going on this trip to Spain that would be more comfortable and less strenuous. The main question the agency had was how strong we rode and Odette proceeded to tell them about Ramrod and our fondness for the Mazama ride. Here’s the route they put together for us:
I got back from Tibet and had two weeks before we were to leave. While I was gone Odette bought a Garmin map of Europe and found that she needed a memory card to load it – which came just after I got home. Just as I got back she got TCX files for the routes, but we had house guests the weekend before we were to leave. A couple days after they left, the bank called to say our credit card had been compromised and that they were cancelling it and issuing us a new card.
I converted the rides into routes and Odette saved the map but she ran into trouble loading the routes and with relatives needing to be attended to she didn’t have time to fiddle with her Garmin. She ended up loading un-processed TCX files for about half of the days and only loading one route on days when there were options. The bank fedexed new cards to us and I updated visa information so that we wouldn’t lose our cell phones.
After our un-planned stop in Reykjavik in June, Odette wanted to avoid Delta and the best deal she could get on airfare was Air Canada going and Lufthansa coming back. The only problem was that the flights left early – like 6:00 in the morning for the flight out. We caught a yellow cab with our bike cases and backpacks at 3:00AM and we were off!
The flight to Seville was uneventful. We changed planes in Toronto and then caught a domestic flight in Madrid where there was confusion about baggage tags and we ended up paying for extra bags just in order to make the machine work. We caught a cab to the hotel and were blown away by the buildings and bridges we passed on the way into the city. The hotel was seven guest rooms in a beautiful old building with a central courtyard. We were early enough to catch lunch in their fancy restaurant which was more than we bargained for, but very good.
The next morning I put the bike together and we did a 10-mile ride to make sure everything worked. We visited the Cathedral that afternoon – very grand and clearly showing moorish origins inside. We ate lunch at the bistro in the hotel and learned that the restaurants there were affiliated with a cooking school. Dinner was at a famous tapas bar that lived up to its reputation.
We left Seville and rode to Carmona, stopping to look at the roman ruins at Italica. The ruins were bigger than the ones we toured in Provence, and the theatre in the middle was the main thing excavated. The mozaics were cool, too. Carmona looked to us like a hilltop fortress, but it was mainly churches. The hotel was big and full of dark wood – there was a swimming pool for which we had no suits. Lunch in the bar was good. Dinner in the outdoor courtyard of a cafe on the other side of the churches was really excellent. As the lights came up the lizards played on the walls.
The ride from Carmona to Palma del Rio wasn’t particularly memorable – mainly lots of orange trees I guess. The monastery we stayed at in Palma del Rio made up for that. The complex was huge with several courtyards. The interior of the buildings seemed authentic and untouched by restorers. The domes and towers visible from the street were particularly impressive. We had lunch at a recommended restaurant where we were the only patrons and the fare was adequate. We had dinner at the monastery and it was superb. When I went to get the bike the next morning I found that we had been joined by a group from Vermont Bike Tours.
We rode from Palma del Rio to Cordoba after getting lost on our way out of Palma del Rio. The ride took us in a semicircle around the Almodovar del Rio castle and we stopped several times to admire it and take pictures. We also stopped at Medina Azhera, both to see the museum exhibits and to walk the ruins. I found the moorish ruins more interesting than the roman ones. It’s really interesting how only a few hundred miles east of Andalusia the north African cultural influences are really minimal and the influence of the cathars is accentuated…
Cordoba is a big town and we had some navigational issues getting to our hotel. We stayed at a tourist spot a couple blocks from the main square in the monument district. We ate at a couple of restaurants Odette found in guidebooks – one was touristy and nothing special, the other was pretty good. We had a lay-over day in Cordoba and toured the Mezquita, the Alcazar, and the Al Andalusia museum. The first two were really cool with a red and white motif that matched what we’d seen at Medina Azhera. The Al Andalusia thing had little real content and was mainly an effort to make the point that the muslim, christian and jewish religions overlap and that before the reconquest more time was spent living together than at war.
The ride from Cordoba to Zuheros was exciting – we had about 10km of gravel where I got carried away and we suffered a pitch flat as a consequence. Somehow Odette had the idea (buttressed by the the printed queue sheet) that the tour operator had told her that the Hacienda where they usually put riders was full so we were staying at a hotel in the village. We rode up really steep narrow streets to the castle in the center of town, then rode down an equally steep hill for a couple of blocks to find the hotel – only to learn that they didn’t know about us. They called the Hacienda and confirmed we had reservations there – and that our luggage was waiting for us a couple miles back up the road. We had lunch at the mistaken hotel and walked the bike back up the hill to look at the castle before riding out to our place. The group from VBT was admiring the castle when we got there. They were also staying at the Hacienda. Before dinner we walked a rail-trail down to the village again – but this time we didn’t make the climb up to the castle. Dinner at the Hacienda was excellent and the dinning room was spectacular.
The ride from Zuheros to Montefrio took us through a natural park and we moved from oranges into olives and almonds and hills with a lot more relief. We descended into the town, then climbed a rib to the square below the Nazid fortress. We found the souvenir store and got the key to our AirBNB. We had lunch at a cerveceria and then walked up a steep hill to the fortress. We had dinner at the same cerveceria. No problems navigating our way out of town in the morning.
The route from Montefrio to Grenada took us through Moclin – probably the most impressively fortified of the white villages we visited. Apparently the castle was built after the battle where the Castilian forces were defeated, but it was really impressive and the village below it was really picturesque. The descent down to Grenada was impressive, too. The big attraction in Grenada was the Alhambra – we paid for a guided tour. We walked around the city a lot, admiring the architecture. We headed for a famous tapas bar in the Albaicin but I didn’t want to wait in line so we settled for a tourist place up the street. We had a couple of meals in the hotel which was surprisingly good.
From Granada we rode to Alhama de Granada, taking an extension around a lake for which we had no Garmin route. There was a serious descent and then an equally serious climb around the village of Cacin. There was also a lot of up and down getting to the village of Alhama de Granada, but no real navigational issues. Our hotel room was on the second floor looking down into the gorge. The woman who ran the place was really cool. The baths were several miles away but we saw the outside of another Nazid fortress and several impressive churches.
From Alhama de Grenada we rode to Colmenar. The ride involved a lot of hills but no serious climbs and no significant villages. We stopped at one point to adjust the headset which was “clunking” and I had to take it all the way apart and get a seal on the lower bearing back in place. Colmenar doesn’t have any fortresses – it was evidently settled later and its claim to fame is beekeeping. We had lunch on the patio at the hotel and dinner in their dining room. Nothing special, and no good place to lock up the bike, but we survived.
We rode from Colmenar to Antequera with an OAB to Torcal de Antequera. The first part of the ride was really high with lots of crags and truck crops. There was a stunning twisty descent and then a long climb up to Torcal. After a fast descent from Torcal it was pretty flat into the village where we had route finding problems and ended up walking the last few meters. Torcal was worth the extra climb – windswept limestone spires and cool rock formations that would have been fun to hike. The village of Antequera had a lot of huge churches but the only thing we walked to were the Dolmens – Durid burial mounds aligned with Torcal. Lunch at an outdoor cerveceria was good, dinner at a tapas bar less so.
In the morning we had Garmin problems and got off route before we left the hotel. We ended up with some unnecessary climbing but with a view of the backside of a church that we would have otherwise missed. We had a long day with a lot of climbing to get from Antequera to Ronda, but it was beautiful. We dropped down into a gorge and crossed a dam with an indescribable view of the Camino del Rey. We climbed out of the gorge and climbed for miles in Sierra de las Nieves. We finally dropped down into Ronda and the navigation to the hotel was much easier than we expected. Riding the pedestrian street was less than ideal, though. We locked up the bike in an underground parking garage after the attendant gave us some grief about blocking cars. We ate at a tourist place on the pedestrian street and it was pretty much okay.
We started out on an “optional” lollypop out of Ronda that would have given us three serious climbs. The first one came after stopping to look at the new bridge and the Nazid gates to the city walls. After a hot, fast descent we climbed to the loop part of the ride and stopped in the village of Juzcar. This part of Spain is famous for whitewashed villages and Juzcar is structured like the others, but instead of being white it is blue. The main square has large Smurfs as decorations. We did maybe a quarter of the loop and then turned around for the climb back up the way we’d come. We had lunch at a cerveceria on the square and it was not bad. We spent the afternoon walking around the town. We ate at a famous tourist restaurant across from the bullring and it was actually a really good meal.
The ride from Ronda to Grazelema took us along a reservoir to Zahara. For a while we rode in a river valley and then we had a spectacular climb out of the gorge. We saw lots of groves of cork trees. We skirted a reservoir for the rest of the way with the fortress at Zahara as our landmark. Then we had a 15km climb in the natural park that was steep and twisty and kind of looked like we were riding the great wall. We crossed the pass and dropped a few km into Grazelema – the rainiest village in Spain. There were a couple of big churches and a roman road. We had dinner at the hotel and it was okay. Odette was really worried about the weather forecast for the next day and didn’t want to wait until the breakfast place opened at 9:00 so we stopped in a convenience store and bought cookies.
We got up really early and had tea and cookies and then headed for Utera. The first order of business was to climb back up to the pass we’d crossed the day before and then descend the steep twisty way we’d come up. It was much easier the second time through. From there the ride was pretty flat so I got into the big ring and muscled us to a more reasonable average for the day, despite it being abut 100km. Utera is a suburb with a lot of traffic and we didn’t have turn-by-turn, but we got to the hotel without any mishaps. The owner didn’t trust their regular bike park with our tandem and walked us a few blocks to her personal residence so that we could park in her underground garage. We had salads at a tapas place for lunch but the recommended place with the green door was closed, despite the insistence of the woman at the front desk of our hotel, so after walking the square we ended up at the cerveceria across the street from the hotel. The food was an adventure but they had 10 beers on tap.
We retrieved our bike and got on the road relatively early although we mistakenly believed that we didn’t have a Garmin route to match the written route guide. The way wasn’t too complicated and after about 25 flat miles we were back in Seville on the river-side bikeway we had explored on the first day in the city. We had lunch at the hotel bistro and we spent the afternoon in the Seville Alcazar and its related gardens. Dinner was at a tourist place up the street from the hotel. The next day it rained while I disassembled and packed up the bike. We walked the monument district again and visited the Triana market, but overlooked the museum of the inquisition. Dinner was in the fancy hotel restaurant where we had the tasting menu – probably the best meal of the trip.
The next day was spent getting to Madrid – a ridiculously short trip to spend a day on. We collected our stuff, took a cab to the Seville airport, checked our bike cases, sat at the gate, took a short flight, collected our cases, took a cab to the airport Hilton, and then hung out at the hotel. Odette was “time shifting” so we didn’t want to make a trip into town. We had lunch and dinner in the hotel bar and went to bed early for a 3:00 wake up. We checked out then and took a (wild) cab back to the airport where we were first in line for our flight. We checked our bike cases and then sat at the gate until a flight to Frankfurt where we cleared EU customs and connected to a flight to Seattle. That flight, on a 747, was smooth but long. US customs in Seattle was fine and our bike cases popped out onto the carousel just like they were supposed to. We took a yellow cab instead of Lyft and the first driver wasn’t able to make our cases fit into his prius so we had to wait for a handicap van and we paid a premium to rattle up to Phinney Ridge.
All in all an exceptional trip. A few observations:
- The Muslim/Christian stuff is really fascinating and much more dynamic than I realized
- Andalusian architecture is magnificent and totally different from the stuff you see in Southern France
- The food in that part of Spain was fantastic and not as pretentious as French food. The wine was all good. Food and wine were much less expensive.
- There is a big difference between country and city hotels – cervecerias seem to be the same everywhere
- We need to learn to take our time and follow the direction on the Garmin
- A loop route really simplifies things Leaving fresh clothes in the bike case was a good idea. I didn’t need the shoes I left there.
- I could have used one less bike jersey and one more T-shirt and I didn’t need the warm layer I brought for the mountains
- layover days work better when you plan things you want to do
- We’re able to do a lot of climbing, day after day. When I map out our Cyclemeter files I get almost 60,000 feet of elevation gain on the trip (in just under 650 miles) We need to return to Mt. Ventoux and we ought to consider tours in the Pyrenees and Alpes
- When Odette bonks she isn’t much help and she fusses. Having snacks on the bike is a really god idea.
- The bike worked pretty well – one pinch flat, some indexing problems that I addressed with the barrel adjuster, the lower bearing on the headset came apart but I reassembled it and it held until the end of the trip
- I need to try one of these trip without an SLR
- The climbing on this trip was more strenuous than Tibet, but the lower elevation made up for it (so much for comfortable and easy)
Here are the maps:
10/10 – Andalucia Day 15. Here’s the map. (Utera to Seville) 26 miles
10/9 – Andalucia Day 14. Here’s the map. (Grazalema to Utera) 62 miles
10/8 – Andalucia Day 13. Here’s the map. (Ronda to Grazalema) 40 miles
10/7 – Andalucia Day 12. Here’s the map. (Ronda to Cartajima OAB) 36 miles
10/6 – Andalucia Day 11. Here’s the map. (Antequera to Ronda) 55 miles
10/5 – Andalucia Day 10. Here’s the map. (Colmenar to Antequera) 30 miles
10/4 – Andalucia Day 9. Here’s the map. (Alhama de Grenada to Colmenar) 38 miles
10/3 – Andalucia Day 8. Here’s the map. (Grenada to Alhama de Grenada) 57 miles
10/1 – Andalucia Day 7. Here’s the map. (Montefrio to Grenada) 45 miles
9/30 – Andalucia Day 6. Here’s the map. (Zuheros to Montefrio) 49 miles
9/29 – Andalucia Day 5. Here’s the map. (Cordoba to Zuheros) 48 miles
9/27 – Andalucia Day 4. Here’s the map. (Palmas del Rio to Cordoba) 48 miles
9/26 – Andalucia Day 3. (Carmona to Palmas del Rio) Here’s the map. 48 miles
9/25 – Andalucia Day 2. (Seville to Carmona) Here’s the map. 47 miles
9/24 – Andalucia Day 1. (Seville shakedown) Here’s the map. 13 miles
Here are the photos
Here are some snapshots from my iPhone
Here are Odette’s photos