Ahh, the dream of cycling holidays in Spain. Take me back to where the roads are silky smooth and the climbs go on forever.
Where the mountains are all-encompassing and the market towns are buzzing. Where the food is in abundance and the rich, black coffee comes in glasses.
Take me on rides I’ll never forget, on routes made of cyclists’ dreams, and then back to a beautiful poolside apartment with pillows so plump you only need one, and all you can hear is the birds in the trees.
Here’s what happened on our amazing week-long cycling holiday in Andalucia, southern Spain.
Most of the cyclists I know, in our club and various other cycling groups in Brighton, Sussex and beyond, go to Mallorca for their summertime fix. When we told people we were going to Almeria – or just outside of, actually – for ours, we were met with more than a few replies of ‘oh really, where’s that’?
I’ll be honest and say I didn’t know much about the area either – I haven’t travelled much in my lifetime, most of our cycling holidays tend to be in Wales or Scotland, with a rucksack full of waterproofs and the mountain bikes in tow. This was the first time we’d taken the road bikes on a trip, and the first time we’d been abroad with them too – and all I can say now that we’ve been is… just, wow.
If you’re into your road cycling and want rides you’ll never forget, here’s my top tip for the day: put your bike in a box, pack your suncream, and take a flight to Almeria, to spend a week in the mountains with Brezo Cycling.
I promise you won’t regret it.
Road cycling in Almeria province, Andalucia
About 70km out of Almeria nestled in the Sierra de Los Filabres you’ll find Lubrin.
It’s a friendly, local town not touched by tourists, where you can dine out for days for the price of a pub lunch for two in London. There’s a busy midweek market and a few traditional tavernas serving tapas for just one euro each; or a glass of beer for the same. In this part of rural southern Spain (621 km from Mallorca, for the record), it’s pleasingly cheaper to drink beer than soft drinks, which are priced at a mere 1.50. Either will do after a good ride in the heat… we made sure we sampled enough of everything just to make sure.
The roads around Lubrin and the neighbouring towns of Uleila, Sorbas, Bedar and El Chive are the stuff of cyclists’ dreams. Silky, smooth, rolling on and on, and almost completely traffic-free, not a pothole or obstacle in sight – apart from the odd snake, lizard or wild ibex meandering across the road as seen on our last ride!
The unspoilt tarmac is carved into the rugged mountain landscape like a beautifully rolling Scalextric track, through olive groves, tomato plantations, acres of farmland and miles and miles and miles of wide open space.
Humans looking after humans
Some days were so quiet we didn’t see a single car, whilst others were ‘busy’ with three or four, maybe five in peak ‘rush hour’. The drivers we did come across treated us with respect, waiting for us to signal when it was safe to pass, and then doing so on the other side of the road, at a sensible speed, with more than a car’s width between us.
That’s the difference – no one’s ever in a rush in Spain. There’s an air of patience, of chill, of mutual respect for everyone’s right to be there without putting anyone else’s life in danger. Humans looking after humans. It’s just a glorious place to ride, and a world apart from road cycling in the UK can sometimes be.
In Spain (as well as France, Germany and Portugal) the 1.5metre passing distance is law and is obeyed by all motorists, helped in part no doubt by the bloody great big signs that we saw enforcing it on the roads.
From March this year the UK has also started to enforce this law, hitting motorists with a £100 fine and three points on their license if they close pass a cyclist, but unfortunately, due to the sheer amount of traffic on the roads, the inadequate infrastructure and impatience of many drivers, this is still very much a problem here. But at least it’s starting to change.
Eat, sleep, ride, repeat.
The more hectic the pace of modern life gets, the more I yearn to scale it right back. To be 100% present in the moment is exactly the reason we went out to Lubrin for our amazing Spanish cycling holiday. After not getting round to taking any proper annual leave at all last year (hey, freelance life), we learned our lesson and made sure we booked our cycling holidays and getaways in advance for 2019.
For this holiday the only things we had to think about were riding our bikes, when and what to eat, whether to nap before dinner, and basically just chilling TF out. In other words – perfection.
The Cortijo Grande Casa Rural B&B / self-catering apartment and Brezo Cycling is run by husband and wife team Gary and Sarah, accompanied by their two sons and extended family of friendly dogs and cats (SO MANY CATS IN SPAIN!!)
On arrival at Almeria airport we jumped into a hire car with our host Gary and were transferred directly to our glorious new home for the week. We were lucky enough to have the private six-bed apartment adjacent to the family home all to ourselves, and a well-stocked fridge and fruit bowl waiting for us.
Everything was taken care of without us having to think about it. We sat out on our own balcony overlooking the gorgeous hills and relaxed and read and slept and chilled for the rest of the time when we weren’t riding.
It was divine.
Day 1 – out to Uleila and back
For the first day of riding and to ease us in gently (as well as make it back in time for a brilliant poolside party we’d been invited to at friends of Gary and Sarah’s), we rode a simple route out to Uleila and back from Lubrin with one obligatory coffee stop and visits from three cats.
Distance: 23.24 miles
Cat toll: nine including the two at the B&B, three at the coffee stop and two big beautiful tabby boys at the party.
Day 2 – Convent climb – Puerto de la Virgen
Looking back over the week this lovely, 14km gradual climb up near to a monastery on top of the mountains was a good warm up compared to some of the other beasties we did. Out to Uleila again then turn right up onto the hill and up up up for 1070m before turning round and getting to come back down again.
It was on that long, winding climb and the glorious, traffic-free, flowing descent that followed, where I realised just how good this cycling holiday was gonna be.
Distance: 33.07 miles
Cat toll: 10 – same coffee stop cats revisited us after the climb plus a newbie stray.
Day 3 – Lubrin to Bedar loop
This was my favourite ride of the week. I just can’t believe the roads around Andalucia. The climbs are just brilliant, and this one was no exception. We started the ride differently to the previous two days – instead of taking the road out to Uleila from Lubrin we took the AMAZING new superhighway to El Pocico.
My God what a road that is! (I have a video to share absolutely razzing it down this one).
Apparently it’s only been built two years and no one really uses it apart from cyclists and locals so the tarmac is silky smooth and the flow is just perfect. The road twists and turns like a Scalextric track with panoramic views of the mountains and hills all around.
Once we’d finished whooping our way down to El Pocico it was to Los Gallardos for coffee then up a gorgeous switchback 12km climb through Bedar (with a coke stop at the village). The way they carve these villages and roads into the mountains makes for some pretty awesome riding and fuelling 🙂
Distance: 29.98 miles (I know…)
Cat toll: still 10 – no new sightings to report.
Day 4 – quick out & back Lubrin to Los Dioses
A short one today to make time for a mooch around the market in Lubrin. A good little 15 mile loop with a 3km climb at the end where I let Chris tow me up harder than I normally ride. Was glad to be able to push it on the climb knowing I didn’t have to save anything for another 10km of up!
We bought half a spit roast chicken and baked potatoes from the market for lunch and devoured them with glee on our balcony.
Distance: 15.3 miles
Cat toll: 11. Finally met the other B&B cat!
Day 5 – the day my arse finally got handed to me… Lubrin to Sorbas loop
It might’ve been the heat that ramped up from the comfortable 22-25 degrees to 28ish that got me. It might’ve been the late night cerbezas that followed the alfresco woodfired pizza and good times with our new friends in the garden. It might’ve been the four previous days’ hilly AF cycling in my legs finally catching up with me.
Whatever it was, the road to Bonksville was finally here for Day 5 and I had to drag myself through this one for the second half of the ride.
Despite the bonking I did enjoy another beautiful route to Uleila and round to bustling town Sorbas (caught market day for coffee stop – winning) with a quick stop off at the local pottery place to see the awesome stuff they make.
Once we got back and showered Gary drove us into Lubrin for emergency tapas (best kind of tapas?) to inhale and recover.
Distance: 28.68 miles
Cat toll: 12. Cute little stray in the village.
Day 6 – the big one: Alto de Velefique!!
Wow. Just wow. What a climb this was! This felt like climbing a proper mountain.
If you said to me when I was younger that in my 30s I would enjoy riding up hill for 28km I would’ve laughed in your face, but that’s exactly what we did.
I’ve got a whole separate video to share on this one so will write a separate blog but for now I’ll just say this was the perfect end to the BEST week of riding my bike in road cycling paradise.
Distance: 34.89 miles
Brezo Cycling and Cortijo Grande Casa Rural B&B / self-catering apartment is nestled in the hills just outside of Lubrin, Andalucia. Visit cortijogrande.co.uk or brezocycling.co.uk for more info on the amazing area and cycling holidays available.