Jake, John, Nick Corbett, Steve and myself took our bikes on a plane for the first time for our first big tour in May 2004, taking in the sights of southern Spain on our way from Malaga to Madrid. We cycled a total of 544 kilometres in six days (see statistics).
We left Luton airport on the Sunday morning and arrived in Malaga around 1pm. Our impressions as we flew over southern Andalucia were that it looked rather hilly, and we weren't wrong! The bikes appeared without mishap and we assembled them in the shade outside the airport, making our getaway shortly after 2pm. Malaga proper was only a few kilometres down a busy road, then we would be heading north into the hills.
It wasn't long before John encountered the first of three punctures that dogged us the short distance between the airport and Malaga. Around two hours after setting off, and after getting a little lost on the outskirts of Malaga, we eventually found ourselves on a quiet road snaking up the hillside out of the city. It was 36 degrees in the sun (so said a sign), but supposedly we didn't have too far to go.
What ensued was a rather long, dehydrating afternoon of winding roads, almost all going uphill. Highlights of the day included finally finding some water at Almogia, all of us having to walk as we hit a very sharp hill going out of Villanueva de la Concepcion, and a very speedy descent north of El Torca de Antequera when Jake hit a top speed of 75kmh as we hurtled towards the sunset. We made it to the quaint Hotel Colon in Antequera around 10.30pm, quickly showered, then slumped into a nearby restaurant for some much needed sustenance.
After exerting ourselves much more than anticipated on day 1, we had a leisurely start in Antequera. John discovered another puncture, though had already decided that he needed a shopping trip to get some new tires to stave off his puncture fest, and we left in the heat of the day once more, just gone noon. Fortunately, the terrain wasn't as hilly, at least not to begin with, and we enjoyed passing olive grove after olive grove as we cycled to a lunch stop at Lucena.
There were a few more hills north of Lucena, though nothing as bad as the previous day, but the heat was still intense. Regardless, we eased ourselves into the little town of Castro del Rio and soon found the Pension Casa Antonio, our home from home for the night.
With a longer day ahead of us, we started early, leaving our Calvados-breathed host Antonio and his morning drinking chums around 9.30, quickly finding a pleasant road north through yet more olive groves. We first passed through Bujalance, then the much prettier hill town of Montoro, where we stopped for some lunch and NickC had a bit of an unscheduled extra wander around town.
The heat was rising once more and we knew we had a hard afternoon of hills and cols as we entered the Parque Natural of the Sierra Morena. Immediately out of Montoro and we encountered hairpin turns and a sharp uphill. For every hill we conquered, however, there was another to come, and soon we had a stern test as the main road inclined sharply for a stretch of 7km or more, passing through a sun trap of a cutting as the road entered the border of the Parque. Still, we also enjoyed a number of fun descents and rejoiced in seeing the back of the olive groves for a while.
The day dragged on, however, and it was with some relief that we reached Fuencaliente and the Hotel Sierra Madrona. The Sierra Madrona was an unusually large, but empty, hotel, whose staff were rarely seen. To keep us company were numerous stag heads, antlers and other hunting trophies donning the walls wherever we looked. We enjoyed a good meal with our host though, as well as a few glasses of wine and whisky to help wash down our Flan.
Into the second half of our trip and another early start. There were three cols to climb before we left the Parque and none of us fancied being sapped by the heat again whilst in the hills. We cruised over the first col, hardly noticing it, but we did notice the grey skies and the spots of rain that gradually got heavier. Soon we were taking cover from a storm, but also realised that we needed to crack on as the rain was unlikely to stop for some time.
The first two cols were quickly conquered, but we were caught in a torrential downpour, forcing us to take cover again, this time for coffee and cakes at a cafe in an unremembered town. The rain abated but NickC decided he needed some warmer, rainproof, clothing, so our stay in town was extended as he browsed every item in the local outfitters.
After the rolling hills of the southern Andalucia, the landscape had changed to seemingly huge flat plains interspersed with occasional lines of hills. After the final col we sped along another flat, heading for our lunchtime stop in Puertollano, a town whose grim perfunctoriness reminded us of Merthyr Tydfil and whose resident one-eyed drunk tried to befriend us. We toiled on with increasing traffic and continued grey skies, before arriving, earlier than expected, at Ciudad Real.
With the main roads becoming busier, we headed north west out of Ciudad Real on what we hoped would be a more scenic and quieter route. Just as during parts of the previous day's ride, the landscape seemed to change dramatically from one valley to the next, each separated by a line of hills, some steep.
Highlights of the day included passing the lake of El Torre de Abraham and a climb up to Punto del Milagro, where, due to resurfacing, the road was covered in gravel and pebbles, providing us with a slog going up and a treacherous descent.
Further on into the day and the sun was starting to peep out again, providing us with a pleasant last 20km, when we saw our first windmill of the trip. We were then treated to a gloriously beautiful descent into Toledo.
Given that Steve was soon to be married and it was our last tour night, we had planned a bit of a night out. This was scuppered somewhat as Jake, suffering all through the trip with some bug picked up at work, finally succumbed and went back to our hostel after having nothing but a glass of warm milk. NickC and Steve too seemed a bit wiped out and struggled to get past a glass of wine, leaving John and NickT to sink the remaining 2 bottles...
A leisurely, sightseeing start to our final day saw us leave Toledo after noon, but without too far to go. Madrid was in our sights. It was a fairly uneventful day, apart from our circuitous route into Madrid. After being given some duff directions once or twice we suddenly found ourselves cycling straight into the centre of town and our meeting point, Plaza Mayor. Job done!
||Antequera-Castro del Rio
||Castro del Rio-Fuencaliente