Bikepacking is taking the cycling world by storm. Eat Sleep Cycle founders Lee & Louise headed to the south of Spain to enjoy some quality time on the bike & explore the region. Lee tells us all about the journey.
Here are the boundaries we had for our bikepacking tour of Andalucía:
- Just 5 days of riding – this was a holiday & we wanted to come home feeling fresh, so the routes couldn’t be too epic.
- In January so probably avoiding the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada’s
- A loop (getting the train or dropping off the car in one place and collecting it afterwards)
- Carrying everything we need, no support, however staying in nice hotels and not camping.
- Gravel bikes meaning we could get off the main roads which we would do as much as possible.
There were some places we really wanted to visit, like Seville (I had a bike race finish there a few years ago) and Sanlúcar (Louise went to Flamenco dance classes there as a teenager). We also really wanted to see Granada but the first planning observation was the vast size of the Andalucía province compared to others in Spain. With just 5 days and taking into account the chillier mountain weather in January, we crossed out Granada for a future visit. We would focus on the main cities of Seville and Cordoba instead.
Bike Gear for Bikepacking: The Bikes
Louise would ride her custom RS Cycles Columbus tubing steel gravel bike. Its so small it only takes 650 wheels and those were given a tyre upgrade to the faster rolling gravel kings. Her bags were the lightweight Restrap collection since those fit nicely on her tiny bike.
The Eat Sleep Cycle workshop built me a Ritchey Outback especially for the trip. I used the Ortlieb bags from our rental equipment. Both Louise’s and my bike were powered by the SRAM Force AXS groupset for extra smooth shifting, though Louise had the Mullet upgrade.
We decided to start in Cordoba, the closest driving distance from Girona. Why not take the train I hear you ask? Of course we would prefer this, however getting the bike on the high speed AVE train that crosses Spain is not guaranteed. It needs to be in a case, or bag, so you can try with a large bin bag, but we just couldn’t take that risk on this occasion.
Arriving in Cordoba was a joy. What a peaceful city with easy access from Orange tree-lined roads. We even managed to park the car for free for a week (practically for free – we paid a gentleman €1.50 a day to watch it which seemed to be part of a great local government program).
Cordoba to Osuna, 92 Km, 537 m elevation, 60% gravel
The gravel bikes came into their own right away, leaving the city under the main roads and immediately out onto the olive tree lined via verde, with Cordoba gradually shrinking in the distance.
Immediately we got a sense of the size of Andalucía, vast bare fields, only green where farmers irrigate extensively. Thousands of olive trees as far as the eye could see. This is where touring by bike is really a treat – on a map it looks like nothing special and in real life the views are spectacular!
We stopped for lunch in a small restaurant in Écija and tried the local salmorejo (garlicy tomato cold soup) and jamón croquettes.
It was after this we first experienced the fierce wind which would feature during the rest of the trip. Were we unlucky just going the wrong way, or is it always so damn windy in Andalucía?!
Arriving at Osuna, after a quick wash we headed out to enjoy the sunset from the Colegiata which overlooks the city majestically.
We rode out of Osuna directly into a wind farm park, which gives an idea of just how windy it was. I loved getting right up close to the turbines and feeling the force!
The gravel was perfect which helped tackle the short steep bergs through the park. It made for a tough day on the legs with the loaded bikes.
The path got Hiller and hillier the closer we got to Ronda. The hill top cities in Andalucía make you work for them and the arrival into Ronda was no different with 5 Km into a headwind on an uphill drag.
Ronda to Arcos de la Frontera, 87 Km 1,654 m elevation, 40% gravel
Before leaving Ronda we took a small detour to view the Puente Nuevo (new bridge) which adjoins the new and old city. Famously, Ronda was one of the last standholds of the Moors and only by cutting off the water supply at the bottom of this bridge were they conquered.
If there is one place on the trip I will come back to ride my bike more that is Ronda. The epic climb up to Grazalema (through the Sierra Grazalema) left us speechless. Full blossom trees lined the roads and outstanding views in all directions.
If we thought we were done at the village we were not, the road kept on going. With a loaded bike weighing around 20 Kg these long steep climbs take their toll!
We descended the chilly back side and stopped in a roadside Parilla for some snacks before joining the main road to Arcos de la Frontera. The gravel bikes meant that at any opportunity we could leave the main road and escape any traffic, which we did at every opportunity.
Of all the places we saw on our trip, Arcos de la Frontera, perched on a cliff edge and dominating the horizon, was the most remarkable. The climb up through the cobbled streets really tested my Wahoo navigation. The hotel advised not driving up, we didn’t know it would also be a challenge on a bike! This place was not designed for cars or even bikes!
We stayed in the only decent hotel up there, a Parador, a converted Magistrates house. The views were outstanding and the room had a bath, which 3 days in (and with little preparation for back to back days) helped ease some of the aches and pains starting to emerge.
For the first time on our trip we felt a tail wind. It took us just over an hour to get to Jerez (direct translation Sherry and the birth of it).
We took a long route to Sanlúcar via Puerto Santa María, because we wanted to see the coast after several days inland. Just another special feature of Andalucía, being the Province which benefits from both the South (Mediterranean) and some West (Atlantic) coast.
Most of the ride from Jerez to Sanlúcar was functional, through the poor suburban outers of these places. This is one of my favourite things about touring by bike – seeing how people really live and not just the rich and polished inner old towns set up for tourists.
The last 20 km into Sanlúcar had us hugging the Guadalquivir river on yet another excellent via verde, we saw first hand every man and his dog growing manzanilla on their lawns (it is only grown here due to the unique climatic conditions).
Closer to the city a purpose built boulevard saw half of the city out for their pre dinner sunset excercise, the place immediately grew on me. Louise had joined a small Flamenco school several years back during her dancing days so being back brought back some fond memories.
We enjoyed freshly caught prawns and local white wine at the busiest restaurant in the central plaza. Although we live in Girona, Andalucía is one step further on the Alfresco living scale, probably due to the milder climate.
Sanlucar to Seville, 96 Km, 48 m elevation, 90% gravel
We left Sanlúcar through a stunning pine tree natural park into what can only be described as a bird paradise. We were stopped in our tracks by flocks of flamingos enjoying the ideal conditions. We were on the route along the Guadalquivir river to Seville. 90 Km of gravel cycle path, on paper a dream and in reality extremely tough against the blinding headwind that day. To get through it we took turns facing the winds force and taking regular breaks to enjoy our quickly diminishing snacks (we didn’t see so much as another person the entire ride).
4 hours in we reached the end of the river path and to our delight a bar, or a farm, a farm bar let’s call it. They had Coke and coffee and that’s all that counts. I am fluent Spanish but the strong accent here tests me to my limit so we also ended up with 2 random tapas which apparently I ordered!
The final race into Seville proved just how good the cycle paths are in the city. Completely divided and perfectly identified, with separate cycling signals at crossings, it is a joy to cycle through this city.
We stayed right in the center of the old town with easy access to all of Seville’s main attractions. What a wonderful romantic city to finish our cycling tour.
We took the train back to Cordoba to finish the loop. All in all, 5 days of riding.
Until the next time…
To improve the trip I would add an extra day riding in Ronda and in warmer times and with more days to play with of course add in Granada and the Sierra Nevada. I hope to be back to Andalucía again soon to discover more of this wonderful Spanish province.