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Picos de Europa

Cycling in Spain Top Destinations

Top 10 Must Ride Cycling Destinations in Spain

By | Cycling, ESC Explore, Girona, Picos de Europa, Pyrenees, South Spain | No Comments

There’s much more to cycling in mainland Spain than sunshine and smooth roads. From the highest paved road in Europe (Pico de Veleta in the Sierra Nevadas) to the green countryside of the País Vasco, Spain’s vast and diverse landscape will have you begging for new adventures. Be sure to tick off these cycling destinations from your bucket list.

1. Girona

There is no doubt that Girona is the cycling capital of Europe. Home to hundreds of professionals, the old town has a charm that is hard to not fall in love with. Riding is the perfect mix of flat, rolling countryside and some challenging climbs in the foothills of the Pyrenees. If you want character, culture and good food alongside high-quality cycling, look no further than Girona.

2. Andalucia

South Spaniards are very laid back (and who can blame them in the roasting temperatures of the Summer). But visit Andalucia from October through to May and you’ll have a spring in your pedal stroke. The rustic towns of Antequera & Ronda both provide a great base to ride from and are easily accessed from Málaga airport.

3. ‎Picos de Europa

Hugely underrated, the Picos de Europa or “Peaks of Europe” were named by Columbus for being the first mountains he saw on his return from America. They are beautiful rock formations comparable to the Dolomites. Don’t miss Lagos de Covadonga, a stunning series of lakes over 1,000 m up in the sky. Puerto de San Gloria is a hidden gem of a climb that will leave you wanting to find more “off the radar” climbs and there are plenty of those in the area.

4. ‎Cantabria

Los Machucos was the climb which sparked rider protests in the 2017 Vuelta España. It’s brutal kicks are rewarded by stunning rural views all the way up. Cantabria is home to many other feature climbs of the Vuelta such as the Peña de Carbaga and Puertos Alisas & Ason. There’s no wonder that when the Vuelta reaches Cantabria things get exciting.  Close proximity to Santander & Bilbao is helpful for logistics but you are better off avoiding the big cities and staying out in the lovely countryside.

5. ‎Sierra Nevada’s

You are just as likely to see a skier in the Sierra Nevadas as you are a cyclist. Often used for altitude training by professional cyclists, you’ll need your climbing legs on because it’s up or down with not much flat! There are plenty of authenticly Spanish places to choose to stay in the region, from the cultural hub of Granada to tiny villages in the mountains.

6. ‎Asturias

Oviedo is a bustling city with all the culture of Asturias and its wonderful food, friendly people and interesting architecture. Ride for just 5 km south and you meet what can only be described as a theme park for cyclists. Scores of short steep climbs scattered over several valleys, the Big One being the Angliru. Often stated as the hardest climb in cycling its something every cyclist should do, but just once.

7. ‎Basque country

With its own language and Spanish-Basque and French-Basque regions, the Basque country is a mixing pot of cultures which creates the best food in the world. Rolling green hills line the distance with characteristic white and red chalets. It’s a treat on the eyes and lushness that of course warrants some occasional rainfall, typical of the north Spain area. Whilst the climbs are not long, some are steep so you can easily rack up plenty of climbing metres over a days ride.

8. Costa Brava

The Costa Brava runs from France down to Blanes (a town just northeast of Barcelona). It’s one of the most unspoilt coastlines in Spain, with no billboards or high rises to distract from the jaw-dropping views. Easily accessible from Girona and coastal towns like Begur and the more popular Tossa de Mar, the winding and hilly road that hugs the coastline provides hours of sun-kissed enjoyment. Whilst traffic is never that bad, in the winter you’ll be lucky to stumble across other cyclists, let alone cars.

9. ‎Calpe

Whilst Calpe is not the most charismatic cycling location in Spain, it makes it onto the top ten list due to its popularity for training camps with professional teams. Miles in the sun on smooth roads are sometimes all people look for and this is a good place for that, with affordable hotels plentiful. Test your legs on the likes of the Cumbre del Sol and the Col de Rates.

10. Andorra

In at number 10 (because it’s technically its own country and not actually in Spain) the tax haven of Andorra is packed with slopes to delight the most hardened of cyclists. Every year Andorra hosts La Purito, the toughest sportive in Europe, and thousands flock to attempt 5,200 meters of elevation in one painful ride. Andorra is best enjoyed over 2 or 3 days (or 1 if you’re feeling sadistic). Must ride climbs are La Gallina, Collada de Beixalis, Col D’Ordino, La Rabassa and Els Cortals D’Encamp.

Trans Picos Angliru

North Spain will surprise you

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I must admit I did not know what to expect from our recent reccy to North Spain. I’d heard that it rains so much that riders race with an aluminium front wheel whilst having a carbon rear one, so I knew it would be green. I was in for a very pleasant surprise.

Louise and I packed the ESC van and embarked on the 8-hour journey from Girona. Once out of the rolling hills of Catalunya there came 3 hours of nothingness. Just when we needed a change, it came – we entered the beautiful Rioja region; vineyards now showing red and yellow Autumn colours, the light at bouncing off them and windy smooth roads through the fields. We arrived at Solares, a sub-district of Santander. When we couldn’t find anywhere to eat (I was definitely becoming “hangry”) we dropped into a corner pub and perched on the bar. The man smiled gently and got to work serving us the best damn beer we’d tasted and club sandwich which Louise still claims is the best she has ever eaten. The immediate hospitality from this man and other people in that pub set the scene for our wonderfully friendly stay in this relatively little-known place.

We rode the Peña Carbaga at sunrise, which has stunning views of Santander and the rugged coastline, one of the regions special features. In the afternoon we headed into the Oriental Mountains (which we knew very little of before our friendly barman the previous night) and crawled up the Los Machucos climb, the one the riders protested about in this years Vuelta. I’ve never wished more that I had a compact, at-least a semi-compact, just why would I consider such a ludicrous stunt with a standard crank?! But what a reward at the top! 360-degree unbelievable views and the descent back down was pretty fun too. Following our ride we checked into the Palace (no really, that is the name of the hotel), an old restored, well, Palace which oozes posh but with super friendly down to earth staff. Everywhere you look in this building there is a 500-year old wooden beam or ancient painting. We fell in love the moment we walked in.

The next day we drove along the coast and entered the Picos mountains. Whilst I try not to compare mountain ranges (each one is unique and deserves its own identity) these can be best described as being like the Dolomites; pointy rock formations shocking to the eye and providing treats around every corner. Just like the Dolomites, you rarely ride up them, but skirt around them on the hills surrounding them taking in the views. The Lakes of Covadonga were a treat. At 1100m, the climb up there just gets better and better. The hotel had warned us that the road was closed for maintenance but it was our only shot so we had to try. As we arrived the security guard was turning away a disgruntled car. He looked us up and down and said “a subir” basically meaning “get on with it”. Cycling is most definitely in the culture in Northern Spain and we felt at home on our bikes, proud to walk into cafes in our skin-tight lycra and stinking of the hard work done.

Everywhere we went local people stopped to speak with us and wanted to tell us about the next wonderful place we must see. We met a Basque couple interested in how things are going in Catalunya. A man with a horse. Cyclists out on a ride wanting to exchange phone numbers. Many barmen. Everyone was just so friendly and welcoming.

Our final stop was Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. From the outside it’s a big city but once inside the old town we felt right at home. We found a hole in the wall for dinner, which boasted a 10 Euro 2 course meal (with Rioja wine) and was bursting with happy people. It was perfect. In the end it was hard to leave the city, only a 5* castle and the chance of an epic 4000 m elevation ride would tempt Louise away. The castle would be the ideal spot to finish our trips, the ride an epic ending to the cycling. And so we were to tackle the one and only Angliru, often cited as cycling’s hardest climb. Louise had sent me up the Ermita de Alba earlier in the day (that of course had to be reccied) which has a lovely 30% ramp at the top, so let’s say I was warmed up. We nailed a tortilla bocadillo at the bottom and just went for it. If you want to meet your match on a mountain I’d say this is the place to go on your bike. I won’t try to describe it any more than that, it has to be ridden to be believed.

We drove the 9.5 hours back to Girona with smiles as big as our faces and buzzing about the possibilities of trips in North Spain.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in then get in touch or check out our Picos de Europa Tours.

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