Tag Archives: Cycling Spain

Cycling Spain – Day 8 – Using a Bike Rental to Explore Madrid

After spending a day on a bus trip from Madrid to Segovia, I was eager to stretch my muscles and get back on a bicycle. And, although there are plenty of electric power-assist city bicycles for rent as part of the BiciMad (Madrid’s Public Electric Bike System), I wanted a  human-powered bicycle to explore the parks and trails beyond the city center and along the riverbanks of Madrid.

A station near Retiro Park for Madrid's public electric bike system.
A station near Retiro Park for Madrid’s public electric bike system.

Luckily, I remembered a bicycle rental/tour shop, Alquiler Rental located next to the Mercado San Miguel. That would be my destination.

My human-powered rental bike.
My human-powered rental bike.

On a quiet Sunday morning, I took a suburban train and subway to Sol, a huge plaza with shopping radiating from the nine streets that intersect this area. Tourists were lined up and around the block at a delicious looking pastry/coffee shop conveniently located across from the metro entrance, but I was neither willing to wait in the long line or pay the tourist prices for the pastry. I decided to a few steps farther away from the plaza where I found a delicious,  authentic, less touristic, and much less expensive breakfast.

A 2,5 Euro typical Spanish breakfast.
My 2,5 Euro typical Spanish breakfast.

In addition to saving 10 euros or more, I had the pleasure of dining with locals and enjoying their camaraderie and relaxed Sunday demeanor.

I arrived at the bicycle rental shop just after it opened at 10:00 am. I spotted a medium-sized 10 speed bicycle that appeared to be in good condition. (9Euros for 3 hours.) I paid an extra 3euros for a lock just in case I needed to leave to bike and explore.

I had a bicycle map and my phone for Google maps, but I didn’t want to be bothered stopping all the time so I just started riding to see where my bike took me.

It’s been my experience in European cities that  bike lanes or white bicycle logos and arrows printed on streets  often lead to the perimeters of the city center and to interesting places.

Puss-in-Boots getting dressed before trying to make money in the Plaza Mayor.
Puss-in-Boots getting dressed before trying to make money in the Plaza Mayor.

Within minutes I was winding downhill past the Palace Real and towards the Manzanares River . Heading west along the river I came to the Plaza de Espana. I then crossed the river along one of the many bridges and spent the next few hours cycling through the Casa de Campo.

I love Sundays in urban parks. There is usually lot of activity and today was no exception. I pedaled into the middle of a Madrid Triathlon. Sections of the park had caution tape marking race lanes for both cyclists and runners.

The transition area for the triathlon.
The transition area for the triathlon.

The lanes were empty but protected by race volunteers in high-vis vests. Cycling further into the park brought me to a lake that was filled with swimmers completed the first leg of their race.

Tri-athathaletes swimming in the lake at Casa de Campo.
Tri-athathaletes swimming in the lake at Casa de Campo.

I left the race crowds and continued deeper into the park. The spring wildflowers were in full bloom and entire fields sparkled with the bright yellows and whites of wild daisies, my favorite flowers.

Casa de Campo is quite hilly so many cycling clubs, easily distinguished by their matching shirts and shorts, were training on the hills. There were also mountain bikers,  joggers, skateboarders and walkers.

Returning to the city center,  I cycled east along the river past the large Atlético Madrid soccer stadium, beautiful parks, and modern pedestrian bridges that were artwork in and of themselves.

This is my favorite pedestrian bridge over the Manazaneres River.
This is my favorite pedestrian bridge over the Manazaneres River.

By now the Sunday crowds were thickening and I was having to stop often for toddlers on bicycles, and scooters, groups walking side-by-side in solid lines like a dam in blocking a reservoir, so it was time to return the rental bike.

Using roads and cycle lanes back to the rental shop, I enjoyed  the thrill of navigating through traffic and around large groups of Sunday strollers.

If you don’t mind a few hills and you have the time, riding a bicycle to explore Madrid is a very pleasant way to sightsee.

Cycling Spain – Days 6 and 7 – Having Fun in Malaga

We arrived mid-day to Malaga after a short   1 1/2 hour bus ride from Granada.

Cycle paths like these made the decision easy to rent a bicycle.
Cycle paths like these made the decision easy to rent a bicycle.

Our original intent was to rent a moped for the day but, after seeing the great bicycle paths and lanes into town and finding several good bicycle shops in the city center, we once again chose our favorite mode of transportation…bikes.

There were at least three bicycle shops like these near the tourist information center in the city center.
Bike 2 Malaga was one of three bicycle shops  near the tourist information center in the city center.

What a great decision!

After cycling the steep hills of Andalusia, cycling in Malaga was a “walk on the beach.” Seriously! There are beautiful, flat cycle paths heading east and west from the city center.

The Malaga seaside.
The Malaga seaside.

Sandy beaches with volleyball courts, sand soccer pitches, outdoor fitness centers, and playgrounds, make this fun for all ages. Museums, outdoor art exhibits, lush green parks, a fort, a castle,a cathedral and a yacht-filled marina make Malaga an interesting destination.

The outdoor art exhibit is near the marina.
The outdoor art exhibit is near the marina.
Interesting architecture along the seawall near the cruise ship port.
Interesting architecture along the seawall near the cruise ship port.

On our first afternoon we cycled east past the lighthouse  and along the seashore for about 10 miles.

The light house makes a good reference point for finding the beaches and cycle path.
The light house makes a good reference point for finding the beaches and cycle path.

We found many seafood restaurants with empty row boats set on stilts and filled with simmering coals where fresh seafood is cooked. We made a note to come back the next day to  enjoy a long, leisurely, mid-day meal.

Many seafood restaurants have these row boats filled with simmering coals.
Many seafood restaurants have these row boats filled with simmering coals.

After returning to the city center on the same path we bounced along the cobblestone paths of the old city center. There was a two-block long red carpet filled with pedestrians dressed to the nines for the Malaga Film Festival. Street performers were entertaining guests at the square near the cathedral.

Red carpet for the Malaga Film Festival.
Red carpet for the Malaga Film Festival.

After returning our bikes before the shop’s 8:00 pm closing time, we set off to find a good seafood paella.

After a good night’s sleep, we rented bikes again. Our first stop was the train station to buy tickets for the next day on the fast train to Malaga. After seeing the crowds in town for the film festival and knowing this was a holiday weekend (Labor Day) in Spain we wanted to make sure we got Eric back to Madrid the following day for his flight to Egypt.

Castillo de Gibralfaro
Looking from the Castillo de Gibralfaro to the Malaga city center.

We then cycled the long, curvy road up the west side of the hill to the Castillo de Gibralfaro, a military garrison and coastal lookout form 1487 – 1925.  There we found great views.

Cycling down the east side of the garrison and joining the cycle path along the seashore, we returned to the area of seafood restaurants we’d discovered yesterday. Most of the restaurants were filled with diners and it took several stops to find an unreserved open table with a view of the water.

Our cuttllefish cooking on the hot coals.
Our cuttlefish cooking on the hot coals.

As usual, we ordered too much food: fried calamari, cuttle-fish and sea-bass grilled on the coals. We ate, talked and enjoyed the Mediterranean view for several hours leaving only a few bones and random pieces on our plates.

Cuttlefish
Cuttlefish
Sea bass.
Sea bass.

To burn off the calories, we headed west on the cycle path past the city center and continued another 10 miles in the opposite direction. The west side of town appears to have the newer beach-front apartment blocks with many  playgrounds and outdoor fitness centers. Exiting the paved path to a gravel mountain biking area, we found the surf casters  standing on a break wall, fishing, chatting and enjoying the warm breeze, calm waters and golden sunset.

We did exit the paved path onto a gravel road. The bike-store supplied patch kid did not have glue so Eric had to replace the tube.
The gravel path did give Eric a flat tire. Glad he was the one to get his hands dirty while I could take photos and watch the birds.
Each beach was identified by signs like this.
Each beach was identified by signs like this.

I highly recommend visiting Malaga by bicycle!

Cycling Spain – Day 5 – Hotel Las Piletas to Ronda -(25 km)

We knew today’s ride would be short so we lingered at the hotel and chatted with the owner of this lovely farm-turned-hotel, Hotel Las Piletas.

We learned that this property has been in the family for over two centuries. Before her family owned it, they believe the land may have been owned by the Church, and before that probably the Moors, and before that the Romans. When they excavated for the pool they dug up many Roman artifacts that are scattered throughout the gardens of this hotel.

When she and her husband decided to renovate the property, most of the buildings were in ruins. Running the hotel has been the fun/easy part. Renovating and keeping everything working is a never-ending project. It’s easy to see, however, that they love their “vocation” and have created a beautiful home for their two daughters and themselves. Their hospitality made me want to move in and call Las Piletas my home, too.

Climbing another hill towards Ronda.
Climbing another hill towards Ronda.

We didn’t have long to reflect on the beautiful farm because our legs went from stiff to burning from the steep uphill our the gate. After five days of riding are legs were thick, sore and stiff.But that’s the cool thing about pedalling. It’s a natural warm-up and for me, much easier than running.

Our tour packet recommended we have lunch at a little place on the river near Cuevo del Gato.

Beautiful location for a restaurant but we  settled for coffee rather than wait for food.
Beautiful location for a restaurant but we settled for coffee rather than wait for food.

Unfortunately we arrived at 11:30 am and this high-end restaurant was only serving coffee until 1:30. We settled for a quick caffeine recharge and then we continued our adventure.

Cuevo los Gatos
Cuevo las Gatos

Brown tourist signs indicated a cave nearby and many groups trekkers were enjoying the Sunday sunshine and heading in the direction the sign pointed. Not wanting to walk, we mountain biked along the same track in search of Cuevo del Gato.

Mountain biking on the hiking trail until it got too steep and rocky.
Mountain biking on the hiking trail until it got too steep and rocky.

A long, rocky stretch of trail – too difficult for us on bikes – made us head back to the paved road. Luckly, the cave was visible from the road.

Our lunch stop.
Our lunch stop.

We ate at a simple bar-restaurant along the side of the road, and watched several local men ride up in their souped up Seats, a Spanish make of car, rap-style baseball caps turned sideways on their heads, pants riding low enough to identify their Boss boxer shorts. They walked to a table with the arms jerking and heads bopping rapper style to music blaring from the earbuds. Sipping beers and taking long drags from their cigarettes complimented their “bad-boy” Spanish rapper – if there is such a thing –  image.

The last few kilometers uphill into Ronda were sad. They indicated the end to our cycle tour and I really felt like we were just getting started.

Taking advantage of still having a bike, we stopped by the train station to buy tickets for Granada and then the world famous Ronda Bull fighting ring and horse center.

In the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway – or – A little background….

In keeping with my tradition of reading local authors or literature set in the countries in which we travel, I chose to read about Ernest Hemingway.

When were not cycling or eating, I was reading “Running with the Bulls” by Valerie Hemingway, the ex-wifeof the Ernest Hemingway’s late son Greg (Gigi).

Somewhere in the depths of my higschool English class memory I had learned that Ernest  fought in the Spanish Civil War and lived in Spain. From reading Valerie’s memoire, I also learned that Ernest was fascinated by the art of bullfighting and, in particular, the very famous bull-fighter, Antonio Ordonez.

Inside the Ronda bull-fighting stadium.
Inside the Ronda bull-fighting stadium.
Famous bull fighter from Ronda,
Antonio Ordonez, a famous bull fighter from Ronda.
A safety-zone from the bulls.
I wonder if Hemingway stood here for a photo…

Getting back to the Ronda bullfighting stadium (Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Ronda) and the art of bull-fighting. A visit the to museum is a “must-see”. Aside from the learning about the history of the bulls, the sport, and the horsemanship required of the riders, just imagining the characters in the book standing in the exact spot where I was, made the reading come to life.

To make the setting of Valeria’s book even more relevant, pictures of Ernest Hemingway are dotting the walls of the breakfast and lounge areas in our hotel, the San Gabriel, making me wonder if he actually slept in the same room as us.

I think Ernest Hemingway imbibed a great deal in local drinks.
I think Ernest Hemingway imbibed a great deal in local drinks. (Photo hanging in the Hotel San Gabriel)

 

The Hotel San Gabrial has been around a long time.
The Hotel San Gabriel has been around a long time.

At 6:00 pm we returned our bikes and walked to the town square where we dined on innovative and delicious tapas. We watched children play tag dressed in their Sunday finest (I think they had been to Mass at the cathedral in the square), and young couples walking arm in arm as watching the sun set.

We also talked about ideas for our next cycle tour…..

Cycling Spain – Day 4 – Near Montecorto – Grazalema – Hotel Las Piaster (32 Km)

After a large buffet breakfast at Hotel Salinas and Spa (Cortijo Salinas), and a visit to the old church located on the hotel property, we started cycling to what would be my favorite hotel/destination of our entire cycle trip.

This lovely chapel is located on the hotel property.
This lovely chapel is located on the hotel property.

We enjoyed a long, slow, beautiful 11.5 km uphill through the scenic, Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema.

Beautiful views were around every bend in the road.
Beautiful views were around every bend in the road.
Parquet Natural de Grazalema
Parquee Natural de Grazalema

We arrived hungry and thirsty to Grazalema, a town of Roman origin, and currently surviving as a tourist destination at the top of a mountain.

Our first view of Grazalema.
Our first view of Grazalema.

On our approach to town, cycling along the rough cobblestones  possibly remnant of Roman times, a leather “outlet”  caught our attention. I’d read this town used to house leather makers and weavers. Although most of those artisans are long gone, the outlet shop had a perfect-for-Eric new leather wallet calling his name. I would consider this purchase a “need” rather than an “impulse” as Eric’s last wallet is easily over 10 years old. Slim, lightweight and easy to carry made this a perfect cyclist’s purchase/souvenir.

The town square.
The town square.

The wallet decision-making made us even hungrier than the hill climb and we were more than ready for tapas and sangria in the town square. The sun was shining and people watching was at it finest.

One great way to quench a thirst here in Spain.
One great way to quench a thirst here in Spain.

After our long, leisurely lunch we altered our route and rode a little farther uphill to see the views above the town.

A view from above the town.
Grazalema from above.

After seeing a map of the area, I think it would have been really fun to have kept riding along the high ridge back to Zahara. I miss the flexibility of having our own bicycles and being in charge of our own route versus being on a set schedule.

After snapping pictures and catching our breath, we backtracked downhill to where we’d entered Grazalema and then took highway A372 through the Parque Natural Sierra De Grazalema towards Ronda. This road skirted the edge of the park giving us a beautiful view of the valley below and across to the road we’d climbed in the morning.

I can't understand how these trees survive with their bark missing on the lower part of their trunks.
I can’t understand how these trees survive with the bark missing on the lower part of their trunks.

Another 14 kilometers (mostly downhill) brought us to my favorite hotel of our entire cycle trip, Hotel Cortijo Piletas, a converted farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Not only are the rooms comfortable, the gardens welcoming, and the pool inviting, but the owners are fantastic!

Entrance to the hotel Cortijo Piletas.
Entrance to the hotel Cortijo Piletas.

When we arrived the owner/wife was helping another guest but took a moment to hand us the keys, settle in, relax, and do the “check-in” paperwork later. I like this kind of thoughtful, trusting, understanding hotelier.

Our cycle tour is winding down in a lovely place.
Winding down in a lovely place.

For over two hours I sat by the pool, enveloped in the scent the crepe myrtle in full bloom,  watching the chirping birds swooping down to grab fliers near the surface of the swimming pool, and pretended to read my book.

The gourmet, romantic dinner  was cooked by the owner/husband. The menu changes daily depending upon what is fresh and available at the market. The bread is bought daily from a Grazalema baker who has been delivering bread for over 70 years.

If I were to come again to Andalusia for a cycle trip, I would book a week at the Cortijo Piletas and use it as my home base. It would be easy to plan a different ride from there each day.

Cycling Spain – Day 3 – A Day of Hills and Beautiful Pueblo Blancos (49 km/1023 m)

We woke to cloudy skies but a rain-free forecast so our spirits were high.

After a chilly, but scenic, ride downhill from Prado del Ray, it felt like the rest of the day was mostly climbing. We didn’t mind, though, because we felt like we were training for the Tour de France or one of the many Grande Fondos of Europe. We were passed by many cyclists on high-end road bikes and wearing matching team uniforms.

The area around Ronda in Andalusia is famous for road cycling training. It would be easy to pick a “home base” in almost any of the white villages and then take daily road rides in almost any direction to train on steep hills. A week’s worth of hard training would not get boring.

Zahara
Zahara

Our first stop was Zahara, a beautiful town nestled beneath a castle at the top of a hill. There is evidence that Zahara has a history at least since the Bronze Age. It’s 360 degree view and location atop steep rock outcroppings made it easy to defend and to keep an eye on the villager below.

View of the reservoir from Zahara.
View of the reservoir from Zahara.

We parked our bikes and walked up the very steep hill into town. We found a lovely place with outdoor seating and a view of the castle to eat tapas and take pictures.

Great little stop for tapas and a view of the castle.
Great little stop for tapas and a view of the castle.

Hopping back on our bikes we enjoyed a ride along the reservoir below Zahara and into a village called Algondales. We stopped for a coffee but the town square was really noisy with workers in large trucks were putting up stalls for a festival.

Same reservoir, different view.
Same reservoir, different view.
Church in the town square of Algondales.
Church in the town square of Algondales.

It was 2:00 pm and we enjoyed watching parents walking their children home from school.

The coffee barely fueled us through a long, hilly valley followed by a very long, very steep uphill toward El Gastor.

Thank goodness for a couple of oranges in the bottom of my pack.
Thank goodness for a couple of oranges in the bottom of my pack.

El Gastor has the nickname “Window of the Pueblos Blancas” but I thought it was more interesting as home to very famous bandits. One of the bandits was called El Tempranillo and I know we drank some red wines with the same name.

Our view from the town square in El Gastor.
Our view from the town square in El Gastor.

We stopped at the very cute town, sipped a beer and and watched cars enter the one-way street and then back out again to let a car pass coming from he other direction.

Bronze example of an Andalusian bagpipe.
Bronze example of an Andalusian bagpipe.

We also learned the El Gastor is home to the famous Andalusian Bagpipe.

Notice the flower pots hanging from many homes...
Notice the flower pots hanging from many homes…

Fueled from our cold beer and a fun, curvy nice downhill, and a short (thank goodness) uphill we were delighted to arrive at the Hotel Salinas & Spa. The courtyard was already filled with road cyclists basking in the sun after their hard workout.

One more view of the reservoir from our hotel room.
One more view of the reservoir from our hotel room.

Our room had a large balcony with table, two chairs and two chaises for watching the sunset and looking at the lake. Our gourmet dinner at the hotel restaurant included fresh asparagus soup and lamb – Eric had the chops and I had the baby leg of lamb. Ordering meals in Spain was still new to us and our mistake on this night could have fed a family of 12. I got tripped up with the words “baby leg of lamb”. Isn’t that redundant? A “lamb” IS a baby sheep and a leg of lamb has often fed our for Easter.

Needless-to-say we ate too much and had trouble falling asleep.