The White Villages Review

Heartily disappointed with the summer with weekend washouts and cool, windy or damp evenings throughout June, July and August, desperate for some late summer sunshine I booked a seven day cycling trip with Iberocycle in Spain. My first choice was a guided tour along the 'Camino de Santiago' in Northern Spain, finishing in Santiago de Compostela, to revisit areas I have toured in my teens with family. Unfortunately this tour could not be booked, so I delayed until early October to ride with another tour, 'The White Villages of Andalusia'.

The trip started with a hilly and scenic transfer from Malaga to Ronda in the south west of Spain where we were introduced to our trusty steeds for the forthcoming week, a choice of Trek road bike or hybrid. All of the bikes were well maintained and supplied with speedometers, small handlebar and saddle bags complete with tool kits, puncture repair kits, padlocks, water bottle etc. but leaving enough space for sun-creams and bananas.

We started with a relatively short but hilly circular ride from Ronda up into the mountains, into the beautiful cave dwelling town of Setenil de las Bodegas, with houses and shops built into the cliff faces, keeping them cool in summer and relatively warm in winter, before returning to Ronda.

Now those who know me will be aware that I LIKE hills! Well the Chilterns did not prepare me for days 2 and 3. Day two took us from Ronda into the hills surrounding Grazalema, a beautiful village clinging on to the side of another mountain, full of Spanish vitality, and then rapidly descending, (I hurtled downwards round hairpin bends clocking a top speed of 66kmph on this descent), on past the stunning sky blue colour, crystal clear Zahara reservoir, to our first true hill top 'white village' stop in Zahara de la Sierra. Our hotel windows opened onto a stunning vista of hills and reservoir, with para-gliders floating over the distant hills.

I had been looking forward to day three with some trepidation but a real sense of challenge. We left Zahara and immediately started climbing to Puerto de las Palomas 1357m above sea level. This was a climb of 11km along winding roads, rising 700m from our night stop and took just over an hour but was immensely satisfying with just enough time for the legs to recover with a short downhill before climbing again towards Benamahoma where we stopped for a most welcome coffee stop, before continuing on to Arcos de la Frontera, another hill top town. (Do you see a pattern developing? Everything is at the top of a hill!).

Days 4, 5 and 6, left the mountains but continued to be challenging with undulations of up to 200m climbs then drops, through cork and oak forests, (where the famous black Iberico pigs feed on acorns), past cattle ranches and olive groves towards the Jerez region and then up yet more steep climbs to Medina Sidonia. Day 5 passed acres of wind turbines and solar panels aiming for Vejer de la Frontera but rather than climbing on arrival to the village, we mutinied and diverted an extra 15km, (15km was preferable to the hill!), to Trafalgar, where Nelson met his sticky end, and on to golden sandy beaches at Los CaƱos de Meca.

Fortunately our accommodating tour guide collected us in the van and the climb back up to Vejer de la Frontera was in the comfort of the tour van.

The final day of cycling took us 85km down the relatively unspoilt Atlantic coast through Barbate, then to the tuna fishing port of Zahara de los Atunes and onward through Atlanterra and Bolonia, fortunately with the wind mostly behind us, to watch a host of kite surfers enjoying the strong breezes, eventually on to the bustling town and port of Tarifa with the impressive mountains of Morocco only a few miles across the Gibraltar straight.

Covering 250 miles in 6 cycling days with hills and heat to contend with was challenging but extremely satisfying. Shorter daily distances were also offered and help was always on hand if required.

I heartily congratulate Simon of Iberocycle, (originally from Bolton but now 25 years in Santander), for his superb organisation. His directions were accurately mapped out with clear instructions and hill profiles. Our 2 to 4 star accommodation was always ready upon arrival and our luggage there ahead of us. We were each given an informative, well written booklet, giving information about Spanish culture, eating habits, laws of the road, translations, and so many other things.

This holiday sampled the real Spain, far removed from the better known tourist areas along mostly almost traffic free roads. We sampled tapas and wines sitting in bustling family filled plazas but also savoured the peace and freedom of the countryside. Wildlife was plentiful. Birdlife was everywhere. We watched hawks hunting outside our hotel windows. Vultures flying overhead in the mountains however were a little more off-putting!

I could not fault this holiday and would thoroughly recommend it to Spokes members.