My name is Louis Tousignant, a Canadian in his mid-fifties, living in Nova Scotia on the Atlantic shore. I do a long trip every year and I am always on the look out for partners. If the following parameters are fine with you, by all means get in touch with me at email@example.com
This was a solo trip, from September 4 to October 7 2001, with 23 days cycling and the remainder traveling and visiting cities along the way. I covered 1742km, for an average of 75.5 km/ cycling day.
Madrid is a cyclist nightmare, so my travel agent was inspired to book a room at the hotel Villa de Bajaras near the airport, situated in the outskirts of the city. They pick you up at the airport (bike and baggage). The room comes with breakfast and the hotel is located near a subway station which gives you access to touristic Madrid. Find out about the city by yourself, but at the very least the Prado museum is a must...
The hotel's location facilitates the exit, but I strongly recommend buying a regional map of Madrid, as the road network in the surrounding area is a maze. I got lost in an industrial park and was saved by Jesus (no pun intended, that was the name of the guy who rescued me). He put my bike and baggage on the top of his car and drove me for 8 km on M208, on the way to Vellilla de San Antonio...
Day 1 - Barajas - Aranjuez (80 km)
Started a 7 AM (you should leave Madrid at 5 to avoid traffic) and got lost. Thank God for Jesus...
The M208 to Arganda is uneventful (flat with small hills), then I took the M313 to Titulcia, the M320 to Villaconejos and the M305 to Aranjuez. I discovered my first bar tapas in Villaconejos and had squid and tomatoes for lunch (delicious). There is a nice treed section on M305 (the park adjoining the castle) as you enter Aranjuez.
Stopped at 2 PM as Aranjuez is a touristic must see. Stayed at Hostal Rusinol (3,500 pesetas/night compared to 10,000 in Madrid) There was a fiesta at night... it lasted until 5 AM!!!... and great photos of flamenco musicians and dancers were taken. What an introduction to Spain!
Day 2 - Aranjuez - Toledo (51 km)
Took the N400 to Anover, which was fine, but you must take the CM 4001 all the way from Aranjuez to Toledo. Language problems prevented me from finding out the better way...
N roads are extremely well maintained, with wide glass and nail free shoulders. The road system in Spain is first class and the myths about crazy drivers are just that... Myths. Spaniards drive fast but efficiently and they will treat you as they treat scooters, which is very well. But you can't daydream on an N road...
Toledo is another must see, a beautiful city, the former capital of Spain. Ride up to the old city center (a nice climb, the first) cause that's where the action is. Easily found a pension (Segovia - 2400 ptas). Take the Chiquitrain (600 ptas) on arrival. The ride is spectacular and helps you find your bearings. Spent the afternoon visiting and had a great dinner with wine (2900 ptas) at La Tarasca, Hombre de Palo 8.
Day 3 - Toledo - Alcazar de San Juan ( 102 km)
Took the CM400, the Don Quixote route, out of Toledo and had lunch in Consuegra, after a 75 km ride on flat terrain. Consuegra is where you will find your wind mill photos and the town is picturesque. In fact, considering I ended up 27 km later in Alcazar, an absolute touristic zero, you might stop there...
La Vuelta is on and Eric Zabell won the stage...
In Alcazar, do not go to the Don Quixote Hotel (7000 ptas/night) but to the Hostal Aldoneza (3000 for a room with private bath) in front of the train station. I redesigned my preliminary itinerary with the help of locals to go further East and avoid the autopista which is unavoidable in spots if you go to Jaen via Valdepenas.
Day 4 - Alcazar de San Juan - Munera (88 km)
Up to now, the road is quite flat and you ride among olive groves pretty much since Madrid. The terrain continues to be flat on the CM400 but the vegetation switches to grapes as you ride to Tomelloso... From there, still on the CM400, there is absolutely nothing for 55 km on the way to Munera, so be sure to carry enough water. With 2 bottles, I was down to my last gulp when arriving in Munera mid-afternoon... A very uncomfortable feeling .
Munera is simply a stop but the Miguel Hernandez hotel is extremely hospitable. The rates are cheap (dinner and room for 5000), the food simple but excellent and they did not charge for my laundry!
Day 5 - Munera - Puente de Genave ( 97 km)
You finally leave the plain in Munera but the climb to El Bonillo is very easy and gradual on a brand new road (CM3133). From there, you coast all the way to Robledo, switching to the N322.
If I had to redo the trip, I would go to Albacete (an historical provincial capital) from Munera and return westward on the N322 towards Jaen.
I stayed on the N322 to Puente de Genave, with the Sierra de Alcaraz on my right. The scenery is beautiful.
Here again, if I redid the trip, I would make a detour in the sierra at Reolid and take the CM412 to Fabricas de Riopal and the CM3204 to Puente. Much more scenic and of course... hilly. But there is only so much time...
And that leg of my actual trip was quite enjoyable!
Day 6 - Puente de Genave - Baeza (84 km)
You are now in a gigantic olive grove and it's a false flat to Villanueva. From there to Villacarillo, you get a taste of the Sierra Alcaraz. The scenery is beautiful... The first hilly day.
Pass through Ubeda (a larger city) to climb to Baeza, a scenic and touristy town. It is beautiful. Paid myself a treat by staying at the Fuentanueva Hotel (10,000 for a large air conditioned room and a fantastic dinner) but there's lots of more affordable lodgings. A leisurely walk through Baeza is a must...
Day 7 - Baeza - Jaen (54 km)
With the A316 right there down in the valley, you would think that directions to Jaen in Baeza would point to it... No!! So I went the wrong way towards Linares and the autopista but figured the error of my ways in Ibros. I rejoined the A316 though Begijar, where you start coasting until you reach Puente del Obispo. A beautiful ride... glad about the detour.
False flat to Mancha Real (did not detour into it) and then an easy coast into Jaen. The direction to Centro Commercio is misleading as you go though the maze of clover leafs around the city. As you approach, follow directions to Castello rather than Centro Commercio and you will stumble on the way to Centro Urbano...
Visit the tourism office in Jaen (pronounced Wren) and get tourist maps, not only of Andalucia but of at least Granada to facilitate your future arrival there... I strongly recommend the restaurant El Pilar des Arrabalejo, a fantastic "tipico" eatery and bar. There's not much to see in Jaen but the people are very friendly. As usual, there is a lot of noise well into the night...
Day 8 - Jaen - Alcala la Real (71 km)
The climb to Los Villares on C3221 is about 6 km with a 5 km descent. Then you reclimb for 11 km and coast, descend for a similar distance. You are in the Sierra de la Pandera and it's spectacular. There is another climb of 8 km out of Valdepenas... so when I arrived at the crossroads at Castillo de Locubin, I chickened out and took the road to Venta de Corrizal along the San Juan River. A good decision as it is a nice road... but then you have to climb all the way to Alcala on the N432. In retrospect, it is definitely shorter and probably more scenic to do the Castillo de Locubin route to Alcala.
The Hospedaria Zacatin is the best hotel (brand new room with modern bathroom and great food) in town. And cheap, 3500 ptas for the room.
A great day! The alternative route to Granada from Jaen along the autopista is probably spectacular but there are sections where there is no parallel small road to the freeway... A toss up really.
Day 9 - Alcala la Real - Granada (50 km)
The ride to Granada is an absolute breeze in beautiful country until Pinos Puente and then flat to the big city.
Took a day's rest in Granada and could have easily taken 2 or 3. There is lots to see and photograph in Granada. Take the bus to the Alhambra (walking is crazy) and go early to avoid the crowd. Also take a bus to the uppermost part of town west of the Alhambra and walk down to the center. If you are tired of Spanish food, try Estrella Oriental, a chinese resto near Gran Via... comfort food!
In short, Granada is a photographer's paradise, with hectic night life. I did not give that a try but on Sunday morning, there where still people streaming out of the disco "Granada 10" at 7:30!
Day 10 - Granada - Otivar (63 km)
The ride out of Granada on the N323 is a breeze. When you reach Puerto del Suspiro del Moro, take the G-SO-2 to Almunecar via Venta del Fraile and Lopera. Not only do you have the road to yourself, it's spectacular. There is a little bar right out of Venta del Fraile where you must stop. The proprietor speaks French and English and is very nice.
You climb very gradually and inexorably until you reach Lopera and then you enter a small paradise. You descend from the Pico de Lopera towards the Mediterranean...a huge descent. Names of pro cyclists are painted on the tarmac. The vistas are breath taking and you are sort of glad not to be climbing the mountain...
Stopped in Otivar for the night (2000 ptas for a nice room at the Bar Parada) and that was an inspired decision. Almunecar on the coast is a modern dump and is only 15 minutes away from the peaceful Otivar.
Day 11 - Otivar - Malaga (89 km)
The coastal road from Almunecar to Malaga is like all Mediterranean roads... palm trees, a roller coaster to Nerva and flat to Malaga.
Met Ben and Laura (a Canadian-American couple) and had a beer in Cala del Moral, on the outskirts of Malaga. There are on a 6 months world tour bike ride, using strategically their "round the world" plane tickets. They did Norway, are now in Spain, plan on Tunisia (with some concern because of Sept. 11), Cameroun (!!!) and Australia.
Entered Malaga using a stretch of autovia (no choice) and the main artery, the Andalucia boulevard. Having a tourist map of the center helped a lot.
Rested 1 day because of rain and it was well worth it. Lot's to see. El Chinitas is where you want to eat a genuine "paella". Take bus 35 to the Gibralfaro. There is also an old Malaga wine bar on the main boulevard, where I met 5 Brit students, which is a highly recommended stop. A glass of fine wine is 160 ptas and you have choices galore from the many caskets of port wine lining the wall.
Day 12 - Malaga - Alozaina (61 km)
As recommended by all the people consulted, I left the coast and decided to go to Ronda via Coin ( A357 and A366 from Cartama). A good decision from my standpoint.
Coin is a very nice town. As you are in the outskirts of the Sierra de las Nieves, it's hilly from Coin to Alozaina. Wisely decided to stay put there mid-afternoon - the pretext being to do a laundry - and spent a quiet afternoon/evening in a very hospitable town.
If you are energetic, you could decide to push to El Burgo, in the interest of arriving to Ronda earlier the following day...
Day 13 - Alozaina - Ronda (47 km)
You start climbing from the get go until you reach Puerto de las Abejas (820 meters) and then its downhill on a rough surface to El Burgo. From there, you climb pretty much nonstop until you reach Puerto del Viento (1190 meters) when you go though a desertic mountain valley... A spectacular ride. You coast for the last 11 km before Ronda.
Arriving early in Ronda, I had time to shop for a hotel and found a first class room for 1700 ptas (Hostal Rondasol). There are lots of tourists in Ronda, a beautiful medieval city famous for its Plaza de Toros. Finding an affordable place could take long...
A major rainstorm started in the middle of the night and I decided to rest 1 day. The medieval old town is interesting, and I did a lot of photo, but don't plan on more than 1 day in Ronda.
Day 14 - Ronda - Arcos de la Frontera (86 km)
Decided to leave despite the clouds and the cold. Took the A376 to Arcos, a national type road, because of the very dark storm clouds in the mountains (Sierra Margarita). But you should take the A372 (after a stretch of A376) going to Arcos via Grazelama and El Bosque. Just looking at the map (Michelin 446 - 1/400,000) tells me I missed a spectacular stretch of riding... In retrospect, I kick myself for cowardice...
But hey! The A376 was not that bad from a scenery point of view, although I had to fight a strong head wind all the way. Saw my very first bulls in a field near Bornos ! However, the A376 would not have been a reasonable choice on a week day because of traffic.
Arcos is a mandatory stop. It's beautiful and requires a 4 hour photographic tour. Had an excellent dinner at the Convento with Clément and Rolande, a couple from Luxembourg I met in Ronda. They promised hospitality if I go to the start of the 2002 Tour de France, which starts in the Grand Duché de Luxembourg... Who knows?
Day 15 - Arcos - Cadix (77 km)
The quietest road to Cadix, a city which is wild from a traffic point of view, is clearly the A393 to Paterno and then the CA2012 to Puerto Real, where it gets tricky.... Just out of Puerto Real, there is a rotunda ( one of millions it seems, there all over the landscape in Spain). Instead of following Cadix, turn right and cross the bridge, turn left on a parallel route to the autovia which you follow straight through the rotundas. You will end up at the Bridge (which you are not supposed to cross on bike, but where multitudes fish...) ...where the shoulder is very wide and clean (God bless the motorists with car problems, there are the only reason for civilized shoulders!). You follow the traffic to old Cadix. It's quite a long ride in heavy traffic but a breeze.
I did not like Cadix for some reason. It took me a long while to find a good affordable room, a canned beer was opened stale, just before jumping in the shower.... you get the idea. More importantly, I found very little to photograph, a real downer. Finally, I fell on a temperamental restaurant owner and made the stupid mistake of having dinner there! I left first thing the next morning.
I'm sure you will have a great time in Cadix!!! Truly !
Day 16 - Cadix - Jerez de la Frontera (36 km)
It's only 36 km from Cadix, but you must stop in Jerez. It's a capital B beautiful city where you can easily and productively spend an afternoon with a camera.
Found a first rate room with bath/shower, historical setting, wall radio with American music (comfort souind...) for 3200 ptas (Hotel Nuevo). Dinner at La Cepa de Oro on Porvera street was excellent (2400 ptas, with aperitif). Coiuld have visited the winery of Tio Pepe but didn't. A great place!
Day 17 - Jerez - Sevilla (110 km)
The CM 601 to Trebujena and onwards is definitely the way to go. You are in Xeres wine country and it looks a bit like Champagne and Haute-Marne in France. Stark lines and rolling hills. From Trebujena to Utrera and ultimately Sevilla, it's flat as a pancake.
Interestingly, there's lots of cotton harvesting going on. From Alcala to the center of Sevilla, you are in heavy but civilized traffic. The main thing to remember about Sevilla is that the center is along side the Guadalquivir river. As soon as you cross the river, you are where you want to be... The first Hostal I try, the Colon, I get a 4000 room (dirt cheap for a big city). It's in the center of things, quite near the plaza de toros.
There are 2 bus tour companies and I strongly recommend starting off with a tour with audio comment to familiarize yourself with the city and its history. Having said this, unless you are turned on by modern universal exhibition buildings (I confess I am not), the major historical attractions are concentrated in a 2 km rectangle with the Torre de Oro at its center. One full day of rest was enough to cover the works with my camera, although one can spend days in the city. It is beautiful, interesting and lively.
Day 18 - Sevilla - Nerva (80 km)
I chose a straight west to Lisboa angle to finish up the trip, on the recommendation of most Spanish tourist officials. They have this thing about mountains and the interior. Having said this, if I had to redo the trip, I would head to Huelva and approach Portugal from the South. Not only would I have seen more of Portugal, I would have seen one of its most interesting areas south of Lisbon, the Algarve.
It's very easy to get out of Sevilla because of the ring road. I took the A431 to La Algava and then the E803 and the N630 to Las Nieves. I should have seen that you can take a small road to Gerena and El Garrobo, a much quieter alternative to the N road.
As you switch to the A476 to Nerva, it's total peace and quiet. Bull sightings are guaranteed!
It rained when I arrived in Nerva mid-afternoon. Rested, watched the Vuelta stage on the big TV screen in the bar and played chess. Nerva is a no touristic interest town, but chess playing is fierce at the Malacata café...
Day 19 - Nerva - Aracena (35 km)
It's raining all over Europe and I quit at lunch, soaked, in Aracena. The ride there is in rolling hills - the Sierra de Aracena is very nice despite the weather.
Aracena is a touristic town where there probably was a sculpture symposium at some point. The sculptures scattered throughout the town are very interesting.
If you ever do this trip, skip Nerva and go straight to Aracena on the N433, a very scenic ride according to my trusted map...
Day 20 - Aracena - Serpa (106 km)
After you climb out of Aracena , you coast down to Portugal. The scenery is beautiful and the N433 very quiet. You can change pesetas into cruzeros in Resal de la Frontera.
When you enter Portugal, this perfect road with wide shoulders transforms itself into a narrow, pot holed piece of tarmac. Road quality is way down in Portugal I found.
Tried for a room at the Serpa Poussada (state owned luxury hotel chain) but laughed my way out when they asked 23,000 cruz!!! for a single room. For 6,000 at La Serpinia in town, I got TV, air conditionning, bathroom and a free laundry. La Serpinia is a residential hotel, also state owned. The Restaurante Alentejano is superb, food being a notch above Spain throughout Portugal.
Serpa is of limited touristic interest.
Day 21 - Serpa - Reguengos de Monsaraz (88km)
The N255 to Moura is a quiet rural road. If you do this trip, would suggest going to Evora via Portel at the crossroads just outside Moura. Evora is much more interesting (a UNESCO heritage site) than my actual destination.
This being said, the road from Moura to Mourao is puzzling. First it's rough to Povoa de Sao Miguel, cobbles through the village, a shiny new road with shoulders for 1 km or so and then 6 km of awful pavement. You then emerge on a new highway again, with a very long (1.5km) overpass on the rio de Alcarrache (spectacular), then a return to pot holed madness for 3 km just before Mourao. A Gipsy camp outside of town, always colorful...
There were no vacancies in Reguengos and found a place in the country courtesy of a passerby who took pity on me. Bought wine, bread, cheese and fruit and had dinner in my room. The mosquitoes ravaged me all night long...
Day 22 - Reguengos - Montemor (70 km)
The N256 to Evora is called the Rota de Vinhos de Alentejano. You will see a lot of corked oaks, but few grapevines... The Restaurant A Gruta in Evora, a cafeteria style place specialized in grilled food, is superlatively good and cheap. A pity I could not stop to visit.
There is a nice 8 feet shoulder on the N114 to Montemor. Found a nice clean air conditioned room at the Monte Alentejano Residential on the main road.
Montemor in a quaint old town, interesting to visit.
Day 23 - Montemor - Lisboa (117 km)
You will zip to Vendas Nova (averaged 22 km/hour) because of false flats working in your favor and keep that pace until Villa Franca (N10), the only access to Lisboa not involving an autovia. Before crossing the Tejo on the bridge at Villa Franca, be sure you are steady and rested. You have inches in 4 lane traffic... Villa Franca is also a traffic congestion nightmare.
Riding on the N10, you parallel the autovia and you can actually get to the Airport in normal traffic. Which I did, the plan being to change my ticket and leave the bike to the airline so as to have a bike free stay in Lisboa. It was not to be... The security at the airport, because of course of September 11, was very tight and I could not get in without a boarding pass for that day. Waited 2 hours for a TAP agent to come get me at the gate and even then, they did not give me a ticket and - surprise, surprise - could not deal with my bike. There were no bike bags to be found anywhere.... The usual stuff.
Found a hotel (Lutetia) through the tourism office and found out that taxis did not take bikes... So at 8PM, after a consultation with taxi drivers on the itinerary, I rode 7 km in Lisboa traffic to the hotel. An interesting adventure.
It's a beautiful city and I would recommend a guided city tour, even though it is relatively expensive (5,500 cruz). Take the tram to the Castello San Jorge (an incredible monument with beautiful and intriguing sculptures) - city vistas are super - and walk down through the medieval quarters. The old center is about 1 square km.
Like Sevilla, a photographic paradise...
Spain and Portugal are fascinating countries. I hope to return and do better routes (some of which have been suggested above). Don't be frightened by all the bad publicity about drivers and traffic laws. Like in any country, there are bad drivers (speed maniacs, hesitant old folks, etc)... but the odds of having a care free ride are clearly on your side.
Blue skies and tail winds,
Louis Tousignant, firstname.lastname@example.org