Spain Through a Guide’s Eyes
We hear what a mountain bike tour through Spain is like from our local guide
Our guides are great! Spain is no exception. They have years of experience, great bike handling skills and the best local trail knowledge. On any trip though, I suppose you’d hope that your leader had these practical abilities so for us these traits are almost incidental; they are what any ‘good’ guide should have and don’t necessarily make them great.
No, what makes our guides great is that these practical abilities are wrapped in a wonderfully friendly and supportive personality that will see you through the highs and lows of any adventure. What makes them excel above others is that they also have an unbounded enthusiasm for what they do.
This enthusiasm shines through when you meet with them, when you ride with them and, evidently, when you ask them to write about a ‘typical’ tour for them in their homeland.
Our thanks go to Javier Morcillo for sending us his tour diary and for being one of our guides who, like his close knit band of colleagues, is simply one of the best in the business.
It’s early afternoon as I wait patiently at Málaga airport for our next group of eager mountain bike adventurers, ready to take on our tremendous circumnavigation of the Sierra Nevada. I love the anticipation at this stage of a tour and can’t wait to meet my new riding companions for the week.
All flights come in on time and we’re ready to rock and roll in pretty quick time, as we pack the van and set off on our 1 1/2 hour journey into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Our first night’s accommodation is in La Zubia, a charming small town hotel with a great bike building area – by the pool – where we assemble bikes and chat over the coming week. After our welcome briefing and a good cup of coffee we head out on the local trails for an hour, to stretch our legs and so we can all get to know each other a bit better.
We wake on our first morning to a clear blue sky and very acceptable temperature of 15°C. Birds are tweeting, coffee is on the table and our host is handing out freshly squeezed orange juice. I love my job!
As we saddle up for our first full day on the bike in Spain, we quickly leave the village behind and enter almond blossom, olive and orange tree-lined dirt tracks that encourage the first of many photo frenzies that will take place over the coming week. After around an hour we pull off the dirt track and onto some singletrack that looks like it has fallen from heaven! It is a climb, but we still have enough breath to chat on the way – amazing!
It’s around late morning by the time we crest the highest point of today’s ride, and it blows the group’s minds! From a tree-lined climb we arrive at the open vistas of the Sierra Nevada mountains, then look down to see a pure white ribbon of singletrack running off into the distance, some 1100m below. But before we can saddle up and head downwards, it’s time for a snack stop, Spanish-style! I’ve brought a couple of crusty loaves, Spanish sausage, cheese and oranges and these don’t last long in the hands of hungry mountain bikers.
The descent after our snack is even better than everyone imagined, looking down on it from above. This flowing trail goes on for nearly two hours and leads us straight to our lunch stop. All that’s left now is an easy singletrack along the valley to our night’s accommodation, where we enjoy delicious home-cooking and a comfortable sleep.
We wake and open the shutters to more clear blue skies and warm sun striking the patio. This will definitely do! We shuttle a short distance before setting off on a three kilometre road climb, before I hold up my right hand to signal ‘saddles down’. We drop our saddles and all get excited at the prospect of what lies ahead. What was to come was a forested, flow trail to die for! As we were swooping down the trail we were all shouting, laughing and making our own mountain bike movie in our minds.
At the highest point of the ride we are surrounded by a wind farm, but because of the cloud cover, all that gives away the presence of the turbines is the concrete base, and a UFO-sounding whoosh every second or two, adding an element of drama to our ride. We set off from the cloudy mountain top and quickly drop below the cloud base to expose the coast and our beach front trail end, some 1200m below. Swimming in the sea after a bike ride is something everyone should experience – that’s all I’ll say.
The end of day three takes us to the high mountains of the Alpujarra, where we find our home in Capileira, a white-washed mountain village perched at the top of the valley, looking out across the Sierra Nevada.
The next day we make our way even higher into the mountains, to Trevelez, the highest town on mainland Spain and the Jamón capital of the country. If you’re a foodie, you’ll be in your element as we tour the Jamón café and shop, tasting as we go, but your bank account may not thank you for it…
After lunch we start climbing out of the village, yes, climbing out of the highest village in Spain, which lasts for around one hour, on a mix of singletrack and doubletrack that leads us to a high-level pass, across which we’re offered magnificent views of the Sierra Nevada mountains, ocean and even out to Morocco.
We have a photo stop and then set off on our descent on many different trails: loose rocky trail; flow trail; meandering water channel trail; riverbed trail to tacky mud trail. It was incredible and the team was left wondering if they would ever ride a better route in their lives.
Our accommodation tonight is fantastic, made even better by the fact that we have two nights here, and won’t need to pack up tomorrow.
The accommodation is an organic farm stay, built by hand by a local family. They have vineyards, olive and orange groves, and are delighted to show us around. We all take a tour around the olive oil and wine making facilities, and of course taste some of the produce!
On day six we leave the south eastern part of the Sierra Nevada mountains and ride over a high level pass which takes us to a new world: our descent into the “Badlands” of Spain. This area looks like something out of the Star Wars movies, with huge, towering sandstone structures that have been eroded out of an ancient sea bed. As we descend through this landscape we pass the castle at La Calahorra where the final moorish king of Spain sat.
The last part of today’s ride sees us weaving through a landscape littered with old and new caves, home to many local people. These caves are not dingy, damp affairs, they are dry bright and well equipped with plumbing and electricity.
After an hour of riding past these caves we pull off the trail and enter our very own cave complex for the evening. These 3-star caves are sublime, with open fire places, comfortable bedrooms and beautifully tiled bathrooms. There’s even a pool outside! We enjoy an amazing evening of delicious food and wine, telling stories and sharing laughs from our day’s ride. This experience won’t be forgotten in a hurry!
On our last day of mountain biking we take a short transfer to a trail head that will ultimately lead us into the old town of Granada. I can assure you that arriving through the back door of Granada, on a pencil thin strip of singletrack with a backdrop of the world famous Alhambra, is genuinely eye-watering.
We sit at the view point near the end of the ride to allow this view to imprint itself on our grey matter forever. As everyone takes it all in I explain where we are staying and how we are going to get there, asking, “Anyone been street riding in Spain before?”
“No, well follow me…”
Tight, white-washed alleyways without a straight edge in sight, followed by many cobbled stair cases and numerous café’s with bemused coffee drinkers watching us file past in silent wonder. We drop down to our final accommodation for the trip, a central hotel within walking distance of our Hammam (arab baths) and hundreds of tapas resturaunts.
I haven’t mentioned much about the food so far, and the reason? All I can say to you is; if you enjoy fantastic trails and culture, you’ll love Spain. And if you love great, and I mean great local food, then you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven on our mountain biking adventure in Southern Spain!