A week long cycling trip through Andalucía is one of the most interesting ways to explore this region of Spain. Located in the south of the country, Andalucía is a region of big hills punctuated with olive groves and white villages, with a long history of habitation. You can expect challenging cycling with lots of elevation and some fast, fun descents.
John and I did a bike ride that took us from Granada to Ronda, a distance of only 250 kilometres over five days. But those were exceedingly hilly kilometres with average daily climbs of between 2,500 and 3,000 feet. If you haven’t done any hill climbing in a while you’ll be in for a rude awakening.
Biking from Granada’s city center to Alhama de Granada, about 60 kilometres one way.
November is really not the best time to do a bike trip in Andalucía and we knew that before we went. However, we did go prepared with waterproof tops and bottoms, shower caps for our helmets (a fashionable touch as you can imagine) and long fingered bike gloves. We needed all of it within the first hour.
Getting out of Granada was surprisingly easy. In short order we were on lovely wide, flat bike paths that delivered us to lightly traveled country roads. It turns out that this would be the flattest countryside we would cycle all week. Luckily I didn’t appreciate that fact at the time.
Olive trees showed up just outside the Granada city limits. Everywhere you looked there were nothing but olive trees.
About 80% of Spain’s olive crop is grown in Andalucía. Spain is the world leader in olive oil production, ahead of Italy and Greece. The regional government of Andalusía tracks every commercial tree by means of GPS coordinates – which sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare to me – all in the name of ensuring subsidies are fairly handed out.
Continuing on in the pouring rain we climb through Escuzar to Ventas de Huelma. By the time we arrive in Ventas de Huekma we were both starved and soaked. Fortunately the one bar in town didn’t seem to mind the fact that we left large puddles under our chairs but they do serve us a pasta dish in record time. We linger over lunch hoping for a break in the weather. It comes about thirty minutes into our afternoon ride.
Our next destination is Lake Bermajales. Locals come to fish, swim and windsurf here. We stop to admire the scenery.
Then it’s close to another 900 feet of climbing – but it’s through fantastic smelling pine forests. And the views out to the valley aren’t too shoddy either. We finally arrive in Alhama de Granada, a very pretty town perched at the top of a hill – naturally. It sits beside the Tajos Gorge. In better weather I’d take the time to wander the paths down into the gorge.
Before you climb into town there is an opportunity to check out a Roman bridge and the Arab baths, found in the interior of the Hotel Balneario. Unfortunately we were too wet and cold to explore by the time we reached the town.
Two cavities in the side of the gorge speak to the long history of the area. In the 13th century the cavities were used as granaries. Then prisons and dungeons. Cattle were next and as recently as the civil war it was a refuge for families.
Cycling from Alhama de Granada to Colemnar
Lying in bed we can hear the rain pounding the pavement – not how I imagined our bike ride through Andalusia. We’ve asked for an 8 AM breakfast and we stick to the timetable – shower and show up in our warmest cycling gear. The rain has puddled at the entrance to the breakfast room. It’s dripping into the lobby of the small hotel. Our mood is in the toilet.
We down a few cups of hot, milky coffee and our perspective changes a bit – but not enough to stop us from going back to bed for another hour. Early starts be damned. By 10 we’re ready to load up at head out. It’s only sprinkling at this point. Leaving the pretty town of Alhama de Granada, our only regret is the lack of time to explore the gorge.
It’s uphill right off the bat – which shouldn’t come as a surprise to us by now. We make our way across the agricultural plain of Zafarraya where you see fields of vegetables and the ubiquitous ham in live form.
Then it’s off through beautiful rolling country on quiet roads with views of the Sierra de Alhama. The Mediterranean can be seen in the distance too.
We roll into the town of Periana and look for somewhere to eat. We find a bar with several old men busy playing video games. We’ve seen this a lot in Spain. Lunch today is fried eggs and bread; somehow it takes almost 40 minutes to prepare. Tomorrow we decide will be a picnic lunch; we’re really not interested in listening to video games for an hour.
The afternoon brings more climbing but interesting rocky hills appear. So do orange and lemon trees as well as wild rosemary and lavender.
Our last climb of the day to Colmenar is a long one and we’re trying hard to outrun a storm. My husband suggests waiting it out in Rio Gordo but I opt for going. Bad idea. It’s not the rain we mind so much – it’s the fact our shoes don’t dry quickly – and become close to unwearable because of the smell.
Our hotel for the night is Hotel Belen – and not one I’d recommend. Our room is small. There are stains on the bed covers. The window blinds don’t open. Even the soap is dodgy. I wouldn’t have rushed if I’d known. We drop our gear in our room and head for the bar. At least it’s a bright and cheerful place where we can hang out to avoid our room.
And so ends our second day of biking the white villages of Andalusia.
Cycling from Colemnar to Antequera
Day three of our Andalusia biking trip took us from Colmenar to Antequera, a distance of only 50 kilometres including a side trip to El Torcal National Park. The distance is entirely reasonable but factor in over 1,000 metres of climbing, iffy weather, fully loaded bikes and a few hours needed to explore the park and you end up with a very full day.
We couldn’t leave our dodgy hotel in Colmenar fast enough though unfortunately breakfast wasn’t even available until 9 AM, a typical occurrence in Spain. Without a lot of options in town, we hung around for several much needed coffees.
The first five kilometres of biking were mostly flat but from then on the day was either up or down. A couple of climbs interspersed with some seriously good downhill got us into the white village of Villanueva de la Concepcion by lunchtime. The town has been inhabited since 200 BC – when the Romans settled a town here called Oscua. We didn’t have time to explore but there are remains of Roman villas, a burial ground and a forum to see.
Then the serious climbing started. But the roads were lovely with very little traffic and the views exceptional. In fact we could see the Mediterranean off in the distance.
It’s funny how expectations play a role in the day of a cyclist. I had expected to be climbing to the turnoff to El Torcal for much longer than it took. But then the road up to the park was far steeper than expected and on several occasions I was tempted to just give up. Don’t.
Do the climb on your bike to El Torcal National Park.
El Torcal National Park was one of the highlights of our bike ride in Andalusía. It boasts a fantastic assortment of karst rock forms, eroded by wind and rain over time. You could get lost in there for hours, hiking one of the four trails and taking pictures.
When you leave El Torcal, the ride to Antequera is almost all downhill. Its fast and its fun. And if I had known just how fast it was I would have spent more time in the park.
Your first views of Antequera are from above. It’s a very pretty city – full of Baroque churches and plazas, the Alcazabar fortress, and loads of shops and restaurants as well as the burial dolmens from thousands of years ago.
There are loads of places to stay in Antequera. We stayed at Hotel Cosa Viejo – a three star place with rooms on the small side – though the bathroom was huge and the view of the Alcazar from the room was lovely. It’s in a good central location too.
Spend some time walking the monumental quarter just below the Alcazabar. Try to time it to catch the sunset glinting on the tiled roofs making them glow – the finest hour for a white village in Andalucía.
The Antequera Dolmens Site
Don’t miss a trip to the outskirts of town to see the Dolmens. The Menga and Viera Dolmens are enormous megalithic tombs dating back to 2000 – 2500 BC. The funeral chambers are made of huge stone slabs – with some estimates of one slab weighing 200 tons – and dragged from a quarry over a half mile away. A video inside the visitor center brings the building of the tombs to life and is well worth watching. The site got UNESCO status in 2016.
Antequera to Ardales by bike
I think our bike ride from Antequera to Ardales offered the most beautiful scenery of the week, though that could be because the weather cooperated too. We spent the first part of the morning admiring the burial dolmens from thousands of years ago in Antequera. Then it was off through the fertile Valle de Abdalajis, on very quiet roads past loads of olive groves and Lobo Park – a privately run reserve for all types of wolves, that in hindsight we should have visited.
After about two hours of easy biking we arrived in the small town of Abdalajis. It sits beneath an imposing rock face and offers up fine views and a couple of small restaurants where you can grab a quick bite. The only downside to the place were the two medium sized birds kept in cages so small they couldn’t even open their wings, at the entrance to the Bar Nervi, on the outskirts of town. This is Spain – and I thought this kind of cruelty especially in full public view wouldn’t be tolerated. Guess I was wrong.
Then it was off to the El Chorro Gorge. And what a pretty ride it was to get there. The massive rock wall stretched on and off for miles on our right and everywhere you looked there were olive trees plus a smattering of lemon and orange trees. Just before the descent to the gorge make sure you look up and check out the climbers on the rock face.
Then it’s a steep, fun descent down to the bottom of the gorge. But before going all the way down it’s worth stopping at the park to admire the views. There’s also a hotel, restaurant and hostel if you want to stay in the area – La Garganta Turistica Restaurante and Hotel and the El Refugio Hostel.
After crossing the river you get an interesting view of a small rope and plank bridge that hugs the walls above the Rio Guadalhorce. The drop is 400 metres. It was built during the dam construction between 1914 and 1921. There’s a catwalk too if you look closely, pinned to the face of the gorge, about 100 metres above the river. King Alfonso XIII walked this on the day the dam was officially opened. After a number of recent deaths it was closed. Repairs are done now and the Camino del Rey (the King’s Path) is open again.
Next up on the bike ride was a climb through the fir tree forests in the national park. Be warned. The roads are narrow. It turns out to be an olfactory treat all the way up – with the powerful scent of the fir trees.
At the top of the climb we were in for a visual treat – the lake district. It reminded me of the colour of the water in Queenston, New Zealand.
Four kilometres more of cycling landed us in Ardales, one of the prettiest white villages we’d come across yet. Here we stayed in the Hotel-Apartamentos Ardales, a place I’d highly recommend. You not only get a good sized bedroom but a living room and a kitchen too, with free WiFi. And the woman running the place was one of the most helpful we’d come across in all of Spain.
The total mileage from Antequera to Ardales was only 44 kilometres – pretty low in my books, but there was enough to see, that it was a treat to bike at a leisurely pace. All in all a wonderful day on and off the bike.
Cycling from Ardales to Ronda
Our final day of cycling took us from Ardales to Ronda, a distance of only 45 kilometres, through some truly beautiful country – past rock faces interspersed with olive groves and through craggy mountains before descending into the more open countryside around Ronda.
We left Ardales with a steep ascent to get out of town. Mornings seemed to always start that way. After we got past the garbage dump the scenery was quite wonderful – rolling countryside through olive and almond groves. Car traffic was close to non-existent.
Seventeen kilometres later we entered the town of El Burgo. It wasn’t a big place, but that didn’t mean we didn’t get turned around. We figured out the right route, but only after we’d done two steep climbs. It was coffee break time at that point – and an opportunity to observe the comings and goings of locals. There was lots of just hanging out and milling around in evidence – no doubt because of Spain’s 25% unemployment rate.
Next up was a big climb out of El Burgo through Sierra de Nieves Natural Park. It was a workout – especially considering we were traveling with panniers – bursting with computers, cameras and clothes.
After reaching a viewpoint with expansive views of the valley – though with no falcon sightings (they nest here) it was time to start climbing again. The viewpoint turned out to be a tease. However the scenery grew more impressive, and more barren, with each rotation of the wheel. This was a desolate section of road – and very narrow to boot.
UNESCO has declared the Sierra de los Nieves Park to be a Biosphere Reserve.
If you get off the main road you might happen across spectacular gorges and deep ravines. The rock in the park is limestone – which lends itself to the formation of sinkholes. Gesm’s sink, is the world’s third deepest at 1,100 metres. We never saw any, but if you’re lucky you might see Spanish Ibex goat or Roe deer.
The pass is marked by a sign – Puerto de Viento – Doorway of Wind. We were extremely lucky that we didn’t have to fight the wind going up or coming down from the pass. There’s nothing worse than climbing for an hour and then still having to fight your way down.
The last eight kilometres into Ronda went by quickly. From the minute we came off the pass the car traffic picked up and it felt like we had entered civilization again. We found our hotel – The Don Javier, just footsteps from the bullring and the gorge, and bid adieu to our bikes.
It was time to see what Ronda offered – which we know now was plenty.
The best time to cycle in Andalucía
If you you’re interested in biking Andalucía then you can rent a bike from lots of companies. We used Cycling Country and did their self-guided tour though I wish the accommodation was a level up. The best time to go is April, May, September and October. Avoid the summer because of the heat.
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Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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