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You Are Viewing Spain

An Off-Road Tour in Menorca: The Cami de Cavalls

Posted August 25th, 2011

Got a week to spare? Looking for a place to go in Europe with good weather, and easily reached by low-cost airlines? Want to bike off-road?

The Cami de Cavalls on the Spanish island of Menorca might just be your perfect destination. David Piper recently cycled this path, which runs around the edge of the island. He sent us this trip report.

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Its name would imply a road for horses, or more accurately a donkey track and if you travel along its ruggedly beautiful course you may well meet a few equines but more likely to bump into hikers (not literally I hope) and a handful of cyclists, as the path is open to all non-motorised transport.

Cami de Cavalls
A GPS of the track from a mountain biker. Download it here. (Page is in Spanish)

The Cami runs for 250km around the perimeter of the Spanish Balearic Island of Menorca. It takes you to undiscovered coves and along rocky cliffs, although it doesn’t always hug the coast. From time to time it diverts slightly inland. It rolls along leisurely, never with an epic climb but the surface can be very rocky in places so this is really a mountain bike tour.

I struggled around on a fully rigid expedition bike, but would have been much happier with at least some front suspension. You’d certainly get more from the ride if you had a pannier full of off-road skills too.

Cami de Cavalls
A view from the track. Photo courtesy of David Piper

Being roughly rugby ball shaped, the island would take at least three hours to ride by road end-to-end, and an hour or so north-to-south, so rather than carrying all your kit around from point-to-point you might consider staying in a central location and riding out to the coast each day. Campsites are few in number on the island but there are opportunities for stealth camping, especially nearer the coast where privately owned land is less common. You could also consider a cheap off-season package holiday, as it would take a week of gentle riding to get all the way round and the island has a pleasant climate all year.

Bike hire is available, but I don’t think you’d be reading this article if you were considering this option, and if so – think again! I checked a few rental shops and none of the bikes I saw were even roadworthy.

Old guy and his trusty bicycle
An old man and his trusty bicycle. Photo courtesy of David Piper

I rode in July but still found plenty of solitude on the white-bleached cliffs and pine scented forests. Only occasionally was the track busy with other people on vacation and walking to the beach, and in these places it made sense to walk along with them rather than risk a collision.

Whilst a basic map of the island is handy, the route is very well signposted so getting lost is virtually impossible – just head to that sparkling blue Med, and don’t forget to pack your swimming trunks, but you may not need them on some of those beaches!

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Thanks to David Piper for sending in the trip report and photos. Visit David’s website, about his many bicycle trips around the world.

Crossing A River With Your Bicycle

Posted February 9th, 2011

Brrrrr.... Being able to cross or ford a river with your bicycle is a handy skill.

You just never know when heavy rains or seasonal floods will take out a stretch of road. Being confident enough to get across the water can save you a long detour. It can also be fun and add an extra sense of adventure to your trip.

Our most recent experience with crossing a washed out road was in Andalucia and we produced a video to show you how we crossed it.

Keep reading to see the video and read our tips.

A Bike Tour In Spain: Reaching The Peak

Posted January 8th, 2011

As our trip winds down, we inch up the last big hill at a snail’s pace to reach the high point of our journey – literally.

High point

It’s not so high compared with the world’s great mountain ranges but the steep grades and constant ups and downs of Andalucia’s roads have tested our legs as much as the Himalayas. Frankly, our muscles feel like jelly after so much climbing so we are proud to reach this point.

We’re also amazed at how quickly we’ve reached the last few days of our trip. Where did the last 3 weeks go? Then again, 3 years on a world bike tour went pretty quickly too. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that shorter holidays are even more fleeting.

This journey may be nearly over but we still have a few memorable adventures in store. The best one comes as we are cycling through a town and hear the whistle of a pan flute coming from a motorbike. “What is it? What’s he doing?” we wonder. He’s clearly trying to sell something, going slowly past all the houses and tooting his flute, but what? Then Andrew spots the grinders on the back of his motorbike.

“He’s a knife sharpener! Quick! Let’s catch him!”

We chase the man up the hill and wave him down, breathless. We have a cooking knife for chopping our vegetables and for months now it’s been dull, dull, dull. We are thrilled to hand it over and watch him do his work. A few local people gather to watch as well.

The Knife Sharpener

The Knife Sharpener

Grinding the knife

He works hard at making our knife razor sharp for a good 5 minutes and for this pleasure he charges us all of €2.50. “You just don’t see stuff like this at home in Holland,” we both say, thrilled at our good luck to run across this knife sharpener’s path.

Mud also continues to haunt us. It doesn’t help that Friedel’s shoes are very old. We bought them in Thailand. They’ve seen thousands of kilometers of cycling across Asia, Australia, New Zealand and North America. Now, when she steps in a muddy field, trying to get to a wild camping spot, the mud not only squishes up the outside of her shoes but through cracks and to the inside as well. Maybe it’s the end of the road for these shoes.

Muddy shoes

And we explore the city of Carmona, just outside of Seville. When Julius Caesar was around, it was considered the best protected city in Spain because of its fort and strong city walls. We climb the fortress for a view of the rooftops.

Carmona Rooftops

And the glimpses of ordinary life down below, like laundry hung out to dry.

Carmona Laundry

We visit the deserted main square (it will probably be bustling with activity tonight), with its cafes and bars.

Carmona Square

We stand amazed in front of this toy shop, which has dolls piled higher than the door and even on the owner’s truck parked outside! The inside of the truck is jammed full of stuff as well.

Toy Shop

And admire the many mosaics and colourful tiles, especially outside of local bars. This one advertises the sherry that is famously made not far away and drunk by the barrel in this part of Spain. It’s not uncommon to see people having a glass of sherry with their morning coffee.

Sherry

Soon, it’s time to go home. After a night’s sleep, we cycle in the dark to the nearest train station and get on board. We are tired.

Tired Friedel

Now it’s back to work. Back to comforts like hot showers and soft beds. Back to dreaming about the next bike tour.

A Bike Tour In Spain: Cycling In A Painting

Posted January 8th, 2011

A night of sleep is an amazing thing. All our stresses of the day before fade away and we are ready to take on our next day of cycling in Andalucia.

The weather starts out misty, grey and generally terrible for taking pictures but soon the light and the road combine into something wonderful. The intense greens in the fields, the warm colour of the sun, the rich blue of the sky and the dreamy road makes us feel – just for a few minutes – like we are cycling in a painting.

Incredible light

We don’t stay in the lush mountains for very long. Instead, we sink lower and lower towards the city of Antequera, and we wish we had a longer camera lens to capture each other going down hills like this.

A twisty road

Antequera turns out to be a city with a charming history but one where we are more fascinated by the Spanish culture than the monuments. Spain really does feel like one of the countries in Europe that is truly holding on to its culture and distinct characteristics. Where else in the world would you see a gas station promoting a leg of ham with each fill-up?

Jamon, Jamon, Jamon

We especially love the small shops, where many people still buy food. There are supermarkets too but these little stores always seem to be busy. They have a dedicated clientele. There are the fruit and fish shops.

Small vegetable and fish shops

And the corner store. The signs in the window are advertising lottery tickets (the Spanish LOVE their lotteries) and the fact that the shop will be open to sell bread on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Small Spanish corner shops

And the bakery – very low key but we’re sure their bread is good!

Bread Shop

Yes, we love the little shops. But on our ride out of Antequera, we spot one of the things we dislike about Spain. The garbage. It’s everywhere. It’s like attitudes towards properly disposing of rubbish and not littering have been shifted back a century. This sign tells people that you can throw some types of debris here but that it’s NOT okay to dump dead animals by the side of the road. Really?? Do you need to be told that?

Rubbish in Spain

And this is what we see as we’re going up the hill. We don’t want to give the impression that every hillside is covered in so much garbage but it’s not an uncommon sight either, just outside of towns.

Roadside Dump

Come on Spain. Clean up your act.

A Bike Tour In Spain: Where Will We Sleep?

Posted January 7th, 2011

When we leave Granada the sky is the most incredibly intense blue we’ve ever seen.

Blue, blue skies

We slowly escape the city and head west. It’s hard to imagine that this will be a tough day on the bike, but it will be. Before long, we’re getting a dose of reality. The hills start early in the day and never seem to let up. When there is a respite, it’s only to glide downhill to a valley and start climbing all over again.

Big Hills

It’s only mid-morning but the sun is already hot. We stop often for breaks, incredible grateful for the juicy, sweet oranges that are sold for literally pennies in every shop.

Juicy Oranges

And after a break, we keep on climbing.

Climbing High

This continues all day. The landscape is gorgeous, but after a while we stop taking pictures. We’re tired. We’re hot. All we really want is to find a place to rest but there’s not much around. This part of Spain is arid and sparsely populated. There aren’t many cafés to take refuge in or trees to nap under.

As we climb, we notice all the ‘No Trespassing’ signs. They are everywhere. Sometimes we go miles without seeing a single unfenced bit of land. This will come back to haunt us later.

Coto Privado

We assume this also means ‘No Trespassing’. We see these signs everywhere. Where we don’t see the signs, tracks are often barred with gates.

No Trespassing

And then, around 4pm, something strange happens. The weather totally changes. One minute it looks like this.

Blue Skies & Friedel's Bike

The next minute a thick, cold mist is rolling in. We have to get out our gloves. We can barely see a foot in front of us. The wind starts blowing. It is the oddest weather we’ve ever cycled in. Erie. Strange. Unexpected. Our desire to take a photo is overridden by our desire to ride down safely from the mountain peak we are on.

This is when the day starts to go wrong. We are not just tired from the hills. Now we are cold, wet and confused. It is 5pm. We are hungry. We’ve had enough.

To make matters worse, we come into the first town so far in Spain where there is no possibility to camp and no hotel. Ahead of us is a steep climb up yet another mountain. We debate the options. They aren’t great. There is no bed for the night in this town so we have to carry on, but where? Andrew suggests up the mountain.

“Are you crazy?” is Friedel’s first reaction. Going up a mountain late in the day, near dark and in the mist, doesn’t sound smart but Andrew has a hunch. “I think we’ll find a spot to camp,” he says. We haven’t seen anywhere for miles. We ask more locals about a hotel (hoping there is one that the other people we asked didn’t know about) but we come up empty.

“Have faith,” says Andrew as we get on the bikes and continue into the mountains. Our legs are like lead. We are looking nervously to each side. At first we see nothing. We pass houses behind gates and barking dogs but nowhere to camp until – after about 20 minutes – a rocky field opens up to one side.

It’s not much, but it’s enough. The bikes are hauled over boulders and up the hill until we find a place big enough to put our tent.

Finally Home

Through the bushes, we have a slim glimpse of the road. All night we watch the cars go high up the mountain and count our blessings that we didn’t have to make that climb in the dark. When we look back on this, we’ll wonder how it is that we always seem to find a place to sleep. We don’t know how this “road magic” works but somehow it does. We’ve yet to be left homeless for a night.