If you want to experience some of the best trail riding anywhere in the world then the Andalucía Mountains in southern Spain should be put at or near the top of your list. On a couple of occasions over the past few years, I’ve travelled to southern Spain to ride with a tour company called Ciclo Montana Espana. The main reason I’ve gone back to this company is because they’re well organised and they get the job — a great biking trip — done by giving their clients an experience that is pretty hard to top.
There are more than twenty peaks taller than 3,000 meters above sea level in the Andalucía Mountain range, which makes it the second highest mountain range in Europe after the Alps. The two highest peaks in the area are the Mulhacén (3,482m), closely followed by the Pico del Veleta (3,396m). On a clear day these mountains can be seen from as far away as Africa. They are big and beautiful and, as far as I am concerned, there is no better way to see them than from the saddle of a mountain bike.
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Getting there: Arriving in Spanish Andalucia
Ciclo Montana Espana is a family-run business that is based out of a small town called Fondales, located high in the Andalucía Mountains of Southern Spain. The company is owned and operated by Mark and Jacky Papworth, an English couple who moved out to Spain in 1992. Ciclo Montana Espana attracts riders from all over because of the sheer scale of the landscape, along with some of the best weather in Europe and some the finest riding in the world.
On my last Spanish biking holiday, I arrived in Malaga Airport and collected my bike from the oversized baggage area before exiting customs. I knew I was firmly inside continental Europe when I took a huge whiff of cigarette smoke after passing by the local cab drivers. These guys can’t read the non smoking signs to save their life!
Luckily for us we didn’t have to deal with these guys because Maria, our lovely Spanish driver, was waiting with the Ciclo Montana Espana van. She couldn’t speak english very well but all the boys in the group tried their best to have a little chat – if you know what I mean.
We piled our stuff into the van and set off in a southerly direction along the coast. The first thing that I noticed was the dry, yellow, mountain landscape. The mountains were on the left and were a striking contrast to the white Spanish villas which covered them. The coastline was on the right and looked ever so appealing in the hot sun.
After about an hour of driving south, we turned east towards the mountains and started our long climb to Fondales. About two hours later we arrived in a tiny Spanish village in the middle of the Andalucía and Mark and Jacky came out to meet us. We unpacked our bikes and chilled out for a while after our long journey. Dinner was served after an hour or so of relaxing and we scoffed it down. After a couple of quiet beers we all fell asleep dreaming of the massive landscapes that are the Andalucía.
Climbing the Andalucía
The following morning we woke to brilliant sunshine, ate breakfast, and set off on our first day of riding. The morning’s anticipation turned to sweat as soon as we rode out of the driveway. We cycled through the tiny white village and up a very steep section of road that linked the next highest village in the valley and kept climbing for what seemed like forever, even though it was only an hour. Eventually, we came into the town square and stopped off for a caffeine fix at the local coffee shop.
And thank God for that coffee because after our little break we were back on our bikes and climbing for another two and half hours. When the long, steep ascent was over, we rolled into Trevélez, the highest village in Spain. We stopped again to refuel at the local café for lunch — after the gruelling half day climb our bodies were screaming for calories. We gorged ourselves on pizza and Spanish tappas, and I will say I have never enjoyed the taste of food so much. The smells and the tastes were intoxicating as were the views down the valley. The food was a blessing, and it was good that we ate as we did because we had no idea about what we were in for.
The way down: heavenly singletrack
After lunch we set off down the mountain on some of the sweetest natural single track I have ever ridden. Some of it was comprised of the GR7 trade route, which was an ancient trading route that was used to carry trade from Africa through Europe. Like a Michelin chef, our guide Mark carved our descent through rocks, gravel and old Roman roads. He skillfully linked up sections of singletrack on the GR7 with other local routes that just blew our mind. It was truly magical stuff.
We had about two hours of descending before we arrived back in Fondales and, by then, we were all completely exhausted from the day’s epic ride. Looking around at one another, no one in the group could wipe the silly grin off our faces — we were like a bunch of school kids who had just been told Christmas would come early.
The rest of the trip
Each day of our holiday was filled with similar epics: we rode out with an emphasis on climbing before descending back to our base in the afternoon. Every ride was filled with new trails and new challenges. On one particular day my buddy’s altimeter read 2000 vertical metres — now that was a tough day! At the end of amazing week there was much to reflect on, but two trails remain forever etched in my mind (the Elephants Tail and the Joker). Ask for them by name if you ever get to Andalucía.
And don’t forget to tell Mark and Jacky that Lance Armstrong sent you!
For more information about cycling in the Andalucía
Mark and Jacky Papworth
Tel: +34 958 765200
Ciclo Montana Espana