You wouldn’t have thought it was possible to have a loop cycle route be ALL uphill, ALL into the wind, and ALL on rubbish roads, would you? But about two hours into our 50 mile ride, this was what I was wondering. I was having a little bit of a silent strop, cursing myself for picking such a ridiculously hilly 50 mile loop, cursing the weather for being so grey, overcast and windy.
We arrived in El Chorro via Malaga where we’d had lunch with my sister and her boyfriend and watched yet another Semana Santa parade.
An hour’s drive north on roads that gradually became steeper and more rugged and we arrived at the Rocabella restaurant and villas, our home for the next four nights. The restaurant has a large terrace with incredible views over the rolling countryside, and our little apartment (£54) was on top of the restaurant. We had a comfy bed, a jacuzzi bath and a cute living room/kitchen with the same beautiful views as the restaurant’s terrace.
As we arrived quite late in the afternoon we set off for a short cycle to explore the area – only an hour but involving a pretty horrific steep hill. I fell off when trying to manoeuvre between pot-holes and a patch of sand but as I was barely moving it didn’t hurt and I was secretly glad of the rest!
Monday dawned grey and cloudy and so it was off to Álora to the supermarket first. My second visit to Álora and I am still not a fan of the town – a white village perched on a hillside, but a big, dirty, ugly one without much life or culture.
The afternoon was cycle time! We started off by heading down the hill towards El Chorro village, a tiny place situated right by the famous gorge and the Caminito Del Rey walk (I will be back to do this another time!) The descent is not fun – very steep, narrow, tight corners and poor quality road. But the views are beautiful.
We crossed over the river and turned right to cycle up towards the gorge itself. This road was wonderful and we had a fantastic half an hour. All uphill, but not too steep, on perfect Tarmac and absolutely deserted. The road wound around the side of the National Park, with trees down to the left and the rock face overhanging the road to the right. It was very beautiful and a good climb – category 4 for around 7km.
Next up was a short descent into the town of Ardales and a steep climb through the town itself. Ardales looked nice, another sleepy white village but we were soon leaving it behind to continue climbing on the lonliest, windiest of roads. Even short respites from the gradient made no difference due to the wind which tried its best to push us back to Ardales. We pushed on, further and further from any signs of civilisation, between two huge rocky outcrops with no obvious way out, and black clouds looming ominously overhead. The road began to climb… And kept climbing…. And kept climbing. It got colder and we felt more isolated. How high were we going to go? Which way around the mountain did the road go? This was the spot for another couple of category 4 climbs.
Finally, finally we reached the top at over 700m above sea level and around 35km into our cycle. Then it was a glorious 15km descent. I say glorious, at the top the wind was whipping around my bike, pushing me sideways, and then the road round around the side of the mountain, with huge lumps of rock bigger than my head in the middle of the road that had just fallen from the mountainside – I tried my best to get down that bit as quickly as possible! Then we sped through Casarabonela on some right switchbacks (practicing my cornering!) and ended up on a main road, still going downhill.
This bit was fantastic. The road was wide, it was downhill, the surface was great and although there were cars, there weren’t that many of them so you always felt safe. I tucked in behind James, applied some pressure to the pedals and we sped on towards Alora.
A steep climb up to the city (category 4 again) and then we were out, on a quiet road back to El Chorro, interrupted only by a herd of goats crossing the road.
At El Chorro we had to climb up that horrible steep hill again. Another category 4, 3km with an average gradient of 8%. Although the average disguises sections much steeper, such as the 500m of 16.7%. You know it’s bad when you notice the gradient knock back to 10% and feel happy!
And that was that – 80.5km cycled, 4 hours 23 minutes, and an elevation gain of 1,736m
So back to the beginning of the post – the wind did come round to behind us, we did get to go downhill, and it wasn’t ALL on shit roads. There were more bad surfaces than I’d imagined, but in general the roads were pretty good given how few cars we met! I think we went over an hour without coming across another road user (except for goats – of which we saw four herds climbing the mountains!) Cycling around here is stunningly beautiful, on mainly empty roads, but it’s impossible to avoid the hills!