If you are a “cyclist”, you have to cycle hills. That’s not me telling you you’re not a cyclist if you don’t, just me telling you to go out there and cycle some hills NOW. I don’t care how fast you are on the flat, I don’t care how slow you are uphill (and I am very slow). But nothing compares to reaching the top of a hill, turning around and seeing the whole countryside spread out below, spotting the winding road that you have come up and thinking “I did that. All with my own two legs.” And then the soaring downhill of course. Cycling that is just about the numbers leads to missing out on so much. Head down pedalling, your only view is the bike computer, the Tarmac, the wheel in front of you. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy that feeling of going fast too. But cycling up hills forces you to sit up slightly, to slow down, to enjoy the beautiful world we live in and countryside we are cycling through. (NB: this even applies if cycling up hills in the middle of the city. Some fantastic views from Crystal Palace hill in London!)
On that note, our last big cycle in Andalucia was our longest and hilliest yet. It was also, in my opinion, the most stunningly beautiful and the most enjoyable.
We were in the Sierra Subbética, a national park in Andalucia situated handily directly between Malaga, Cordoba and Grenada. I had visited with my mum back in November and immediately knew I wanted to return. And we were staying in the same place, Casa Olea, a small, boutique hotel which prides itself on its eco credentials and on supporting the local economy. It’s beautiful, set in the middle of a river valley with no other buildings around, and Claire (one of the owners-her husband, Tim, is the other owner) is a fantastic cook. Casa Olea has some of the best breakfasts I’ve ever seen and the dinners are delicious.
The owners are also very knowledgeable about the local area, and over a pre-dinner glass of wine at the bar Tim gave us a route to cycle. We said “around 100km“, he had a think and the eventual route ended up being about 95km. Pretty good!
We set off on a lovely sunny morning, cool in the shade but hot in the sun. The sleeves of my jacket came off before I’d gone 5 minutes and were stuffed in my back pocket for the rest of the day. The route first of all took us up along the side of one of the many olive-covered hills of the Sierra Subbética, through a few tiny, sleepy white villages without a person in sight. We climbed up sharply towards Carcabuey, a town like so many Andalusian towns perched right on top of a rocky outcrop. The next 20km or so was perfect cycling. Mountains on our left, rolling hills of olive farms and tiny white villages to our right, gently climbing but with enough downhills that it never felt like hard work, towards Rute. You can see on the Strava map the mountain range that was to the left of us, in the middle of the map. Its all one road, if you keep your eyes for the signs to Rute you can’t really go wrong.
We sped through Rute as the road was on a gentle downhill and then found ourselves on a main road, following the signs to Iznajar. But what a main road! Straight, in good condition, not busy and very wide, with the blue waters of the lake coming into view… and a downhill gradient in the double figures made for some pretty fast cycling! Followed almost immediately by a few more uphill peaks and steep downhills as we cycled along the lakeside towards Iznajar.
Iznajar is a really beautiful town so we decided to stop there for lunch, making our way up the steep roads to the town (again, perched on a rocky outcrop). At this point James got a puncture…. I left him fixing it at one of the nicer spots to fix a puncture while I went to find us lunch.
I bought some incredible bocadillos – just-cooked pork topped with cheese, warm and salty and delicious in a crusty bread roll. The friendly waitress also told me her sister owned a bike shop. Sadly it didn’t re-open until 4pm after the siesta and so we decided James would just have to hope his hand-pumping was good enough to get the bikes back home.
Post Iznajar we had around about 15km of near-constant climbing. We took the turn-off to Priego de Cordoba, and again it is one straight road all the way (well, actually an incredible twisty and turny road, but one road nonetheless). Mainly gradual at first with enough short downhills to rest the legs but getting steeper and steeper, including several category 4 climbs with gradients in the double digits.The sun was beating down on us at this stage and it was hard to enjoy the incredible scenery surrounding us as we pushed our legs onwards and I willed myself not to fall off the bike. It was a great moment when we reached the top!
From there it was mainly downhill – a few short, sharp climbs and lots of lovely descents. We found a bike shop in Priego and bought new inner tubes and then sped home towards the lovely Casa Olea.
93.7km, 1854m of climbing. That’s more elevation than climbing Mont Ventoux … although over a significantly longer cycle! Here’s the link to the Strava page if you want to see the route and download it for yourself.
If you are going to the area, I would thoroughly recommend that cycle and staying at Casa Olea, it is lovely!