This article was originally published in the Friday July 23rd 2010 edition of the Lake Tahoe paper, the Sierra Sun.
My wife Lisa and I just returned from a fantastic bicycling holiday in the Andalucía region of southern Spain. We rode on single-lane mountain roads from Grenada to Cordoba, through the Spanish Sierra Nevada and the Mediterranean coast. We had such a wonderful time, I thought I’d summarize the best parts and provide a few tips to hopefully encourage some of you to try something like it.
Traveling through a country by bicycle allows you to smell, taste, touch, feel and experience the country in ways you can’t from a car. Bicycles travel fast enough to allow you to cover a decent amount of ground and see a variety of places, but slow enough to immerse you in the region, allowing you to experience everything it has to offer.
“The road less traveled” is typically the best route for a bicycle. As a result, we typically found ourselves exploring tiny mountain villages and stopping in obscure, out-of-the-way bars for mid-afternoon libations to experience towns we would have otherwise passed right by. The town of Baena is the perfect example.
We came across Baena, the self-proclaimed capital of Spain’s olive-growing region, after riding all day through rolling hills covered in symmetrical groves of centuries-old olive trees. The plowed chalky white soil between the trees provided a stunning contrast to the dark green olive trees. The town is perfectly picturesque — a classic Spanish town, complete with Moorish ruins, Christopher Columbus-era catholic churches, streets too narrow to accommodate most American cars, and a town square full of children playing in the fountain.
We headed for the most inviting café on the square and ordered a Fanta Limon and una Cerveza. The custom in southern Spain is for all drink orders to be accompanied by a small snack or tapas. Therefore, after working up a thirst and appetite touring the ruins, we checked out at least four more café/bars in order to adequately sample all the regional tapas offerings: manchego cheese, cured ham, sausages, fried fish, cured olives, calamari, mushroom sandwiches, egg/potato frittata … the list goeson.
Taking a bicycling holiday is much easier than you might think. Getting there is easy; international flights do not charge checked-luggage fees, even for oversize bicycles. Getting around is easy; public transportation is much more popular than in the U.S., is easily accessible and very safe. Traveling light is easy; we each had one cycling outfit and one street-clothes outfit and all of our clothes fit into one small pannier each (bike bags that fit on the sides of the rear rack on my bike).
May is a great time to go. The weather was pleasant and not yet too hot. Tourist attractions and hotels are all open, but not yet swarmed and overcrowded. We didn’t make a single hotel reservation, instead trusting in our ability to find available hospitality in whichever town we decided to stop that night.
Planning a bicycle holiday is so easy that it doesn’t take much more planning than going for a day ride from your house. If it’s easy for someone like me who typically plans his vacations by reading the guidebook on the plane flight there, it will surely be easy for you!
Team rider Conrad Snover is the author of this week’s Cyclepaths/Wild Cherries Racing column. Cyclepaths/Wild Cherries Racing (www.cwcracing.org) is a Truckee-based cycling team focused on racing and local bike advocacy.