I've mountain-biked in Extremadura, climbed hiked and cycled the Pyrenees, ridden the ancient pilgrim route to Santiago, and spent many, many weeks living between Valencia and Alicante where my parents lived and died.
Andalusia had escaped my attention so I decided this was the month to rectify this oversight.
I would combine a cycle training camp with a visit to some of the great Andalusian cities of Granada, Ronda and Seville.
I decided I would not take the training camp too seriously - after all I'm not training for anything - so I could mix the riding with city exploring. I looked at a few companies offering camps, and decided to go with Andalucian Cycling Experience. They had great reviews, promptly replied to emails, the dates worked but in truth, the main reason was their location. From their Montecorto base I could easily reach Ronda and Seville.
To save you hunting, the others were Wheels in Wheels, Epic Cycling, Cycle Sierra Nevada, and Custom Cycle Coaching.
|Montecorto, home to Andalucian Cycling Experience|
This was the cunning plan. I don't have a bikebox, so planned to borrow one from my friend Allister in Northumberland. I'd stay with him overnight, leave the car, and he'd drive me to Newcastle airport for the Malaga flight early Saturday morning.
The 'Beast from the East' weather hit the UK days before I left home in North West Scotland. "Stay in your homes", was the advice. EasyJet cancelled all its Friday flights from Newcastle. Hotels were full to overflowing. Allister had to walk five miles home through deep snow because there was no way to get up his track. Suddenly my Andalucian Cycling Experience was looking doubtful.
|Is it a sledge or bike box?|
While the side roads were snow-choked, the main roads were clear and, with relatively few cars using them, I made it to Newcastle Airport Hotel in a little over five hours - that's actually faster than normal.
Meanwhile, Allister had sledged the bike box down his track and met me at the hotel which I'd reserved on Booking.com the moment the weather looked doubtful.
I was set.
When I reached Montecorto I discovered I was the only person on this cycle training camp! Two other riders had postponed their trips (there was only ever three of us) so I had the town-house and cycle guide Drew all to myself. Initially I was slightly narked by this - one of my reasons for coming had been to ride and hang out with other cyclists. As it was it worked out very well.
|No strap, snapped cable tie, open catches|
At the other end, the strap had disappeared, along with the luggage tag identifier that the airline had wrapped around it. These straps hold ladders of car roofs and simply do not snap, so it must have been cut off by baggage handlers.
Also one set of cable-ties had snapped, and two of the locks on the bike box pinged open, putting enormous strain on the remaining catches.
I was lucky the bike and contents survived.
This was the second time a Polaris Bike Pod had sprung open on me. For the return I had it 'wrapped' in a thick clingfilm-like wrapped in the departure hall which added €20 to the flight but meant it arrived intact.
Andalucia might have escaped the snow but it had suffered storms. The previous week's cyclists missed a few days riding because of torrential rain and especially high winds.
It was completely unseasonable for this part of the world, and while it moderated, the rain hadn't entirely disappeared. So we switched days around to suit the weather.
|Real Alcazar, Seville|
|Plaza Espana, Seville|
Whereas Ronda is impressive. Essentially it's one old square with a bridge over a breathtaking gorge. Drew included a stop here during one of our rides and it was a great way to visit. Yet again, there was a overwhelming number of tourists even in March.
So what about Granada? The big tourist attraction here is the Alhambra, but I discovered tickets must be bought a month in advance. Plus Liz had told me to leave something to do with her. So that will have to wait. Next, I'll write something about the cycling which really was very good.