Kay and Gordon’s Tour of Andalusia, Spain – April 18 to May 2, 2018
Finally ready to leave the Carmona Parador headed for Osuna
We had done a tour of Southern Patagonia last year. (For more details on that tour, see the log posted on the Bike Friday website.) That tour was epic. This year’s tour of Andalusia was tame by comparison. It was all about riding through wonderful country, staying in nice hotels and trying to find the best of meals. Just the same, there is quite a bit about this tour of southern Spain worth sharing.
We flew into Sevilla airport with our Bike Fridays packed away. We had four Samsonite suitcases in all – enough baggage that most of the small taxis couldn’t fit everything in. However, it didn’t take long to get a cab that fit it all, even though it was a little crammed. We went to the small town of Carmona, around twenty miles to the east of Sevilla. We had a reservation at the parador there. What a wonderful place to stay! Paradores are nationally run hotels, frequently in renovated castles, fortresses or mansions.
The Parador at Carmona had once been an Arab fortress, and was perched on a ridge overlooking a beautiful valley. We were there for two days at the beginning and for two days at the end. We took advantage of the first two days to catch up on sleep, put the bikes together and visit Sevilla. The Parador had a storage area where we were able to store our suitcases while we were away. We took the public bus for the 45 minute trip from Carmona to Sevilla – inexpensive and very comfortable! It was a “feria” (fair) in Sevilla and everyone seemed to be celebrating. Lots of women on the streets dressed in their full flamenco!
One façade of the Parador of Carmona.
The end balcony shown was the balcony for our room.
This Parador started out as an Arab fortress. It went through changes and assorted uses before being converted into a Hotel in the 1930s. The Spanish government owns and operates all of the Paradores in Spain. There are almost one hundred and each one has it’s own history and is unique.
We planned the route using Ride with GPS and an out of date map of Andalusia. We have a Garmin etrex-30. We also treated ourselves to purchasing City Navigator Europe. Having the city navigator was a real benefit. We downloaded planned routes before leaving home. We planned a clockwise route from Carmona that connected eight of the most popular towns in Andalusia. We had booked lodging in Ronda for four nights, the half-way point of our tour, but did not book any rooms along the way, either before or after Ronda (except for the Parador at the end). We ended up having the manager where we stayed make a reservation for us for the following day. This gave us the flexibility to change our route as and if needed.
FRIDAY, APRIL 20, 2018 – Carmona to Osuna
We left Carmona around 10:30. It was hard to leave Carmona and the Parador. It was lovely, luxurious and the breakfast buffet has to be seen to be believed. (As you will see we’re big breakfast people). On leaving Carmona, ride with GPS had us on a small road to get out of town before merging onto the main road after a mile and a half. Unfortunately, that road didn’t actually exist – it had been pulled up to start a new road from scratch. We left town on that torn up roadbed anyway. It was a little too much like the “ripio” we had experienced the year before in Chile. Not the best way to begin our journey. It wasn’t long, though, before we found an actual road to ride on. Finally on the correct road, we had another enemy that we would be dealing with the whole day: the wind.
It blew at 30 mph with gusts to 40 mph – right in our face – for the entire day. So loud and strong, we couldn’t talk or sometimes even think!. On one downhill we managed to get to 18 mph! The saving grace of the day was the amazing wildflowers and the fields of wheat rippling in the wind. So green in this very southern part of Spain, we couldn’t believe it!
Washington Irving beat us to exploring Andalusia. Apparently, he visited Andalusia and took a journey through it that led to his writing two books about his travels. For a lot of these towns, not much has changed since he visited.
After battling the wind all day, we arrived in the town of Osuna. We managed to get an odd suite in “El Monasterio”. Although it was a relatively small room, it had three levels – with the bathroom on the first level, one flight down from the bedroom. No railing – picture that in the middle of the night! On the plus side, it also had a large balcony, where our bikes spent the night, and a wonderful view of the town! We had been a little concerned about storing our bikes in some of the older hotels, but it was never an issue. Hotel staff didn’t even blink when we arrived with our loaded touring bikes – they seemed to be used to it. One even kept our bikes in the hotel office!
Today was only 43 miles, but we were pretty well beat. We did get there early enough to take a great walk around the town. Osuna is famous for it’s 17th century home facades. They were obviously in competition to see who could build the most unique façade. The worst meal of our trip was that night in Osuna. We hadn’t yet gotten used to the Spanish late meal times and were really ready for some food around 6:30 pm. Well, nothing was open except for a little greasy spoon on the main plaza and all they had to offer was tapas. – and not good tapas either. We soon learned, there were “tapas” and then there were “tapas”. It’s good that we had the perfect lunch stop in Marchena in a supermarket! The market had empanadas and little pizzas that were priced by the pound. Very much like in Chile, you had to weigh and tag your goods before going to the cash register. And they had clean bathrooms! In fact bathrooms were remarkably clean wherever we went on this trip.
This is one of several 17th century homes in Osuna that were built with elaborate entry facades. Even the composition and craftsmanship on the entry doors is amazing.
As far as traffic goes, cars and trucks were well behaved on the roads. In town there just isn’t enough room for cars and pedestrians, let alone bikes. One careless move and you are a goner. Somehow it all seemed to work.
SATURDAY, APRIL 21, 2018 – Osuna to Antequerra
Breakfast at El Monasterio was minimal but leaving town was direct and quick. It was overcast, cool and hazy with a little less wind than the day before. Today we were able to ride uphill faster than we rode on the flats yesterday. However, we did hit strong headwinds on a climb before we stopped for coffee in Martin del la Jara. We had lunch in Campillos from Supermercado Dia. Leaving Campillos Ride with GPS wanted us to take a dirt road to avoid a section of the much larger A384. We took A384, which had a four foot shoulder with no debris. In about six miles we left A384 and headed to Bobadilla on MA438. In Bobadilla, we rejoined the Ride with GPS route. The last 10 to 12 miles were on very pleasant and low traffic roads. Gordon changed GPS batteries, left the zipper open and lost his battery box at 40 miles – Oh well!
The manager at El Monasterio had called and reserved a room for us at Coso Viejo in Antequerra. All we had to do was find it. We rode through a very active commercial district towards the old part of town and located the hotel with little difficulty. We cleaned up before going out and exploring. We visited the Dolmenes about a kilometer from our Hotel. The Dolmenes were built around 2500 BC! They are still somewhat of a mystery. Sort of like the Stonehenge, they don’t really have a good understanding of how they could have been built or why.
One of the Dolmenes Lunch!
GENERAL NOTE about Spanish drivers and Spaniards:
On the open road they drive with what seems like an intense concentration, with some exceptions. They do not get distracted. Before they pass they put on their directional signal even if there is no one else for miles. They go all the way into the other lane to pass. After passing, they put on the right directional to come back into the lane.
When you ask you ask directions from a Spaniard, most have to give you directions using the main “autopistas”. They seem to have forgotten that there is an older network of roads. So, stick to maps for directions.
A general note about Andalusia: It is hilly enough that about 45 miles a day is enough – plus there is just so much to see! We have given up on early rising and jumping on the bike first thing. You can’t get a meal until around 8:30 pm, so there is no sense arriving at a destination too early. We have adapted a Spanish schedule – late start and late to bed. Also at this time of year there is plenty of sun until 9:00 pm. Some one said that Franco changed Spain’s time zone to match Germany’s and they haven’t been able to change it back.
SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2018 – Antequerra to Álora
We had a rather minimal breakfast again, but were able to stop for a second breakfast in Valle de Abdalajis. What a neat little town – hills and agriculture all around – mainly olives and oranges.
There are three ways to get from Antequerra to Álora, all go through Valle de Abdajalis and from there you can go direct, or go through Chorro (El Caminito del Rey) or go to Ardales and then south. We decided on the middle route, less climbing and a few less miles than on the route through Ardales.
We had lunch at the Kon-Tiki restaurant just north of Álora and had a hard time finding the hotel Don Pero. When we did, finally, it was closed tight. Someone parking their car nearby pointed to the ice cream shop across the street and said we needed to talk to the proprietress there to get checked in. Who would have known? We walked up and down the town(after a shower) and visited the Arab Castle. Finding somewhere for an early meal on Sunday was a challenge, but we found a restaurant willing to do a meal at 7! House salad and pizza – good enough.
We had wanted to hike the “Caminito del Rey” (worth checking out it’s website and on YouTube). When we tried to get tickets about a month before the tour, there were none available for our dates. We think they book about a year in advance! A very popular site!
Section of road near “Valle de Abdalajis”
GENERAL NOTE about saddle sores:
For some time now, we have used Mepilex Ag, a medical adhesive foam bandage, for saddle sores. It is not only helpful at the very beginning of a sore but for helping protect and heal a developed sore. It isn’t cheap, but worth it and one box of pads lasts for a long time. We cut the pads into 2 inch squares. You can also use each pad for about a week, reapplying the old pad after you shower. Check it out.
This is as close as we got to the “Caminito”
MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2018 – Álora to Ronda
Gordon managed to find a coffee shop open early for a great cup of coffee, but no breakfast. Kay ate some leftover pizza! Later, along the way, we stopped in Pizarro for a quick bite. Gordon ordered a tuna sandwich. It turned out to be just canned tuna on a roll – possibly an entire can. Way too much – no mayo or anything. After asking, they made up some fresh tomato sauce to put on it. In Spain, they blend tomatoes in the morning to make a sauce for a toasted roll. No salt, no seasonings. That and a cup of coffee is about the extent of the usual breakfast.
Ride with GPS gave two shortcuts on smaller roads that we realized would not work so did not waste time giving them a try. It also wanted to take us off-route into Casa Rabunela, but we didn’t bite. You have to watch Ride with GPS every now and then. There were some long climbs marked at 9%, but there were some scenic rest spots along the way. It was threatening to rain as we stopped in Yunquera for lunch: clear chicken broth with sliced hard boiled eggs in it and for the main course, a whole plate of various sautéed mushrooms. That’s it – just mushrooms. After the owner learned we didn’t eat meat (except for fish and eggs), this was his solution. We had so many mushrooms that day, we knew it would be awhile before we would want them again. For the last long climb and on the 7 mile descent into Ronda we had the wind with us. It was great. Really, the whole day was great (except for the mushrooms!). Just cool enough and just overcast enough.
We arrived in Ronda at 5:00 pm. We found our Hotel “Enfrente Arte” in the middle of a traffic muddle that looked so confusing, we weren’t sure it would ever get sorted out. Up a side street there were two electricians working on the front of the second floor of a house. They had the base of their tall ladder out in the middle of the road. This was keeping any cars from getting into the street and cars were backed around the corner. This, however, wasn’t the cause of the muddle – that was caused by someone starting to go the wrong way onto a one way street and backed out far enough to block the road, but not far enough to get out of the one way street – a real mess.
The view from our balcony in the Hotel Enfrente Arte.
Nancy and the hotel staff welcomed us like family. The bikes went into a patio area with a roof. They had fresh lemonade for us. And a fabulous room! Madonna had stayed in it when she visited Ronda.
It is hard to adequately describe the town of Ronda. One side of the town is a cliff with about a 300 foot vertical drop. Walls and fences keep you from going over the edge. A small river has cut a gorge through the middle of town. There have been three different towns in that location over the ages. In the Arab town, a small bridge spanned the river and was built in the 13th century. Later, a higher town was built with the “Old Bridge” spanning the river at a higher elevation. This bridge was built in the 16th century. Later yet, the town moved further up onto the top of the plateau and the “New Bridge” was built. This bridge was finished in 1793 after 40 years of construction at a cost of 50 lives. The bridge is around 300 feet high.
A street in Ronda
The “new” bridge
There are many areas to explore in town and outside of the town. We were in Ronda for four nights – three days. The first day we hiked down into the valley. The second day we rode in the surrounding area. The third day we spent walking in town. Ronda has to be one of the most stunning towns on earth! We might have done more riding in and around Ronda but Kay was not feeling well! It could have been the plateful of mushrooms! But despite that, we ate well in Ronda – thanks to the guidance of the hotel manager, Alvaro. Among other things, we finally found tapas that were amazing and delicious!
Breakfasts at “Enfrente Arte” were all you can eat. Eggs and crepes prepared to order by Pablo, the chef. Homemade breads, fruit, smoothies and even some little plates of breakfast tapas. There were lots of fresh items that came from the owner’s farm on the coast. Also, one of the first things they did when you arrived was to teach you how to operate the full sized expresso machine. Coffee was always available, as were wine, beer and juices!
A Breakfast salad as prepared at “Enfrente Arte”
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25, 2018 – Ronda to Sentenil to Ronda
We had planned to do a loop out of Ronda up to Olvera but due to forecasted rain and Kay’s iffy stomach, we went only as far as the little town of Sentenil, a lovely little town with many shops and homes built into the side of limestone cliffs.
Views of Sentenil and it’s “Cave houses.
Who would have known?
On our final night at Enfrente Arte, we talked with Alvaro about making reservations for our next night’s stay. We intended to go to Zahara de la Sierra, but there weren’t any rooms available. The same for our back up town – Grazalema. The only rooms available were in Olvera in a hotel called Sierra y Cal. So north to Olvera we went.
FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2018 – Ronda to Olvera
Got off to a good start this morning after a wonderful Enfrente Arte breakfast. We had six miles of downhill, after climbing out of Ronda. We decided to take a detour so that we could visit the Ruins of Acinipo, a Roman town, also known as Ronda Vieja (old Ronda). We spent about an hour roaming through what remains of the town. It was located on the top of a hill (of course!) with great views of the surrounding lands. Then it was a good climb over to the valley of Torre-Alháquime and Olvera. We arrived in Olvera around 3 pm and found the Sierra y Cal Hotel. We changed, walked to the top of the town and toured the Arab castle – more exercise. We ended up having dinner at Sierra y Cal for lack of other options. It was food but not very good.
Roman ruins near the town of Acinipo, also called Ronda Vieja.
SATURDAY, APRIL 28, 2018 – Olvera to Arcos de la Frontera
We had a marginal breakfast at Sierra y Cal. Breakfasts that are included with the room are not worth it, but some times there is no alternative. At least the coffee was good.
This day did not start off very fortuitously. Kay’s digestive troubles returned. Plus when we left town, it was very foggy and cold. We went down a very STEEP descent to the beginning of the Via Verde only to find a sign saying that the Via was closed.
The Via Verdes are rather interesting. Apparently, during Franco’s time, all of Spain was to be connected by railroads. The trestles, tunnels and rail beds were mostly finished. Franco died before any tracks were placed on these beds. Once he died, the project ended. No trains ever traveled on these routes. Since then, certain sections were opened as bike/hike ways. There is a section that goes from Olvera to Puerto Serrano, about 37 Km with 27 tunnels. This is the section we planned on riding.
Along the Via Verde
After seeing the “Cerrado” (closed) sign, it was a difficult climb back up to Olvera. We knew that the first tunnel was closed (there was a map of the route and it showed the first and last tunnels as closed). We had hoped there would be a detour around this first tunnel and had tried to get more information the previous evening but no one we talked to knew – not even in a bike shop. We did know (thanks to maps and GPS) how to get around the first tunnel. Once we got back to Via Verde beyond the first tunnel, there was another sign marked “Cerrado”. We were ready to give up on the Via when a couple of Spanish mountain bikers arrived. They said no problem going all the way to Puerto Serrano. However, there was a detour (maybe 4 Km) that you needed to take to avoid the next few tunnels. They showed us the way – it would not have been possible without them. The only issue was putting Kay back on gravel and trying to stay with the mountain bikes. Fortunately, they did not plan to go the whole distance but they at least showed us the detour. As we said there were many tunnels. Some were lit (barely) – some were not. Kay wore a headlamp on her helmet, Gordon held a small flashlight and they were not sufficient. Very scary in the total blackness, not knowing what the road surface was like ahead. But we made it without any mishaps. It was not the highlight of our tour as we had hoped. You had to concentrate so much on the road surface that you couldn’t enjoy the scenery. At the end (Puerto Serrano) a trail guide told us that the entire trail was closed, off limits and not to be ridden – Kay said “we just rode it”. It seems to be a question of money to keep the trail open and ridable.
After leaving the Via Verde at Puerto Serrano we ended up on a very quiet road in an agricultural valley. The road was just pleasant, even with the headwind. Once we got to Arcos de la Frontera, Garmin helped us find the Hotel Convento naturally at the top of the town, cobbles and all!. However, even with the Garmin it was tricky finding the winding alley that led to the hotel. We ate a meal at 4 pm at a pleasant outdoor café (just in time before lunch closing) and another (actually a wonderful Italian dinner) at 9 pm.
SUNDAY, APRIL 29, 2018 – Arcos de la Frontera to Utrera
Relaxing breakfast at El Convento – a very nice hotel with an incredible view. We had a little trouble getting out of town. There were choices as to how to leave and the Garmin wasn’t helping matters. It wouldn’t pick up that we were moving. It did finally figure things out. Kay persevered in her directional ability and we were finally underway. We stopped for coffee in Espera a little town off the tourist route – but cute with very friendly people. We stayed awhile in a coffee bar watching people and dogs. After leaving Espera, we took a road that would lead us to a secondary road that on the map looked like an interesting alternative. The Garmin didn’t care for the route, though, but after awhile it stopped telling us to make a U-turn. Soon we found out why it was not happy. The secondary road on the map turned out to be mud and rocks. Our best option at that point was to backtrack into the wind. It cost us about 18 Km – and neither of us was very happy! We got back on route and after a few miles left the hills and entered the plains with mostly a tail wind. The rest of the ride went smoothly.
We planned a stop in Utrera only because it was conveniently located along the route from Arcos de la Frontera to Carmona. Utrera, which is also off any tourist route, turned out to be a very nice town. We checked in to the Hotel Vera Cruz, which we found rather easily, then bathed, changed and took a walk. There were lots of interesting sections of the town to explore. Kay saw her first stork in its nest on the top of a church. Everyone seemed to be out – walking, drinking coffee and always talking. After all, it was Sunday before Utrera’s patron saint day and just before May Day. Kids don’t have to go back to school until Thursday. The only problem was that because it was Sunday before the holidays, a lot (most) of the restaurants were not going to open back up for the evening meal. We finally found an Italian restaurant open. We ate plenty and it was just fine. The Hotel turned out to be one of the nicer places that we stayed and Utrera turned out to be much more than what we had expected.
Storks nesting on a church in Utrera
MONDAY, APRIL 30, 2018 – Utrera to Carmona
We had the typical breakfast at the Hotel Vera Cruz but it was pleasant. Took our time getting ready – a gentle day today to get back to Carmona. We are out of the hills and generally had a tail wind. Cool and clear – it doesn’t get any better than this!
The map showed road 8100 going all the way from Utrera to Carmona, but the last 18 Km or so of 8100 have been closed to traffic and looked abandoned. The detour is A-3200. The Garmin agreed. We climbed up onto the ridge and into Viso del Alcor and had coffee. Then we rode along the ridge to Carmona. We arrived at the Parador, got our suitcases and packed up the bikes – first thing. Now that the bikes are older – Gordon takes less care in prepping them for packing. We finished, changed and went to have a late lunch in the hotel dining room while it was still being served. We had a full three-course meal! We didn’t finish “lunch” until 5 pm – so we didn’t need much “dinner”. Ah, the Spanish and their mealtimes!
We had yet another day so we went back to Sevilla by bus for a quick second trip into the city. Had fun walking around, timed lunch while it was raining outside and shopped for some of our favorite Andalusian delicacies – nut-filled nougat called “turron” and different nut brittles.
One final fabulous breakfast buffet at the Parador the next morning – a wonderful way to end our Andalusian tour – then off to the Sevilla airport.
A Last General Note:
While working on this log I have been listening to “RNE Clásica” radio station on the App “Radio España”. This is a great station with a variety of music types.
A last view of the entrance to the Carmona Parador
With that we say goodbye to our Spain tour and to Carmona