I made a couple of day trips in the ‘El Comtat’, a region bordering the north of Alicante province and the south of Valencia province. El Comtat, together with Marina Alta and Marina Baja is a region where a lot of the professional cycling peloton tends to spend their winters for training rides. Understandable because the climate is smooth most of the times and with multiple mountains over 1.300 meters, they can train their climbing legs.
Via Verde del Serpis:
But it doesn’t have to be climbing. There ’s a via verde from Cocentaina, near Alcoy, towards the coastal town Gandia. I rode it up and down, starting in Muro de Alcoy down to Villalonga (about 15 km before Gandia) and back to Muro de Alcoy.
Upon leaving Muro, you first descend towards the Rio D’Agres and a short steep climb back out of it’s little valley. Now I’m riding a quiet paved country road towards Gaianes. To my left (north) is the Sierra de Benicadell.
Arriving in the next little town, Beniarrés, I ride to the highest point in town where you’ll find the Ermita Del Santo Cristo, a beautiful white church. From Beniarrés, you could take the cv-705, the road over the Sierra the Benicadell, but that’s for another time. Here, the via verde starts for real. I immediately have to ride through the first old railway tunnel. It’s still a paved, narrow road where in theory you could encounter a car or a tractor going to the fields, but I never saw one.
Near the town of L’Orxa it starts to get really spectacular. First I get views to the Castillo de Perputxent. Continuing on the gravel road I soon reach the borders of the Rio Serpis. From here, all the way towards Villalonga it is really spectacular, cycling through the barranc de l’Infern.
A trip to Bocairent:
Bocairent is a small medieval town, north of the Sierra de Mariola National Parc. I first visited the towns’ bull ring. Dating back to 1843, it is the oldest one in the Valencia region.
Arriving at the ‘Placa de Ajuntament’, the main square, I could admire already the impressive church ‘Santa Maria de l’ Assumpcio’. Unfortunately it was closed, so the interior will be for another time.
From the city walls I have a good view towards ‘Les Covetes dels Moros’, human made caves and corridors carved out of the mountains. They just dropped three buses with school kids at the bottom of the hill to visit these caves, so I decided to skip it and instead hike to the top of the hill to have a look a the monastery ‘Ermita del Santo Cristo’.
Via Verde del Xixarra and the Sierra de Mariola:
From the town of Cocentaina, I took the Via Verde del Xixarra. The greenway is not paved. Sometimes gravel, sometimes bigger stones, the going is slow, but the scenery nice and free of traffic. Close to town I still see another cyclist or runner from time to time, but after a few kilometer, I’m on my own.
The greenway, heading west is passing Bocairent which I visited the day before. Here I leave the via verde behind and turn south on the Cv-794 which crosses the natural park. A short steep climbs follows, but after that it’s all easy riding all the way back to Alcoy.
Dayhike ‘Barranc del Sinc’:
Upon riding down towards Alcoy, I saw a spectacular rock formation just out of the town. I took a quick look around and decided to hike the circuit one of the following days. The ‘Barranc del Sinc’ hike is 11,3 km long with an altitude gain of about 600 meter in total.
Bike trip north of the Sierra de Benicadell:
As I’m not in the best of shape right now, I decided to go from the north of Alicante province to the south of Valencia province and make a day ride in the flatter lands here. I started in ‘La Pobla Del Duc’ and via small roads and tracks I went via Benicolet to Llutxent. Just north of this town I first passed the ‘Ermita de la Mare De Déu de la Consolació’, founded in 1772 by Catalan pilgrims.
A bit further up the road is the Monestir Corpus Cristi, built in 1422
Further on the route is nothing too special, just easy riding.
Dayhike in Planes, Circuito Ermito de Santo Cristo:
My last trip was a beautiful 10 km dayhike , starting a bit outside of Planes. Walking first alongside a small olive grove, I soon arrive at the Barranco de L’Encantada.
After the barranco, I hike for a long time on a single track with fantastic views towards the Sierra de l’Albureca. Turning around the corner of the Sierra del Cantalar I’m back on a small asphalt road. The views towards the reservoir ‘Embalse de Beniarrés’, constructed in 1958. Behind the reservoir the Sierra de Benicadell.
Shortly after joining the main road, the track goos steep up towards the Ermita del Santo Cristo. Would be a good track to run up and down for your daily work out.
From Hervás, where I collected my long awaited package, I planned to ride the Cicloextremeña, a mostly off-road route along the borders of the Extremadura region, about 1.300 km. The makers have made a nice website with more info and links to download the tracks here.
I had to start climbing immediately to the highest point of the whole route, the Puerto de Honduras at 1.440 meter.
Down in Hervás, temperature was a mere 8 degrees Celsius.I can only imagine what it will be up there.Luckily it had stopped raining.Still, I was wearing four pants.My cycling pants, long cycling pants, running shorts and my rain pants.For the body, I wear a long sleeved t-shirt, my new soft shell and a rain jacket in ‘Gore-Tex pro’, the strongest kind.On my head a bandana and the hood of the soft shell + the hood of the rain jacket and my helmet on top of it.At my hands some sturdy gloves I bought in Norway.
The climb is super easy.An average of 5% maybe.
Through a forest of chestnut trees I’m leaving the valley of Rio Ambroz.The violent wind has littered the road with lots of tree branches and thousands and thousands of chestnuts.The old folks of Hervas were out to gather them.
Having started late afternoon in Hervás, I arrived at the Puerto de Honduras at 6 pm.
A bitter cold wind was blowing over the pass.
There was nowhere on the climb to pitch a tent.I would normally never pitch my tent close to the road, but only two cars passed me on the way up and the grassy field next to the closed stone hut on the top seemed the only place behind which one could pitch a tent and have some break from the stormy winds.
It got bitterly cold and the wind kept blowing violently all night.I was surprised to see a thick fog in the morning, in combination with such winds.
Since a couple of days, my knees hurt again.All night the upper legs hurt as well and kept me awake.I wonder wether it could be an infection because of the cold ?To spare the legs a bit, I skipped a visit to the town of Plasencia.I’d have to descend to an elevation of 340 m asl.
Instead I chose the shortcut to Cabezuela Del Valle at 520 m asl.I’m now in the valley of the Rio Jerte and can start climbing the next hill top without the stress of going all the way to Plasencia, shop for provisions there, and get out again with probably not much time to spare to find a camping spot before dusk.
Well, talking about taking a that short cut to spare the knees….. the climb out of the valley was between 10 & 17% for some kilometers until it flattened out to a more doable 5 – 6%.Just like in the Valle de Ambroz, also in the Valle de Jerte I’m cycling between the chestnut trees.And also camping between them.I made it a short day and save the next hill top for tomorrow.
Next morning, I could barely walk.I had to move like an octogenarian with two wooden legs.The pain is on the inside of the knees.I had some knee pain in the past as well, but I always ignored it and then it disappeared automatically, so I thought it was best to continue this proven approach.
But it is different now.It is both knees and the pain is almost unbearable when I have to walk or do stairs.Laying down, I can move the knees without pain or problems.Cycling gives only a bit of pain.walking almost impossible.
In Piornal, almost at the top of the next climb, I took a side road towards Jaraiz de la Vera where I booked a hotel for three nights, but ended up staying there for a week.
A visit to the local Centro de Salud (medical center) didn’t clarify much.Unfortunately doctors seem to be able to graduate from university without having the slightest knowledge of basic English.I’ve noticed that before in Spain.That’s a pity.
I got some pils, a creme and pain killers.
This trip seems to stand under a bad omen.The problem with my package and the broken mattress are nothing.They are solved with a bit of patience and at a small cost.This knee problem is more serious…
After a couple of days I started to investigate what medication I was actually taking.The prescription leaflet is uniquely in Spanish, so internet had to help me.Even online I could only find a Spanish explanation which didn’t make anything clear to me.I suppose it’s against inflammation.
I was surprised to find out the pills, of which I hoped they would have a curing effect, were pain killers as well, just like the Paracetamol.
I stopped the latter immediately.I normally never take pain killers, cause they do nothing to cure you, just mask the problem, potentially making it worse, if I think logically.
After a week I left the hotel.Still, only 10% improvement maybe, but I just had to go out.
I had redrawn my route, again, with a lot of pain in my hearth leaving the Cicloextremeña and going for a smaller loop, avoiding climbs as much as possible.
First I headed to a stretch along the Camino Natural del Rio Tajo, which I rode in 2017 and where I made some waypoints with good wild camping spots.Loaded up with food for three days from the supermarket in Jaraiz de la Vera I head out.
On the main road.
Not my favorite thing, but ok.
In the village Casatejada I visited the Ermita de Soledad.Definitely worth a look from both the inside and outside !
From here, after mending a front flat tyre, I took the main road to Serrejón where the water tap in the park is disconnected, but the one at the Ermita de San Antonia, more or less at the highest point in town, was still functional.
Just rolling down the hill with sixteen liter of water, on the camino to my first possible campsite.
Yeah, I remember this one.
I pitched the tent not exactly at the same place as 3,5 years ago.This time I would not break camp in the morning, so I needed something with shade during the day to avoid sauna-like temperatures in the tent.
An excellent quiet first night was followed by a surprise on day two.Suddenly a herd of about twenty five cows came near my tent.A farm must have relocated them.As big as this place is…. they wouldn’t go away too far from my tent and unlike Belgian cows, these beasts with big horns are not stopped by a simple wire or some branches around your tent.I saw them braking through bushes and knocking down small trees.They were just grazing, walking slowly forward, knocking down everything in their path. I feared a bit for my tent.
Only one of the cows had a bell around her neck.
The beast didn’t stop moving for a single second throughout the night !
I had to leave my tent at least twenty times during the night to chase them away, always leaving the tunnel tent in an awkward way, avoid sitting on my knees for even the briefest moment.
I did it once by accident and it felt like a boiling hot dagger was pushed violently into my knee.
At dawn, hunters were shooting at… I don’t know what… fifty meters away from my tent.I was a bit below them, so I think they never saw me, but let’s say it’s not the most comfortable situation when you try to relax, rest and heal.
The little village Toril has a nice information center about the Monfraguë National Park and a very helpful and friendly employee.You can also rent mtb’s there which seemed to be brand new.
I am still following my own tracks of 2017 through the park.First up is the spectacular Mirador (viewpoint)Portilla Del Tiétar.Tiétar is the river leading me into the park.It rises in the Gredos mountains, that spectacular range I had to my east when leaving Jaraiz de la Vera.It is a main tributary of the Tajo River.
The view point where I’m standing is a popular place with bird watchers because the big rock face at the opposite site of the river houses dozens of vultures and other birds.Last time I was here there were many bird watchers, most of them with lenses with which I’m sure you could spot a mouse on Mars.Now, there was only one other guy.With a modest lens 🙂
Next up is the Mirador la Higuerilla from where I have a good view to a bend in the Tiétar river.
The little climb to a higher point before Villareal de San Carlos hurt my knees a lot.It’s not good.I keep going slowly and ride short distances, but I’m full of doubt wether I can continue or not.For now, I have no choice.Can’t stop here.
I roll down to more interesting spots like the Mirador del Puente Cardinal, an old bridge which I crossed three years ago but seems to be closed now.On leaving the park, a last spectacular viewpoint, Mirador Salto Del Gitano awaits me.
I pitch my tent just beyond Torrejon El Rubbio. From this village it would only be 50 kilometer to Caceres, the capital of Extremadura where I could find decent medical facilities to get my knees checked.But lets first wait and see what the night does.
It felt slightly better in the morning so I decided to try and go on.A bit of a boring asphalt road all the way to Trujillo.This is a little gem of a town where I spend the afternoon having a look at the historical centre and pushing the bike up to the castle.Really smart in this condition.
From Trujillo you can see the lonely rock Risco de San Gregorio already south of town.Being sick of the asphalt, I check and find an off-road possibility over a track (Canada Real Del Puerto de Miravete) going south and skirting the Risco de San Gregorio (838 m asl). Much more enjoyable riding again.
From Zorita I ride for twenty kilometer on the main road towards Logrosan.A beautiful mountain range to my left, the Sierra de Las Villuercas, part of the Montes de Toledo mountain range.The reason of coming to Logrosan is the via verde that goes all the way to Villanueva de la Serena 56 km from here.
Unlike other via verdes that seems heavily used in late afternoon by the local towns folk for running or making small bike trips, I’m all alone here.
A lot of the land next to the track is fenced off for cattle farming, but after a while there’s some open land and I find a nice spot for the night.
The second half of the via verde is often totally unmaintained.Luckily I bought two new slime tubes in the bike shop in Trujillo, or I would have flats without a doubt.
I didn’t see anything interesting in Don Benito and rode on towards Medellín where I took a nice hotel for the night so I could gives the knees a long, long hot shower. Medellin turned out to be a attractive little town.The Roman theatre and the castle are really worth a visit.On the town square is a statue of its most famous resident, Hernan Cortes, the man who conquered Mexico. He was born here in Medellín in 1485 and become governor of the former Aztec territories.
I left the town following dirt roads always close to the Guadiana.I passed rather quickly through Mérida, a town I visited extensively in 2017.It is a super nice town that deserves a second thorough visit, but that’s for later.I plan to ride on to Badajoz, then up to Cáceres where I plan to pick up the Via de la Plate back down to Merida and further down to Andalusia.
So, first direction Badajoz, still along the Guadiana River.With winter getting nearer, the farmers are burning down their fields.It’s terrible.I cycle in a big haze which makes it hard to breath.I thought this slash and burn agriculture was something they did in some developing countries, but it’s happening here as well.Hard to believe, in 2020, with all the air pollution we’re trying to limit.
Above scene is from the banks of the Guadiana River. I don’t know which large group of fools had taken residence here and left it like this. They deserve 40 years in prison.
Badajoz, close to the Portugese border, was in the year 1812 the scene of one of the bloodiest sieges of the Napoleonic Wars.Again, we had to thank the Duke of Wellington for this.The allied Anglo-Portugese army consisted of some 27.000 troops and they outnumbered the French garrison in the city by around five to one.
Although the Brits won, it was a costly victory.Some 4.800 allied soldiers were killed and around 1.500 French died.
With success came mass looting and disorder and the Brits turned to drink and reprisals. The sacking of Badajoz has been noted by many historians as a particularly atrocious conduct committed by the British Army: many homes were broken into, property vandalized or stolen, Spanish civilians of all ages and backgrounds raped and killed.
Wellington waited fifteen to eighteen hours to issue an order that the sack of Badajoz should cease.It took eventually seventy two hours before order was restored and another 250 up to 300 Spanish civilians were killed.Not a good guy, this Wellington.
The knees were hurting again, so I rented an apartment for a few days in Badajoz.I went to the hospital, hoping for a better diagnosis.They made me wait between people who were there for covid tests.When, finally after many hours it was my turn, the doctor looked from afar to my knee, prescribed more pain killers and more cream.It’s clear my problem is not going to be solved like this.
In the local Decathlon store, I bought a camping chair so I wouldn’t have to sit on my knees too much when camping.I assume the pain I have is not a result of cycling but fromall this crawling around on my knees and sitting cross-legged in the morning and evenings while eating.
Leaving Badajoz in the direction of Cáceres, I followed the Camino Natural Del Coredor Cáceres – Badajoz.The first section was often too muddy which forced me to the asphalt.After Villar Del Rey, the land became a bit hillier, and the track, called ‘Ruta Cañada Real Sancha Brava’ here was mostly perfectly rideable and very enjoyable.But as much as I enjoyed the scenery, the pain in my knees that came back instantly when I had to climb worried me.
Just before entering the village Malpartida de Cáceres, I visited the Los Barruecos nature park with lots of bizar rock formation.I wandered around a bit and wondered how many storks would be here in spring.Their huge nests are everywhere.
Back in Cáceres I rented again an apartment, in the old town at the Plaza de Santa Clara. Cáceres, capital of the Extremadura region is a very interesting historical town, declared a World Heritage City by Unesco in 1986.I think that at the time I was there, Extremadura was also the region with still the most relaxed covid rules on the Spanish mainland, due to the reasonable ok figures.The terraces of bars and restaurants were still open.Not that I used them.I’m too careful for that, but at least it still created some atmosphere in the town.
After taking more rest, the acute pain in the knees was gone, but walking up the hill in the old town center, I felt it coming back with the slightest effort I made.With deep regret, I decided to return home and hope to find a good knee specialist to fix things.So instead of the planned winter on the Canary Islands, where I intended to stay 7 – 10 days on each island, it’s back to dreary Belgium.
Hope to resume cycling in spring.
Some figures about this trip from Belgium to Spain: Total distance: 5.142,17 km Total altimeter: 62.162 meter
Highest maximum speed: 78,96 km/hr
Most altimeter in one day: 1.799 m (Asturia, Spain) Highest point: 1.955 m (Montes de Leon) Longest day in the saddle: 7 hrs 41 minutes (France)
Route: Valladolid – Palencia – Alar Del Rey – Medina de Rioseco – Tordesillas – Salamanca – Puerto de Béjar
Leaving Castilla y Leóns capital Valladolid, I may have found the easier terrain to cycle, along the Castilla Canal, but now the weather conditions turned against me. The weather forecast predicted seven days of almost continuous rain. The path along the canal is just gravel, so it could become a dirty mess.
The canal on my left side, I only had to look to the right for a possible camping spot. But there is the railway line from Madrid to Irun. As the sky got darker and darker, I took a right turn, away from the canal in Las Ventas, hoping to find a spot for the night. It’s all fields here and in the end I settled for a field which was recently mowed and plowed and with a line of trees protecting me for the strong winds.
Just after I pitched the tent, the downpour started, with more winds.
Next morning I found the tent to be surrounded completely by mud, the tent pegs could barely hold the tent up in the soft stuff. I packed as carefully as possible, trying to get everything more or less clean. The bike was leaning against a tree, with a flat tyre in the back. Oh, perfect, this is the exact time and place I dream of to change tubes.
I rode on to Palencia and was lucky to have a window of two hours without rain and settled down in a hotel for two nights. Went around a bit on the second day to look at the town.
Continuing along the Castilla Canal, it forks a bit after the village Grijota. I take the right fork, going north. For a while, I ride just next to the small ‘Canal de la Retencion’. Behind a line of trees, fifty meters further on runs the Canal de Castilla parallel to it. The path is muddy, spongy from all the rain. I cross the Rio Carrion, that same river I already met in the Cordillera Cantabrica, where they dammed it to create the Embalse de Camporredondo and the Embalse de Compuerto. With all these damming, diverting the water into into irrigation channels, etc…. not much is left of the natural flow of the river and I guess no serious fish life can survive that way. But I did see a polecat, or something similar from the marten family today.
I left the canal to have a look at the village of Fromista, only a kilometer or so to the west. On my ride into town I saw another cyclist coming from the opposite direction. He was riding a BMC mountainbike. Together we went to have a look at the Roman San Pedro church in town.
After a visit to the local panaderia, the small supermarket and the gas station to top of my fuel bottle, we rode together back to the canal.
The most popular Camino de Santiago, the ‘Camino Frances’ is following the Castilla Canal here for three kilometer and of course I was not really visiting Fromista or riding along the canal with another cyclist, but with my virtual self in May 2017, when I rode this stretch on my way from Galician coast to the Mediterranean Sea. You can read all about that here.
I continued north along the canal all the way to the northern terminus at Alar Del Rey, not a very appealing place with sixties styles apartment blocks of eight floors or so. After a quick refill of the water bottles and a visit to the local tiny supermarket, I headed straight back the way I came. I had seen an electricity building with a nice awning under which I thought I could pitch the tent. Lots of rain was predicted. When I arrived, the space appeared to be too small and I had to settle for something less protected. I went down some dirt paths to the river Pisuergo where I saw some trees which might give shelter, but just like the fields, all the ground between the trees had been plowed and was a bumpy, muddy mess. Good camping spots are pretty hard to find along this canal.
Apart from a few drops, rain didn’t bother me too much on the 90 kilometer stretch back to the junction where I now took the northern fork of the canal towards Medina de Rioseco. There was that climatological nuisance every cyclists hates. A head wind and it became harder and harder every day. Easy riding along canals to give the legs a rest ? Forget it !
And not only that, even though the temperatures have dropped to a few degrees above freezing at night, and don’t reach the twenties anymore during the day, an incredible amount of flies, mosquitos and wasps make life impossible when you stop. At this moment, with an intense wind outside, there are at least 50 flies on my panniers outside, just as much on the outer tent, and again that many between the outer and inner tent. This are really becoming Australian situations. This is not normal and something I have never seen anywhere in Europe, also never in Spain in the past. They also have the behaviour of the Australian bush fly, i.e., they come and sit on you, go for your eyes and ears.
It is horrible.
Two more interesting villages I visited along the canal were Becerril de Campos and Paredes de Nava. The former was apparently elected as most beautiful village of Spain in 2016. It had some nice old buildings, but I preferred the latter. More spectacular than the villages was the +/- 1,4 meter long snake I saw today.
The beautiful little town of Medina de Rioseco is the terminus of de Castilla canal.Honestly, I’m not sad it’s over.While I cannot say anything ‘bad’ about it, it was the least interesting part of this trip so far.
From Castromonte I took a little detour to La Santa Espina, to visit the monastery, built in 1147 by Doña Sancha de Castilla, the sister of King Alfonso VII. Originally it was a Cistercian abbey but nowadays it is a center for agricultural education.
Being ‘freed’ from the canal, I can start looking for camping places both sides off the road or track again. I pitched the tent in a pine forest three kilometer before Tordesillas, a place which rings a bell with everybody, no doubt.
We all remember it of course from history class ! Tordesillas is the place where in 1494 a treaty was signed between Spain and Portugal, which divided the then known non-European world (basically South America) in Spanish (Castillian) and Portugese spheres. More than five hundred years down the road we still see the effect of this, with a Portugese speaking Brazil and Spanish speaking rest of South-America.
There is a great museum with interesting maps about it all in Tordesillas.
It was closed (Monday). Sigh.
In Tordesillas I also meet the Douro River again. I follow the ‘Senda Del Duero’, a hiking trail along the river, for a while. It is not always close to the river.
The trail is mostly good, sometimes bumpy or sandy with from time to time great vistas to the river.
After crossing the river over the Presa de San Jose near Castronuño, I leave the Douro which flows towards Zamora and further on to Portugal. Me, I take a good, quiet asphalt to La Bovéda de Torro.
After this town, I made my way over some fantastic gravel further south.
I camped on a hill top, about 930 m from where one has fantastic view to the outlines of the Sierra Guadarrama and Sierra Bejar.
My mattress started delaminating near the foot end about a week ago and I urgently need a new one. I thought about taking asphalt to speed up to Salamanca, where I can find one, but first starting riding a bit more gravel roads.
Soon I was thinking “Why would I go and ride between cars and trucks when I have so much fun on the gravel ?”
The Decathlon website stated they had only one Therm-A-Rest mattress left in Salamanca, so on the one hand I was in a hurry to grab it, but on the other hand I experienced that the information on Decathlons website can’t be trusted, so I decided to give riding fun priority over buying mattresses.
Two kilometer before Salamanca, I could see the towers of the cathedral already, I had a flat. Multiple punctures from a steel wire out of a car tyre. Here in Salamanca, I cross again my own tracks, this time from April 2017. At that time there were a lot of people near the cathedral.
Now, corona times…. I was standing here all alone. I visited the cathedral this time (6 € entry fee !)
Also here, I was all alone.
Later in the afternoon, following the bike path along the Tormes River (which I crossed already a while ago on my way to Segovia), I rode to Decathlon.
A very bizar situation arose. They had one more Therm-A-Rest but refused to sell it to me first. After a whole discussion, they gave in. Bizar.
Bought new shoes, long pants to cycle and a soft shell to keep me warmer.
Riding south of Salamanca, I take the off-road Via de la Plata. I still had my own waypoints of good wild camping spots so I knew exactly where I was going.
This is a real nice stretch of the Via de la Plata and I was looking forward to ride it again. About ten kilometer after San Pedro de Rozados follows a short, steep climb (pushing required) to a hill top full of wind mills. An English lady hiking towards Santiago told me this is the highest point on the Via de la Plata. No idea wheter this info is correct.
I knew from my visit in 2017 that after tackling this hill, I would enter some land with excellent wild camping possibilities.
After that good night, I rode the short distance to Valverde de Valdelacasa and settled down in the pilgrims albergue. Lots of wind and torrential rain was predicted for the coming night.
Waking up in my room in the albergue, a quick glance through the window showed all surrounding mountains covered in thick, ugly, grey clouds and the downpour had changed the street in a river a few centimeter deep. The cleaning lady showed up before 10 am and I had to evacuate my room. The four Spanish cyclists who slept in the dormitory had left already.
“Why on earth would somebody go out in this weather ?”, I wondered.
But I’ve seen (most) people doing that before. Or I am an incredible pancake, or those people’s holiday must be calculated down to the minute and they’ve got no time to lose.
Anyway, by 11 am it was just raining instead of the earlier downpour. “Don’t be a soft potato for once”, I told myself and went out.
It was Friday. I was 36 km from the post office in Hervas and although the tracking showed the package I was waiting for since more than a month was still stuck in Madrid, I wanted to go and check whether it might have arrived by some miracle.
Not a hundred meters, really, less than hundred meters I was on my bike, and they opened all gates in the sky. What a downpour Few hundred meters further, asphalt changed in sand…. mud. After 3,8 km I noticed the rear tyre was almost flat.
“Aaah, f*%k, not now !”.
Refusing to change the tyre on the muddy road, I gave it 72 pumps and continued riding.
Exactly two kilometer further… almost flat again.
A hundred pumps this time.
I had to pump a third time before reaching the next village, La Calzada de Béjar.
“I’ll never make it before 14:30 (closing time of the post office) like this.And what’s the point, racing to a post office to collect a package which is still hundreds of kilometer away in Madrid, according to the tracking ?
“Better shelter a bit here”, I told myself, because it’s not only raining, but a real strong ice-cold storm wind is blowing from the side as well.
On the other hand, I was wet already. And what if this tracking was wrong and my package was sitting in Hervas. They only hold it for two weeks before it is returned to sender. If I don’t check, it might be on its way back to Belgium before it ever officially arrived……
I jumped back on my bike, after giving the tyre one hundred pumps.
At 14:10 I arrived at the post office with twenty minutes to spare. The last part from Béjar to Hervas is really easy over the via verde. In total, I stopped nine time to inflate the tyre.
Nonchalant, I asked the post employee for my package, as if I was sure it would be there.
Even more nonchalant, he handed it over to me.
“Break now my wooden shoe”, I thought. (But lesson learned. In future I’ll use DHL to send packages. Maybe 10 euro more expensive, but they come and collect the package at home, and they guarantee delivery almost anywhere in the world in two days. No more postal services for me).
Well, it makes life a lot easier. I rode back to the via verde verde where the former railway station has an awning under which I could replace the worn rear tyre with the new one from my package, and put another tube inside (the slime tube was way too slimy to patch). I’ve ridden about 5.000 km on the old tyre, which is not bad for a knobby tyre, on a loaded bike over rough terrain.
Time to start a new chapter of my trip in the Extremadura.
Route: Ciudad Rodrigo – La Alberca – Hervas – Avila – Segovia – Olmedo – Valladolid
Just beyond the Portugese / Spanish border lies the tiny historical town of Ciudad Rodrigo.I had noticed it on my maps all those years, but it is in such an out of the way corner of Spain that I thought I’d probably never reach it.But here I am.
Nice little place.Old town up the hill.Impressive old city walls, a castle tower, an old cathedral, the house of the marquis which I liked a lot, …. yeah, it’s worth a visit.
I check into a hotel for two nights.Lot’s of stuff to do, besides typing for this website.Laundry, bike cleaning, visit restaurants, downloading podcasts, recharging all the devices, etc, etc…
On my rest day in Ciudad Rodrigo I strolled back towards the old town to have another look at all the old buildings and have lunch.After lunch, I walked the loop over the old town walls.didn’t see another person.It’s siesta time, you’re not supposed to walk, I guess haha.
My legs needed a bit of a rest period as well, I was thinking.They felt rather tired after the constant climbing, day after day since I reached the Pyrenees.“Nothing better than some riding along canals to give the legs some rest”, I thought.We’re in mountainous Spain, and not in flat Belgium, but there happen to be canals a few hundred kilometer north from here, the ‘Canal de Castilla’.I started investigating whether I could include that into my ride somehow.
From one thing came another.The idea is to go eventually further south, to Extremadura, but the canals are north from here so I have to make a loop somehow in order to avoid riding the exact same thing twice.
I could ride via Avila, that’s supposed to be an interesting town.And then, I’m not far from Segovia, with it’s picturesque cathedral and….’.
Oh, and there’s another greenway I could include, and then go to the canals this way, return that way, a bit of Via de la Plata there, and ….
It’s proven again that too much thinking is good for nothing.In search of a way to give the legs some rest, I just added another thousand kilometer with a hilly passage through the Sierra the Francia and the Sierra de Bejar and yes, also some riding along the Castilla Canals.
It’s going to be fun ! 🙂 🙂
The ride from Ciudad Rodrigo to La Alberca over the main road is easy.La Alberca is at 1.050 m asl or so.Super touristic, even on a weekday.This typical old houses with wooden frames.A bit like in Troyes and Bergerac in France. Lots of shops selling the Jamón (ham) for which the region is famous, lots of typical tacky tourist shops with t-shirts, bags, magnets to put on your fridge, restaurants with menu del dia’s, pinchos (tapas), ….
This stuff is not for me anymore.I leave town after 45 minutes and find myself an ok place under the chestnut trees to camp.The night definitely is going to be quieter than last night in the hotel with it’s banging doors well into the night (despite the noise isolation which the hotel advertised but was totally non-existing).
I had put a lot of time in preparing my little loop in Castilla y Leon, starting from Hervas, but not too much time in the route from Ciudad Rodrigo to Hervas.That night, I suddenly remembered that, months ago, I already looked into some nice roads in this area.Instead of riding straight to Hervas the next morning, I rode back up to La Alberca and from here took the road straight south into the Parque Natural Batuecas.From La Alberca, I first have to climb a little bit higher to the Puerto del Portillo Pass (1.247 m).From the pass, I have a brilliant view to all the lower hills in Extremadura region. On the downhill, a series of switchbacks until I reach the Rio Batuecas.I take a little side road to visit the Monasterio de las Batuecas, but it’s not open for visitors.
Never mind.I keep going down.Although I’m supposed to be on a tour of Castila y Leon region, I am entering Extremadura region for a while.I ride already a part of the northern section of the Cicloextremeña, a loop that follows the borders of Extremadura region. More about that in a few weeks, when I’ll ride the rest of it.
It’s one of the harder stretches of that loop that I’m doing now.
After Riomalo de Abajo, situated at the confluence of the Rio Ladrillar and the Rio Alagon, I climb steep on a stony dirt track.This is the start of a remote section, closed to motorized traffic and without any services for 60 kilometer.
Down below, I can see the wide body of water, the Rio Alagon.Also the Rio Hurdano joins and eventually, as always when there’s some water here, they’ve built a dam and created the large Embalse de Gabriel Y Galan.It’s a fantastic off-road ride through the forest.I take a right turn on the dead end road towards Granadilla, which is supposed to be an interesting place down at the lake.From far away I can see the fortress already.I arrive at 2.15 pm. The whole village is closed with the big iron gate from the middle ages.Entry to town is only in the morning and late afternoon / early evening.Basically the times shops are open in other places.Nothing to do but to ride back where I came from.It is paved roads from now towards Abadia, then Aldeanueva Del Camino, a place I passed through in 2017 as well when cycling the Via de la Plata.
What’s changed now is there is a via verde from here, going to Hervas, a historical town further up the hill and all the way to Bejar, the town at the pass.In 2017 I still had to go through the busy valley.A good improvement !
Hervas is a nice place.A real town this time, not like the tourist Disneyland of La Alberca.I was hoping to pick-up a package send from home 10 days ago with a new solar panel, a new rear tyre and my old gps, as the current one is failing, but the package is still in Brussels. It seems that in this period of time, the Belgian Post can bring a package only from the north of the country to the centre of the country, a whopping distance of about 60 km in 10 days. I walk faster.
Well, we’ll see.Maybe they get it on a plane one day and hopefully it arrives when I return here at the end of my Castilla y Leon loop.
I visit the town church (from the outside, because it is closed) and the old Jewish quarter.
All the time since leaving the closed town of Granadilla, I was riding east and looking to a wall of mountains, the Sierra de Bejar.When I passed here in April 2017, I was riding south to north alongside them, and the tops were still covered in snow..Not so now of course.But this time, I had to get over the range.
It’s a very easy climb.The hardest thing were the persistent hundreds of little flies going around my head all the time, trying to enter my mouth, ears, eyes,…. I haven’t mentioned it yet, I think, but it is terrible this year.I’ve never had that amount of flies and mosquitos in Spain as this year.Climate change ?
Anyway, there are many, many, many more of this irritating bugs than normally and they make my life out in nature hard.Riding the bike they swarm around you when you’re climbing, slow and sweating.At night, they eat you at your camp site.
Once over the top (unnamed pass, 1.313 m), I am back in Castilla y Leon.On my left hand is yet another Embalse (Embalse de Navamuno).
Candelario, the first town is really beautiful again and worth a visit.
In Puente Del Congosto I went back on dirt, following the ‘Cañada Real Soriana’.Fantastic riding again.The mountains of the Sierra de Gredos to my right, the high plains to my left.Some stretches are pretty desolate, but that’s what I like.
I toured around Avila a bit.The cathedral was closed right in front of my nose for siesta.No problem.Enough buildings to look at from the outside.Avila is most famous for its old city walls. Apparently you can walk them, but I never found a place where I could mount them.Avila is the birth place of the cyclist Julio Jimenez who won three times polka dot jersey in the Tour the France and was also three times King of the Mountains in the Vuelta.
East from Avila there’s a bike path of about 14 km.First night camping along it, a terrible thunderstorm passed by.Thousands and thousands of lightnings right above the tent.Of course, I am at the highest point 20 or 30 kilometer around. Also a lot of rain came down, but that’s good because the region is really dry and fires are still a concern when camping.
The bike path stops at the village of Urraca-Miguel and I have to take the paved road Av-500 further east.As the road is blocked for road works, and the busy N-110 is not an option, I pushed the bike up a steep path, 14 upto 16% inclination.It had a dead-end at the top.By the time I was down again, it was siesta time and I saw the road workers leaving.Time to hit right through the road works.
Arriving in the town of El Espinar, all shops are closed.It’s fiesta. Some obscure saint.Nobody knew exactly why.
Up to Segovia.Against the wind ever since entering Spain.Luckily I have the Sierra de Guadarrama on my right to admire.After Segovia, I make an 180 degreesturn and ride back west.I bet the wind, after blowing all these days will do exactly the same.
But first a visit to the city.The two main highlights are the enormous Roman Aqueduct and the cathedral.The entrance fee to the cathedral was 3 euro, I think, but it is worth it.In the basement is a museum with paintings in the style of the old Flemish masters like Rubens and Van Eyck, a sign says.
While the paintings were reproductions by Spanish painters, another museum with carpets showed carpets all from Brussels.Probably taken when the Spanish ruled in our region.
Segovia is also the birth place of cyclist Pedro Delgado.
Segovia was the place where I turned west again, but more important, it is the place where some easier part follows.I have the Via Verde Del Eresma ahead of me.73 km of almost flat gravel riding.I loved the stretch, cycling along the Eresma river, through the pine forests, all traffic free, enjoying the scenery while listening to some podcasts.And I was completely wrong about that wind.It just kept blowing from the east and made my life very easy for once 🙂
Olmedo is the terminus of the via verde.I follow a few kilometer of bitumen before going on sandy roads again, over yet another camino to Santiago, this time the one from Madrid, the Ruta Jacobea Madrilena.Valladolid is the capital of the autonomous region Castila y Leon.Quite a big town with over 300.000 people.Before entering the town, I again cross the Douro River, which I crossed a few weeks ago further downstream in Portugal already. The Douro river is Spains third longest river (895 km). I didn’t ride into the centre of town, as I was chased by rain and thunderstoms.The city lies at the Pisuerga River. I also crossed this river a few weeks ago when cycling in the Cordillera Cantabrica, in the town of Cervera de Pisuergo.
Here in Valladolid I will start my flat ride along the Castilla Canal, but that’s for the next post.
Route: Ponferrada – Truchas – Puabla de Sanabria – Rio de Onor
From El Rasadero, the last village before Ponferrade, and a bit higher up, you have a good view point to the city. I’ve been here a couple of times before, it is a nice town. The world championship cycling was held here in 2014 and as everybody remembers, Michal Kwiatkowski became champion here.
In Spain nowadays, all churches are closed. And if they are not, you have to pay an entrance fee. That’s a big difference with the Bhuddist temples in Southeast Asia which I can always visit.
Ponferrada Basilca is the first church since I entered Spain, about a thousand kilometer ago that’s open and free to enter. I wonder the reason for closing the churches.
Something else ?
The Decathlon in Ponferrada is the worst stocked Decathlon shop I’ve ever seen. They had almost nothing. Also not a new solar panel (I’ve lost mine outside La Pola).
Ponferrada is also on the major camino de Santiago route (the Camino Frances) but this time, I only saw two ‘pilgrims’ hiking into town. What difference to other years. 2020 is probably the best year to do your Santiago trip if you ever wished to do it.
Well, I’m not heading west to Santiago de Compostella. I’m going south, up and over the Montes de Leon. Since many years I had seen this one road going through the mountains and always wanted to take it once.
But mon dieu, what a steep climb it is.
From Villar de los Barrios, the road goes almost continuously steep up between 10 and 13% until you are well beyond San Cristobal de Valdueza, one of the most perfect villages I have ever seen. All buildings are in a perfect state.
Up, up, up it goes. Less steep towards the first pass, Alto del Morredero (1.750 m).
A bit further, I pass Alto de los Portillinas (officially 1.905 m, but I had a bit less on the gps). From here you ride a while along the ridge on an almost flat road towards a final push at 1.955 meter, an unnamed highest point on the climb. This climb surely belongs in the row of Mont Ventoux or Tourmalet, that’s how long and hard it is.
The downhill is less steep, around 8%
Just before the village of Truchas, I find a nice spot between the trees and next to the Eria River to pitch the tent. I could take the main road from here via Castrocontrigo and drive around the Sierra de la Cabrera but my map shows one small road over this range that reaches a high point at the Alto del Penon (1.840 m asl). Seems much more exciting than that main road.
Well, exciting it was. And hard ! I really suffered. Then I made a mistake to ride too long and couldn’t find a real good camping spot anymore before Puebla de Sanabria. I was hoping to find something on the off-road stretch between El Puente de Sanabria and Puebla de Sanabria, but nothing there.
Puebla de Sanabria….here my route crosses with my route of 2017, when I rode from the south towards Santiago the Compostella. It is a very touristic village.
If you thought that after the Montes the Leon and after the Sierra de la Cabrera, all was clear to reach the Portugese border, you’re wrong. The Sierra de la Culebra still awaits me. Luckily, it’s just rolling hills, compared to the ranges I have behind me. Apparently it’s the best place in Europe to see wolves in the wild. I didn’t see any….
I crossed the border to Portugal in the small village of Rio de Onor.