The back lanes of Spain: Cute Route No.1
There has to be an advantage to travelling overland between the South of Spain and the UK; otherwise, why bother? Why not simply fly? If, like us, you do decide not to fly, what are your options?
Of course you can choose to take your home with you, in the form of a camper bus, a motorhome, a car, or motor bikes. There is even the sea and a perfectly formed canal system, should you want to come over all nautical. With the option of a tent or bed on board and with plenty of hotels to choose from, your choice of transport and where you lay your head, is a matter of taste and possibly purse size.
Over the years, we have found that the smaller the vehicle, the tighter the spots we get into; and a tight spot is always an exciting challenge. As we quite enjoy a challenge tinged with a bit of excitement, our vehicle choices have, on the whole, become smaller as we have become older. We now look for those little single track roads and hill top villages with a knot of narrow, dark roads and walkways that tangle their way through their precipitous communities. Our trusty KTMs are short and nimble and happily pick their way through any cosy, cobbled, cuidad, often to the ‘admiring’ gaze of the locals.
So, without further ado, here is our first small road route, it takes us from the South of Spain to the ferry ports in the North. It is suitable for any kind of bike or car and will just about be alright for small camper vans. You are welcome to reverse it, but please, if you do, use your mirrors!
CUTE ROUTE 1
Denia – Alcala De La Selva.
Sadly, this journey starts with a main road, but, boy is it exciting!
Leave the lively port city of Denia by the coast road and head north on the N332, known by anyone who knows us as PROSTITUTE ALLEY. It was on this road that I was propositioned by a very leggy, blond lady who clearly had a penchant for biker girls and was also clearly in need of glasses, as, unlike her, I’m no spring chicken. If truth be told I was immensely flattered.
When bowling along this fast stretch of road, the astute amongst you will have noticed solitary plastic, garden chairs, positioned at intervals on the junctions roadside farm tracks. Occupied by bored looking, but glamorous women, who spend their waiting time sometimes reading or gesturing to the passing traffic; sometimes intent on their mobiles, texting a mate, often literally. You can also buy oranges along this road, but that may not be as exciting, unless they are there as a metaphor, as ‘They’re Not The Only Fruit’. TOP TIP: keep counting the women until you get to Valencia; if you have more than 10, you have a high score. If you stopped on the way, shame on you, but at least you can say you scored.
As you zip around the outskirts of Valencia, look out for the CV35 and take it. Shock, horror!!! It starts as a six lane road! It soon becomes narrower and windier as the miles click by. Aim for Tereul, a large and reasonably interesting county town. By the time you get there, you will be tempted to turn around and do it all over again. This had turned out to be a top class, narrow, two lane, switch back road, that clings to the side of a RAVINE for mile after mile. It did not feel overly exposed due to safety rails that prevent the distracted from plunging to their certain deaths. The road surface is great, so we had no pot hole shockers, or rail roading tarmac cracks, simply blacktop perfection. Some of the little mud coloured, ramshackle, hamlets along the way appear to be melting back into the steep mountainsides. This route took us through what the Guardian would probably describe as ‘the authentic Spain’.
Once in Tereul, follow our map for the campsite. In Cedrilla, turn left immediately after the petrol station; there is an obvious sign screwed to a house wall that points to Alcala De La Selva. Between Cedrillas and Alcala De La Selva, you will pass a landfill site where the smell of burning is worrying, but thankfully short lived. Do as I did and hold your breath for a lot longer than is sensible. The smell will still be there, trapped in your helmet, but you will be so spinney headed that it wont matter, and that is the main thing. This road becomes tighter and tighter and is spectacular in places. Cedrilla is worth riding your bikes through and Alcala De La Selva is a stunning precipitous old village with a castle on the very top of a rock outcrop. This is a classic route that is popular with tourists and fast road cyclists, as well as goat herders. Some caution is required, as this bit of road is often bounded by vertiginous rock faces that closely follow the very tight and blind bends, usually with no real leeway for surprises.
Once at the town, the campsite is hard to find, ask at the local garage. Or you could also look out for the natural wooden signs with tourist destinations routed out using the thinnest blade that came to hand; small brown lettering on brown wood, at dusk; always helpful to the weary traveller. What we did not see was the internationally recognisable icon of a tent: anywhere. There are one or two other campsites in the area, but we chose this desolate excuse for hospitality, Camping Los Alamos; probably fine in high summer, or peak ski season, but between seasons? No. No english spoken, the bar/restaurant shut and no other customers on site. Mind you, the toilet blocks were very well heated, so that was something on our bitterly cold and lonely night. One thing is certain, we will never forget Los Alimos. 13Euros per night.
Alcala De La Selva – Abejar
Where yesterday was a day of narrow twisting roads, today is a day of comfortable long sweeping bends. No nasty surprises, perfect road surfaces all the way. This is sublime riding that will leave you feeling like one blissed out biker.
If, like us you stay at the Alcala De La Selva camp site, Camping Los Alamos, you will need to head back to Tereul and start day two from there. Take the A23 heading to Zaragoza and turn right onto the N234, signed to Soria (where we aim to go), and Burgos (always worth a visit, but not for this trip). Just over half way to Soria, another road to Zaragoza crosses the N234 and you have to follow it for a very short distance and then continue on the N234 again, until you reach Soria.
This may sound a rather dull route, but the reality is some of the most quintessentially Spanish towns and villages you are ever likely to find. We rode high up, but in parallel to little communities nestling deep down in the foot of the valley, a torrent of terracotta roofs tumbling alongside small rivers. Other clusters of homes, hanging onto the sheer hillsides, were as if temporarily resting before continuing their laborious climb to the summit. All of them are well worth spending time getting to know. All of them so unlike the Costas.
Zip around the outskirts of Soria, a town of which we saw nothing, thanks to it’s excellent ring road. Carry on travelling the N234 until you reach Abajar. Like all the towns along the way, this one is rural, but it has a fuel stop, and if you head up the lane to the side of the petrol station you will find a crossroads with a CASH MACHINE on your right.
Back to that petrol station. Once past the petrol station on your right, and still on the N234, look out for signs on the right to Molins de Duero and to Venuesa, turn right here. You will almost certainly have seen quite a few huge green and fancy roadside hoardings advertising a campsite. This is not the campsite we chose, but follow the signs anyway, and then drive on past this campsite and turn right at the more subtle sign for Camping Urbion. A lakeside idyll, fully open, warm and welcoming, where, if you sit at the bar, the barman will give you a tapas with every drink you order. Result!!
We stayed here for a couple of nights and saw a great range of wildlife.
It costs more here for two motorbikes than it does for a motorhome of any size: 31.50Euros per night.
Abejar – Fuenmayor
OK, this is really day 4, as we spent an extra night at Camping Urbion, but we did that so that you would not have to. Did I say that the Urbion Campsite was fully open? Well, not on a Sunday night, or a Monday morning. So, we have to modify our recommendation, as there is no discount on the daily rate, despite there being no services, apart from the loos and nowhere to get food basics near-bye. Perhaps a set of opening hours on each concession might be a help. All I know is that we were planning to eat our Sunday evening meal in the bar and buy Monday breakfast in the shop and neither option was available to us. Guess who left the site short of two meals, hungry and angry?
TOP TIPS, especially if you arrive on a SUNDAY or MONDAY. If you are a planning to sleep in a tent, try the other campsite, if you are in a camper bus, or something fancier, drive past the sign that directs you into the Urbion access road and take the next right turn. They have masses of lakeside parking here and signs welcoming camper vans. In early May (when we were there) the lakeside services and cafe were closed, however you would have the place to yourselves. No tents allowed here.
And so, ravenously, with no emergency supplies, we left this beautiful, but high priced, low hospitality site and made for the nearest town. We turned right out of the campsite access road and headed towards Molines De Duero, a solid little town, with every building in perfect condition. This is a prosperous town with a tiny bakers. Once again I was in bread heaven. We left the town with nothing more than a handcrafted baguette. We managed to grab some cheese a little later and suddenly all was well in our world.
What a superb days riding lay ahead. Tightly twisting, unpredictable roads wriggling on for miles. These slim, two lane tracks, as smooth and curvaceous as a baby’s bottom, have the most perfect tarmac. We went for miles through the bottom of a rocky and wild gorge with vultures, eagles and kites all looking for a meal. Apart from three British registered super cars, we saw no other vehicle or person until just after the Rioja regional border.
As we crossed the line from Arragon into Rioja, this halcyon lane changed. The vegetation, that before was clipped tight back to the verges, now encroached onto the road surface, which changed from the smartest, blackest piste to a patchwork of potholes and repairs in a Harlequin of colours.
There is nothing too complicated about this route, the road takes you past a lake, Emboise De Masilla, and a full range of farm animals. So, not only do you have to skim around tight bends, avoid the occasional pothole and rocks that have dropped from the sides of the gorge onto your ‘racing’ line, you will now have to slalom around donkeys, heavy horses, ponies, sheep, cattle, including a huge, though thankfully chilled, bull who lounged right on the outside edge of a hairpin bend, and the odd chicken. It was all great fun and probably unique.
We finally stopped for a cuppa at Viniegra de Abajo, at what felt just like an English country pub. At this point the road is signed as a motorcycle route. Here you will find a small fuel station too. It works on the assumption that if you park your vehicle next to the pumps and wander off, it must need re-fuelling. Eventually someone will leave the bar opposite and saunter over and fill the tank. While we were there, the attendant took about half an hour to perform. All very laid back. All very Spanish.
We finally popped out of the wilds of Rioja near Fuenmayor where we were hoping to camp.
The campsite was open; just. No bar, restaurant, or shop, but at least we were told this as we booked in, this meant heading into Fuenmayort for our evening meal and, of course, ordering a locally produced bottle of Rioja wine. Perfection. 18Euros per night
DAY 4 – 5
136K if you don’t get lost!
Fuenmayor – Bilbao
We set off relatively early today and rode straight past the road sign for the A124. It was an omen. I saw the sign, Wally, leading the way, missed it. Some miles further on, we had another chance to get onto the A124, and we were off on a pleasant, well maintained road. Unfortunately, the further north we travelled, the harder we found it to navigate. Let me state right now, that Spanish and, to some extent (thanks to one of the things the Romans did for us), English, are derived from latin. We understand each other. I cannot even begin to imagine where the Basque language originated, although rumour has it that it is basically WELSH. How were two geriatric bikers supposed to cope with such an inscrutable language and with the ever increasing spaghetti that is the main road system around here?
Like true Brits abroad, we stumbled about, covering almost every permutation of bye road possible. We headed in every direction the compass has to offer, unable to read the impenetrable Basque town names as they zipped past us. All I kept seeing was Xalxpmitm, or something similar. We were disoriented, in a land of strange names, with towering motorways criss-crossing high above us. I was like some confused British drunkard in a strange land. Luckily for the locals we passed, I was still wearing my clothes.
Yes we could have used a sat-nav, we could have gone old school and taped written directions on to the fuel tank, but where is the fun in that? We just enjoyed the experience of being lost. You could do the same, though maybe not for 5 hours like us!
The back roads in this area are stunning. Even the ones we covered repeatedly did not become a bore. The road surface is good, the bends range from sweeping to pinching in at the end; ideal for keeping the lost and confused alert. The scenery is lush and rolling. I would enjoy setting aside some time to puddle about in this strip of a route. The chance to be swallowed up by the tiny, ancient hamlets, with their imposing fortified entrances, and higgledy piggledy houses that huddle tightly together, deep in these valleys, would be a joy. We never found the fabled town of Durango, the town that marked the end of our small roads journey north. Perhaps it has a local name full of x’s and t’s, perhaps it does not exist; perhaps, at the end of a very long and lovely day, it simply does not matter. The final few miles followed a winding river which spat us out onto the rugged Atlantic coast road at Deba. From there we followed the signs to Camping Itxaspe. Yes that is Itxaspe, with an X and a T.
At last we had found camping Nirvana. The place was fully open, with a shop, a bar with food and sea views and friendly staff. It was also quite busy. How strange it was to be amongst other people. To hear them chatting, laughing and generally making a noise. I realised we had been in a silent world, with only the drone of our bikes penetrating our cumbersome skid lids. Better get used to it I thought, because in a couple of days we will be back in the racket that is the UK. 20.20Euros per night.