When people think about cycling in Spain, the destination that usually comes to mind is the Pyrenees. So when a group of us talked about arranging a mountain bike holiday in Spain in May, no-one quite knew where the Picos de Europa were, or what to expect when we got there. The tour company bumph said it all: -Blessed with all the ingredients for a truly memorable mountain biking holiday, and surrounded by a panorama of majestic, snow-capped peaks, the Picos de Europa remains Europe’s best kept secret. Lovely, evocative words on paper, but what would it really be like?The first day out was a gentle tour along the lower levels of the mountains around Potes, where basecamp was located. We stopped for a rest in an alpine meadow, where we got our first viewing of the beautiful mountains and lush valleys in the area. Most of the route was along dirt track or through woods, with nothing too frightening or difficult for the average offroad cyclist.
The routes got progressively longer and slightly more technical as the days went by, and the views even more breathtaking. The longer climbs “ up to 6 kms “ were on roads, and there was always the option of getting a lift in the van, but no-one in the group took this option even though the van was loaded with tasty lunchtime treats. Highlight of the climbs was Pico Jano, with 360-degree views from its 1,500-plus summit. The descent took us along rocky dirt tracks, which, if not manoeuvred carefully, caused many stops for puncture repairs. But what an excuse to laze about in the fields, smell the wild thyme and look at the views!
On two of the days, our climb to the summit was assisted by a cable car at Fuente de which took us up the sheer cliff-face to El Cabrito. We were so high up that there was no vegetation to be seen and the jagged peaks we cycled around poked out through the remnants of the winter’s glaciers. These days were spent making up to seven-hour descents, with plenty of stops for scenery appreciation and the requisite puncture repairs. The second descent from El Cabrito took in views of the entire Picos range, including Naranja de Bulnes “ meant to be the highest peak in the range “ and the panoramic view of the Hermida gorge.
The Skedaddle boys took care of their charges “ giving us general descriptions of what lay ahead and options for easier or harder routes, warning us of tricky patches and plying us with tasty snacks during breaks. And the van-cum-sag wagon was our beacon of delight at lunchtime “ filled with delicious bread, sliced meats, cheese, pickled vegetables, crisps, yoghurt, fruit, chocolate and drinks. Enough grub for 12 starving and calorie-craving cyclists!
The days usually started between 10 and 11 and it was light late enough to cycle until 6 or 7 and still get back in time to see the sunset or go for a quick dip in the campsite pool about 200 metres from the casa. On this tour, the company has use of a beautiful, large and comfortable casa that is spacious enough to handle the bikes, bodies and personalities of 12 cyclists, including the tour company staff. Dinners were cooked by Skedaddle, with some assistance from us holiday-makers, or were spent in restaurants savouring local delicacies.
The general atmosphere of the tour was laid back and convivial, mostly because the Skedaddle boys allowed us to decide how much cycling we wanted to do, and appeared to tailor the routes to our abilities. They have found fabulous routes which are not too long or difficult to cause despair, or too similar to become boring. Spain is not blessed with an OS map system that makes independent cycling possible. An off-road holiday here is best left to professionals who have explored the beautiful countryside and know it well enough to not lead you along old tracks that disappear into nothing.
The group was diverse in a number of ways “ ages spanned over 20 years, and bike kit was super-new to old and trusted.
Doreen F. “ London, UK