Cycling in Andalusia is such an experience for the better and worse when considering where to travel by bike in Spain. It was there I upgraded to a mid-range road bike, and have tested it and myself in this amazing part of the country. I may have only scratched the surface on places to visit here, but here are 10 things to take into account when cycling here.
- Summers are brutal
Summer in many parts of Spain can be challenging for outdoor activities in general, but the majority of this Autonomous community during the summer reach 40 degrees on an almost regular basis, particularly in Córdoba, Sevilla, Jaén, and Granada. The town of Écija and Córdoba capital average around 37 degrees in July, whereas the Costa de la Luz in Cádiz are some of the cooler areas in the mid to high 20s. Understandably it becomes dangerous during the latter part of the day and unless you are the human torch, you need to cool down. My advice is leave very early in the morning and slow your pace down dramatically by lunchtime.
The sun will force you to take it easy, so it pays to have a route with plenty of air conditioned bars when you start feeling a little uneasy. Gaseosa, water, isotonic drink and nuts helped me through any day trips like these. Conditions are extreme here sometimes, you must take care, or avoid going out too late, your body will help you work that out. I learned the hard way when I got hospitalised in the summer of 2017 in Zaragoza after not taking the precautions I do now in 40-degree heat, you can stop before it gets to that.
2. You are almost never far away from some challenging mountain climbs.
Andalusia, like most of the other communities in Spain have a lot of mountains and hills near almost every major city, though the major cities of Sevilla, Cádiz, and Huelva will require a little bit of riding first. To the north, you have the Sierra Morena, and the sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas which have road climbing to over 800m high and are not particularly well known. In the centre, you have the sierras Subeticas of Jaén and Córdoba, which can be more challenging, and are connected with cities like Priego, Baena, Alcalá del Río, and most importantly, Jaén. Then, you have the coastal ranges of las Nieves, and Grazalema among many, which provide many challenges from many easily accessible cities, most notably Malaga, Ronda, Antequera and Jerez.
Further east, you have the most prominent, and most dramatic mountain ranges in Spain, The Sierra Nevada in Granada and Almería provinces. The highest mountain in the peninsula is here, and the highest paved road in Spain is here. I am yet to attempt this challenge to climb to that 2500m summit to the ski resort, (Cheers COVID) or the mountain pass of Puerto de La Ragua, but these roads look like some of the most difficult in the country, but I will keep you posted on that one.
3. Autovias and autopistas make things complicated.
While a car can easily get around Andalusia, and connect to any major city, pretty much for free. But a cyclist may have a lot of difficulties trying to reach certain areas due to old routes being replaced by autovías and autopistas. Sometimes roads merge together to an autovía and continue as a service road, but they are often in very bad condition and sometimes even unsuitable for road bikes. You need to plan carefully where you are going to avoid any surprises. One thing for sure, is that both Google Maps and Apple Maps do not always help you avoid these horrible tracks.
The confusing thing that the A roads are usually roads to avoid in general, but roads in Spain are often coded with letters from the region and the roads that begin with A either represent an autovía or Andalusia, the latter of which, are standard main roads. What can be even more confusing, is that some autovías have single carriageways which make it legal to pass through by bike (the stretch between Alcaudete and Martos is an example). The giveaway is that the Andalusia A roads follow three or four numbers in their code, and are also green. Transit between some cities is tough because of the autovías, and Malaga is the hardest in my books.
4. Transit can be just as difficult as it is easy
Being a resident here, it’s good to know how to transport myself and my bike back if I’m not doing a round trip, and I can safely say, you can get to any of the provincial capitals, and most other major towns and cities in the community with no more than one stopover. The issue is that you will be paying a surcharge for your bike, with the only exceptions being cercanías and metros.
It must be noted that you cannot take your bike on board an AVE, unless it is a certain size, is in a bag, and is dismantled. Trust me when I Say this, It is easier to fly your bike to the other side of the country than take it on this high-speed train. Media distancia, and regional exprés services however do allow your bike on board without any problems.
The train services from Provincial capitals and Algeciras are as followed:
- Almería– Media Distancia to Linares- Baeza (Jaén) and to Granada. Its worth Noting that as of 2020 you can’t board any trains from Almería capital, but from Gador some 15km away due to engineering works.
- Cádiz– Media Distancia to Jerez, Sevilla, Córdoba and Jaén. Cercanias to Jerez and el puerto de Santa maria. A tram service is also in the works.
- Córdoba– Media Distancia to Jerez, Cádiz, Sevilla and Jaén. Cercanías to Villarubia and Alcolea
- Granada– Media Distancia to Almería. There used to be a Media Distancia to Sevilla, but that has stopped. Metro in the city.
- Huelva– Media Distancia to Sevilla, and to Extremadura.
- Jaén- Media Distancia to Córdoba, Sevilla, Jerez and Cádiz. Used to be a tram in the city.
- Malaga– Media Distancia to Ronda, Antequera, and Sevilla. Cercanias to Fuengirola, the airport, and Alora. 2 lines of Metro that are due to be expanded. Used to be a Tram to Velez-Malaga.
- Sevilla– Media Distancia to Jaén, Cádiz, Jerez, Huelva, Córdoba, Malaga and Extremadura, 1 metro line, one tram line and 5 Cercanías lines, that reach as far as Lora del Rio, some 50km away.
- Algeciras– Media Distancia to Ronda and Antequera.
Many of these Media distancia services are not very frequent, with some only operating one or two services a day, while others may have one almost every hour. You will be charged a minimum of 3€ to take your bike on board, and half of the time, the staff don’t even check.
Buses are possibly more useful if you want to connect to certain areas, companies like ALSA and Socibus are the main contenders, though some services in Cádiz use different companies like Comes, and Córdoba uses Carrera for certain journeys. It’s a little more difficult to know which companies are used and their timetables as comparison sites like Omio and Rome2rio do not have all of the companies on their sites. However, sometimes a bus is the only way, and connections like Malaga to Almería or Córdoba, and Granada to Jaén, Almería, Córdoba and Malaga as just a few examples, are impossible to travel with a bike.
5. The roads in Huelva are awful!
The conditions of the tarmac of many of the roads in Andalusia leave a lot to be desired, but you would think that the principle main roads which aren’t dual carriageways would be in reasonable condition, guess again. All the provinces are at fault here, though Malaga may have the smoothest roads around. The whole province of Huelva, barring Punta Umbria have a lot of issues. The odd crack here and there wouldn’t concern anybody, but here, you have to dodge potentially journey ending potholes and cracks more than anywhere else, and that goes for the entire autonomous region that I have visited so far.
No province is exempt from this, even Andalusia’s capital, but that shouldn’t put you off exploring these areas, and it really is pure luck as to which roads are good and which ones are going to ruin your buttocks. As a user of a road bike it is pretty important to know which roads are rough going and it does get annoying if you can’t fully open the taps in case you do some damage. Just be careful.
6. The remoteness of the region.
Many parts of Andalusia are heavily populated, especially on the coast, but some roads may have stretches of more than 30km without seeing a soul. The northern parts of Huelva, Córdoba, Granada, Jaén and Almería have small populations that are less likely to have everything you need in case you run into problems, as well as poor transit in many cases to return you to a major city with a bike. On the flip side, maybe these areas are best places to check out as you are likely to see places that are almost unheard of, and still be spectacular. Challenge accepted.
7. Urban bumpy rides.
The roads to reach certain towns may be challenging, but you’re not high and dry yet by any means once you reach a town or city in the south. Most of the old parts of town including the majority of major cities here, have cobbled streets running through them. In fact, Sevilla’s enormous city centre has tonnes of streets like this, and are almost completely unavoidable. Even small, rural farmers towns may have streets like that flowing through, even if you’re passing through. Brace yourself, that’s all I can say.
8. Cycling clubs and competitions are everywhere.
Spain, like the UK, has a strong and growing cycling culture, and Andalusia is up there among the popular places for competitions. Amateur and professional circuits were available pre-COVID era, and no doubt when the pandemic ends, they will recover and return. Competitions in many provinces would exist every one or two weeks, and you would have a variety of disciplines. The only thing I would watch out for though, would be that some require mountain bikes and not road bikes. Another important point is that signing up to a race is sometimes complicated, as they might not have instructions in English, and sometimes you have to pay for your inscription separately via bank transfer.
9. Renting a bike
Andalusia is catching up with urban travel, and many places are trending with the idea of renting bikes. However, few cities have public rental stations and their availability are few and far between (Córdoba only has about 2 or 3 stations). The best thing to do is find a bike rental shop as it is a lot easier and you are more likely to get around town on them, and what’s more, many shops are renting electric bikes too. The problem you may face, is actually opening times, and the season. You are not going to find as many places open, so you will have to plan properly. This section pretty much applies to every region in Spain except Barcelona and Madrid.
10. The Camino De Santiago is also here!
Pilgrimage routes flow through all parts of Spain, but Andalusia has a load of routes that go through some amazing places, and vary in popularity. The Via de la Plata is a very popular route from the south which starts in Sevilla and ends in Astorga when it connects to the Camino Francés in Castilla y León, or continues directly to Santiago via Ourense. The main routes that pass through the heart of this region is the Camino Mozarabe. Starting points can be anywhere from Granada, Almería, Jaén and Malaga, all of which pass through Córdoba and connect to the Vía de la Plata in Mérida.
Alternatively, you can also attempt the Camino del Sur, which connects Huelva with Zafra in Extremadura, which again, is the Via de la Plata. Finally, there’s the Vía Augusta which connects Cádiz and Jerez with Sevilla and subsequently, yep you’ve got it, the Vía de la Plata. The popularity of these routes are hit and miss, but they are becoming more well known, especially from the starting points of Sevilla and Cadiz. Again, timing is crucial because of the hot summer, and as many guides suggest, it can be a lonely experience at times.