As we shared a Mote con Huesillo at a street cafe beneath a beautiful warm blue sky, it finally sunk in that we’re back on the road again ready to set off for another adventure.
We enjoyed this popular summertime dessert yesterday at a cafe in Santiago, Chile. Made by soaking peaches and fresh husked wheat in a sweet nectar of water, honey and cinnamon, it’s unique to this country.
Our plan is to cycle south from Santiago through Chile, then climb over the Andes into Argentina and back again finishing in Puerto Varas in the Chilean Lake District.
Over the next 6 weeks our route will take us roughly 1900 km (1200 miles) through wine country, down the wild Pacific Coast, past snow-capped volcanoes and along the Camino de los Siete Lagos (Road of the Seven Lakes) considered to be one of the great bike rides of the world.
We’re a bit nervous to be honest … the more research we do, the more we realise how bike touring in South America will be different compared to Europe. Big distances between places, big changes in climate, lots of rough gravel tracks.
Our bikes have come with us packed safely in proper bike bags. Andy has spent many hours giving them new tyres, new brake pads, new chains, new sprockets (back gears) and new cables. After lots of swear words and as many cut fingers, they now look ready for whatever Chile might throw at them.
This time, we’ve cut out the luxury items making our panniers several kilos lighter. Those of you that followed our blog to Barcelona might be surprised to hear that this time there’s no pillow, no pilates ball and most controversially of all, no hairdryer! Our good friend, Ginny, lent Clare the perfect alternative – a pink hair roller for her fringe!
Here are our clothes for the trip. Can anyone spot the difference?
A few days acclimatising in Santiago has helped to ease our nerves a little. Not known as a great tourist destination but it does seem to be a lovely city to live in. Spotlessly clean, lots of trees and parks, easy to get around, plentiful bars and restaurants and full of friendly people.
Now it’s time to climb on our bikes and pedal off, starting with the Casablanca wine valley and the vibrant old port town of Valparaiso.
According to Anders, the best 3 rides in Mallorca are Cap Formentor, Sa Collabra and the Ma-10 between Banyalbufar and Andratx. Anders is the very helpful Swedish owner of Bikehead, where Clare rented her bike, and he’s cycled all over Mallorca many, many times … so he should know.
We promised him we’d ride all 3!
Day 5 – Cap Formentor
43km, 1112m climbing, 3hrs
Having driven out to the Cap Formentor lighthouse the year before, we were a bit scared of tackling this spectacular winding road on bikes but it turned out to be a lovely ride and good training for the mountains ahead. Each climb is only about 200m high which is roughly the same as a Bath hill at home. Unlike Bath, there are plenty of scary cliff faces to peer down, the kind that give you tingles.
Andy enjoyed a day cycling without panniers but was less impressed by a very slow puncture that needed pumping up from time to time. I thought it might be slowing me down when an older coupler cruised by on one of the steeper hills using apparently little effort. A bit miffed, I stood up on my pedals to accelerate until I realised they were riding electric bikes.
Cap Formentor deserves its reputation as a great day out on a bike. Our top tip would be to bring your own lunch so you don’t have to resort to a very expensive potato sandwich from the café next to the lighthouse.
Day 6 – Port de Pollenca to Soller
63km, 1400m climbing, 4hrs 30mins
Our first job was to repair Andy’s slow puncture so we headed to a bike shop to buy a spare inner tube. Hallelujah … there in the back corner was tube of chamois cream!
Climbing at an average gradient of 6% for 7.5 km, the Coll de Femenia was our first proper mountain road since the Pyrenees last year. It felt good to breath in cool mountain air again as I watched Clare race ahead, struggling a little with the weight of the panniers.
At the top of this first climb the road rose gently up through some stunning high mountain scenery until we reached a tunnel that marked the start of the descent. Sure enough, we sped down for a few km but our fun was ended abruptly by a sign announcing the start of another climb to the summit … up for another 5 kilometres.
It turns out there are two tunnels. Perhaps we should have looked a little more closely at the map!
When we eventually made it through the real tunnel-at-the-top, the view across the valley in the late afternoon sunlight was worth the effort as was the 18km descent, full of switchbacks down to Soller.
Day 7 – Sa Colabra
28km, 1200m climbing, 2hrs 30mins
The road down to the tiny port of Sa Colabra is both an extraordinary feat of engineering and a kind of folly.
Nobody is quite sure why Antonio Parietti, the Italian designer, created it in the 1930’s. Perhaps it was simply for the challenge and sheer joy of it, although it’s unlikely the workers thought so as they laboured to move a million cubic feet of rocks by hand to make room for all the sweeping corners and switchbacks.
Nowadays, it’s recognised as Mallorca’s best bike climb both for the physical challenge and the sheer joy of the incredible scenery. It’s a proper test, averaging 7% for 10km.
We wanted to experience both an ascent and a descent of this iconic road and discovered that we could do so by taking a boat along the coast from Port Soller, returning late afternoon.
As we slowly made our way up from the port, Clare felt full of energy and passed quite a few MAMILS (middle-aged-men-in-lycra) on the climb, somewhat to their surprise.
Andy on the other hand, overtook just one cyclist and he doesn’t really count as he was pushing his bike at the time. I had no panniers holding me back that day so I had no excuses. It’s the first time I’ve experienced that common cycling cliché … “he just didn’t have the legs!”
Legs or not, it’s not often a bike rider gets the opportunity to complete a Strava segment with genuine professionals on the leader-board. The current leader of the Sa Colabra climb is Columbian, Sebastian Gomez from Team Sky, who sped up in 24 mins 54 seconds.
My time of 1 hour 52 mins 33 seconds puts me in 48,459th place (out of 48,844). Clare didn’t have Strava turned on, but it’s fair to say she’d be a teeny bit higher up the leader board.
At the top of the climb we were rewarded by the ultimate cyclists’ dream … a nice café with some excellent coffee. And of course, by the opportunity to swoop back down this amazing road in a fraction of the time.
Day 8 – Soller to Portals Nous
63km, 1483m climbing, 4hrs 40mins
The Sunday roads were empty as we climbed out of Soller heading south down the coast, a gentle autumnal mist hanging in the valley behind us.
This turned out to be a delightful section of the Ma-10, that runs the length of the Tramuntana mountains, full of breathtaking views out to sea from villages that cling to the wooded slopes. The road is well graded and we only came across one steep section, just south of Deia.
Around midday, we arrived at a junction and had a big decision to make.
Do we turn right and keep our promise to Anders by riding the long way around the coast? Or do we turn left up a shorter inland valley with the promise of Sunday lunch in the small town of Puigpunyent?
We turned left.
Touring cyclists like to experience a variety of different landscapes … and of course, touring cyclists like lunch!
Heading south, the inland route proved to be nearly as beautiful as the coast road, with gentle uphill climbs through vineyards and lemon groves followed by steeper switchbacks on the way down. It was so quiet we could look ahead to check for traffic before trying to take the racing line, almost like real cyclists.
Day 8 – Back to Palma
20km, 429m climbing, 1hr 30mins
On our last day, we enjoyed a gentle potter along the coast to Palma with time to pedal around the city and enjoy the sights.
Clare’s Spanish must have improved while we’d been away. This time when she ordered asparagus in the local tapas bar, she got asparagus. Vamos!
As I’m sure you can tell, we loved our cycle tour around Mallorca and would recommend it to anyone.
The bad news … when we admitted to Anders that we’d only completed 2 of his 3 ‘best rides’, he told us that the one we’d missed (the coast road to Andratx) was the best one of all … by far.
The good news … this means we’ll have to come back.
After all, there many Mallorca’s to discover and we have barely scratched the surface.
“You say Majorca, I say Mallorca. Majorca. Mallorca. Majorca. Mallorca. Let’s call the whole thing off!”
As (not exactly) made famous by Ella Fitzgerald
Apparently, we Brits just couldn’t get our tongues round the double “ll” in the Catalan/Spanish spelling of Mallorca … so changed it to Majorca instead.
Nowadays Majorca is often associated with the beer swilling kiss-me-quick antics of Brits in Magaluf. But there are lots of other Mallorca’s to discover and a bicycle tour around the island is a perfect way to do so.
For those of you who might be even a little bit tempted to cycle there, here are the places we visited plus a few things that happened to us along the way.
Day 1 – Palma
Palma is a beautiful and fascinating old city with a history that embraces Islam and Christianity in equal measure. We spent one day exploring but you could happily enjoy several days there seeing the sights, discovering the art, wandering the back streets, eating the tapas, drinking the wine.
There’s lots to discover simply by wandering around. We came across this strange English Bookshop, an Aladdin’s Cave of assorted clutter overseen by an old chap who might have apporated straight out of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley and spent much of his time shouting at customers because they were disturbing him from catching up on Strictly Come Dancing.
As you’d expect, Palma is full of lovely small restaurants and this gave Clare a perfect opportunity to practise her Spanish. When she ordered asparagus but was served cuttlefish, she decided she might have a bit more to learn! Fortunately, it was delicious.
Day 2 – Palma to Cala D’Or
90km, 644m climbing, 5hrs 30mins (too long but easier for the next 2 days)
To be honest we found it a little difficult to hire bikes that came with racks for our panniers in Palma. There are plenty of shops renting out either fast road bikes or slow city-bikes-with-baskets but touring bikes are few and far between.
We found one in Andy’s large size at Nano Bicycles but there was nothing for Clare in a small size at all … which meant it became her lucky week! Deciding that we could manage with just two panniers, she was now free to try out a superfast Cannondale Supersix EVO Di2 from Bikehead, complete with electric gear shifters no less. It was light enough to pick up with one finger!
So the Girl Racer and her Packhorse eventually rode out of Palma and onto the long beach strip that runs south-east of the city. It was packed with day cyclists and we were relieved to escape into the quiet country lanes south of Llucmajor and head down to the lovely coastal town of Colonia de Saint Jordi.
As we stopped for a drink and large slice of apple cake, we realised we’d already ridden 60km which is normally enough for us. We probably should have stayed overnight in Saint Jordi but we’d already booked a small guesthouse in Cala d’Or further round the coast, so we climbed back on our bikes and pushed on.
After the hilltop town of Santanyi, we headed down a rough track through a national park on one of Andy’s dreadful detours to a small bay called Cala Mondrago. Luckily, it was worth it and from there the south-east corner of the island became both surprising and delightful as we explored the port of Porto Pedro and arrived in Cala d’Or.
Cala d’Or means Golden Bay in Spanish and it certainly lives up to its name. Built around no less than five small inlets, including a spectacular marina, it is both manicured and affluent. Unsurprisingly we heard lots of Scandinavian voices and saw plenty of German newspapers protecting sunbeds on the pristine beaches. They know how to find the best places!
After a long ride, Andy was once again on a quest. Not for safety pins this time but for some soothing chamois cream to ease the saddle sores that were developing beneath my cycle shorts. Foolishly I’d left my tube on the kitchen table back at home. No luck … none of the bike-hire shops sold chamois cream, or indeed any of the other normal biking accessories. Clare suggested using sun cream instead … and I must admit it did help … a little.
Day 3 – Cala d’Or to Arta
64km, 718m climbing, 4hrs 30mins
This part of Mallorca was so pretty that it was tempting to linger. We pottered up the coast to the broad bay of Portocolom for coffee and then onto the working marina at Portocristo. Here we came across some port workers enjoying their Menu del Dias lunch, washed down by a surprising quantity of wine. It seemed rude not to join them.
A good lunch, a few glasses, a swim, a lie on the beach later we reluctantly decided to pedal on, heading inland to link up with the Via Verde cycle track which follows a disused railway line that used to connect Manacor to Arta.
The Via Verde is a gravel track, tricky on the slim tyres of Clare’s deluxe road bike but perfect for my touring hybrid. There was so little traffic, I felt able to pedal whilst studying the map on the phone on my handlebars, completely forgetting the wooden barriers that blocked the path from time to time. It was a sudden but reasonably gentle crash, panniers flying but no other damage. A bit like a horse refusing a jump. Stupid boy!
It was fun to roll into the old station at Arta making train noises. Less fun but very therapeutic was the guest house plunge pool we used as an ice-bath to ease our tired muscles. Just as well … there was still no chamois cream to be found anywhere!
Day 4 – Arta to Port de Pollenca
66km, 526m climbing, 4hrs
The only road out of Arta was the main Ma-12 but it turned out to be much nicer than we’d expected. After a short climb, we rolled gently downhill for nearly 10km, feeling very smug as we passed a few cyclists puffing their way up in the opposite direction.
Knowing that the northern coastal strip was less interesting, we turned inland and immediately discovered yet another Mallorca. One of pretty remote farmhouses, surrounded by olive groves that were filled with sheep turned brown by the rust coloured earth, bells tinkling from their necks.
The backroads took us through several traditional Mallorcan walled towns in quick succession … Santa Margalida, Muro, Sa Pobla. Each with tightly packed streets and a church dominating the central square.
Once we’d recovered from all the hilarity, we cruised gently down to Port de Pollenca, our home for the next two nights and one of the most popular cycling destinations in the world. Cyclists come here in their thousands to tackle the challenge of the Formentor lighthouse and to climb the Tramuntana mountains.
Just what we were planning … let’s hope Andy found some chamois cream first!
We’ll let you know how we got on in our next post.
The first riders flew past as we turned the corner into a quiet country road that ran down a stunningly beautiful valley. It was three days into our bicycle tour around the island of Mallorca and we had just reached the north-west, one of the world’s most popular cycling destinations.
This back road turned out to be a home run for many serious cyclists who were coming down from an epic day of climbing through the Serra de Tramuntana mountains. In groups of two, three, four, even ten riders they effortlessly cruised past us, calling out a cheery ola or vamos before disappearing down the road. Some of them couldn’t hide their surprise at the unlikely sight of our bulging bike panniers on this unofficial racing circuit.
A loud whirring sound announced a much bigger peloton of about thirty riders cresting the hill behind us. They were moving very fast! For Andy, the opportunity to join in was too much to resist so I moved up a gear and accelerated, legs pumping furiously, sweat dripping from my helmet and the panniers almost jumping off my rack. As I was swept up round the next bend, all Clare could see was a yellow helmet disappearing into the pack and out of sight.
This was my first experience of riding in such a large group of cyclists and the sensation was exhilarating! It seemed like twice the speed for half the effort as I was sucked into a pocket of air created by the riders in front. As the road twisted and turned down towards the coast, we rode at a much faster pace than I was used to. I can now understand why so many riders in the Tour de France shelter in the middle of a big group all day. It’s so much easier!
Feeling like a real cyclist at last, I held a position in the middle of the group for several kilometres before slowly slipping to the back as the weight of my panniers began to take their toll.
It was only then that I glanced down at my phone and spotted several missed calls from Clare. Oops! Much to the amusement of the other riders, this meant an abrupt end to the fun as I thanked them and jammed on the brakes.
It’s true, I had heard a loud cry of alarm from Clare as I’d first raced off but had dismissed it as one of the “don’t be so **** stupid” variety. Surely, she can’t be lost? There weren’t any other roads to go down.
Not lost … stuck!
As luck would have it a large thorn had popped open her front tyre at exactly the same moment I’d accelerated away to join the peloton.
This would normally have given her an opportunity to practise her newly acquired bike maintenance skills but that very morning she’d taken the spare inner tube out of her saddle bag. Apparently it was getting in the way of her large store of snacks! Instead, the tube was in one of my panniers now several weary kilometres down the road.
So ended my only experience in a peloton. When I told her about it, Clare quickly decided it wasn’t for her … “I want to use my own energy thank you very much. I don’t want to be crushed by a pack or pulled along by anyone else.” The spirit of a true independent touring cyclist!
This incident was part of a delightful 10 days we recently spent cycle-touring around Mallorca. It’s a wonderful place to explore on a bike, especially in the Spring or Autumn when it’s usually pleasantly warm and sunny.
If you followed our ride from Bath to Barcelona last year, you’ll know that we were planning another longer bike tour this Autumn. As it turned out we weren’t able to get away for long enough, so a ride around Mallorca was a perfect short break instead.
Only last summer the Telegraph ran a feature on Mallorca under the headline:
Is this the world’s greatest destination for cycling?
It could be … the island attracts over 150,000 cyclists a year including many world class teams who love it for pre-season training. Most are real cyclists from flat countries attracted by the spectacular climbs in the north and west. Indeed, there are so many people peddling up and down the more famous climbs that it can feel a bit like a ski resort … with cyclists replacing skiers.
These climbs are not so long or so steep to put off the humble older touring cyclist. Perhaps emboldened by our trip through the Pyrenees, we spent several days in the Mallorcan mountains and really enjoyed it.
You don’t have to hit the hills though as there are plenty of beautiful, quiet, flatter routes around the coast and across the interior. With lovely places to stay, wonderful food to eat and plenty of interesting things to do off the bike, Mallorca is an ideal destination for touring.
But surprisingly we only saw one other cyclist with panniers. Perhaps this blog will inspire more people to take a bicycle tour round the island – it’s a great place for a first trip.
Here’s our route, we’ll let you know how we got on in a few days’ time.