Search for “cycling Spain” on a sultry Andalusian afternoon in June and your browser will reveal a curated list of route finding websites; links to information about cycling in Spain; bike tour operators; and a personal blog or two. Now search from somewhere else in the world, from a computer that’s not yours, and watch your results change. Are these results for the best cycling in Spain? They are subjective for sure, but so is calling out the “best cycling in Spain.” Here are a few things to consider about what makes riding a bike in Spain the best.
Cycling in Spain is as romantic as it sounds, even more now that Spain is beginning to define its cycling identity on its own terms rather than comparing itself to France or Italy. What Spain has so humbly forgotten to mention about its cycling offerings is this: 9,200+ kilometers/5,715 miles of dirt roads that lace the peninsula; Europe’s highest cyclable climb; legal off-road riding in a national park; year-round temperatures that sway gently between 40-82F (4-28C); more than 300 days of annual sunshine; and now the distinction as the world’s healthiest nation. Also worth noting is Spain’s low rate of cycling fatalities: 67 compared to 162 in France, and 275 in Italy for the statistical year 2016.
What’s more, Spain’s mountainous topography, which has frustrated and discouraged both 20th and 21st century transportation planners, has proven to be a lucky break for cyclists who get free reign over the deserted secondary roads and paths of Spain while motorized traffic have the national highways all to themselves.
What Spain has so humbly forgotten to mention about its cycling offerings is this:
9,200+ kilometers/5,715 miles of dirt roads that lace the peninsula; Europe’s highest cyclable climb; legal off-road riding in a national park; year-round temperatures that sway gently between 40-82F (4-28C); more than 300 days of annual sunshine; and now the distinction as the world’s healthiest nation.
Omerta and Andalusia
A typical itinerary for visiting Spain usually includes Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville, and perhaps an offshoot trip or two to cater to particular interests. Andalusia’s smaller cities, like Córdoba and Granada, have so far struggled to rival the fame (and marketing budgets) of Spain’s grander cities. In addition to the Alhambra Palace, which is one of the top 10 most-visited monuments in the world, Granada also boasts all or part of the cycling offerings mentioned above. Yet to give up Granada as the best cycling in Spain is to break a certain code of silence among local cyclists.
The best cycling in Spain
However, the sheer volume and variety of cyclable kilometers (road, trail, gravel, downhill, enduro etc.) that cover all points of the compass with Granada at its center does a good job at preventing overcrowding. This, combined with tremendously varied terrain, the only consistently reliable tapas culture in all of Spain, and more to do than just cycling, are what make Granada the best cycling in Spain.
Were you thinking of someplace else?
Nearly two decades ago, to escape nosey French authorities who started to take a more intense interest in possible doping in the pro peleton after the infamous Festina affair of the late 90’s, celebrated road racers moved south to Spain and took up residence in Girona. Just over the border from France yet out of reach of French investigators, Girona offered a safe haven as well as a good setting in which to train.
Thanks to those racers, Girona has evolved into one of Spain’s most-visited cycling destinations, which has spawned numerous businesses that cater specifically to cycling tourists. Is Girona (along with Mallorca and Alicante) where the best cycling in Spain is? It is if you’re willing to accept the publicity snowball that’s been gathering ever since those dark days when we were none the wiser.