Cycling In Spain: Cheste to Sant Mateu - 196 kilometres

As we drew closer to the Plaza de la Reina I began to shake off the tedium of the last two hours. It was swarming with people and as hot as a futuristic city wracked by climate change but my thoughts were at least back in the present with a simmering saucepan of paella to look forward to rather than a thin green wafer derived from humans. We also couldn’t wait to just get off the bus and restore the circulation to our aching legs. And walk we did. On foot, Valencia’s many plazas and narrow lanes, lined with quaint hidden restaurants, gave us a far better taste of the city’s vibrancy than our fishbowl view from a fast-moving vehicle.

Despite my cynicism with regards to tour-buses, I acknowledge that you usually get to see more of the wider city along the route, but you’d probably fare just as well by acquiring a few postcards and lazily spending an our or two on the internet. Walking on the other hand, is a bit like cycling.  You don’t cover nearly the distance you do in a motor vehicle but you’re more in tune with your senses and are far more likely to encounter people along the way. 
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Still Valencia but not for much longer!
Not just renowned for its oranges, Valencia’s close proximity to the Mediterranean coast has made it a popular destination for foreigners since a contingent of Roman army retirees arrived on the banks of the Río Turia in 138 BC. Today, almost two thousand years later, it is Spain’s third largest city, while more than five million tourists visit the region each year. Nevertheless, heading north on the CV-50 early next morning, I suffered no pangs of missed opportunity for having at last left the city behind.

Passing scores of cyclists, I pondered how many of those may have been tourists themselves. We were riding through the Serra Calderona, a long mountain range, that together with the Serra d’Espadà, 25 kilometres to the north, lie closest to the Mediterranean coast. There were formidable stretches along the route, particularly between the small villages of Olocau and Gátova. But in the unremitting remoteness, it was difficult to imagine too many overseas cyclists, climbers anyway, including it on their itinerary.

You only have to spend an afternoon climbing to the top of Italy’s Passo dello Stelvio to realise where cyclists gather in their droves. Like a market place, there’s no shortage of stalls promoting cycling clothing and memorabilia. Crowded bars sell food and beer on tap, while at stalls, hot dogs and bratwurst sausages get snapped up, all at exorbitant prices.

A typical sight along the road(s) to Sant Mateu.
Given its history and iconic status its fait accompli that the Italian pass has become a commercial enterprise, much like other fabled mountains and passes such as Alpe d’Huez, Mont Ventoux and the Col du Tourmalet. While climbs in the Andalusia Sierras and the Cantabrian Mountains are every bit as impressive as their European counterparts, they’re considerably remote as well. Even the most ardent cyclists would argue that the Iberian Peninsula is a long way to travel for a moment of solitude on top of a mountain.


Unless of course, you're 61and a 70-plus-year-old fellow cyclist told you that the Pico de Veleta IS worth all the trouble!

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