It had been a long, cold, extended winter in Wales. I’d been pretty well forced off the bike through such bad conditions for a month or so, and I couldn’t wait to get a squeeze of winter sun on my back. I’d chosen Spain for this, as sun and good living are almost always guaranteed. And as much as I know the country there was still one last outpost I’d somehow never managed to make it to; the white villages of Andalusia. Albeit that they are so well visited and popular, for some reason they’d still managed to escape my panting and shutter clicking, so there seemed like no better time to make good the deficit than now.
I’d touched on the eastern fringes of the region a few times in the past, and cruised my way along the high-rise full breakfast strip of the Costa del Sol many a time over the years. But this time around I decided to head inland to the region between Ronda and Arcos, the region with perhaps the biggest concentration and the most popular of the white-painted Moorish villages.
A natural starting point for my road trip was Ronda, one of the most picturesque and charming towns in the entire region. Sitting high above the rolling plains of the region, this ancient white town is perched on a cliff top ridge above the Tajo gorge. Over the years its charm and architecture have attracted visitors from far and wide – with Orson Wells and Ernest Hemingway being frequent visitors here.
My intention was to make a kilometre century loop out from Ronda, keeping to the quieter roads and passing through some of the region’s most famous white villages – Ubrique, Cortes, and El Bosque.
It was late morning when I finally hit the road. The traffic faded away as I headed along the valley and then climbed up towards Cortes. This may not be on the traditional white village trail, but its narrow and winding streets and superb Moorish whitewashed architecture give it a real sense of the unspoiled. It was pretty well all uphill from here. Below I could see orange trees, lemon groves, and sweet pink and white spring blossoms. Life felt good!
The deserted road climbed gently up through cork tree forests before plummeting down to the terraced white village of Ubrique. The mid day sun was really taking the chill off things as I climbed away from here and over the hill to El Bosque. I was about half way around now, and decided to make a stop off for a coffee and bocadillo (baguette). The village is pretty well deserted, and although it may be one of the most famous of the white villages, I can’t say the place itself was worth more than a fleeting visit. To the west of here a patchwork of rolling and flat lands fade out towards Arcos de la Frontera and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. The colours of the land are captivating; lush greens, golden browns, yellows and oranges. It’s quite bizarre how the soils seem to change colour from one side of a field to another.
For me however the luxury of a flat and rolling ride to Arcos was not on the cards, since the mighty Puerto del Boyar awaited. It took some doing to drag myself away from the second coffee, but it had to be done. For a whole 13 kilometres I ground my way up through a deserted valley, all lined with cork trees and peppered by patches of snow. Fortunately it wasn’t too bad a haul, and before I knew it I was heading steeply down towards the distant rooftops of Gazalerma, another charming pueblo blanco in the valley bottom.
The sun was low and the chill returning to the air as I scaled the last climb of the day – another cork forested grind to the tops of the Sierra Grazalema. From here I shivered more or less all the way downhill to Ronda. With the early evening sun in my eyes and with a fading energy reserve I rode back into Ronda, just in time for coffee and a glimpse of the sun going down after a superb ride out.
Getting there and getting around
Without a doubt the best served entry point for this area and ride is Malaga, with its well-connected and well-served international airport. From within the UK the best option is Easyjet; the budget carrier has several daily flights from various regional airports around the UK. Expect to pay around £100-£150 for a flight. Check out www.easyjet.com for details.
There is a reasonable rail service around the region; the main Malaga -Seville line being the backbone to the network. This is a very spectacular rail journey, and passes through El Chorro. Check out www.renfe.es for details.
In El Bosque the hotel Rural Enrique Calvillo (38 Euro per night) is a great local place. Check out www.sierradecadiz.com/hotelcalvillo. In El Chorro the Garganta apartments are superb, with fantastic views for around 50 Euros a night, check out www.lagarganta.com.
Starting from Ronda take head towards the main road north out of town. Just after hitting the main road turn left. Follow the road down the valley. After a while you swing to the right and start to climb. Part way up the climb turn left through Benajoan and continue to Cortes. Climb out of the village, and then after a while take the first right and follow the road to Ubrique. Follow the road through town, then climb to the left and follow the road towards El Bosque. Just before reaching El Bosque turn right and climb up and over to Grazalema. Ride through the town and then climb back over towards Ronda, following the main road back to town.
Climbs; short climb to Benajoan, then a longer but gentle climb out of Cortes. After El Bosque is the Puerto del Boya, and after Grazalema is a climb to 900 meters – which is not too bad.
Other riding in the area
There are loads of flat and winding roads to the west of here – towards Arcos de la Frontera, but some of the best and most spectacular roads lie between Ardales, Alora, El Chorro and Antiquera – to the eastern side of Ronda. The roads between Ronda and Ardales are great, but can be very busy at times.