Spain Trip 2019

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st13phil

Hardcore MB Enthusiast
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His - Denim Blue A220 AMG Line Premium / Hers - Obsidian Black R172 SLK55
OK, so this wasn't a car trip but it could have been :D

Last month we took a trip to Spain on our K1600GT Sport with a couple of friends of ours on their Yamaha. I know some here enjoy touring in continental Europe so thought it would be good to share.

I’ve run Honda Pan-European’s (ST1100’s and ST1300’s) since 1992 having toured extensively on them. We did do a long weekend trip to the Eifel region of Germany at the beginning of June which gave me a feel for the K1600, but this was our first longer trip on the bike and the first chance to live with it on a tour. We were travelling with some friends riding an FZ8 Yam on their first ever continental European trip so I’d devised an itinerary that didn’t push the envelope as far as endurance was concerned, preferring instead to have time to “stop and smell the roses” and also to enjoy some of the destinations.

We used the Brittany Ferries service from Plymouth to Santander on the outbound leg, and Bilbao to Portsmouth on the return. A couple of weeks prior to departure I received an email from Brittany telling us that our departure time had been pushed back by two hours and our arrival time by four hours “for operational reasons”. This turned out to be that the Pont Aven ship on which we were travelling had suffered first an engine fire and then an issue with its steering gear back in May. Although it had been repaired, the ship now had one engine down (out of four) and had to run at reduced speed for the rest of the season, hence the schedule change which meant that instead of arriving in Santander at 12:15 we’d not arrive until 16:15. Not a huge problem as our first hotel was in Cangas d’Onis which is around 2½ hours from the port by way of the scenic route, but it did mean that we wouldn’t have the time I’d expected to divert into the Picos national park if the mood took us.

The later than expected sailing time did mean that we could set off from North Oxfordshire at a more pleasant time on day one, and we were on the road for a leisurely ride to Plymouth at just after 10am. Our route took us cross country through Wantage and Hungerford before picking up the A303 south of Tidworth, past Stonehenge (and the usual slow traffic – “Ooh look, it’s Stonehenge!” :rolleyes: ), onto the A30, a short stretch of the M5 around Exeter and finally the A38 to Plymouth and the docks. We fuelled up around 5 miles from the port so we had full tanks on arrival in Spain, checked in and waited in line to board. I must say that Brittany Ferries is now much more organised with regards to bikes on these crossings than in years gone by when you used to take your own tie-down straps with you if you knew what they were like, or scratched around for an oily bit of rope on the deck if you didn’t. Now they have wide ratchet straps with huge pads on them that crew members throw over the bike’s seat and then quickly secure to cables running along the deck. If I have a criticism it’s that they put the bikes too close together, meaning that walking between the bikes to access panniers is a very cramped affair, but it’s quite an efficient process. After boarding we went to our respective cabins, showered and changed and convened in the bar where the TV was showing the final of the Cricket World Cup. The huge cheer throughout the ship when England won was quite emotional :rock:

While boarding the ship was quite efficient, disembarkation was a slow, tortuous, affair made all the more unpleasant by it being around 30c on deck 2 in the bowels of the ship where the bikes were parked. On exiting the ship we then had a 30-minute queue in the sun to get through passport control before actually getting on the road at around 5:15pm, a full hour after docking. Within minutes we found ourselves filtering through stationery and slow-moving traffic on the A67 because, as we learned once we reached the front of the queue, a truck had turned over and spilled its load over the carriageway… Fortunately, the rest of our cross-country journey was uneventful and we arrived at our hotel at around 7:45pm.

For those unfamiliar with the Parador hotel chain, Paradores de Turismo de España is a chain of luxury hotels operated by a company founded by Alfonso XIII to promote tourism in Spain, with the first hotel opening in 1928 in Gredos. While the chain now also includes some modern purpose-built premises, many of the hotels are located in adapted castles, palaces, fortresses, convents, monasteries and other historic buildings. Angie and I have used these Paradors extensively over the last 20+ years and every time we introduce someone new to them the reaction is always the same: “Wow!”.

Our base for three nights, the Parador de Cangas d’Onis, set on the banks for the Sella river and surrounded by the Picos de Europa, was originally the San Pedro de Villanueva Monastery and is ideally situated to access some particularly scenic roads. The Spanish tend to dine late in the day, so at check-in we reserved a table in the excellent restaurant for 9pm and then made our way to our rooms to unpack, shower and change. Here are a couple of shots of the inside of the Parador:

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The Picos de Europa is in Asturias and is often known as “Green Spain” due to the lush vegetation. And what does lush vegetation need? Yup, rainfall. Looking at the forecast for the next two days we could see that the first of the two was going to be the best, so after a hearty breakfast we set off on a figure-eight loop that I’d planned, taking in the Mirador del Fitu to the north before heading south and looping anti-clockwise through the Ponga Natural Park and returning north to Cangas on the N-625 running alongside the Parque Nacional de los Picos de Europa. As we were heading north towards the coast on the picturesque but nadgery AS-259 I was praying that the clear skies would hold as the views from the Mirador del Fitu are spectacular on a clear day, but a complete waste of time if its misty. Although there was a good deal of haze, we were spared the mist and low cloud that could have been. The mirador (mirador translates as “lookout” or “view point”) itself is an odd little platform cantilevered off a staircase that provides a splendid panoramic view of the Sierra del Sueve, the coast and the Picos de Europa. At 629m above sea level it’s not that high up, but the views from it are quite spectacular.

Here’s one towards the coast:

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And here’s one of Angie and me with the Sierra del Sueve behind us:

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From Mirador del Fitu we descended back southwards towards Arriondas on the picturesque AS-260 before heading west again on the N-634 and finally heading south into the Parque Natural de Ponga on the even more picturesque AS-339. After a lunch stop in the tiny hamlet of Priesca we continued south on the AS-261, following the Rio Ponga to Beleño where the road becomes the PO-2. We had been on a fairly modest climb from the river valley since our lunch stop, but at this point the road narrowed considerably and steepened too, with lots of tight hairpins, climbing to a peak of just over 1000m before descending equally rapidly by 710m over the next 4½ miles to the junction with the N-625 and a short ride back to Cangas de Onis.

As the weather forecast had predicted, the next day started off with light drizzle, but by around 9:45am it looked like it was drying out so we donned our gear and headed off to Covadonga, less than 10 miles away to the east. This is basically a pilgrimage site dedicated to Our Lady of Covadonga, and commemorating the battle of Covadonga (in either 718 or 722: no-one’s sure!) at which Pelagius, the first King of Asturias, successfully fought against the Muslim rulers of the Iberian peninsula. Through this battle he is credited with beginning the Reconquista, the Christian re-conquest of the country from the Moors. I had intended to also visit the lakes above Covadonga but the combination of low cloud and the fact that you can no longer drive to them (you have to use a park-and-ride bus service) meant that we gave that a miss. Here’s the Basílica de Santa María la Real de Covadonga that was built at the end of the 19th Century:

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And here are our travelling companions, Rob & Joolz, posing under the statue of Pelayo (Pelagius):

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We absolutely made the right choice visiting relatively early in the morning as by the time we left it was already becoming rammed with tourist coaches. Angie and I have visited here before and by mid-afternoon it’s nigh-on impossible to move for tourists.

After riding back to the Parador we changed into “civvies” before walking the stony path alongside the river into Cangas de Onis for lunch and to enjoy a couple of the many Sidreria (cider bars).

To be continued...
 
Anyone will tell you that Spain in late July is hot. Very hot. Unfortunately, due to our companions’ work schedule, this was the only time they were available for the trip this year so we were stuck with it.

Other than when we disembarked the ship in Santander, temperatures had been kind to us so far with highs only in the mid 20’s centigrade, but now we were headed southwards and the forecast was for 33-34c at our destination on our day of arrival. We decided that the sensible thing to do would be to travel as much as possible early in the day, so it was at just after 9am (OK, 9am isn’t that early, but this is a holiday after all!) that we hit the road to Ávila and our base for the next three days.

The first part of our route took us down the N-625 and through the Desfiladero de los Beyos, a deep narrow gorge carved out millennia ago by the river Sella through some exceptionally thick limestone. This 10 mile section of road from Cenaya at its northern extremity to Oseja de Sajambre at its southern end twists and turns and and crosses and re-crosses the river, affording great views of the soaring limestone walls either side. Due to its depth, width and orientation it can be relatively dark and cool as the sun’s rays fail to reach the roadway, even while the top of the gorge is in brilliant sunshine and true to form it was only 17-18c in the gorge at this relatively early hour. The Defiladero is quite a sight, but it’s very difficult to find anywhere safe to stop for photos, and we didn’t fancy being overtaken by the slow-moving bus we’d managed to squeeze past just before Cenaya if we did, so we just consigned the views to memory and rode on. We did stop briefly at Puerto de Pontón, 1290m up and the summit of the pass, although it was very difficult to get any photo’s that do the views justice due to the height of the vegetation, but here’s one of the peaks looking north, from whence we had come:

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And here’s an obligatory one of the bikes (note the snow poles!!!):

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We continued south picking up the N-621 at Riaño, riding over and around the Embalse de Riaño on some lovely open sweepers. South of Cistierna we forked left onto the CI-626 then quickly onto the LE-211 / LE-232 heading south. The twisty roads and rapid elevation changes were now behind us as we made our way south on pretty featureless and arrow-straight roads, joking over the Sena comms about what the Romans had ever done for anyone.

It was just after midday and we decided it was a good time for a bit of rehydration so after consulting the sat-nav for likely places not too far off our route, we stopped in the small village of Grajal de Campos (population 246) which turned out to have its own derelict castle, an overly large Plaza Mayor and a bar restaurant that was just opening up for the day. Here’s a panoramic view of the Plaza Mayor (the porticoed building straight ahead is the 16th-century palace belonging to the former marquises of Grajal, that is apparently one of the finest examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture, while to the left is the Church of San Miguel):

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And here’s Angie with the aftermath of our “light lunch”:

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Back on the bikes we continued south as the temperature climbed, picking up the A6 autovia at Villardefredes, exiting onto the nondescript N-403 104km later for the final few miles into Ávila and our hotel, the Parador de Ávila.

Angie and I have passed Ávila a number of times, marvelling at the extensive city walls, as we headed elsewhere but had never visited and I was looking forward to exploring this UNSECO World Heritage Site. The Parador, housed in the Piedras Albas Palace, abuts the walls which we passed through at the Puerta del Carmen on the north side of the old city. Mediaeval cities are always difficult to park in, so I’d booked a place in the Parador’s garage for us and after securing the bikes we showered, changed and set off on foot to explore before dinner back at the Parador at our now usual 9pm.

We wandered up the hill from the Parador and found the Plaza Mercado Chico with its stone arched arcades and the impressive Ayuntamiento (town hall) at the northern end:

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From here we continued east and through the city walls to the Oficina de Turismo which is set in the walls itself, adjacent to the impressive Cathedral. After making enquiries about English language walking tours (which, it turned out, were only available by private arrangement with a local tour guide for a pretty substantial sum) we sat and enjoyed a couple of cold beers while watching the world go by at one of the bars on the Calle de Segundo before returning to the Parador for dinner.

Although I’d planned a couple of day rides from Ávila, temperatures were already just under 30c at 10am the next morning, with a forecast high of 36c so we decided to have a day off the bikes and explore the city instead. Wandering down the Calle Marqués de Santo Domingo towards the west end of the city we reached the access bridge to the Muralla de Ávila (the city walls), paid our entrance fees (€5 per person including an audioguide each), and climbed onto the walls. This is the main monument of the city, with construction having started in 1090 and continued through to the 14th century. With a perimeter of 2,516m, curtain walls 3m thick and 12m tall, 88 blocks of semi-circular towers, 2,500 merlons and 9 puertas (gates) they are certainly impressive. They are also the world’s largest fully illuminated monument (a useful fact for when it goes quiet in the snug). Although it will never be possible to walk along the top of the entire structure because some of it has over the centuries been incorporated into other buildings, much has been made safe and is open to the public and it’s well worth walking them and listening to the mixture of historic facts and legends from the audioguide. Here’s a view looking west along the wall from the walkway:

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One along the outside of the wall from atop one of the 88 towers:

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And finally, one from outside the city walls taken next to the Cuatro Postes monument:

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To be continued...
 
Interesting route, I last went that way in August 1978 when me, Mum and Dad plus my Gran did Santander to Marbella in Dad's Cortina long before aircon became mainstream.

South of Madrid was very flat and nuclear hot.
 
Interesting route, I last went that way in August 1978 when me, Mum and Dad plus my Gran did Santander to Marbella in Dad's Cortina long before aircon became mainstream.

South of Madrid was very flat and nuclear hot.
Haha :D

Not sure whether being inside a 1970's Ford Cortina or 2018 bike gear would result in the most discomfort :cool:
 
We were in those hotels touring the same area in June, great write up thanks
 
Very enjoyable read Phil. Certainly a great way to get a proper look at the country.
 
Love Paradores, stayed in one for a week last year when the Mrs was in hospital, the staff were brilliant.

One of my favourite trips was Plymouth-Santander then a bit of Northern Spain, over the border to France and a wander along the South coast, Cannes for the film festival, a dip into Italy at San Remo then home via Beaune and the tunnel.

Happy days.
 
One of the rides I’d planned for while we were in Ávila was to the gardens and palace at San Ildefonso o La Granja which were created by Philip V, grandson of Louis XIV, who wanted to make La Granja into a “little Versailles”. Again, it’s one of those places in Spain that we’ve been close to many times but never visited and, I’m sad to say, still haven’t as we didn’t fancy schlepping round in 36c heat in our bike gear. So instead, we made the short(ish) ride to Segovia where we took the opportunity to briefly park the bikes alongside the stunning Roman Aqueduct:

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One of the best-preserved elevated Roman aqueducts in the world, it absolutely has to be seen to be believed. Constructed towards the end of the first century A.D. of unmortared granite blocks, it transported water from the Rio Frio river along its 15km length to the heart of the city where there was a subterranean distribution system. While it has been the subject of a couple of renovations over the centuries, it is still substantially as built by the Romans and it’s amazing to think that it provided water to Segovia right up to the mid-19th century.

After getting a couple of photo’s of the aqueduct (and being told politely but firmly by one of the locals that there was actually a motorcycle parking bay over the road, approximately 250m away) we rode the short distance to the Alcázar, perched on a rocky crag near the Guadarrama mountains. Its shape – like the bow of a ship – together with its Rapunzel towers, and turrets topped with slate witches’ hats makes it one of the most distinctive castle-palaces in Spain. Originally built as a fortress it is currently used as a museum and houses military archives, having previously served as a royal palace, a state prison, a Royal Artillery College and a military academy. Well worth a visit. No photo’s I’m afraid as I left my phone in my jacket which I’d locked in one of the bike’s panniers before we entered. D’oh!

After a couple of hours at the Alcázar we rode the fast route back to Ávila in time for a late lunch and some more sightseeing.

I mentioned the Cuatro Postes monument in the last part. This is one of those strange structures one finds in Spain, the history of which is shrouded in mystery and in this case there are two competing, but not entirely incompatible, legends regarding its origin. One involves the city being looted in an opportunist Muslim raid in 1157 while the city’s residents were all on a pilgrimage to give thanks for the end of the plague that had wiped out so many of them. When the city’s aldermen together with their troops left the city to recover the goods looted, a group of rogue troops took advantage by returning to Ávila and taking control. When said aldermen arrived back, they found themselves locked out by the traitors who demanded a ransom to free the town. The traitors were eventually booted out and Los Cuatro Postes monument was constructed to be a focus for commemoration of the original pilgrimage. The second legend has it that it marks the place where, as children, Teresa of Jesus and her brother Rodrigo were caught by their uncle when they were on their way to the south to spread the word of God to the infidels. Are either true? Who knows, but here’s the monument in question:

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Dotted around the provinces comprising the west of the high central plain of the Iberian peninsula, Ávila, Salamanca, Segovia, Salamanca, Zamora, and Cáceres, are strange stone sculptures of animals known as verracos. While many appear to be pigs, others seem to be bulls, but the ravages of time – these sculptures have been dated to have been made some time between the 4th and 1st century B.C. – have seen the finer features weathered away so no-one’s really sure of what they are or why they were made. In the garden of the Parador there are a couple of modern replicas, one of which Angie couldn’t resist patting:

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So, after three nights in Ávila we headed south and east, via Toledo to our next destination, Cuenca.

The first part of our ride to Toledo was on the N-403 and quite pleasant, followed by a short blast along the A40 autovia before returning to single carriageway roads around the south of Toledo. I’d routed us in from the west of Toledo on the CM-4000 and CM-401 which I knew would afford us some great views of the town across the Rio Tajo. By the time we joined the CM-4000 at about 11am the mercury was at 31c and rising, so we stopped at a service station for a break and to take on some water. Next to the service station was the Asador San Bernardo so we popped in for some air-conditioned respite from the heat and ordered cokes and water.

It’s at this point that it’s worth a quick diversion into the world of Spanish food, and that at the Paradors in particular.

The Paradors we tend to stay in are often in the middle of nowhere, or in small places where the opportunities to eat out are limited. As a consequence, and because the Paradors always offer excellent deals for Amigos (members of their loyalty scheme) if you stay more than one night on a half-board basis, that’s what Angie and I tend to do by default. The breakfast buffets are among the best I’ve experienced in hotels anywhere, and the evening meals are excellent too. As a half-board guest you get to choose three courses from the à-la-carte menu, which invariably contains a mouth-watering selection of local specialities that just have to be tried and the portions are “generous” in nature. This trip was no exception and we were staying half-board at all the Paradors, so had accumulated six days of excess by this stage. Just hold that thought for a moment.

Having quaffed our cokes and water and settled la cuenta, we suited up again and returned to the bikes. I swung my leg over the saddle and as I lifted the bike vertical felt a distinct “pop” from around my middle, quickly realising that the waist fastener of my somewhat antique BMW Streetguard 2 trousers had given up in its unequal struggle to keep them fastened around my rapidly expanding waistline. “Merde,” I exclaimed over the Sena comms using my finely-honed multi-lingual skills, “Mis pantalones han explotado”. Once Angie, Rob & Joolz had stopped giggling and wiped away the tears of laughter we set off. In retrospect I should have investigated further at that point, for it became clear when we stopped a little later that the now free-to-escape tang of the waist fastener managed to work its way out from under my jacket and put some minor scratches in the centre section of the tank, immediately above the point where the rider’s seat joins it. I know the bike will get marks on it at some point, but nevertheless it was a disappointment to collect some so soon. Here’s a photo of the remains of the hook part of the hook and bar fastener:

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And here’s a view of Toledo from the Mirador del Valle. The building centre-frame is the Alcázar:

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The remainder of our ride to Cuenca was on boring motorway where the only source of interest was watching the ambient temperature click up to a peak of 36c. It’s at times like this that the toys on the K1600 are a boon – especially the cruise control – and Rob riding the Yam definitely enjoyed that section even less than I did.

We arrived at the Parador at just before 2pm in time for a late lunch…

To be continued…
 
Of all the places we stayed on this trip, the Parador de Cuenca is probably the most memorable location. Stood majestically on a promontory above the vertiginous Río Huécar valley, this former convent of San Pedro from the 16th century provides an excellent view of the Casas Colgadas, the hanging houses, on the opposite side of the gorge. Occupied by a religious order until 1975, the building was converted into a Parador in the 1990’s and is connected to the main part of the old town on the other side of the gorge by the Puente de San Pablo footbridge.

The original bridge was built to connect the convent to the town, but as that was essentially its sole use it suffered from lack of funds to both build it and maintain it as neither the townsfolk nor the provincial governors saw any reason to pay for it. Funding responsibility therefore fell to the Church. The original stone bridge was constructed from 1533 to 1589 with many breaks due to lack of money, and eventually collapsed some 300 years later due to lack of maintenance. The current iron structure with wooden plank deck was built in 1902 and incorporates parts of the original bridge’s piers. The walkway is narrow, the guard rails are low, and the decking somewhat wobbly. At 40m above the floor of the gorge it’s not a comfortable experience crossing it if you’re fearful of heights. However, cross it you must if you wish to visit what is now the “old” town on the other side of the gorge without a very long walk or taxi ride.

We arrived in this UNESCO World Heritage Site on a Sunday afternoon and, after a snack (I use the word snack in its loosest possible form: no food in a Parador could truly be classified as a snack) lunch in the Parador, wandered over the footbridge to explore the old town. With its brightly painted buildings and neo-Gothic façade to the cathedral, the Plaza Mayor is home to the terraces of a handful of bars and restaurants providing a pleasant atmosphere in which to while away an hour or so chatting and watching the world go (slowly) by. In common with many cities in continental Europe, Cuenca has a “little train” that plies its way on a circular route around the town and is a good way to quickly see where the main sites are. Noting that there was a stopping point a few metres away I consulted the timetable which revealed that there was another departure in about 40 minutes and that the service didn’t run at all on Mondays. Oh well, today’s the day, then!

The circular route took around 80 minutes including stops at the Mirador Barrio del Castillo at the highest point of the town and under the Casas Colgadas at the bottom and was accompanied by an audio commentary that provided us a good introduction to the town’s history and main sites. Back in the Plaza Mayor, Angie made a quick visit to the Officina de Turismo and confirmed that not just the little train, but most of the potential local attractions were shut on Monday. Hmm.

Over our excellent evening meal that was served in the open courtyard of the Parador we decided on a plan of action for the next day while being entertained by a guitar duo.

Here’s a view of the Parador (in the foreground dominating the left of the shot) from the Mirador Barrio del Castillo. Behind the Parador is the Puente de San Pablo and on the opposite side of the gorge in the centre of the frame above the Parador’s bell tower, the wooden balconies of the Casas Colgadas can just be made out:

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A closer view of the Puente de San Pablo from outside the Parador, with the Casas Colgadas in the background:

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The impressive neo-Gothic façade of the cathedral and some of the brightly painted buildings of the Plaza Mayor:

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And a front view of the Parador taken from the town side, above the Puente de San Pablo:

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Monday morning dawned and we met up for another sumptuous, waistline expanding, Parador breakfast. The previous evening we’d decided that as we had the longest riding day of the trip planned for Tuesday, we’d have a day off the bikes, lazing around and taking in the architecture and atmosphere of Cuenca. We’d also learned the previous evening quite how badly Joolz is affected by heights, and it was clear from her nervous demeanour as we walked through the door of the Parador into the bright morning sunlight that there was no way on earth she was going to walk across that bridge again. So we called a taxi to take us up to the Mirador Barrio del Castillo above the town from where we could take a leisurely stroll down taking in the sights. Frankly, it was worth the €7 just to escape the trudge up the hill from the Plaza Mayor in the heat and it did wonders for Joolz’s nerves too.

We started off by taking a walk up the steep stony path to Mirador del Rey but about halfway up it was clear that our footwear was unequal to the rigours of the path, so after taking a couple of photos from the higher vantage point we walked back down and rejoined the main road and headed for one of the many bars overlooking the gorge for our first Coke and water of the day. Refreshed, we continued our slow amble back down the hill, stopping every now and then to take photos. Cuenca sits at the confluence of two river gorges – the Júcar and the Huécar – and here’s a view to the north, overlooking the Júcar and the CM-2105 which would be our route out of Cuenca the next day:

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Mediaeval cities have fortresses, walls and gates, and Cuenca is no exception. Here’s the 16th century Arco de Bezudo that was the upper entrance to the city, guarded by the towers either side. This section of wall, arch and towers is all that remains of the Christian fortress:

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Further down the hill is the Convento de las Camelitos and the octagonal tower of the Iglesia de San Pedro, built on the ruins of an ancient mosque:

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Almost everywhere you look there’s something photogenic. Here’s the entrance to the Jesuit College:

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And here’s the entrance to the Posada San José a small hotel housed in a 17th-century former choir school:

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After a leisurely lunch we visited the cathedral. Built on the site of the main mosque after the city’s reconquest by Alfonso VIII in 1177, this is a truly lovely building and well worth a visit. Unlike so many Spanish cathedrals which are dark, gloomy places, this is a riot of light and architecture with a magnificent Renaissance doorway leading to the cloisters and striking abstract stained-glass windows that were added in the 20th century. The excellent audioguide includes 37 stops and is unusually entertaining as well as being informative. Here are a few shots to give a feeling for the place:

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To be continued…
 
We did something similar about 5 years ago in the 968 cab, and joining the free Amigos de Paradores loyalty program before planning where to stay was a very wise choice, as their website (in English) is very good, shows you where the Paradores are, and when we went the half board option was available even for a 1 night stay (plus as an Amigo you get discounted rates)! There are 2 opposite each other just West of Santander, handy if you're on a late arriving ferry, IIRC the uphill one is called Santillana del Mar, is the nicer of the 2, and even has underground parking (for about 15 Eurosovs a night) as well as above ground for free, whereas the other on the main square only has on street parking.

One to avoid is Santiago de Campostela, right in the main square by the cathedral, really expensive. We found a much better place to stay 10 minutes out of town, with a free shuttle bus service. The one we did not enjoy was about 50 miles north of Santiago and is a converted prison in the centre of town, can't remember the name.
 
We did something similar about 5 years ago in the 968 cab, and joining the free Amigos de Paradores loyalty program before planning where to stay was a very wise choice, as their website (in English) is very good, shows you where the Paradores are, and when we went the half board option was available even for a 1 night stay (plus as an Amigo you get discounted rates)! There are 2 opposite each other just West of Santander, handy if you're on a late arriving ferry, IIRC the uphill one is called Santillana del Mar, is the nicer of the 2, and even has underground parking (for about 15 Eurosovs a night) as well as above ground for free, whereas the other on the main square only has on street parking.

One to avoid is Santiago de Campostela, right in the main square by the cathedral, really expensive. We found a much better place to stay 10 minutes out of town, with a free shuttle bus service. The one we did not enjoy was about 50 miles north of Santiago and is a converted prison in the centre of town, can't remember the name.
We were in that Santilla del Mar the uphill one for the first night of our Spain tour in June and agree was good.
 
Whenever I plan a trip such as this that involves a ferry to get home, I always prefer to stay the last night before boarding not too far from the port. While I’m not uncomfortable having a long ride to the Channel ports in northern France that have multiple crossings a day and plenty of spare capacity, the routes from Spain to the UK sail infrequently and are often full at this time of year, so missing your boarding could easily mean an extra 4 or 5 days in Spain. Being close(ish) to the port gives you a little extra flexibility if some unplanned event occurs, so our final two nights of this trip on Spanish soil were to be in Lerma, an easy 130 mile, 2 hour ride from the port at Bilbao.

A cursory look at a map of Spain will show that the options to get to Lerma from Cuenca are limited. The quick route entails a 3½-hour drag on the autovias (motorways), retracing our boring path of two days earlier westwards, then heading north-west towards Madrid and finally up the A1. The more interesting – but much slower – route involves heading north-north-east through the hills and natural parks to Molina de Aragón then heading first north-west then north again to Soria and finally west to Lerma. This is just 255 miles, but would take around 5½ hours in the saddle plus time stopped.

So at around 9:15am we set off down the hill from the Parador, worked our way through the new town (including a slight deviation from the route meticulously planned on BaseCamp as it would have put us the wrong way up a one-way street :rolleyes: ), across the river and onto the CM-2105 heading north. This is a lovely stretch of road running alongside the Río Júcar to Villalba de la Sierra where we turned off onto the CU-V-9113 and started our climb into the hills of the Serrania de Cuenca. The combination of a great surface and great vistas meant that the climb to Las Majadas was most enjoyable. From here we continued to climb, through the Parque Naturel de El Hosquillo, reaching just under 1500m before gently dropping back down through the trees and picking up the CU-V-9031 heading north through Poyatos, Santa Maria del Val and Lagunaseca (no, not that Lagunaseca!) to Masegosa. This was a beautifully surfaced stretch of road with some great views that gently changed elevation as it meandered through mostly open bends. We also encountered zero traffic which was great as there were some pretty long stretches with overtaking restrictions on them. At Masegosa we turned to the west onto the CM-2201 which confusingly (well, for Rob who was following me and not a sat-nav) was signposted to Cuenca…

Just under 3 miles later we turned right onto the CM-210 towards Molina de Aragón on another great section of road that winds its way through the Parque Naturel del Alto Tajo. We’d been travelling for around 2 hours at this point so I started looking for somewhere to take a refreshment break. When out in the boonies in Spain the best giveaway that there’s a “watering hole” is if there are a handful of vehicles stopped outside a building, however unlikely it may look. Sure enough, after a mile or so I spotted a couple of vans, a car and a truck parked alongside what turned out to be the Casa Rural las Salinas. It may only have been just before 11:30am, but when we walked in there was a group at a table quite obviously having enjoyed their early lunch, complete with a couple of bottles of vino tinto :) We confined our beverage intake to coke and water and after a 30 minute break continued our route north.

Molina de Aragón was the seat of a taifa kingdom, a Moorish independent state, from around 1080 until 1129 when it was conquered from the Moors by Alfonso I of Aragon and is dominated by the fortress that stands overlooking it from the north. This is the unmistakable sight as you enter the town:

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Turning onto the N-211, we continued our journey north-west and after just under three miles, at Rillo de Gallo our attention was drawn to this strange sight:

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I have no idea why there is a house at the end of the village built in the style of Gaudí, but it’s there as plain as the nose on your face and impossible to ignore.

The N-211 is an OK ride, with nothing in particular to either recommend it or suggest avoiding it, but after a handful of miles we spotted a bike in the distance that looked as though it had a familiar rear profile. A couple of miles later we caught it up and I can report that it was the only other K1600 (this particular one a GTLE) that we saw on the trip. On Dutch plates, after following for a couple of miles we gave the couple on board a wave as we swept past, obviously happier to travel a bit faster than them. After a brief stop at the service station at the confluence of the A2 and A15 for Rob to refuel the Yam, we picked up the A15 autovia north to Soria where we would get back onto some more interesting roads.

Avoiding the busy traffic of Soria, we elected to find a lunch stop once heading west on the N-234 and shortly stopped at a small café at the roadside in Cidones. While nothing special, the young lad who greeted us with a smile made us fresh jamón y queso bocadillos which were just what we needed.

In the UK we are all familiar with the speed cameras that infest our roads network and make driving quickly a miserable experience. Fortunately, Spain is an enormous country and, assuming you keep out of the populous bits and away from main trunk routes, speed cameras are a rarity. That’s not to say that you can travel at whatever speed you like with impunity because the police do run traps and the fines are heavy if caught over the limit, but such traps aren’t commonplace on the back roads that we’d been riding for most of our trip. However, the N-234 is a main route for the area and as we continued west we spotted some average speed camera warning signs. As the car in front of us had been travelling at 10-20kph over the posted limit up to this point but had now slowed to just under the limit we decided discretion was the better part of valour and did likewise.

The last part of our journey was on the BU-910 to Santo Domingo de Silos then the BU-901 to Covarrubias and then finally the BU-904 into Lerma, making a pleasant end to the ride. With about six or seven miles remaining the sky became quite dark and there were a few spots of rain, but fortunately not enough to make the road damp. This was the first we’d seen since leaving Cangas almost a week earlier and it stopped as quickly as it started. 15 minutes later and just over 7 hours since leaving Cuenca we arrived at the Parador de Lerma and checked in.

If the Parador at Cuenca is the most memorable, the one at Lerma is an over the top testament to the power at Court of the 17th century first Duke of Lerma, Francisco Gómez de Sandoval. Constructed between 1601 and 1617 by architect Francisco de Mora under the instruction of the Duke, as a result of the latter’s influence it was permitted to be built with four enormous towers, one at each corner, during a period when no palace in Spain was allowed to have more than two towers unless it belonged to a king. Occupying one entire side of the city’s Plaza Mayor in the upper part of the town, the building has a central (now covered) courtyard surrounded by two columned arcades. The first has 20 Tuscan columns with semi-circular arches while the second has 20 Ionic columns. Used as a prison during the Spanish Civil War and derelict when purchased from the Province of Burgos in 2000 for one Peseta (less than a cent), it was refurbished and turned into a Parador at a cost of €13.1m and opened its doors to guests in 2003.

After unpacking and showering we wandered across the road to a busy little bar on the adjacent Plaza de San Blas for a cold beer or two before dinner. There was a TV inside the bar showing a bull fight which was attracting a big audience, but we chose to join the locals sat outside in the warm evening air who were enthusiastically chatting, most of them in family groups with kids running around enjoying themselves. Here’s a shot of the front of the Parador, taken from our table, with Rob just about to enjoy another cooling glass:

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I made mention of the Parador restaurants earlier in this thread and no account like this is complete without a photo of food, so here’s the lamb dish “recommended to share” that Rob and I ploughed our way through that evening. The foreshortening effect of the relative close-up makes it appear smaller than it is: those spoons are regular large serving spoons!

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As the next day would be our last before heading back to the ferry and we had no intention of riding, we decided to make the most of the evening and, after dinner, wandered across the Plaza Mayor to another bar, the Pub Audiencia 3, for a few late night glasses. There were a handful of tables and chairs set up on the small terrace opposite and as we sat chatting and enjoying our drinks we heard a few very faint rumbles of thunder in the far distance. The storm, still some considerable distance away, moved closer during the next round of drinks and we were then treated to one of nature’s fantastic light shows with forks of lightning darting across the dark sky accompanied by claps of thunder that grew louder as time went on and the storm continued to close in. Fortunately, we were obviously on the very periphery of the storm when it passed as we only had a few drops of rain land on us which the still warm night air quickly dried.

Fully satiated, we headed back to our Parador and our rooms in the early hours of the next morning. Here’s a night-time view of the Parador as we meandered our way back across the Plaza Mayor:

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We spent the next day in leisurely exploration of the town. There’s not a huge amount there, but it’s pleasant enough. Somewhat irritatingly there were a number of stork nests dotted around, seemingly on every church bell tower, but no storks in sight. Until we we’d given up hope of seeing any, that is.

As we enjoyed a couple of cold ones before dinner while sat outside the bar where the bull fight had been on TV the previous evening, we discussed whether the nests we’d seen were the work of storks or cranes. While pondering the enormity of that question I heard the distinctive clack-clack-clack of a stork’s beak and looked up to see Mr & Mrs Stork who had returned to tend their offspring in their nest on the bell tower of the convent:

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The ride up to the port at Bilbao the next day was on autopista and warrants little comment except to note that the K1600’s display showed the highest ambient temperature of the trip at 39c just after we joined the AP-68 north of Miranda de Ebro. Frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to queuing on the dock waiting to board in that heat.

The port at Bilbao is in no way picturesque, being a sprawling grubby place, and having waited to board there on a number of occasions I knew that there are essentially no facilities and absolutely no shade. Not a pleasant experience when standing in bike gear in strong sun. Fortunately, as we rode further north the sky started to become more overcast and the temperature started to drop, reaching a relatively cool 26c by the time we checked in at Bilbao. Phew.

Our sailing and the remainder of the journey home were similarly uneventful, other than to make the observation that we saw more traffic in the first 10 miles from Portsmouth than we had in the previous 10 days in Spain. Rubbish road surfaces, speed cameras everywhere and heavy traffic to boot. Welcome back to the UK :rolleyes:

For those interested in trip statistics, we covered a total of 1,411 miles door-to-door and consumed 127 litres of fuel doing so, which works out to 50.3mpg. Total time moving according to the bike's sat-nav was 30½ hours.

Thanks for reading and I hope it gives someone a taste for exploring inland Spain.
 

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