Crete 1992

Dolomites 1994

Gran Canaria 1995

Tuscany 1995

Andalucia 1996

French Pyrenees 1996

Portugal 1997

Euskadi 2001

Provence 2003

Provence 2005

Crete 1992

This was a long time ago, and I don’t remember it very well. Our route was roughly as follows: fly to Iráklio, then ride to Réthimno via Pérama; then cross country via Thrónos and the nearby monastery to Agía Gallíni (a disappointment); and finally back to Iráklio.

We had nice weather, but I don’t think the cycling was anything special, and our photographs aren’t all that good (but we’ve learnt to use a camera since then). It may be the passage of time, or the lack of good photographs, but other destinations have eclipsed Crete in our memories. But Xaniá is a delightful place to spend an evening.

The roads were narrow and quiet, the climbs long and well-graded. The landscape is mountainous and arid, but with the occasional emerald pool of irrigated farmland. Tracey had been to the west of Crete in April ’89 and the country is at its best at that time of year – there is snow on the mountains, the orange trees are in blossom and there are wild freesias by the roadside.

Dolomites 1994

The Dolomites are extraordinary mountains – green pastureland slopes up to massive vertical blocks, improbable towers and great slices of grey rock. Roads zigzag furiously through the gaps between the massifs. For a climby cyclist, it’s a paradise.

Mon. Fly to Verona and catch a train along an attractive valley to the pretty town of Bressanone. Tues. On to Brunico via Terento. Weds. Day trips. Thurs. To Corvara. Fri, Sat, Sun. Day trips. Mon. Over the Gardena to Canazei. Tues–Fri. Day trips. Sat. To Bolzano via Vigo, then by train to Trento, a lovely town. Celebration meal at the Antico Orso Grigio. Sun. Train to Verona, where a little more sightseeing, then plane home.

Tracey’s comment: “Do you think I enjoy going at this speed?”

Fine weather, beautiful scenery, good food, attractive quiet towns. Some of the day trips were spent walking. (Some of the paths are a wee bit exposed.) Accomodation was easy to find, and so were pizzas.

Gran Canaria, March 1995

map (120k)

Mon. Fly to Gran Canaria airport. Escape from the airport with the usual difficulty and have lunch in Maspalomas. Cycle along the south coast past huge apartment complexes to Puerto de Mogán, a real village with real hotels, all full. Cycle back, asking for accommodation at every resort without success, eventually arriving back at Maspalomas at 10:30, where we get the last room in an expensive hotel. Gran Canaria not so far living up to expectations.

Tues–Thurs. Day rides from Maspalomas. We managed to make a booking for the hotel at Tejeda. Nice picture of it with a swimming pool. Fri. Climb to Tejeda; stay in the hotel. The pool is green and stagnant. The weather has turned cloudy. Sat, Sun. Day trips. Some rain. Mon. To San Nicolás de Tolentino, where find a hotel. Tues. Take the corniche road to Los Berrazales. Stay in the spa hotel – rather grand, busy with coach tours at lunchtime but quiet in the evenings. It’s at the top of a rather splendid valley. Drizzle. Weds, Thurs. Day trips. Plentiful rain. Fri. Back to San Nic. Sat. On to Mogán, then climb the unsurfaced road back to San Bartolomé, where stay in a hotel we’ve booked by telephone. The route is hard but scenic. Sun. Day trips. Sunshine. Mon. Back to England.

We could have done without the rain and the difficulty in finding accommodation. The scenery is nice and the weather not usually so bad. Without the package tourists it would be a good destination.

Tuscany 1995

Tuscany is glorious cycling country – quiet, good roads and motorists that respect you. Longish climbs through big rolling hills. Vineyards, cypresses, woods, and hill towns, serene villas and farmhouses. It all looks as though it was designed by an artist.

We spent just over a fortnight there divided between 3 locations in late September. We flew to Pisa and made the awkward journey by train to Siena, from where we rode to our first destination, a cottage from the Solemar brochure at Tenuta di Monaciano. This was along a dirt track, not too easy on Tracey’s narrow wheels. At the junction of the track with the road was the Antica Osteria, serving brilliant food. We stayed here a week.

The second week was spent at another cottage from the same brochure at Fattoria di Mandri near Reggello. Finally we returned towards Pisa and spent a couple of nights at the Hotel Universo at Lucca.

The weather was poor for the time of year. Accordingly the Chianti vintage was bad but there was a profusion of porcini, which (cooking for ourselves) we exploited to the full.

Tracey’s 10 Top Tips for Tuscan Cycling

  1. Does your pump look tired and dated? Why not give it a fashionable ‘aero’ look? Simply leave it in the middle of the road and let the traffic do the trick.
  2. In Italy, traffic lights and one-way signs do not apply to bicycles and may safely be ignored. Lights are not necessary, especially at night.
  3. Add variety to your training schedule. Swimming is excellent aerobic exercise. A couple of lengths of an average-sized hotel pool are approximately equivalent to two hours of Level 3.
  4. If, like many other cyclists, you find swimming difficult because of a lack of useful buoyant fat, you may find assistance in flotation from a “Lilo” or inflatable dinosaur.
  5. Change your name to “NO POLL TAX”. Continental cyclists who visited Britain a few years ago will treat you with respect.
  6. In Italy, they use the metric system of weights and measures. As liquid is measured in litres, and one litre is 2.2 pints (approx), you'll need to drink 2.2 times as much there to have the same effect.
  7. Save money on expensive perfume. GT85 is an economical substitute and my husband never notices the difference.
  8. Join in Siena’s Man v Horse v Bike ‘Fun Race’ in July and August. (The Palio).
  9. Carbo-load the Italian way. Spaghetti is a crunchy snack and can be easily carried on the bike by taping it to the top tube.
  10. Enjoy touring but sometimes find carrying your luggage a bit of a drag? I find a ‘wife’ handy for transporting 12-volume history books, travel guides, and other odds and ends. Also useful for clearing out fridges. (C.J. Champion).

Also spotted:

“Zucchero è anche forza intelligente.” (Sugar is also an intelligent force - Zucchero ‘Eridania’ S.p.A.)

Andalucia, March/April 1996

History. Long long ago, before Colin turned up to blight her life, Tracey went cycle touring in Andalucia with John Mackle, a cyclist so famous that his name has entered the language. (To mackle = to spend ages getting ready to set out.)

Then Colin came along, and whisked Tracey away for a holiday in India, where the monsoon gave way to winter with no scope for trekking inbetween. Tracey let Colin know, frequently and with emphasis, that there was one holiday destination where perpetual sunshine was guaranteed: and that location was Andalucia. So, not having been impressed by the weather in the Canaries, that is where we went.

Thurs. Fly to Almeria. Fri. Ride to Laujar in the sun. A mostly pleasant (and mostly uphill) ride. Stay at a nice pension in the main square. Sat. Day trips. Sun. Rain. Ride to Yegen, where have lunch in the Rincón de Yegen (excellent). On to Berchules. Mon. Cloudy. Ride up to Trevelez for superb views; on to Capileira for lunch. Claggy afternoon: a quick look at Bubion and on to Lanjarón. Tues. Sunshine. Day rides. Weds. Cloud. To Granada. Thurs–Sat. Rain, clearing on the Saturday. At Granada and on day rides.

Sun. Fair. To Guadix via Quéntar and La Peza. The road is now surfaced: it had been an excellent rough route on Tracey’s previous visit. We stayed at the Hotel Comercio, which was surprisingly good. Mon. Torrential rain. On to Lacalahorra. Storms. We hide in a bus shelter. Colin suggests going back to Guadix. Tracey has other ideas. We make our way over the Puerto de la Ragua, fingers bitterly cold, until the weather eases off as we cross the pass. Freewheel to Yegen. Find that the Rincón has rooms. Decide to stay there.

Tues. Heavy rain. Day rides. Weds. Sunshine! Back to Canjáyar for lunch, the weather getting drier and hotter as we head east. Then to Almeria. Weds. Back to Blighty.

Tracey’s comment: “Are you finding the hills hard or are you doing this to annoy me?”

Pyrenees 1996

A week and a half of sunshine and hard cycling. We flew to Lourdes and rode on to a hotel near Argelès Gazost, where we spent 3 nights. Then our transfer day took us laden over the Tourmalet and the Aspin to a gîte at Agos just north of St. Lary-Soulan. From there many day rides are possible, eg. the Azet and the Peyresourde. Tracey, who gets an extra frisson from the futility of her rides, had a special liking for the climb to the Pla d’Adet. Finally we returned to the airport via the Aspin.

Portugal 1997

Another fortnight of dodgy weather. We flew to Oporto and travelled by train to Amarante, from where we rode to our first cottage opposite Peso di Regua. Both the cottage and the manor house which owned it were lovely, but spoilt by the road and a new bridge.

A week later we rode on to our second destination, Torre de Moncorvo. We knew that our cottage was a few hundred metres from the road. We learnt when we saw it that they were vertical metres. It was a very cosy and romantic converted dovecote with superb views. The track which climbed to it was barely ridable. Torre de Moncorvo itself is a pleasant town.

We returned to Oporto by train, stopping for a night at Amarante.

Portugal isn’t that good as a cycling destination. We found enough routes to do, but the country has a reputation for dangerous driving. Tracey never stopped complaining about the lousy road surfaces. Colin didn’t mind so much, perhaps because he wasn’t training for flat 25’s. Portugese food is no great shakes, and all the restaurants have televisions permanently on.

Euskadi 2001

The famously dilatory John Mackle eventually tied the knot to his lovely Spanish bride Amaya in Vitoria in the Basque country in July. We couldn’t resist making a holiday of it, and got a lot of drizzle and clag while Britain enjoyed a heatwave. We hired a car to carry us, our bikes, our gladrags, and our walking boots.

Vitoria itself is very pleasant, and the sun shone while we were there. After the wedding we drove to the Hotel d’Arcé at St. Étienne de Baïgorry. We stopped at the way for an enjoyable ride not far from Pamplona: from Anoz over the Puerto de Ulzurrun and back over the Alto de Echauri.

St. Étienne is situated at the foot of the western Pyrenees. The mountains are not high, but the roads are steep and narrow. The views may be good, but we saw little more than clag. Tracey rode several times to the Col d’Ispéguy.

Our last 3 nights were spent at the parador at Argómaniz. We found a pleasant ride on the coast from Deba to Laida, returning via Ereño where there is a good restaurant. But again we can’t comment on the views. We also visited the village of Biasteri/Laguardia, which is old and unspoilt.

On the way back we went to the Guggenheim at Bilbao. Tracey and Colin don’t see eye to eye on its aesthetics. Tracey went in, but Colin was unwilling to fund the gigantic imposture which calls itself conceptual art, so he sat outside in the sun reading volume VIII of Kinglake’s Invasion of the Crimea.

Provence 2003

We spent a sunny week at Orange in early May with Colin’s parents. Somehow we sneaked our bikes along with us.

The best ride is an ascent of Mt. Ventoux from Bédoin, descending by the gentler and scenic slopes to Sault and making a return along the beautiful Nesque gorge and then through Flasson. An ascent from Malaucène is also worthwhile in good conditions. Beyond Mt. Serein you have views ahead to the Alps 100 miles away if the atmosphere is clear. The high part of the road had lost its tarmac when we were there, and we were forced to dodge barriers.

We spent a couple of hours in the Dentelles de Montmirail, and they would have merited longer, especially if we’d had mountain bikes. They’re steep, spiky, and full of gravel tracks. The famousyellow bike serves as a letter box for a rural house on the road to Ch. Redortier; the photograph on this site is © J. C. Champion.

We also rode along the Ardèche gorge. This is pleasant enough, best ridden from west to east. The road runs along the top. Looking down you get good views, but also the feeling that the canoeists below are having the better deal. So, having never canoed in our lives, we hired canoes one day. It was good entertainment, with the modest rapids adding occasional hilarity. At one point we capsized completely. But although canoeing looks tranquil from a distance, our unpractised muscles ached for a week.

Provence 2005

Another week in the sun with Colin’s parents, this time in late May staying at Vaison la Romaine, a better base for cycling. Having had a glimpse of the Dentelles last time Colin took his mountain bike, though Tracey, a martyr to training schedules, took a road bike.

On the Tuesday Colin made a double ascent of Mt. Ventoux, taking 2 ½ hrs from Malaucène then 3 ½ hrs from Bédoin (with many rests) (100km, 3220m).

On the Thursday he took an extended ride in the Dentelles, which is full of unpaved roads and tracks and which he strongly recommends.

On the Sunday Tracey rode to the Col de Perty, which she describes as very scenic (160km, 2000m). She spent most of the week riding intervals on the Sablet road, but on the Thursday she emulated Colin’s double ascent of Ventoux (1 hr 45' then 1 hr 50'.)

Dentelles. The best map is the IGN 1:25000 sheet 3040 ET. Colin’s route went behind the château at Vaison to the junctions at 6655 49001 and 6655 48987 and thence to le Crestet (which is pretty). From here he went past the contemporary art gallery to 6654 48957 and took a detour to la Verrière. Returning to the previous junction he rode to 6655 48952 then along to 6642 48939, where he climbed to the left to 6645 48936 and descended the rough track to 6651 48933 and thence by a zigzagging road to Suzette, where he had lunch and the eponymous crêpe.

He then climbed back to 6654 48930 and contoured round to the hamlet of Château Neuf Redortier, dropping down to see the yellow bike at 664500 4893060 and continuing to a right turn at 6649 48926. Here he climbed to a col at 6638 48926, dropping down on the other side to 6632 48919 where a pleasant track popular with walkers leads under the Dentelles Sarrasines to the Col du Cayron. From here you must find another way back.