AS Tour de France fans will already know, cycling is huge in Mallorca. The Team Sky boys go there every winter to train in the Sierra de Tramuntana, a magnificent rugged mountain range stretching 90km along the north west coast of the island.
'What he didn't mention was the bonkers décor, half of which was devoted to the owner's career as a bullfighter, with photographs, trophies and an enormous bull's head glowering down'
But Mallorca is not just for hard core cyclists. Cycling is part of the Mallorcan way of life, and, with its mild springs and winters, gorgeous scenery, impressive cycling infrastructure and considerate drivers, a biking break is an appealing prospect for amateur cyclists, too.
I arrived in the Calvia region, ready to sample what this region has to offer a cyclist who is, shall we say, not precisely Bradley Wiggins (apart from sometimes the hair).
Calvia, is in southwestern Mallorca, next to the Tramuntana, and contains the resorts of Palma Nova and Magaluf. Our base for this cycling holiday was the smart, expansive Hotel Viva Palmanova & SPA. Viva are well used to hosting cycling groups; Team Sky stay at their Vanity Hotel Golf in Port d'Alcudia every winter, bringing their own special chef. Apparently, fact fans, they're very big on red quinoa.
I checked into my Royal Terrace Apartment and discovered that the terrace was indeed royal, equipped as it was with a jacuzzi, just perfect for drinking wine and taking selfies ...um... I mean, for easing cycle-sore limbs. As I took a quick dip, I was filled with trepidation. I hadn't actually been on a bike for about six years. Still, I had figured, riding a bike is just like riding a bike. Isn't it?
Part of the appeal of a cycling holiday in Calvia is that there's plenty to do, if you're not married to your bike. Testing the theory, we headed out to a local restaurant, Meson C'an Torrat, before we began our cycle tour in earnest the next morning.
Our host had warned me – a vegetarian – that Meson C'an Torrat had a “meaty atmosphere” and, fair enough, their signature dish is suckling pig. What he didn't mention was the bonkers décor, half of which was devoted to the owner's career as a bullfighter, with photographs, trophies and an enormous bulls head glowering down, while the other half was plastered with cycling memorabilia. Somehow – don't ask me how – it worked.
Add to this some great veggie dishes including Mallorcan soups (almost like a stew, made with bread), roasted vegetables and an addictive aioli slathered onto oil-drizzled bread, plus the restaurant’s easy, relaxed atmosphere and this definitely counted as a warm welcome to Calvia.
I turned up at the hotel's newly created Bike Station at 9am the next day and met our amiable guide, Juan Carlos. After assessing our fitness levels, and deciding upon a route, he then kitted us out with a bike, helmet and cycling shorts with padded bums.
Cycling Observation #1 – cycling shorts are not a thigh’s best friend.
And then we were off – off-roading, in fact. As Juan Carlos led the way, pointing out local landmarks and points of interest, we cycled through the laid back streets, and off into woodland and coastal paths, bumping over stones, free-wheeling down hills, ploughing up tough but mercifully brief inclines, and catching view after incredible view.
After finding our way to the gorgeous Playa Del Ago, where, Juan Carlos informed us, the 1967 Michael Caine film, The Magician, was filmed, we hauled our bikes up and over the cliff top, grinning at the sights, before reaching beachside restaurant, El Repos, for a well earned break.
Cycling Observation #2 – it's much harder to get going once you've stopped.
Happily, once we landed back, it was time to experience the Hotel Viva Palmanova's spa facilities. Juan Carlos had informed me that I was gripping the handlebars of the bike too tight, and true, I did feel tense, but after an expert back and shoulder massage, my shoulders were persuaded back to their rightful place and I left the spa blissed out, surprisingly un-achey, and looking forward to the following day's cycling.
After a delicious, energy fuelling buffet breakfast at the hotel, we gathered at the Bike Station once again to collect our bikes.
Cycling Observation #3 The bum does not like the bike seat quite as much the following day.
Having explored the paths less travelled, Juan Carlos took us on a tour of the region's cycle paths. Pedalling again along stunning sea views, ignoring my protesting bum, the extent of Calvia's cycling infrastructure became apparent. They even have tourist maps that show, not only the cycle routes, but the gradients riders can expect to encounter.
Cycling mostly on the area's smooth cycle/jogging pedestrianised pathway, we headed north eastwards. Much like the previous day, while it wasn't a ridiculously easy cycle, there were plenty of level and downhill runs, the few steep inclines were short and, while I can't say they were exactly sweet, I did take joy in being able to surmount them without having to get off and push.
We stopped at Puerto Portals, a marina, built in 1986 and boasting enormous, gleaming yachts, designer shops, cafes and restaurants. Puerto Portals, clearly, is where the money hangs out. There's even a Häagen-Dazs shop, though of course I didn't indulge, being firmly a red quinoa type by now. I refreshed instead with a Fanta Limon before heading back to the hotel, Day 2 of cycling under our (now surely much looser) belts.
Sadly, if they had loosened, it didn't last long, as we headed by car to the popular beach town of Santa Ponsa to dine outdoors at Las Olas, a restaurant situated right next to the ocean. This was damn good food. It was only after I had overindulged with the tapas (including local delicacy Padron´s peppers) and accepted second helpings of a flavour packed vegetable paella, that our guide informed us Las Olas also does incredible cakes. Red quinoa be damned, it would be rude not to.
As the cycle trip drew to a close, I found myself wishing I had longer with my trusty bike. And though we weren't exactly ready to tackle the Tramuntana by pedal power just yet, we couldn't leave the island without getting a little insight into that Tramuntana magic.
Driving over the mountains, we stopped on the road to Estellencs and climbed the Torre des Verger, a 15790 watchtower which affords incredible views of the ocean and terraces.
Ahead of us the Tramuntana stretched out, beckoning those cyclists who have put in the hours to earn those views. Maybe, I thought, if I start with the quinoa? Maybe...
On the plane home, I resolved to get myself a bike, considered for a moment the Manchester weather, and came to...
Cycling Observation #4 Cycling in Calvia is just like riding a bike, only better.
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