A country full of sun, sea and surprises
With a sunny climate, some spellbinding scenery and a well-developed infrastructure, Spain is right up there with the best when it comes to a cycling or walking holiday.
Spain is a large country with a vast range of possibilities for both activities. Much of it is sparsely populated, with quiet backroads and trails winding through captivating scenery. Up on the Castilian meseta or the Andalucian sierras, the vineyards of Rioja or the wilds of Galicia, the majestic landscapes are best enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
For cycling, the usual format of a Spanish touring holiday involves pedalling between pre-selected hotels with your luggage transported ahead of you by road. The majority of trips are self-guided: you head off at your own pace and, armed with detailed maps and notes describing the route and the points of interest along it, make your own way to the next night’s accommodation.
Almost anywhere in Spain away from the busiest coastal strips is suitable for cycle touring. One of the most popular locations is Mallorca, with the island much larger than many people realise and it attracts a whole host of professional teams for their winter training camps and then thousands of amateur cyclists in spring and late summer. Catalonia and the Costa Brava is another popular region. Elsewhere, various companies offer tours taking in parts of the central meseta plateau – around Segovia (north of Madrid), or the Caceres area in the wide-open spaces of Extremedura. Further south there are endless options in Andalucia, from winter rides around the warm Mediterranean coast, to challenging sierras and idyllic white towns in the hills.
It’s a similar story for walkers, with hikes through some of Europe’s most stunning highland scenery, dramatic coastal routes high above the blue Mediterranean, and the majestic landscapes of Andalucia and Castile.
Some holidays cater to a specialist interest – birdwatching, Moorish architecture or local gastronomy, for example, and donkey transport is an option in certain areas. Others are timed to coincide with a festival such as New Year or Easter festivities.
Most of the walks are undemanding, covering short distances and lasting for five to eight days – but there are a few longer and more challenging itineraries on offer, and some of the high mountain walks are demanding. Paths are usually well maintained and well marked: in some areas you’ll often be following drovers’ trails.
Perhaps the most popular region for ramblers is Andalucia in the south, with a range of appealing itineraries: there are rambles through the little-known sierras north of Seville, hikes through the string of white villages perched high above the Costa del Sol, rugged trails across the majestic Sierra Nevada and the desert landscape around Almeria – the last familiar to anyone who has watched a Holllywood spaghetti Western. Further up the coast there are numerous walks in the hills above Alicante and Murcia.
In the north of Spain, the Costa Brava and the craggy mountain trails of the Pyrenees and Picos de Europa provide the main focus, but for a different experience consider the northwestern provinces of Asturias and Galicia: this is the green Spain, where gorse-covered hills look down on narrow Atlantic inlets and tiny fishing villages. And then there is Castile, the vast interior – a sparsely populated, big-sky country where broad vistas are punctuated by forested sierras rich in wildlife.
As with cycling, Mallorca offers some fabulous walking, with high mountains towering over an aquamarine sea, while neighbouring Menorca is an attractive and less-visited alternative. Far to the southwest and basking in year-round warmth, the Canaries encompass a surprising diversity of landscapes.