September 26, 2016 at 8:26 pm #15835
So the satnav dumped us in Cuenca town – big buildings, trafficy and very hot: well over 45C. ‘Don’t want to stay here’, said Debs. I looked around at the exhaust fumes: ‘I know there’s a Parador nearby’, I replied. ‘Maybe that’s in a better area’.
Riding up to the huge Parador hotel (formerly the C16th Dominican convent of San Pablo) the spectacular old city appeared on our left, over the Huecar Gorge, with its ‘hanging houses’ clinging to the clifftop.
I grabbed the last parking space up a cobbled ramp next to the outdoor swimming pool and waited in my heavy leather jacket, sweating cobs, while D checked out availability. ‘They’ve got one room left’. ‘We’ll have it – I don’t care about the cost!’ ‘I already booked it…’
Anyway, to recap: the trip had started 3 days earlier with the traditional blast down to Portsmouth in pouring rain and Friday rush hour. The big Explorer laden with its full suite of luggage was a bit of a handful up our narrow steep drive, then Debs tried to smuggle on a big rucksack, crushing my cojones against the tank in the process. I reminded her of the ‘1 pannier per wife rule’ and we jettisoned the extra bag.
Two miles later we pulled up and I grovelled under the bike, adjusting the rear suspension to reflect the non-solo situation. Why didn’t we get around to doing that pre-tour test trip?
Went down the lovely Wye Valley route, past Tintern Abbey, in blazing sunshine and across the Severn Bridge. In Chievely we put on rain gear: Debs nearly peed herself laughing as I hopped around in my Weise all-in-one-Michelin-Man rain suit trying to get a leg over the big Tex. Can’t see the joke myself.
First night was at TT Donald’s Portsmouth pad, the bike garaged with Don’s café racer Beemer while we ate, drank and reminisced – we realised that it was our 21st wedding anniversary tour but the resultant acronym wasn’t worth plastering over the bike…
With TT Donald
Don’s special Beemer
Next day it was 7 minutes to the ferry terminal, 29 hours to Santander then the perfect intro to biking in Spain; the N623 to Burgos. Spent the evening in an old mill, Molina de la Vega, drinking 1942 Don Julio tequila with our lovely Spanish hostess and a couple of wise-cracking Germans.
Before we left next morning Iciar showed me her family bike restoration project: a bright yellow Ducati 750 languishing in a storeroom these past 10 years, waiting for her brother to get started.
Awaiting some tlc…
The A1 motorway was moderately busy, albeit more M50 than M5, and it was hot. So hot that after an hour with gloves and zipped up leather jacket I needed a 20-minute stop to rehydrate properly.
It was a relief to cut up into La Mancha on the N320 – the gloves came off and the jacket was unzipped. The gold and green scenery with its wooded hillocks and fields of dry sunflowers brought up images of mad Don Quixote tilting at the many wind turbines.
Anyway, the Parador de Cuenca swimming pool was a delight, nestling underneath towers of limestone.
The old quarter, reached across a high metal footbridge, was so beautiful that we stayed an extra day, exploring the surrounding cliffs, the Museo de Arte Abstracto Espanol, the Casas Colgadas (hanging houses) and training ourselves in the essential arts of consuming tapas and menus del dia.
The Parador de Cuenca
The Parador and old quarter of Cuenca
As we left Cuenca we had our first brush with the law. A transporter carrying an immensely long wind turbine blade was making an impromptu U-turn: the cab was on our side, off the tarmac, while the back end was right across both lanes and disappearing up a slope into the brush. Traffic was backed up with engines off. An armed policemen called us, the only bike around, past the queue and told me to try my luck, so with 100 people watching I launched the big beast off the road into a pot-holed area of scrub, down into a deep rain gulley and up onto the tarmac. So glad I was on the Tiger, not the TDM….
The minor roads in Castilla – La Mancha are empty, smooth and delightful.
The CM3201 springs a surprise – Alcala del Jucar, a whitewashed village down a series of hairpins into a lush oasis. This was intended as training for later mountain passes – Debs said she just shut her eyes to avoid looking at the drops which made the resulting photos a bit random…..
We soon learnt one of Spain’s quirks: excellent traffic signage into the centre of small towns but then nothing – just a maze of ever-shrinking alleys and one-way streets that confused the satnav enough to send it into a loop. Exacerbated by the Garmin looking for major roads while I prefer minor. Yecla was one such town: I nonplussed the locals by ending up at the same patch of desert three times as the road petered out yet again. Felt like an episode from The Prisoner or The Avengers.
Having escaped that mind-warp it was a pleasant pootle down to the Costa Blanca. As we descended from the Sierra de la Pila it was all traffic, commerce and urbanisations. But an hour later we were swimming in our ex-next-door neighbour’s pool, sun-warmed to 30C, near Guardamar del Segura. Joe is a biker, riding a 6-cyl Honda with tassles.
We spent 3 relaxing days here with our friends Leslie and Joe, breakfasting in Guardamar del Segura, having a fantastic evening listening to a great flamenco trio, visiting the lovely Hondan Valley, buying some 189.8% proof absinthe, and gaining a taste for Alhambra Reserva 1925 lager – actually drinkable.
Most suprising was the Moroccan Tea Garden, found by going up a non-descript dirt road for some minutes then following a series of faded white arrows; many people have sought this Shangri-la but few have found it. Luckily Joe knew the routine so we eventually found ourselves wandering around the maze of Moroccan buildings and the myriad water gardens.
Incredible place: when we were knackered with walking around we were served mint tea and baklava. The guy who built it all unlocks the big gate to let you out for a €9 exit charge. Rumour has it that because there is no entrance charge he avoids paying tax… I hope it’s true.
Anyway, this place is a real gem: we liked it even more than the fabled Jardin Majorelle of Marrakech.
In Part 2: sailing the Tex on a viaduct.September 26, 2016 at 10:11 pm #69284RadarModerator
Brilliant stuff, and so good to see Don featuring. Love his BMW cafe racer, has he still got his GS too? Glad you enjoyed the 623, the lads in the office when I worked in Burgos reckoned it was good. A proper adventure and I was amused at Deb’s attempt to smuggle in extra gear!
Is Spain the best country in Europe to ride in?September 27, 2016 at 7:45 pm #69285
Spain’s certainly up there….
Apparently it was the hottest temperature ever recorded in Murcia – 50C – on the day we rode past to Guardamar de Segura….
Thought it was a tad warm!September 29, 2016 at 10:42 am #69286imperialdataKeymaster
Excellent stuff Steve and some great photos! 50 degrees is ridiculously hot though, that would have finished me off.September 29, 2016 at 10:12 pm #69287
Excellent stuff Steve and some great photos! 50 degrees is ridiculously hot though, that would have finished me off.
I love that kind of heat – perfect for riding…
Strangely, my only other European trip (in 1990 on an XJ900) was in the middle of a record-breaking heat-wave in France…..
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