A week in Mallorca
December was cold with gusts of snow and biting winds and even though I got out on my bike I needed some warmth.
Steve and Sally, Mig and Father Jack had all been to Mallorca and recommended it and the Sky team and others used it as a training ground so if it was good enough for them…I decided to go. I was due some holiday in March so I searched online for a flight and accommodation. Steve and Sally had suggested the Hotel Uyal in Port de Pollenca but it was all booked up for my chosen week so I searched around and booked a week at the Hotel Illa d’Or and a flight on Monarch from Gatwick.
I decided to rent a bike and found a Planet X carbon with SRAM Red at 2Go Cycling (http://www.2gocycling.com) and booked that online.
My flight from Gatwick was uneventful and we landed at Palma after 2 hours. I made my way to the taxi point just outside the arrivals lounge and my taxi was waiting for me – a comfortable Mercedes. We drove north through the dark as it started to rain.
‘Fuck, it’s raining’ I texted my wife.
Arriving at the hotel I checked in to a warm welcome and was shown to my room. It was a single room with hardly space to swing a bike helmet so I asked to move to a double room which was an additional supplement but as the hotel wasn’t full they had space to spare – a fine room with a balcony overlooking the sea.
After a bite to eat I unpacked and went to bed.
I woke early and went out on the balcony. It was cloudy and cold and windy but it wasn’t raining. After breakfast I waited for my bike to be delivered. Shortly after 9 a van pulled up and my bike was unloaded. It had mountain bike pedals!
‘I wanted SPD pedals,’ I said.
‘Yes, these are SPD pedals.’
‘Oh sorry I meant the other ones.’
‘What other ones?’
‘Er, you know Shimano road pedals.’
‘But you asked for these Senor.’
‘Yes, I know, my mistake. Have you got road pedals?’
‘Not here or not at the shop?’
‘We have them at the shop Senor.’
I cadged a lift in the van and we headed back to the shop where the pedals were changed over. I had brought my own saddlebag with spare tubes and tools and a pump but the bike came fitted with these already. It also had a bottle but I bought another one just in case. The bike also had a computer fitted but as I had a Garmin I used that instead.
Back in the hotel I quickly got changed and headed out. For my first ride I decided to go to Cap Formentor as it was on the doorstep and I thought it would make a good introduction.
Remembering to ride on the right I headed off and almost immediately reached the first climb. A series of switchbacks stretched ahead of me and there was a strong wind. I settled into a rhythm and headed upwards. The road was smooth, clean and clear – no potholes, shards of glass, dog-shit or the other detritus clogging English roads. After some 20 minutes of steady climbing I reached a car park with a look-out point where I paused to catch my breath and admire the view. A long descent came next through a wooded area before emerging onto a less good road surface before arriving at a tunnel through the mountain. The tunnel was dark without lights and I had no lights on my bike. I forgot to remove my sunglasses and entered the tunnel. Soon the blackness was complete – I couldn’t tell how close I was to the sides or whether the road was clean and I started to wobble and almost lost control of the bike. I only just made it through. The road emerged onto a rocky headland curled round a series of bends and reached the lighthouse at Cap Formentor. I paused to eat a roll and a Kit-Kat with the other cyclists and take a few photos of the wild goats that clustered round.
There was a series of steady climbs on the way back to stretch the legs and then a long sweeping descent back to Port de Pollenca with the whole bay stretched out below me.
I had only covered some 20 miles so decided to ride round the bay to Alcudia. Through Port de Pollenca the road follows the bay and a cycle path runs beside the road. With the breaking sea on my left, hardly any traffic and a flat, smooth road to follow I maintained a steady 18mph all the way to Alcudia.
The old town of Alcudia nestles behind stone walls and I walked the narrow alleys in the bright sunshine, rocking on my cycle cleats.
Back in the hotel I stored my bike in a large, lockable store-room along with some other bikes – clearly I was not alone.
Miles ridden: 35
Total elevation: 903 metres
I went down to breakfast early. It was a buffet breakfast with everything you could imagine plus more. I ate the same things each day – freshly squeezed orange juice (2 glasses), fresh fruit (orange, grapefruit, melon), cheese, salami, sausage, bacon, croissant, rolls, coffee.
I headed out to Alcudia and then Port d’Alcudia. This was in sharp contract to Alcudia, a long strip of road like the strip in Las Vegas but without the charm. On either side were bars and burger restaurants, run down apartment blocks and anonymous looking hotels. Perhaps on the other side of the road there was a beautiful sandy beach but I didn’t see it. I passed many cyclists going in both directions, often in organised groups but there were also many cyclists on their own like me. Soon the buildings petered out and a long, straight, smooth road cut through the nature reserve of Albufera to Can Picafort, another tourist resort.
After Can Picafort, the built up area disappeared and I was riding through the ‘real’ Mallorca, past fields, stone built farm-houses, olive groves. The road was still fine and clean but there was a sharp drop on either side where the road ends – slipping off the edge here would mean a painful crash. Occasional pelotons of cyclists would whoosh past me – invariably Germans dressed in the colours of their tour organiser.
I turned off the road down to Colonia St Pere, a sleepy seaside village. Many houses were still shuttered for the season and there were few locals to be seen and even fewer tourists.
I paused on the sea-front hoping for a coffee stop and something to eat but the only cafe open was still setting up and not yet ready to serve food so I wandered round the small marina and then headed along the coastal road. The sun was out now and it was warm and the sky was blue. I followed the road past dusty fields and shuttered houses and came across what seemed to be a holiday complex, now closed and run-down. Dogs barked at me from behind a fence, a slide and swings were rusted and collapsing, a tennis court overgrown with weeds (no Rafael Nadal effect here), and the remains of an ice cream kiosk, now faded and empty.
The road petered out at the edge of a small bay and there was police tape stretched across the road. A murder scene here in the middle of nowhere? I turned around and a group of riders on horseback appeared, upright in their weathered, leather saddles. They dismounted and slipped past the police tape and headed into a muddy gully between rocks. I decided to turn round and head back to Colonia St Pere.
The restaurant was open now and I sat at a table overlooking the sea. The waiter brought me a menu. The food was posh with an emphasis on fresh fish.
‘Can I just have a sandwich?’ I asked.
‘No, Senor, we don’t have sandwiches.’
I ordered a salad with marinated chicken and a lime juice with sparkling water. The waiter returned with a basket of bread with fresh olives and a bottle of sparkling water and a small jug of tart freshly squeezed lime juice. Shortly after he brought the salad along with a bottle of balsamic vinegar, a bottle of olive oil and a bottle of red wine. It was delicious.
After lunch I headed back up the hill to the main road and then the long drag back through Can Picafort and Port d’Alcudia to Port de Pollenca.
Miles ridden: 55
Total elevation: 581 metres
I decided to book a taxi and go to Deia and then cycle back. The taxi arrived promptly at 9 and we headed off down the motorway towards Palma. The weather got brighter and bluer and warmer as we moved further inland and we drove through lanes past olive groves. The houses were much grander here, larger and better maintained with strong gates and the blue glint of swimming pools glimpsed through the trees. The road climbed steadily through Vallambrosa, a beautiful sun dappled town draped around the hills and then the taxi hugged the steep road and wound its way to Deia.
Deia was very different from the coastal resorts. Exclusive, expensive looking hotels at the end of long wooded drives, celebrity houses (Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones were rumoured to be occasional residents), narrow alleys and trinket shops. I didn’t linger but rode through the village, pausing at Robert Graves’s house – he had put Deia on the map (for foreigners anyway) and an artist’s colony had grown up around him.
The house was only open on Tuesdays and Fridays so I followed the road which now began a long twisting descent into Soller. Off to the left the sea shimmered and glinted and there were houses built overlooking the sea and perched on the edge of cliffs.
I rode through Soller, occasionally checking the map and stopping to ask directions.
I was heading for Fornaluxt and almost immediately the road began to climb. There were very few cars and the road was smooth and clean with regular hair-pin bends. I had never cycled on the continent before and this was my first taste of a ‘continental’ climb. Although not particularly steep it had a steady gradient that just seemed to go on and on. I settled into my lowest gear, which was only a 34 x 25 and pedaled on. I stopped a couple of times to check the map and once for a toilet stop. After about 10 miles I came to a car which had mounted the metal barrier at the side of the road and was now perched at an angle of about 45 degrees. There didn’t seem to be anyone in it but I thought it best to check – occasional cars sped past without stopping probably thinking the same as everyone else – ‘I’m sure someone’s checked.’ I was glad of the rest and went over and peered inside – it was empty.
Back on my bike I continued the climb. Other cyclists passed me, which irritated me but didn’t surprise me. I felt it would never end and after a while one hairpin bend looked the same as another – I was convinced I was going round in circles – bend, forest, view stretching down the valley to Soller nestled far below followed by bend, forest, view stretching down the valley to Soller nestled far below followed by …
At last after some 2 hours I reached the Monaber tunnel and a look-out point overlooking the valley. Far below the burnt out remains of a car was visible but how it had got there was hard to fathom. I had brought my rear light in readiness for another tunnel and switched it on. Nothing happened and I realized I had removed the batteries before storing it in my suit-case. I removed my sunglasses and latched onto the wheel of another cyclist and followed him through the tunnel.
A long, sweeping descent past two man-made reservoirs brought me to a café near the Sa Calobra turn-off. I stopped here for orange juice, a salami roll and chocolate.
The road then continued, mainly downhill, all the way back to Port de Pollenca.
I arrived back at the hotel at the same time as another cyclist and we got talking. Brian was Scottish, lived in Basingstoke, belonged to the North Hampshire Road Club and was here with his wife. Brian said that he had hired a car and suggested driving to the café stop and then riding Sa Calobra thus cutting out the long climb of the Col Sa Battala. I wasn’t sure if this was cheating but Brian felt it wasn’t, so I agreed and we planned to go on Wednesday.
Miles ridden: 45
Total elevation: 1380 metres
I planned a longer ride. Before leaving I had printed out some rides from a couple of blogs (http://22stonecyclist.com/mallorca-the-island-of-cyclists) and I decided to follow one of their routes. I headed out to Port d’Alcudia again and then turned off the main road passing through 8 feet high fields of swaying reeds at the edge of the nature reserve. I passed through Sa Pobla, Llubi and Maria heading for Petra. I saw a sign to Buger but didn’t pick that route. The final stretch of road into Petra was heavy with traffic and a buffeting wind with only a narrow cycling strip beside the main road and I was glad to turn off into Petra itself.
I passed along narrow streets with blind bends. Mallorcan locals stood in doorways putting the world to rights as happens everywhere. I followed the maze of streets and emerged into a square crowded with cyclists. There must have been well over 50 of them sitting at tables with their bikes supported on racks. I sat down and a waitress brought me a glass of coca cola and a plate of orange segments. Nice but I hadn’t asked for it. She obviously assumed I was part of the organised rides and this was the standard fare. Instead I sucked the juicy flesh from the orange segments and ordered freshly squeezed orange juice and a burger and chips.
The cyclists were mainly from Max Hurtzeler, a German organization based in Port d’Alcudia. Ample middle aged and older Germans sat around while their Cube and Canyon bikes were stacked around them.
I was wearing a Rapha top and while I stood around taking some pictures a man came up to me.
‘Are you German?’ he asked.
‘God no,’ I replied. ‘Er sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m English.’
‘There is a Rapha shop over there,’ he said.
‘Is it cheaper than England?’ I asked.
That’s Rapha I suppose. Reassuringly expensive everywhere.
I finished my hamburger (beef burger actually) but hopefully horse free and headed off.
I took the road well travelled heading back to the Can Picafort road. A mainly straight road, very fast through the stony, dusty landscape.
Back in Port de Pollenca I called into 2Go Cycling to see if I could get a bike with a bigger rear sprocket in readiness for Sa Calobra tomorrow. They had some Specialized aluminium bikes with 28 sprockets but the change didn’t seem worth it so I decided to stick with the Planet X.
Miles ridden: 62
Total elevation: 539 metres
I met Brian and we loaded our bikes into his hired Ford Fiesta and he drove to the café stop near the start of the Sa Calobra climb.
There is a short climb before reaching the start of Sa Calobra and my rear derailleur appeared stuck and wouldn’t move into top gear. I had high hopes of having to abandon but Brian was able to fix it for me and we carried on.
‘What sort of time are you aiming for?’ said Brian.
‘I’m not aiming for any time,’ I replied.
‘Are you a good climber?’ he asked.
Sa Calobra is the most famous climb on the island – a twisting, turning road heading down to the small village by the sea. It is the only way down and the only way up so don’t descend unless you’re prepared for the ride back. The sky was blue with wisps of cloud and the sun was warm. However the road is very exposed and buffeting winds can catch you off guard. Brian stopped a couple of times to take pictures.
‘Don’t wait for me,’ I said. ‘I’ll just go at my own pace.’
He didn’t and disappeared down the bends in his club colours.
I had brought a Go Pro video camera, which was attached to the handlebars, and I filmed the descent.
I am a lousy descender; I don’t have the nerve. The road was slippery in places where rivulets of water flowed down the hillsides and the bends were tight and never-ending.
As I neared the bottom I saw Brian waiting for me and we paused for a couple of minutes at the end of the climb. There is not much there – a few restaurants, a small patch of beach, some cars and coaches – in the summer I imagine you can’t move for people but today it was fairly deserted.
‘Are you ready?’ said Brian after a few minutes.
I had hoped to wait longer but there seemed little point in delaying the inevitable. I thought I switched the Go Pro on in readiness for the climb and we headed off together.
‘You don’t have to wait for me,’ I said to Brian.
‘I’m okay with this pace,’ he said, but after a mile or so he upped the pace and moved steadily away. I couldn’t stay with him and settled into my own pace. Looking up, the road snaked its way round and round the mountain and I tried not to look. I kept my head down and concentrated on pedaling. About a dozen riders passed me including one in the big ring. It struck me that no matter how long or how steep or how tough the climb, eventually it will end and this thought kept me going. It’s like the fastest gunman in the West – sooner or later he will come up against someone faster. All the gunmen on Sa Calobra were faster than me but eventually they will lose.
I finally reached the last bend where Brian was waiting and we completed the last few hundred yards together: the wind was very strong and it was all we could do to remain upright.
Back at the car we loaded the bikes and drove back to Port de Pollenca; Sa Calobra conquered.
Miles ridden: 16
Total elevation: 854 metres
Thursday was my last full day and I decided to combine cycling with some sightseeing. I rode to Alcudia and then continued round the headland along to the little peninsula of Mal Pas. This had a series of short little climbs as the road clung to the edge of the sea and finally stopped where the road was blocked due to a military installation. I saw hardly anyone on this route until I headed up a sharp climb to the Hermitage of Victoria.
There were a number of walkers heading off up the mountain but hardly any cyclists and I paused briefly before heading back to Alcudia and then on the back roads to Pollenca.
Pollenca has a fine old centre with a square with cafes and a long series of steps replicating the way of the cross.
I shouldered my bike and clumped up the steps but the combination of slippery cycle cleats, the hot weather and the bike on my back meant that I paused some third of the way up. The view down the steps to the church was spectacular but I didn’t complete my dolorous way.
I headed for Cap St Vincenc on the coast. This was a very quiet place with most hotels still closed for the season. I paused at the Hotel San Pedro, a hideous building blighting the landscape looking for somewhere to eat. There was only one café open by the small beach and it was obviously another Max Hurtzeler favoured haunt as their signs were plastered everywhere.
I asked the frazzled waiter for a menu and he pointed to small blackboard:
- Bread and cheese
- Bread and ham
- Bread and tuna fish
- Coffee and cake
I ordered freshly squeezed orange juice and bread and cheese.
The waiter brought the food – two long slices of Mallorcan dark bread with cheese, tomato, raw onion, olives and olive oil – it was delicious.
Miles ridden: 35
Total elevation: 521 metres
My last day. I rose early and left at 7.00 for the climb to the look-out point on the way to Cap Formentor. The sky was clear and the golden shafts of the rising sun bounced off the bare rock. I felt strong and cruised up the hill. At the look-out point I followed the rocky path some hundred yards while it hugged the cliff edge to the observation point looking towards the light-house. As I arrived the sun erupted around the mountain and lit up the sky. I was alone with the sea, the sun, the rocky outcrops and the Planet X.
Descending the windy bends the whole of the Bay of Port de Pollenca stretched below me.
I returned the bike to 2Go Cycling and had a last wander around before waiting for the taxi to the airport.
I was waiting outside the hotel for my taxi when an enormous coach negotiated the narrow street and paused outside the hotel.
I was annoyed thinking it would disgorge a load of tourists and block the road for my taxi. The door hissed open and the cargo bay yawned open and the driver emerged.
‘It’s for you.’
‘What, just me?’
I climbed into this 56 seat behemoth and we headed off for Palma.
The end to a perfect week.
Miles ridden: 5
Total elevation: 197 metres
Observations and conclusions
The Hotel Illa d’Or was superb. Clean, comfortable with attentive, friendly staff. It had outdoor and indoor swimming pools and a gym, which I didn’t use, and a large terrace by the water’s edge as well as indoor lounges overlooking the water.
My room was spacious with en-suite facilities and a large terrace with balcony where I could have sat and sunbathed (although I didn’t).
There was a large locked storage room for bikes, which could easily accommodate 10/12 bikes.
Breakfast was buffet style with an enormous selection. I was on half board and the evening meal was pleasant with a good choice of 3 courses.
Cheaper options would be available but I would highly recommend this hotel.
I booked through 2Go Cycling before I left England and reserved a Planet X with SRAM Red. In fact although the gears were SRAM Red, the brakes were only Apex and I doubt if the chainset was SRAM Red which I thought was a bit cheeky, although I didn’t complain. The wheels were serviceable although I would have preferred a lighter option. Rental was 120 Euros for the week and they delivered the bike to the hotel.
I saw people with bike boxes and I can see the advantages of having your own familiar bike. However packing and transporting the bike box would be a pain and the boxes are expensive to buy. All in all I would rent again.
I was happy with 2Go Cycling although their range is quite limited – basically Planet X or Specialized.
Mallorcan roads are superb – smooth and clean with no potholes. Very little traffic (at least when I went) and cars give you a wide berth. The majority of roads have a cycling track at the side. I didn’t have a single puncture.
I wore knee warmers or three quarter bibs and was glad of the extra warmth. I generally wore a base layer and a long sleeved top and sometimes a long sleeved base layer with a short sleeve top. I had a gilet or long sleeved wind jacket in my back pocket and this was very useful – it can get cold in the mountains or when descending. I had road shoes but next time would probably take SPD shoes – much better for walking in.
Many routes are listed on Strava so there are plenty of segments to test yourself against. I used a Garmin 800 and uploaded to Strava when I got home.
The temperature was warm – generally 16 -18c but the wind can be strong – take care when descending particularly on exposed roads.
Check your tariff before leaving the UK – uploading to Instagram or Flickr can use up a lot of data and charges can rack up unless you’re careful.
The Go Pro takes excellent quality video or still pictures. However, battery life is not very good – about an hour maximum – so I carried a spare battery. The lack of a viewfinder means you have to check that the camera is recording. I thought I recorded the ascent of Sa Calobra but realized at the top that I hadn’t and I was not in a fit state to do it again!