Exploring North-East Ibiza

Santa Eularia del Riu Loop

I’m in Ibiza for a week, celebrating a friend’s 40th Birthday & in between all the eating, drinking & sunbathing, I found the time to spend a day in the saddle exploring the remote North-Eastern corner of Ibiza, the self-proclaimed sunshine Isle.

Late on Saturday afternoon, myself & Leighton took the decision to go riding on the Monday – as we’re here on a socialising trip, we needed to hire bikes. I’d done a bit of research before the trip & had found loads of good reviews for Kandani Bike Rentals in Santa Eularia des Riu. On the Saturday evening I booked an Orbea Orca for each of us, together with pedals, saddle, saddle bag & bottles for €35 euros each to be picked up by us at 9.30am on the Monday.

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After a 15 minute cab ride to Kandani’s, everything was there waiting for us & after a little bit of fiddling around to get the bike fits right, we were ready to start riding by 9.45am. I’d found a hilly 51 mile loop around the North-East corner of the coast which looked like it would tick all the boxes, with a coffee stop along the way.

Before the ride started in earnest, we had to cross Santa Eularia, fortunately this involved cycling along a dead straight & quiet two lane road for a mile or so. In next to no time we took a right turn & we were on quiet country lanes which reminded me of Ibiza’s Balearic cousin, Mallorca. Lovely smooth tarmac took us between fields of corn & into a gorgeous smelling pine forest, with big, blue skies above us, while every now & then we caught a glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea in the distance.

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As we headed towards Cala Llenya, the road turned inland & took towards our first bit of climbing, a short, sharp rise that took us up to cliffs with big ocean views to the North & South. As we descended the twisting & turning lane, we were met by a man & his dog stood in the middle of the road – I’m still not sure who was most surprised to see the other! A reminder that there are still many remote parts to Ibiza once you get away from the main towns & roads.

While the climb had been on pristine tarmac, the descent had grit on almost all the corners, so there was no room for mistakes & full concentration was required, As the gradient levelled off, we turned inland again before taking a right turn towards Cala de Sant Vicent. The pristine tarmac rose again as we gradually climbed the cliffs again to get yet more views of the beautiful Ibizan coast. We followed the cliffs for a mile or so, before a fast & sweeping descent which skirted the edge of town.

We were now at the North-East corner of the island, so took a left turn inland on the PM 811 along a fertile grassland valley towards Sant Vicente de Sa Cala, before the longest climb of the day (875 feet of ascent in just over 4 miles), as the road hair-pinned ever upwards. We climbed at a steady 6 to 7% & topped out at about 900 feet above sea level. While the gradient wasn’t that challenging, the temperature had risen throughout the morning & was now at about 30 degrees centigrade, which made the ride a bit tougher than usual.

As we dropped back down through Sant Joan de Labritja, we took a sharp right turn & continued descending towards Cala Benirras Beach, where we found a great beachfront restaurant & enjoyed a cappuccino & piece of whisky cake, as well as topping off our water bottles – at this point we were 24 miles into a planned 51 mile ride, so this was the perfect spot for a well-earned break.

As soon as we left the beach, the climb started to climb steeply, at times the gradient exceeded 15%, which was unexpected & a challenge for me, as I was on a rental bike with a 27 tooth sprocket on the rear, rather than my usual 32 tooth “granny gear”. The views from the clifftops were spectacular, which made the climbing well worth the effort. We descended into the picturesque Port de Sant Miquel, turned inland & then gradually climbed up to the small village of Sant Miquel de Belansat, which marked the end of the quiet back lanes.

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We took a left turn & joined the PM 804, which gradually nosed downhill for the next 6 miles until it merged with the E 10 main road towards Ibiza Old Town & Port d’Evissa – out of nowhere, we spotted sculptures of blue cows in a field, we never found out what they represented. As we headed ever closer to Port d’Evissa, the traffic became heavier & we eventually found ourselves on a dual carriageway heading ever closer to the Old Town. We found our way across town easily enough & then navigated our way through the port & past the large cruise ships & ferries, which connect the Balearic Islands.

 

The route indicated that we had one last climb to conquer & that we were a mere 11 miles short of completing our loop. However, all was not what it seemed!!! We started climbing a very small & badly paved lane & as we climbed, we got a view back to Ibiza Old Town & Port d’Evissa. It was at this point that Leighton mentioned he was short on water & could I share any of mine, which of course I agreed to do – nothing to be concerned about as we were now fairly close to the summit of the last climb……except the road finished at a quarry!!

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The only turning I could remember seeing was about ½ mile back down the hill & it looked to be an unpaved track. I was a bit confused, but we headed back to the track & my Garmin chirped to let me know we were back on track (pun intended!). After about a mile of riding uphill on the loosely packed gravel (remember we were on road bikes), the surface turned to sand & our progress was slowed even more for the next 5 minutes.

I was getting a bit concerned, as there didn’t appear to be an obvious road above us – this was confirmed when we rounded a corner & we were faced with a rocky track that required us to carry the bikes up a steep incline, never an easy task in cleats! This continued for about 25 to 30 minutes & at the time was quite frustrating as we also ran out of water at this point. However, Leighton & I are both quite stubborn (& the way back looked worse than the way forward!), so we cracked on with our hiking expedition.

Eventually we reached the summit on foot & we were rewarded with a rough track along the ridge, which we could ride. After about a mile we joined up with a small road at the side of a golf course & I knew roughly where we were – we’d passed the golf club on a larger connecting road on the way from the airport to our hotel when we first arrived in Ibiza.

All we had to do was descend back into Cala Llonga (where our hotel was based) & then follow the main road the final 4 miles back to Santa Eularia. We found a small bar by the port to re-hydrate with a coke, as we had 30 minutes to kill before we could return the bikes to Kandani’s. We’d had an awesome day out exploring Ibiza’s wild North-East corner, as well as seeing the trails less travelled. If ever you’re in Ibiza & based anywhere near Santa Eularia, I would absolutely recommend using Kandani’s if you need to hire a bike – they were more than happy to help us in any way they could & even sorted us out a taxi back to our hotel in Cala Llonga, where we toasted a great day in the saddle!

Col du Peyresourde, Superbagneres & Col du Portillon

Pyrenees Peaks – Day Two, Lourdes (4th September 2017).

The plan is to explore all the major Tour de France climbs within a reasonable distance of our base in Lourdes –the weather forecast was changeable, so we decided to commute to Bagneres-du-Luchon, some 80 miles away & hope for the best. By the time we’d parked & got ourselves sorted out it was about 10.45am, so we knew we were in for a late finish too, as we had big plans for the day. The great news was that our gamble had paid off, as the sun was shining when we arrived in the town that’s twinned with Harrogate.

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Bagneres-du-Luchon is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise – during the course of the day we saw parapenters, gliders, mountain bikers, hikers & rafters in addition to road cyclists. We were aiming to ascend 3 different mountains, all of which have featured in the Tour de France. First up was Col du Peyresourde (used in the Tour on 64 occasions since its debut in 1910), at 9.5 miles in length & a height gain of 3,081 feet, the gradient averages 6.1%. The climb is fairly constant, with big views of the big Pyrenean peaks all around. Although the road is a main road, traffic was minimal, so there were plenty of opportunities to stop & admire the architecture as we rode through small villages. We found a public water fountain at the halfway point, where I needed to fill my now-empty bottles – it was a humid day & I pretty much leaked sweat all day!!! Sorry, too much detail….

As we neared the summit, the famous Peyresourde hairpins came into sight – there was still graffiti on the road from 2016, which is when Chris Froome attacked over the summit in 2016 & won the stage as he pedaled whilst sat on his top-tube.

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We stopped briefly at the summit to enjoy the views & take a few photos – sadly the Crepe stall didn’t open on a Monday, so we were soon descending back to B-d-L for a quick lunch of a baguette & patisserie. The café owners kindly filled our bottles for the afternoon’s first challenge.

Our next challenge was Superbagneres, which is a ski station high up above Bagneres-du-Luchon. The climb is 12 miles in length, with a height gain of 4,000 feet, so the gradient averages 6.3%. It doesn’t sound much, but there are some flatter stretches, so this also means there are stretches of +10% to test the legs! It’s been used in the Tour de France on 6 occasions, most recently in 1989, when Scotland’s Robert Millar (now known as Philippa York) won the stage.

The first 4 miles were next to a river & there was the constant babble of water, which was a real distraction from the hard work of climbing! The next 4 miles are through thick forest, so there were only sporadic views down to the valley floor below. As it’s a ski resort & it’s September, we hardly saw any traffic – bikes definitely outnumbers cars! All of a sudden the forest ended & we had huge views across the valley – we were even able to look all the way down to B-d-L, thousands of feet below! By now we were also exposed to a blustering headwind as we continued to wend our way ever higher towards a massive hotel in the resort of Superbagneres itself. As we reached the summit, my fears were realised – a ski resort in September doesn’t get many visitors, so the café’s were all shut!!!

The upside of a really long, steep climb, is a lightning quick descent on a near deserted road. At one point I saw my speedo top 45 mph, before I had to start braking for the next hairpin – it was a fast, fun, but straightforward blast back to B-d-L. Having taken 1 hour 45 to climb to the summit, it took less than 25 minutes to descend!

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After a quick espresso (& another recharging of my water bottles – I drank x8 bottles of 0.75 litres on today’s ride) we set off for the day’s final challenge. The Col du Portillon has featured in the Tour de France on 18 occasions, most recently in 2014, The Col marks the geographic boundary between France & Spain, so I took the opportunity to snap a photo of a Spanish summit as well as French one!

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The climb itself is 6.3 miles long, climbs 2,178 feet & has an average gradient of 6.5% – it sounds easy, but again the lower slopes are very shallow, resulting in the final 5 miles averaging 8.4% (& a nasty stretch of 13%!). As we looked up & across the valley, we could just make our Superbagneres, in the distance. We were in forest for the entire climb, so it was almost impossible to get a scenic photo, although I managed to get a few album fillers. I’d love to come back here again & explore the Spanish side of the mountain, as the climb is supposed to be amazing. The descent was another non-technical one on quiet roads (fast in other words!) & we were back in town before we knew it.

This was a special day in the saddle, we rode for 5½ hours & climbed 8,800 feet in 57 miles – 3 epic Tour de France mountain summits in a road cyclist’s paradise. The original plan was to have a meal in B-d-L, then drive back to Lourdes & head straight to bed. We finished riding about 6pm & nowhere was serving food until 7pm, so in the end we jumped in the car & drove the 90 minutes back to Lourdes & have just returned from devouring a cracking pizza.