When heading off for a cycling holiday in Europe, the chances are you will normally follow a well-beaten path. It is natural to visit destinations that are tried and tested; besides, finding new routes is not easy. Yet, there remains as few places which are heaven for road cyclists and mountain bikers but remain off the radar. One such place exists in a corner of the Granada province in Andalucia, Spain.
The Sierra of Castril natural park and mountain range does not always feature on maps of Andalucia. Nestled to the east of the more famous Sierras of Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas, the Sierra de Castril is a dream for mountain bikers and road bikers alike. The natural park is located in the northeast corner of the Granada province and is nearly two hours from the historic city of Granada, home of the Alhambra fortress. It is an unspoilt area, free of the commercial brands of the big cities and oozing with old-school rural charm.
The municipality of Castril is hidden to the north of the Granada high plains (known locally as “The Badlands”) and is surrounded by valleys, rivers, lakes and gorges, and backed by a spectacular mountain range. Arriving there is like taking a step back in time and that applies to the prices as well. You can get a beer for as little as euro and you even get a free tapas with every drink.
Countless mountain trails
The mountains contain a network of gravel tracks that the locals use to access the remotest areas but are also used by mountain bikers. There are routes of up to 80km or more that take you to a height of around 2000m above sea level. There are spectacular views at every turn where lakes, canyons and waterfalls await. There is also an abundance of wildlife including eagles, vultures, ibex, mouflon and wild boar. The village of Castril hosts an annual mountain bike race (May/June) which is one of the most picturesque (and gruelling) in Andalucia.
Some of Europe’s best roads
Road cyclists are also spoilt for choice with great quality roads with very little traffic connecting the nearby towns of Baza, Huescar and Pozo Alcon. The section between Orce, Castril and Pozo Alcon featured in the 2018 version of La Vuelta – Spain’s Grand Tour cycling race. Popular picks in the elite cycling betting odds such as Alejandro Valverde, Peter Sagan, Simon Yates, Enric Mas and Nairo Quintana all featured as the race passed below the historic monument of the rock of Castril.
There is also a 322km route that circles the local Sierras and takes in Castril, Santiago de la Espalda, Hornos, Coto Rios, Cazorla and Tiscar. The route takes you past four lakes and also follows a section of the Guadalquivir river from its source. The route is perfect for those looking to complete a four-day tour covering around 80km or so a day. There are numerous natural phenomena on the way and plenty of affordable places to sleep and eat.
Local riders have kept the area to themselves for many years and tourism from outside Spain is rare. However, the locals are extremely welcoming and will do everything they can to make sure you enjoy your stay.