I was recently contacted by a cyclist called Dean Fletcher. Dean lives in northern Portugal, close to the border with the Spanish region of Galicia. He explained that he had just set up a website extolling the virtues of cycling in the north-western corner of the Iberian Peninsula and asked if he could write something for CyclingEurope.org. Although I’ve never visited Galicia itself, I have come close. Back in 2007 in the days before I turned my mind to long-distance cycling, I spent a week hiking in mountains of Asturias, further along the northern coast of Spain. In 2015, as I cycled from Tarifa to Nordkapp, I passed through the towns and cities of northern Spain. On both trips, I could have been in Galicia within a matter of hours if I had decided to head west. Reading what Dean has written below, I wonder why I didn’t…
By Dean Fletcher
I must admit when I first met my wife on my first day at Leeds university in the summer of 1986, we had a conversation that I have repeated many times. In response to my “so where do you come from?” was “Galicia”. My next words were “Galicia, so where is that?”. Through the last 32 years of my life, I have heard that reply on far too many occasions. So, let me answer that ever present enquiry, and tell you why Galicia is about as good as it gets for a cycling holiday.
Galicia is a province of Spain, situated on the north west coast. To make that even easier, it is the top left-hand corner, stuck on top of Portugal. In numbers, it has 1600km of coastline, 2.6 million population, and 30,000km2 of land. So, it is 50% bigger than Wales, has half a million fewer people, and a million fewer cars. And it is that last point that makes it ideal for cyclists.
Spain, in general has a great affinity with cycling and tourism. The economy depends on tourism, but what is clear is that some regions have consumed tourists more than others. The Costas, stretching down the Mediterranean Sea have been havens for years for northern European tourists, seeking the sun. Cyclists have flocked there too, to Girona in the north, Calpe further south, and to the Sierra Nevada mountains of Andalucia. Galicia has been somewhat left behind over the years to these tourists flocking south. Why is that? Because the Spanish go there for their holidays, thats why! And they like to keep it secret. You won’t find Chinese takeaways and bottles of wine for breakfast in Galicia. Through the summer months it is full of Spaniards, who come to experience its wonderful scenery, its stunning natural beauty, its gastronomy, and its tranquility.
Galicia isn’t like the rest of Spain, two thirds of which is characterised by arid plains, where the heat builds to unbearable levels in the summer. Northern Spain in general is greener, and more mountainous, but the weather can be very hit and miss. Because of the influence of the Atlantic jet stream, Galicia has a much more seasonal climate. The four seasons are well defined, and although the mercury hits 35 celsius plus frequently in the summer, the Atlantic always ensures that it remains comfortable. For cyclists this is important, as Galicia provides good conditions all year round.
The geography of Galicia lends itself to fantastic cycling terrain. Plate tectonic movements millions of years ago, formed a mountainous terrain, but not huge mountains. Galicia is peppered by peaks between 400-750m that rise from the coast, offering up wonderful climbs, and stunning views from the top. The interior of the region sits on a plain that rarely falls below 750m and rises to almost 2000m. The highest point is the Cabeza de Manzaneda ski station, which luckily for us lycra clad warriors, has a road all the way to its peak. This plain is cut through with spectacular river valleys, such as the Cañones de Sil, again offering up some stunning cycling opportunities. Nearer the coast, peaks such as Santa Trega and Monte Groba rise to almost 700m, and yet their peaks are less than 1km from the coast. The next land would be New England, 5000km away, so Galicia has without doubt, the freshest air in Europe.
So, what does Galicia offer the cyclist day to day? The terrain can be as challenging as you want it to be. This year’s stage 11 of the Vuelta de España was described as a medium stage, with only three small climbs. The riders were all a bit shell-shocked to register almost 3,500m of altitude gain. This is the nature of Galicia. Flat routes exist by the coast. Hugging the rivers that pierce the coast is a pleasure for those who seek what the Spanish call “a paseo”. However, most cyclists, particularly those form countries not known for their climbs, are always looking for lumpier terrain. And Galicia has everything that you could want. Plenty of shallow climbs, more than enough tougher efforts, and 15-20% ramps for those who love the lactic rush. Above all however, it is the lack of traffic that makes it the ideal destination for the cycling holiday. It is safe, and the public respect cyclists. On many routes you will see more animals than cars, as Galicia remains a very rural community away from its major cities. Life is more leisurely. I don’t think that there is a word in Gallego for rush.
The” “après-cyclisme” is second to none. During the recent visit of the Vuelta de España, Europsort’s legendary commentator Carlton Kirby described Galicia as “like Cornwall but with better food”. Most of Galicia’s food is home produced. Its fish the freshest on the continent, its meat too, amongst the highest grade Europe has to offer. It produces high quality wines and transports its water all over the peninsula. You will struggle to find a healthier place to spend a week.
And now to really open up Galicia to cyclists, Cycling Galicia has been created. The company is run by by me, Dean Fletcher who has lived here for the last twelve years, and an ex-professional cyclist Serafin Martinez. It is based in the historic cathedral town of Tui, on the Portuguese border, just an hour from Porto airport. Cycling Galicia provides bespoke, fully guided and all-inclusive cycling holidays in the region of Galicia, and northern Portugal. All holidays are tailor made for each group, with every route thoroughly researched, and discussed with potential clients. It can be as easy or as hard as you want, and every day guarantees a different experience. Don’t delay, come and try Galicia, Spain’s hidden cycling paradise.
Cycling Galicia can be found at CyclingGalicia.co.uk
If you’d like to write a piece about your own cycling paradise, please do get in touch: office@CyclingEurope.org