Majorca: Cycling Heaven, Cycling Hell

Well, I’m back in a remarkably fresh Newcastle upon Tyne after spending 10 days in Majorca. Note that I didn’t say a sunny Majorca. Because it wasn’t. Regardless, it was pleasant to get away from the now officially second wettest summer the UK has ever had, and actually experience the sensation we often forget in Britain given we don’t see the sun for 11 months of the year – the sun actually warming your skin. So let’s get the typical British weather rant out of the way.

For unfortunately, and I should really have seen this coming, as when I hoped for some warmer weather then the twelve degrees Celsius that the North East of England had decided was paramount to ‘Summer’, whatever weather deity that took note of this request decided that it would be a great idea to over compensate for the abysmal temperatures North of the Mediterranean by squeezing every last joule of energy out of the baking sun for the first three days of my trip. Thus, 8am breakfast was met with the temperature already at 27 celsius, and ready to rise considerably. Of course, the same malevolent force that had baked me on a bicycle for 72 hours then took pity on wishes for it to perhaps being a bit cooler…by unleashing thunderstorms and rain, the first, according to the islanders, since almost 2011. Typical, eh?

Anyway, plenty of riding was done, and so the point of this post is to try and elucidate the joy that can be found in Majorca for anyone, but especially cyclists. I’ve been lucky enough to go three years in a row now, and every time have enjoyed it more then the last. So here we go – your helpful guide to a holiday, preferably cycling themed, in Majorca.

Is Majorca really that good for cycling?

Majorca is a mecca for cyclists – thousands descend on the island every year, and so the island has adapted to this. Even on arrival, there is a separate baggage carousel purely for bike boxes and bags, which makes the journey that much easier. Those images you see of the professionals in lines of two in January-March time? Most likely taken on Majorca, the pro-team training haven. Even Bradley Wiggins frequented the island for last minute preparations for his winning ride in the Tour de France, and you can happily try ‘Pro-spotting’ if you’re there at the right times (Double Olympic Champion Geraint Thomas was around this year). The island also offers plenty of variety in routes, with a mountainous North, a few scattered hill sections, and flat plains, which coupled with the fact the island is barely 70 miles in width, means you can easily find a route that suits your ability or desire. As with all European nations, drivers actually treat you as a human being (well, unless they’re a British hire car) and very much unlike Britain, the road surface’s are velvety smooth, and it’s hard to find a road that doesn’t feature a bike path.

Should I bring my own bike?

The more important point is that you don’t have to – there are a plethora of bike shops on the island, and enough bicycle hire shops to fill most British high streets. Prices are cheap, and you can have pretty much whatever bike you want – moutain, hybrid, cruiser, road, some even have the latest Di2/EPS electronic shifting avaliable to hire. Of course, if, like me, you are useless at descending and are terrified enough handling a bike you know rather than one you only set eyes on the morning before, then it’s easy to bring your own, providing you can hire/buy a bike box (really, really, don’t use soft bags – cheap they may be, but when the baggage handlers use other boxes to cushion ones they’re loading off the plane, you’d rather your bike was in a case, not a bit of cloth). As mentioned previously, the airport makes handling the bikes a doddle and most of the buses taking passengers to parts of the island will be happy to take a box as long as you tell them in advance.

Where should I stay?

This depends. Are you here for peace and quiet, or here to get bladdered? If the latter, then Palma and Magaluf are your places. I won’t even pretend to know about these places, as I’ve never been, and so will go on the reputation given off by a place that seemingly takes pride in being nicknamed ‘Shagaluf’ and for being in the news for people managing to fall off high balconies. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. You must be cautious.

Where to go then? As far away as possible of course. Port a Pollenca to be exact. On the North East shore of the island, this little port is, like the majority of places on the isle, a one street town, but when that street is a wide restaurant blessed boulevard on the sea front with a golden beach protected by a calming bay, then it’s not so bad.  There are hotels and restaurants for every budget, with a Burger King at one end and a somewhat sumptuous place that offers Afternoon tea at the t’other, and unlike other places, it retains an air of class that places like Alcudia cannot manage. With seafood in abundance, and a Ben and Jerry’s just to crown it off, it really is a great place to sit in the sun at the end of the day with a cold drink.

Cycling wise, it’s also in a prime position. Soler is the only place that it’s arguably a little far to go in a day on a circuit route, but other then that, everywhere is in easy distance, be it the sinuous Sa Calabra, the ‘Light house ride’ to Formentor, or the ‘Garage Climb’ to Lluc. The second City, Inca, is only around 30miles away.

Where should I visit?

Port a Pollenca – As described above, a great place for a base. Has all the bases covered, be it location wise, in choice of restaurants or simply in the beaches and setting.

Pollenca – The inland neighbor to its coastal cousin is a bit, well, bland. Villas and restaurants, but nothing really distinguishing.

Alcudia – A flat but windy run down the coast from Port a Pollenca and you’ll end up in Alcudia. Alcudia is much more touristy then Pollenca, and looks a lot lower budget, with more fast food eateries on the streets. it is significantly larger, and seems to cater more to family audiences with inflatables and boundless energy then the more sedentary folk you find in Pollenca, which at times resembles and old folks home. It does have a pretty old town which is enclosed in medieval walls and a nice street flanked by the sea on one side and an inland lake on the other, but other then that, its standard tourist lark to be honest.

Lluc – Most people wont end up here, because it’s up and away in the mountains. It features a pretty monastery that I believe is now a hotel, as well as some nice grounds to walk around in away from the toils of sitting on a beach. Beware for the wasps at the cafe though.

Sa Pobla – Abandon hope if you dare actually enter the city, especially if on a bike. The sign may say ‘all directions’, but it lies. The easiest way is instead to go around the outside of the city and to take the various branches off to other places from that road. Unfortunately, the powers that be want to direct you through the center because then they might be able to persuade you to part with money somewhere inside it, but given its an utter ghost town, there’s little hope of you finding somewhere to spend it anyway.

Inca – The second city of Majorca is the only one that doesn’t have a coastline that appears to have anything going on in it. There is actually some cafes and things, but its still very bland and uninspiring. This is the problem with many Majorcan towns – you simply get the impression they are there to break up the scenery a bit. Cycling wise, they help break up journey’s especially if its ridiculously hot, although given the lack of rivers, which have long dried up, all the towns are built on hills, which is a bugger.

Campanet/Buger – these two towns are on hills with good squares and Cafes at the top of each, and Campanent is near some nice caves, or coves even, if that’s your thing.

Selva – A gateway to the mountains, Selva is an analogy for the Spanish economy. I went there one Tuesday for a drink, and found that one bar owner was on holiday, another didn’t work Tuesday’s, and others couldnt be bothered to open. Hmm.

Soller – Soller is in a crater as such, ie you have to climb out of it or descend into it, and not in anyway easy to get to, as you either have to plunge down from Lluc or climb the Col de Soller. Still, it’s pleasant enough once you get there.

Arta – Another town with a church on the top, this one is actually pleasant enough, as its an ex-fort with some nice cafes and views from it.

If I do one thing/cycle ride, what should it be?

People may answer this differently, and say the layered coils of the Col De Soler, or the rocky roads/climbs and descents of Cap Formentor, but the ‘big one’ is still Sa Calobra, which is the name everyone gives the climb on the north shore of the island. You have to get up to Lluc, then climb another 10km to an aqeuduct where you’re told the town is just 12km away, only to discover that two of these kilometers are a not particularly easy climb at 6.4% up to the summit. From there, you plunge down on a great descent to seas level, all the time thinking ‘Bummer, I’ve got to come back up this’ – there is no other way out. At the bottom, you refuel at the cafe, or go to the beach, which is where the numerable buses you’ll see passing you and probably terrifying you as they appear from around a corner, then turn around and have fun powering back up 9.5km at 7%. I’m going to write a post purely about the climb, as I was wearing a helmet camera, so they’ll be more detail on that. Suffice to say it is rather hard.

What if i just want to relax?

Just do it, there’s plenty of bikini babes/whatever the male equivalent is for you to people watch with a chilled beverage whilst stuffing yourself with paella.

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