Journalist and producer based in Spain working for UK press. My focus here is safe travel and tourism in Spain. I also cover current affairs, business, architecture and rural regeneration, and work / have worked for The Guardian, BBC, FT, The Times, Conde Nast Traveller, Business Life, Reader's Digest, Evening Standard.
The Vuelta Ciclista a España aka The Tour of Spain is taking place for a 70th time. The event starts on August 22 in Puerto Banús and – after some brand new challenging climbs and hot flat runs – ends in Madrid on September 13. The riders are unlikely to fully appreciate the spectacular scenery along the 3374km route but for fans of cycling, it’s a definite plus. you’ll be able to. The entire route plus details of each stage is available at esciclismo.com
AUG 22, STAGE 1: Puerto Banús – Marbella (Time Trial: 7,4 Km) Where else in Spain could you stumble across reality TV stars and footballers in a venue called Route 66, in Calle Jesus, Plaza Antonio Banderas? Glitz and glamour, that’s what Puerto Banús is all about. And yachts. Hiring a yacht and parking it in the harbour would be a good option for spotting the action; a more affordable one would be to head for the beach and a position along the length of Paseo Maritimo from Puerto Banús to Marbella, and watch the cyclists whizz by a minute or so apart. Restaurante Chiringuito El Faro is near the Puerto Deportivo hence near the finish line. Afterwards head for signature cocktails at Patio Andaluz, the star-studded Marbella Club Hotel, or tapas at La Taberna de Pintxo, depending on your budget and sartorial style. This is the easiest of days out from Malaga.
AUG 23, STAGE 2: Alhaurín de la Torre – Caminito del Rey (165 Km). If the tour was to go along the Caminito del Rey aka Camino del Rey aka The King’s Path that would be something to behold. The Caminito is a precipitous walkway along a narrow gorge, formerly known as the most dangerous in the world and now, after some adjustments and a grand reopening, the regional tourist attraction du jour. Actually the riders end at the threshold, after a switchback route that takes them through both Alora and El Chorro twice. Either of those locations will offer grandstand views of the race, and are, along with Ardales, the perfect base for walking the Caminito – although not on the day of the race when it will be closed. Still there are plenty more attractions in the immediate vicinity, including the three lakes formed in the steep-sided Garganta del Chorro when the Guadalhorce river was dammed which, if you like ice water, are perfect for a dip.
AUG 24, STAGE 3: Mijas – Málaga (165,6 Km) Tough day with 3rd category climbs to Alto Sierra Almogía (at the 43km mark), and then Alto Colmenar (at 77km). Much of this stage is in Axarquia, an area known for fecund valleys, good restaurants in villages and in the middle of (seemingly) nowhere between them, and a large expatriate community, several of whom offer B&B. But you can catch the action on this stage and have a day, a night, several nights in Malaga, born again as a fabulous arty destination with many impressive galleries, the best of the best being the Carmen Thyssen Museum, the Picasso Museum, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, and of course, the Pompidou.
AUG 25, STAGE 4: Estepona – Vejer de la Frontera (203 Km). And into the province of Cadiz. For sheer spectacle there are two obvious destinations: the city of Cadiz and Vejer de la Frontera. In the historic casco of Cadiz you have narrow streets, pretty plazas, fabulous medieval and moorish architecture, dark bars – one dedicated entirely to the golden nectar that is manzanilla, a hectic market, plenty of restaurants where you can sit outside on a nicely ricketty table eating fresh fish and looking at a spectacular church, the bustle of the market, or indeed the sea, because this eminently walkable place has sea on three sides. Indeed while the riders cover the first 150km you could go for a swim at Playa Caleta. The route is sure to circumnavigate the historic centre (although check locally for route details). Find space perhaps opposite the Cathedral on Avenida Campo del Sur, or near Parque Genoves, or indeed among the throng as Cadiz narrows and goes from newer to older at the Puertas de Tierra. Another good option is to see the short climb to the finish at Vejer de la Frontera. The picture perfect, moorish white village has an air of sophistication about it, and is the place to be if you are hankering fine food and wine, as well as sweetly packaged local produce, and affordable art. You’d be lucky to find a room at the iconic boutique hotel that is La Casa de Califa, but they might just be able to squeeze you in at the hotel’s restaurant, El Jardin del Califa if you book right now.
STAGE ROUTE: ESTEPONA-SAN ROQUE-ALCALA DE LOS GAZULES – PATERNA DE RIVERA – PUERTO REAL – CADIZ – SAN FERNANDO – CHICLANA DE LA FRONTERA – BARRIO NUEVO – VEJER.
AUG 26, STAGE 5: Rota – Alcalá de Guadaira (182 Km) There is really only one place to be on this day, and that’s Sanlúcar de Barrameda, 18km into the stage. The Cadiz seaside town is swept up in the excitement of not just one spectacular sporting events, but two! Not too long after the bike riders have pedalled off towards Jerez, Trebujena, and Seville, horses and riders will be lining up on the beach for the Carerras de Caballos, the dramatic annual horse races that play out in the evening at low tide between Playas de Bajo de Guía and las Piletas. These horse races are not only historic, but among Europe’s oldest equestrian events, and not only spectacular but designated the Greatest Spectacle of the Southern Beaches. The races are divided into two separate cycles; this year the first was from Aug 12-14 and the second starts on the day the vuelta comes to town, August 26, with races also on the following two days.
Aside from the race – and the race, this venerable little city deserves a visit. It’s a joyous place that’s frequently missed of the itineraries of tourists whizzing through Jerez and Cadiz, despite the fact it sits right beside them, and is chokkablock with history, culture and very fine bars and restaurants, a personal favourite being Casa Balbina. Obviously Seville is nice too.
STAGE ROUTE: CHIPIONA-SANLUCAR-JEREZ-TREBUJENA-LEBRIJA-LOS PALACIOS Y VILLAFRANCA-FUENTE DEL REY – SEVILLE- ALCALA DE GUADAIRA.
AUG 27, STAGE 6: Córdoba – Sierra de Cazorla (204 Km)
After Seville, Seville, we have Cordoba, Cordoba. And then into the province of Jaen. After 150km and a category 3 climb the race passes through Baeza and then, after 9km, Ubeda. Even on a hot day, you can imagine what it’s like when it’s raining in these rather non-frivolous places with their impressive plazas and imposing municipal buildings, but if you are into Renaissance architecture you are in for a treat. Christians captured both towns in 12 hundred and something as they fought their way south, pushing into what was then the Islamic kingdom of Granada. They set about converting the mosques to churches and making everything extremely Castilian. A further overhaul was carried out in the 16th century, again, no expense spared. Baeza’s Palacio de Jabalquinto and Plaza del Pópulo, and Ubeda’s Church of Our Saviour are must-sees among the general grandeur, along with the Palacio del Deán Ortega next door, now a parador. The stage ends 45km further along, after a category 2 climb, (one of the new uphill finishes involving a particularly tough last couple of kms) at Alto de Cazorla. If you fancy a break from the excitement at this point, head into Sierra de Cazorla Nature Park, one of Spain’s biggest and least heralded protected areas. Boasting forests, canyons, rocky crags, clear turquoise rivers, waterfalls, ibex, and a networks of trails, it’s a popular destination for (mainly local) hikers, cyclists, rock climbers, and wild swimmers. Those on a budget will be pleased to know there are a number of campsites in the vicinity, and at most of them cabins are an option so you don’t even need tents.
AUG 28, STAGE 7: Jódar – La Alpujarra (188,3 Km)
Phenomenal scenery all along this route. There’s a lofty cat 3 climb after 87km at Puerto de los Blancares (1300m), but anyone looking for a less remote spot in which to spend the day and still catch the race should head to Granada. The big unmissable here is the Alhambra. While the city has a lot to offer, it seems wrong to be in it and not visit see the finest example of Islamic architecture in the western world. Equally alluring are the rocky peaks, verdant valleys, clean air and rushing streams full of famous water around Lanjarón, or the hill town of Órgiva, popular with those pursuing an alternative lifestyle . . . okay, hippies. Both are en route. However the pervasive success of writer Chris Stewart means that many will be inclined to head into driving over lemons territory. La Alpujarra, where old villages dot the southern flanks of the Sierra Nevada, is (still) lovely to drive and hike through, and if you find a space along the route up to the Alto de Capilleira finish line at 1490m you’ll be well positioned to see the grimaces on the face of riders tackling this brand new cat 1 climb.
AUG 29, STAGE 8: Puebla de Don Fadrique – Murcia (186,6 Km) The cyclists pass through Murcia, climb Alta de la Cresto del Gallo twice and end in Murcia, so if you want to double your chances of a selfie with Chris Froome in the background, that’s roughly the area you want to be in. Murcia sits on the Costa Calida, the hot coast, and hot is what the cyclists will be. There’s a reason the Vuelta de Murcia takes place in February, besides clashes on the race calendar, that is. There’s an opportunity here to see Cartagena (above – a 30min drive from Murcia), famed for many things but particularly its natural harbour that has sheltered traders since ancient times. Many have left their mark in the form of culinary habits and buildings – the Carthago Nova theatre commissioned by Augustus in the 1st century BC being a fine example of the latter, and something you can feast your eyes upon by visiting the Roman Theatre Museum.
AUG 30, STAGE 9: Torrevieja – Benitachell (168,3 Km) Yes, Alicante (41km into the stage) is a favourite of British tourists in search of revelry, sun and sea, but its dignity and character remain intact. It’s a great, sufficiently glitzy place for a pleasant paseo, and home to two, airy, aesthetically-pleasing top treats. The first is the restaurant, La Ereta, where you can expect innovative takes on traditional cuisine (for a bit more than you’d pay anywhere else in town) and splendid views over Alicante from its perch in Parque La Ereta, just below the Castillo de Santa Barbara. The second is MACA, the contemporary art museum where paintings by Miró, Dali, Juan Gris and Picasso line the bright white walls. The first time I went there I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – no fanfare, no fuss, no crowds. After Alicante the route continues on past the tower blocks and family-friendly beaches of Benidorm, incorporates a cat 2 climb at Alto Cumbre del Sol, and then finishes with an almost vertical cat 1 climb.
AUG 31, STAGE 10: Valencia – Castellón (152 Km) Ooh, it goes all modern, nay futuristic, in Valencia, a city that feels very, well . . . urban, after so long in Andalucia. After you’ve waved the riders off, the two top things on your day’s agenda should be a trip to the City of Arts and Sciences the largest cultural-recreational complex in Europe, an architectural masterpiece of rather alarming scale . . . and a massive paella. Obviously you’ll find paella in Valencia, but if you head to La Albufera Nature Park just outside the city, you’ll be in the very spot in which paella is alleged to have been originally concocted. This particular area of freshwater lagoon once used for growing rice is now given over to preserving ducks and various waterfowl, but the local village, El Palmar, is proud of its heritage as you’ll discover by perusing any menu. Other points of interest along the day’s route include the pulsing heart of the summer festival world that is Benicassim (at 120km), a cat 2 climb at Alto del Desierto de las Palmas, and the stage destination of Castellón itself, one of Spain’s most picturesque ghost airports. Ryanair has shown tentative interest but this magnificent vanity project could handle more than a couple of flights a week, and so could the lesser visited villages along this, the Orange Blossom Coast.