Andalusia: Málaga To Granada

We arrived in Málaga at sunset. A warm, golden hue hung over the city in the day’s dying light as our ferry docked. We walked our bikes from the dock across the street, quickly finding the apartment we had rented, and wheeled our bikes inside. We love ground-level apartments. We decided to stay for two nights to wash clothes, sort out sim cards for the phones and to have a look around this beautiful laid-back city.

Arriving in Málaga.
Arriving in Málaga.

Our plan was to go to Granada but we had no plan yet for a route. All we knew was that we wanted to take small roads north to the Alhambra into the heart of Andalusia.

In many ways, Andalusia is the cultural heart of Spain. It is the home of bull fighting, flamenco and Moorish architecture that flourished under Islamic rule in al-Andalus, as it was known from early in the 8th century until the end of the 15th century.

Málaga has been a city for a very long time, first established by Phoenicians in 770 BC. The Romans came about 500 years later, followed by the Moors in the eighth century and eventually the Crown of Castille reconquered the Iberian Peninsula in the late 1400s. The Romans and the Moors left behind their architectural and cultural influences still prevalent today.

Remnants of Roman occupation.

After getting settled in our apartment we headed out into the warm night air in search of a drink and some groceries for the next day’s breakfast. It’s amazing how easily we transition from one place to another. Almost without really thinking about it. We had been on the road for just over a month now and easily find what we need.

We walk around the Catedral de la Encarnación de Málaga, an enormous structure bathed in lights against an azure sky. Not far away is a Roman theatre from the first century and behind that the Alcazaba, a Moorish fort from the 11th century. All three major cultural periods represented in a two block radius from where we are staying.

La Catedral de la Encarnación de Málaga.

The city is bustling with tourists. It’s early July and the start of summer holidays for all of Europe. They come in droves to this city on the Costa del Sol from northern Europe and elsewhere for the sun and the beaches. I hear lots of Dutch and German being spoken as we slowly wander the streets in the languid warmth. The pavement and buildings radiate the heat of the day. It’s still 30 degrees at 11 p.m.

We take care of housekeeping stuff in the morning and pour over maps to figure out a not-too-hilly route for the next three days to get to Granada. It’s going to be hot so having regular access to water is our main concern, as is elevation, but it will be difficult to avoid mountains in this mountainous region.

With a rough route sorted out we book a hotel for the first night on the road. It’s far too hot to camp and at the end of the day it’s best to seek out air-conditioned accommodation away from the relentless sun. We hang up the laundry and head out in search of a sim card and a place for dinner.

After a delicious meal of – what else – paella, we head out along the waterfront. It’s cooler than the city centre. People wander the promenade eating ice cream or sitting at one of the many restaurants eating and drinking.

The Centre de Pompidou Málaga is a glowing cube of coloured glass at one end of the promenade while La Farola, the lighthouse, commands a view of the Mediterranean Sea at the other.

We ride out of town just after sunrise. A bike path takes us west to the outskirts past the university where we turn north. Once we cross the A7 autopista, we head into the hills on A7075, a small rural road through the district of Puerto de la Torre. It’s a beautiful ride past Empresa Casasola, a lake created by a dam on the Campanillas River. It’s a blue pearl nestled in an otherwise dry countryside dotted with farms and small villages.

We slowly climb, stopping frequently to drink to try to stave off the oppressive heat. We reach Villaneuva de la Concepcion as the road takes a cruel upward angle to El Torcal looming ahead of us. We desperately take a break to take in more fluids and some food at a small café on the town’s central plaza.

This stretch of road was part of a stage in the 2017 Vuelta d’España with the climb up El Torcal the challenge of the day. It proved to be our challenge of the day, as well. It was a slow seven-kilometre-long grind with the road tilting up to 12 per cent against us.

Climbing up towards El Torcal in the searing heat.

We have lunch at the top looking out over the valley stretching away to the south. I have my new favourite snack of bread with jam and salami. Sweet and salty.

The descent is fast and fun but we nearly miss our turn-off on to a small dirt track that will take us cross-country through farm fields to the Hotel de la Sierra, oddly situated in the middle of nowhere on the A45.

We lose the route at Pilas De La Alhajuela, an ancient spring with cold water cascading down through a series of concrete catch basins. We gratefully drink the icy cold water and I dip my entire head in one of the basins. It’s dry a few minutes later while I look for where our trail continues. We push our bikes up a steep, washed out track for about 100 metres and get back on our bikes.

It’s a fun ride with intermittent shade from trees as we traverse between orange groves and wheat fields already harvested for the season. Past some farm houses, we are suddenly beside the freeway and the hotel is just ahead.

We check in and opt to take a private garage for a few Euros to store our bikes securely for the night. With a cold beer for me and a cider for Jan we collapse in our air-conditioned room to watch the final hour of the day’s stage of the Tour de France on the TV.

The 60-kilometre-long ride and 1,500 metres of climbing in unrelenting heat has sucked most of the energy from our bodies. I shower with my salt-encrusted clothes to wash them and we relax in the cool of the room looking at maps to see what the next day has in store for us. We find a bed and breakfast about 65 kilometres away that looks like it would be a nice treat and we book it for the following night.

A few hours later, as the sun sets, we venture out but there’s not a lot going on beside the freeway. There are a few long-haul trucks parked out front, their drivers eating or sleeping. We order a meal in the restaurant and afterwards return to our room. It’s cooled off enough to turn off the AC and open the window. Sleep comes easily.

We have breakfast early and get on the road by 7 to hopefully have a couple of hours of cool riding but we are thwarted by a locked gate and have to find a different route across the valley. It results in a three-kilometre-long detour but it’s a nice ride in the cool morning through olive groves on a well-maintained gravel road.

We have to cross the A92 at some point and we’re not sure that our GPS mapping app has found us a viable route but as we approach the freeway our small road dips down through a tunnel under the freeway and we happily continue following the Rio Guadalhorce to Villanueva del Trabuco.

The kilometres tick by through seemingly never-ending groves of olive trees. It’s quiet and hot. An occasional vehicle appears and disappears but we can count them on one hand. It’s beautiful cycling on an alternating mix of asphalt, concrete and gravel.

A strange looking tower appears by the side of the road, crudely built out of rocks and mud. It sits in an area of saline ponds. I look it up later and find that it’s called Torre Árabe de Fuente Camacho. The tower was likely built to command a view of the surrounding salt pans in the area.

Torre Árabe de Fuente Camacho.

These inland salt pans have been exploited for thousands of years by both humans and animals. A fresh water spring passes through the salt deposits and the flow is redirected into shallow ponds. The water is left to evaporate so the remaining salt crystals can be harvested. It was crucial for people to have access to salt and there is evidence here that Fuente Camacho has been used as far back as the Paleolithic era.

We’re on a nice downhill trajectory to Loja, a small city that, like so many, went through Moorish occupation before reverting back to Christian rule when the Moors were driven out in 1486 during the Reconquista.

Loja, west of Granada.

It’s near midday and we have a fun ride down through Loja’s narrow streets to traverse the town and find a route across the Genil River. Our lodgings for the night are less than 20 km away and we’ve had a much easier day than the previous one.

The last few kilometres climb gently up through endless rolling fields of olive trees as the Sierra Nevada Mountains shimmer in the distance through the heat haze. A small sign on the side of the road for Casa Olivar is our cue to turn onto a rough dirt track. Before long a lovely whitewashed house appears with a sign welcoming “Family vanPeenen.” It’s a warm and welcoming touch.

We meet our hosts, Marijke and Carl, a Belgian couple who bought the B&B in early 2022, and get settled in. We are the only guests tonight. We change out of our sweat-stained clothes and immediately dive into the pool in the back yard where we get some welcome relief from the heat. We read and nap in the shade of a large umbrella by the pool for the rest of the afternoon. It’s so nice. Almost like a holiday.

Marijke prepares a wonderful dinner of fresh gazpacho and a rabbit stew, served on the terrace in the warmth of a setting sun as we look out over the olive groves. It’s a perfect ending to a lovely day.

We awake before sunrise but linger over breakfast. It will be another hot day but we only have about 40 kilometres to go to Granada where we want to spend a couple of nights.

We say our farewells to Casa Olivar and ride a few kilometres to Tocon where we pick up some juice to mix with our water. A small road through olive groves slowly climbs up giving us distant views of the mountains around Granada. The heat haze is already building and by 10 o’clock it’s already over 30 degrees.

We stop in Santa Fe for coffee and a snack in the shade of a large cathedral on the central plaza. People are going about their daily business at the adjacent town hall. There is a laid-back atmosphere to it all. I guess it’s just too hot for anyone to hurry anywhere.

We cross the Genil River again and get on a bike path that takes us all the way into Granada. It’s an easy ride into town and we quickly find our hotel. It’s too early to check in so we find a café nearby in a shady square where we have several cold drinks and something to eat.

What has become clear on this ride from Málaga to Granada is that it’s too hot inland so we will go back to the coast and hopefully get a bit of relief from the unrelenting heat. We will sort out how in between sightseeing in the home of the Alhambra.

We clean up, relax and let the heat dissipate somewhat before venturing out into the city to explore its narrow streets and see what culinary delights they have to offer.

The Alhambra is one of the most famous examples of Islamic architecture and one of the best preserved palaces of the last Nasrid Dynasty from 1230 to 1492. The complex is massive and we have tickets for first thing the next morning when it opens. The number of visitors who can enter at any one time is limited and we want to do it during the cooler hours of the morning.

We spend the entire morning wandering through the Alhambra. It’s overwhelming. I love the Islamic architecture. The beautifully carved arches and painted ceilings are impressive. Arabic script adorns the walls. Extensive waterworks supplied water to the palace and surrounding complex via an aqueduct running from the Darro River higher up in the mountains six kilometres away. It’s a marvel of engineering.

By noon we’ve walked nearly 10 kilometres. It’s too hot and we retreat down a steep street back to the centre of the city to find a shady spot for lunch and a cold beverage. The umbrellas and awnings have misting systems attached. Every 30 seconds a fine mist of water sprays from small hoses, providing a lovely cooling effect while we lounge over lunch.

We spend the hottest part of the day in our hotel room, planning our exit from Granada and a route for the coming days. We have decided to take a train to Almería back to the coast and continue our ride from there through Cabo de Gata National Park. This southern cape is the driest place on the Iberian Peninsula, typically receiving 150-170 mm of rain annually. It’s sparsely populated and has a track that’s closed to cars, promising to be a beautiful ride on Spain’s wildest coast.

Stay tuned for a report on our ride through Cabo de Gata. Here are some more images from the Alhambra.

7 thoughts on “Andalusia: Málaga To Granada

    1. ……a blessed Easter to you both, wherever your wheels lead you……always enjoy you sharing of adventures……et Mubarak!

  1. Hi Paul and Jan,

    I do love your posts. Apart from the beautiful pictures, I am always impressed by your research of history, geography and fauna. It makes reading more fun and also instructive. I feel I am participating in a small way in your journeys, without the heat and exhaustion. I assume you are preparing for your next arctic expedition. Good luck, and avoid the bears and melting ice sheets.

    Cheers, Wolfgang



  2. Hi Jan & Paul! So great to get your post of riding in Andalusia-perfect timing as we are flying into Malaga in May and basing out of Velez de Benaudalla for a week of cycling on our own. Your photos and descriptions make us all the more excited to go… guess I better get tix. for the Alhambra! Looking forward to hearing more of your adventures…
    Cathy & Walt

  3. I really love Spain from your posts! We never went in all the times we went to Europe but you have helped me see what I missed. So glad you are travelling so all of us stay- at-homes can enjoy what we missed. Thank you for including me in your posts. Love Auntie Carol.

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