Spanish Wine Harvest Tour

   By Bruce Robertson

  Etiquette Cycling

For me, one of the highlights of the year was this bike tour which I did with a bunch of mates, some of whom I didn't know very well before, but all of whom are now friends!

After checking into the hotel, in the coastal town of Los Alcázares, and after our briefing session, we enjoyed a local wine tasting experience. At the bodega, Alex introduced the 3 wine growing areas of Murcia and allowed us to sample a wide range of local wines. He did say “You don’t have to swallow all the wines!”.

Day 1: No cycling

Our first day in the saddle, started with a gentle spin through the flat agricultural area known as the Campo de Cartagena. Never out of sight is the impressive Sierra Espuña Natural Park, our destination. After a fantastic lunch in Totana, we tackled the climb on a very hot afternoon up to our first night's accommodation at La Santa. Note to self: next time I won't have such a big lunch! The hotel sits in the foothills of the Natural Park and is part of a 17th century monastery - the Santuario de Santa Eulalia de Mérida. The Sierra Espuña summit at 1550m is visible from the hotel but on this tour, we were very content to admire it from the hotel terrace over a glass or two of wine.

Day 2: 76km 780m climbing, 210m descending

The next day we headed to Caravaca de La Cruz, one of the five holy cities in the world and a key destination for pilgrims and travellers alike.
Leaving the Sierra Espuña behind the views open out into a wide open prairie type landscape. After a more modest lunch, we steadily climbed the Sierra Burete which provided an array of picturesque backdrops to treasure.

Entering the Bullas wine growing region, the fruit trees give way to grape vines. After a welcome descent, the final stage of the route took us to Caravaca and another monastery, this time dating back to the 16th century. Following a rest and a thirst quenching beer, the walk up to the historic Basilica was well worth it.

Day 3: 77km 1020m climbing, 980m descending

The Spa town of Archena was the next destination, with the first stop being in Cehegin, and a short sharp climb up to the Plaza del Castillo - well worth the effort - for gorgeous views of the old town and beyond. We continued onwards through the northern part of the Bullas wine region along smooth quiet roads, which gradually took us downhill into the stunning Ricote Valley.
Arriving in Archena, our luxurious hotel offered the opportunity to relax with a cool drink in the hot thermal spa pools.

Day 4: 70km 570m climbing, 1090m descending

Refreshed after a relaxing overnight stay in the Archena Spa we headed north into the picturesque Ricote Valley. Our route passed through the villages of Ulea, Ojós and Blanca, which enjoy a slower rural pace of life. Our journey continued up onto the “Altiplano” plateau with it's centres being Jumilla and Yecla. The wide open valleys here are home to numerous vineyards and bodegas for which the area is famed.

Our destination that night, and our accommodation for two nights. was a very comfortable casa rural set in a working vineyard. The property is full of history and has been owned by the same family for generations. Our host, Adela, was born and raised on the property and is passionate about showcasing the rural lifestyle that has developed over many years. The stay was a truly unique and memorable experience. We ended the day with a wholesome meal featuring local dishes, washed down with the wine produced from their grapes. Adela even took the time to give us a mini tour of the vines growing nearby, which was very appreciated as they were in the peak of bringing in the harvest. Conditions were perfect, the grapes were at their best and the weather was good.

Day 5: 88km 830m climbing 390m descending

On a well-earned rest-day we immersed ourselves into the heart of Murcia’s wine region, starting with a lie-in and leisurely traditional breakfast prepared by our host, Adela.

In the afternoon we went into Jumilla, where our first stop was the interesting and nicely air-conditioned, state of the art wine museum. We then walked over to one of the town's premier bodegas to see their original production facilities. The wine tour included an incredible “senses of wine experience”, where we sampled many different aromas, both good and bad, that you might find in a glass of wine; and, of course, we sampled several of their own wines as well.

The bodega also hosted lunch - a late lunch Spanish-style - set amongst oak barrels in which the wine is matured. The tasting buffet menu gave the opportunity to sample a number of local dishes, and to drink some more of the wine from the wine tasting!

Day 6: No cycling

After a hard day of wine tasting, we jumped back on the bikes for a shorter but no less interesting day. Heading south from Yecla, we benefitted from a downhill gradient, which allowed us to admire the wide open valley between the Sierra de Salinas and Sierra del Carche. Then, we crossed briefly into the province of Alicante and the town of Pinoso. Here, the identical climate, terrain and vegetation meant only one thing: another wine route!

We continued west, back into Murcia and took the opportunity to refuel and stock up on wine to accompany dinner. The bodega we visited was a charming family run business, where the owner, Paco, produces and sells his own wine using solely artisan processes. The last part of the route took us up into the foothills of the Sierra de Pila, where we spend the night in another casa rural and enjoy a delicious paella: cooked by our very own chef and washed down with more local wine!

Day 7: 55km 430m climbing 370m descending

Our last day on the bike provided an ever changing scenery as we headed back towards the coast. Leaving the rugged landscape of Sierra de la Pila, we crossed into Alicante Province to admire the vast array of orange and lemon groves.

It was then on to the “El Palmeral” in Orihuela and up to the turquoise blue waters of the Embalse de Pedrera. After lunch in Torremendo, we descended back into Murcia’s agricultural heartland and back to the coast. Having reached our final destination of Los Alcázares, it was time to celebrate the completion of the tour. Our memorable last evening together was at one of the town’s premier restaurants for shared tapas and, believe it or not, more wine!

Day 8: 85km 550m climbing 1160m descending

After breakfast the next day we had a 9am tran​​​​​​​sfer to Alicante airport and train station.

Day 9: No cycling

The operator of this tour has unfortunately closed down but there are plenty of other great Valencia and Murcia Bike Tours to choose from

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