WITH GREAT weather, roads, views and food, a cycling holiday in Majorca is the best way to explore the island, discovers Rolf Rae-Hansen.
When you think “package holiday” sand, sangria and sun loungers spring to mind. To the list you can now add sports drinks, saddles and shaved legs.
Jet2’s new cycling holidays not only provide a choice of family vacations with a spot (or five) of riding, they also cater for the dedicated Lycra type seeking some quality time alone with their bike. From the locations on offer I’d picked Majorca. Year-round, the island buzzes brightly with cyclists, but peak biking season tends to be during the cooler months. It’s comparative, of course. The January average temperature of 15 degrees celsius makes Majorca the go-to destination for Brits seeking some quality winter riding.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS
I’d arrived in summer season and took a room at the Iberostar Playa de Muro, a four-star hotel whose cycling facilities have been modelled on those offered to skiers at top European winter resorts.
The hotel’s dedicated workshop holds 2,000 hire bikes. Guests can choose a steed according to their need, desire and budget, from a flat-barred triple to a carbon-framed pro-level machine with electronic gearing.
The mechanics measure you up for the correct frame size; you choose pedals and a saddle. Bring your own, as I had, and there’s secure bike parking – gone are the days of sneaking your bike past the hotel receptionist and squeezing it into your room.
There’s also a gym, a fleet of spinning bikes, a spa with sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and hot and cold plunge pools. No wonder the place plays host to training camps for pro squads Garmin and Sky.
The facilities for regular people are just as you’d expect from a top Majorcan hotel, and the beach is pretty much part of the grounds. Safe to say there’d be no grumbling from any non-cyclists “forced” to holiday with you here.
For the actual cycling, guests are free to pick their own way round, over and across the island, but they can also opt into any one of the numerous group rides that depart each morning. Select your party according to the distance you’d like to cover and the average speed that suits your ability.
I rose early, loaded up on carbs (fruit, eggs, etc) at the breakfast buffet before a group rendezvous at the “feed zone”: three vats with tea, energy drinks and fresh water, plus crates of bananas, sandwiches and triangles of energy-rich date cake.
The first thing I noticed was the quality of the roads: smooth, fast-rolling and not a pothole in sight. Next was how safe even the busier bits felt. Some had marked cycle lanes, most others a section beyond the outer white line sufficient to accommodate two riding side by side.
Biking in unfamiliar territory can involve constant stopping and checking direction, all of which spoils the rhythm of the ride. This, however, was my first experience of riding with a guide and the benefits became clear at the first roundabout: he signalled to turn right and we all turned right. Simple.
We were racing along in the slipstream of Miquel Àngel Santos Nebot, an economics lecturer and top amateur cyclist. Earlier in the year he’d come third in a sportive that takes in a 312km-lap of the island. He’d also spent time that winter guiding the NetApp-Endura squad and some guy called Brad Wiggins. Safe to say there would be no worries about him dropping off the back.
We took the mostly flat road north along the coast to Alcúdia, inland to Pollenca, then west towards the eastern Serra and its mountains. Our first was the Coll de Femenia and its 431 metres of ascent. The road wended upward, gaps in the trees revealing glimpses of the island below. I jealously spied goats in the olive groves’ shade, bells tinkling as they settled down in the dust.
A short descent dried the sweat in time for a lunch stop at C’an Callet, a small café restaurant down the hill from the monastery at Lluc. Like many eateries on the island it made a great job of welcoming cyclists. We parked our bikes on the rack and slumped into shaded seats. Ice-cold drinks were followed by several plates of delicacies including giant, juicy Majorcan olives, sweet tomatoes, cheese, cured meats and blood sausage.
Plates cleared, glasses drained and our peloton was off toward Sa Collabra. The only way to the remote seaside village is up and over the Coll dels Reis. A short climb of ‘just’ three kilometres led to a breathtaking, sinuous, descent: 26 switchback bends and ten kilometres of racing cars and tourist coaches, pushing speed as much as brake blocks and bravado allowed.
The view from the shore was maddeningly beautiful. I briefly considered forgetting the climb back up and starting a new life by the sea.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS
Sadly, there was a schedule to stick to and a ride back up was the only option. And what a ride. The kilometres of that blurred 40mph descent now came at me in slow and painful measure. Each hairpin bend was hard won, the heat furnace-hot. By the summit my mood was a mix of elation and pride.
All that climbing done and we zoomed down the rollercoaster roads out of the mountains and onto the island’s flatter central plain. Headed to Pollenca, we eventually cut around the S’Albufereta wetland nature reserve, the roadside bordered by a wall of green reeds, then on to the coast road home.
That evening I set up camp at the dinner buffet. The problem with the food was its quality and abundance – pasta, local rice and paella dishes, seafood, meat, salads, not to mention sufficient desserts to satisfy the sweetest tooth. Don’t they know cyclists are supposed to be skinny?
Our second day’s ride was less mountainous, but equally enjoyable, down the coast towards the small historic town of Arta. A stop to admire the stunning view from the hilltop church Sant Salvador and we were back in the saddle.
Miquel knew the roads like the back of his hand and was clearly keen to show us the best of his patch. He’d signal for us to turn left at a random tree and we’d be onto an exhilarating single-track climb (and then descent), the kind that turns a ride into an adventure. He told stories about the island’s politics, history and culture. He guided us through vineyards, citrus and olive groves, rows of almond trees, and what at first appeared to be giant purple thistles, but turned out to be artichokes. On his direction we paused for a harvest of ripe, sweet nispero, and later at a water spring so secret most locals aren’t aware of its existence.
Less breathtaking, but equally satisfying, was that night’s meal, taken just along the coast at Port d’Alcúdia’s Restaurant Miramar. I dined al fresco on fresh local seafood, plenty of paella, and all washed down with a glug of Majorcan wine. Crowds of tourists promenaded along the waterfront, sunburnt and satisfied with their day at the beach. I felt sad to think there was a whole other side to the island many of them wouldn’t see, from the saddle or otherwise.
Hadn’t they heard? Package holidays have changed.
Jet2holidays cycling breaks start from £389pp (for 7 nights), including flights (from Glasgow or Edinburgh), bike carriage, half-board hotel accommodation and transfers, www.jet2holidays.com/cycling.
Iberostar Playa de Muro, Playa de Muro, Majorca, www.iberostar.com
Rae-Hansen is author of The Breakaway – Cycling the Mountains of the Tour de France, £3.99, available at Amazon.co.uk