Saturday, March 28, 2020

Cycling Europe 2019 Day 15: Zuheros To Alcala La Real - Cold In The Highlands

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As I sit at home to write this blog about a ride we did four/five months ago, the world is facing a dangerous pandemic, the Covid-19. To help slow down the spread of this pandemic & have it eradicated, I am STAYING HOME and not going out unless really necessary.
Stay Safe, my friends.


Cycling Europe 2019 Day 15: Zuheros To Alcala La Real - Cold In The Highlands
Portugal, Spain & France: Day 15 Sunday, 10th November -  Zuheros To Alcala la Real
This is part of a cycling tour of the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal & Spain), covering some cycling in Zuheros & Alcalá la Real:
Cycling Distance: 5.0 km.     Level: Very Easy
Cycling Time : 10:10 am to 11:30 am
Time Taken : 1 hr. 20 mins. (including lots of stops for photo opps.)
Driving Distance Zuheros to Alcalá la Real: 50 km taking about 40 mins.

This is page 13 of a 16-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D14 Zuheros          |         Go To Other Days        |       Go to D16 Granada 1 >

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions!
     On the Continental Europe, vehicles are left-hand drive, so cycle on the right. And do remember the traffic directions at road crossing. Also note that often cycling lanes run next to pedestrian lanes at town and city areas, at crossings there are separate lanes for pedestrians and bicycles, so stick to the correct lane.

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
   In the morning it was a quick ride at the Vias Verdes Greenway Subbética section of the Vias Verdes hiking/cycling trail in Zuheros. The we hired Mercedes van-taxi at €100 (which came with an open trailer for our bikes and bags) for the road trip from Zuheros to Alcalá la Real.
         
3. Weather
    Morning temperatures aZuheros averaged 9°C. In Alcalá la Real afternoon  temperatures averaged 13°C, while evening temperatures was about 9°C but felt colder with a strong wind. Temperatures here was colder as the town is up in the highlands, and due to a cold front, the weather was colder than normal. It was a sunny day with blue skies.
    It is always prudent to check the weather for the next day so as to know what to expect and be prepared for it. Useful weather forecast sites are BBC WeatherAccuWeather, and for more detailed weather, including cloud cover and wind speed, use Weatherspark and Ventusky.

4. Places of Interest
    Along this route were several places of interests, some of which we visited and others we did not for lack of time:

Morning cycling at Zuheros:
  1.  Hacienda Minerva (GPS: 37.54284, -4.33407).
  2. The Vias Verdes Greenway Subbética section of the Vias Verdes hiking/cycling trail (GPS: 37.5429, -4.32917).
  3. Viaducto Zuheros (Zuheros Viaduct) (GPS: 37.54398, -4.31916) which spans over the Río Bailón.
  4. Antiguo Apeadero de Zuheros) (Zuheros Old Train Station) (GPS: 37.54452, -4.31792)
  5. Castillo de Zuheros (Zuheros Castle) (GPS: 37.54385, -4.31655).

En-route to & at Alcalá la Real:
  1. Castillo de Alcaudete (Alcaudete Castle) (GPS: 37.59042, -4.08890) at the town of Alcaudete.
  2. Iglesia de Santa María la Mayor (GPS: 37.59000, -4.08771) at the town of Alcaudete.
  3. Castillo de Alcalá la Real (Alcalá la Real Castle; also called Fortaleza de La Mota, La Mota Fortress) (GPS: 37.46061, -3.92965).
  4. Iglesia mayor abacial de Alcalá la Real (Mayor Abbey Church La Mota Fortress) (GPS: 37.45982, -3.92931).
  5. Plaza Arcipreste de Hita (GPS: 37.46375, -3.92465) where a statue of sculptor Juan Martínez Montañés can be seen.
  6. Ayuntamiento de Alcalá la Real (Alcalá la Real City Council) (GPS: 37.46351, -3.92499) at south-western end of Plaza Arcipreste de Hita.
  7. Casas de Enfrente (Fronting Houses) (GPS: 37.4638, -3.92441) at north-eastern end of Plaza Arcipreste de Hita.
  8. Parroquia de Santa María la Mayor (Parish of Santa María Maggiore) (GPS:37.46487, -3.92439 ).
  9. Caminos de Pasión (Pathways of Passion) in Adalusia which include the La Semana Santa De Alcalá la Real (Easter Week in Alcalá la Real).

5. Meals
a. Breakfast - a nice inclusive buffet with a wide spread at Hacienda Minerva (GPS: 37.54284, -4.33407).
b. Lunch - at Taberna el Quinto de Cabildo (GPS: 37.4638, -3.92364) in Alcalá la Real:
    Caesar's Salad, Ham and eggs (with a mountain of fried potatoes), Mushroom Omelet.
d. Dinner - at Restaurante Casa Pepe (GPS: 37.46474, -3.92401) in Alcalá la Real
    Complimentary tapas that came with each of our two orders of wine (Spanish ham slices on toasts, & soft boil quail eggs with bacon on toast), vinegar-seasoned shark cutlet in batter, pan-fried trout in olive oil, cream spinach, and house Rioja red wine.

6. Accommodations
    One night aCasa grande (GPS: 37.46215, -3.92559) in Alcalá la Real which we had pre-booked through Booking.com; two nos. 3-pax rooms and a  2-pax room at a total of €148.50 per night (or €18-50 per pax per night inclusive of a good buffet breakfast).
    Address: Calle Martínez Montañés, 23680 Alcalá la Real, Jaén, Spain.
    Phone: +34-684450922
    
7. Communicating with Each Other
    When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost.
    We bought pre-paid SIM cards from UK mobile provider Three on-line through Lazada. As some of us stayed for a shorter period, we got two plans with cost ranging from RM30 to RM70 for a 20 days 4G and a 30 days 10G plans respectively. These plans include their "Feel At Home" package which allow the phone's data, call and messaging allowance to be used in sixty countries (mostly European and also Singapore) without any extra charges!

8. Communicating with Locals
    In Spain, except in rural areas, many young locals can speak some basic English and communicating with them shouldn't be a problem. This is especially the case in hotels & restaurants.
     When communicating with locals is a problem, this could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour, do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
    Look out for the tourist information booths at airports, railway stations or bus stations, the guides manning the booths speak very good English and do give good tips on where to visit, directions, train and bus schedule.

9. Navigation
     Unless he or she is very familiar with the locals routes, the tour leader should carry a GPS units. It will also be good if another member of the team carry another GPS unit should the leader's one go faulty.
    Kevin was using a Beeline navigation unit that synchronized with pre-planned routes on his phone app. Sin & me were using the Garmin GPS units and had pre-plotted our daily routes into respective GPX maps usable in these units. We had pre-loaded the PortugalSpain & France Maps together with GPS coordinates of our destinations. Do ZOOM out to look for turning points further ahead; and ZOOM in at complicated junctions, otherwise one may make a wrong turn (it did happen to us sometimes).
    Alternatively, download the MAPS.ME app together with the relevant country maps. This app can be used offline.
    At the towns and cities, we used Google Maps to navigate to various places of interests that were not shown on our GPS units. In Spain, Google Maps does work in Cycling Mode.

10. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools.
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PRELUDE

The day before we had arrived at Zuheros, touted to be the most beautiful village in the world. It is indeed beautiful, with it's white-washed housed set amidst olive grove with the tall Sierras Subbéticas in the background. How we wished that we could stay one more day here, but we have to move on. Still we have a morning here to enjoy the place!
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MORNING RIDE AT ZUHEROS


Cycling Route: Hacienda Minerva>Via Verdes Greenway Subbética>Viaducto Zuheros>Zuheros Old Station>>Hacienda Minerva.
This is a quick short ride along the Vias Verdes Greenway Subbética section of the Vias Verdes hiking/cycling trail. It is an easy route that goes along the old Olive Oil Train Railway that passes through beautiful olive groves.
Cycling Distance: 5.0 km.     Level: Easy
(Zoom out to see drive route to Alcalá la Real)


The weather up here in the highlands was cold, but now it was even unexpectedly colder as a cold front had blown in from the North. In this cold morning, these cats have their fur all fluffed up to protect them from the chilly breeze. But I couldn't do the same as not anticipating it to be so cold, I had regrettably couriered my Uniglo down jacket from Porto to Granada during the early days of our tour. Well no point crying over spilled milk and the beautiful scenery outside just beckoned us. I donned my inner thermals wore two layers of pants & t-shirts and finally my light wind-breaker raincoat over; we just have to go cycle and enjoy the place it would be a loss not to!. But first before we go out, it's breakfast at the hotel's dining room.


A collage photo of the great buffet breakfast offered by our hotel, Hacienda Minerva. It was really a fantastic meal with a wide range of freshly-baked pastry, deli meat, fruits and drinks. There was even a good range of coffee beans and tea leafs.


The breakfast also included this Tortas De Aceite (oil torta cakes) from "Ines Rosales". These are torta flat breads fried in olive oil and perhaps some cinnamon too. We liked it that much that in latter days went hunting to buy some to take back home!


Hacienda Minerva has beautiful grounds, we walked around a bit but in this chilly morning or legs were getting very itchy ....
WE JUST HAD TO RIDE!

10:00am - The hotel conveniently lies along the Vias Verdes, a network of hundreds of kilometers of pathways for hikers and cyclists that goes along former railroad lines spanning across Spain.


We didn't have much time as would be checking out in a couple of hours, and so hurriedly we got out our bikes from the store and rode out. The pathway here is the Via Verdes de la Subbética section of the . It is so named as it runs along the hillside of the Sierras Subbéticas mountain range. Being on a former railway route, it is fairly flat, but do note that there is a 10 kph speed limit.


It's is so beautiful and calm here, the pathway is paved and on both sides olive grove ran down the slopes.


At some short stretches the tarmac has worn off, so do ride with care. But these are very few, and don't really interrupt the ease of the ride.


At the down-slope side, strong timber railings provides safety. We stopped at several of these steep slopes as they afford the best panoramic views of the valley below, it's one of green olive stretching far to the horizon, as far as the eye can see!


Here's a combo of photos of us enjoying the place, and our soft, cheery laughter penetrated the quiet silence.


An important landmark here is the Viaducto Zuheros (Zuheros Viaduct) looking newly painted in green and with concrete paved surface. It's not a water viaduct but rather a 100 meters long former railway bridge that runs high above the Río Bailón. On the right Castillo de Zuheros (Zuheros Castle) loomed over us.

Across on the other side, the track runs through a lightly forested area, a change from the olive groves. Autumn seems to be setting in as the trees had begun shedding their leaves.


As we continued on ahead we could see the road leading up to Zuheros town on the right. Hah! Yesterday, we could have rode on the Vias Verdes to get to Hacienda Minerva! We just didn't know better. Sin had gone down but we had thought that this was a gravel track and stuck to the main road. Regrets!


As time was short, we did not ride all the way to Zuheros town. We rode just slightly beyond the bridge. Just after the bridge was the Antiguo Apeadero de Zuheros (Zuheros Old Train Station), it's not in use anymore but has been pristinely restored.


More photos of us at the Zuheros Viaduct and the old train station; Castillo de Zuheros (Zuheros Castle) was always looming overhead.


This photo of our return trip, cycling on the Zuheros Viaduct is significant; it's used as the cover photo for the Viaducto Zuheros Facebook Page Photo. Seems like we were the first to post photos to this FB page - quick go have a look at it before the change the cover photo 😊.


This being a Sunday, we were not the only ones riding here; on and off small groups of cyclists will go zooming pass us on their mountain bikes or road bikes.


12:00 noon - The previous evening, because of the cold weather, we had decided not to cycle from Zuheros to Alcalá la Reall, and had through the hotel booked a large van to take us there. But what came was even better than a large van; what came was a Mercedes 8-seater together with a trailer for loading our folded bikes and luggage bags! Seem like the hotel receptionist did a more than excellent booking job in communicating our needs. Many thanks, Senorita!

Our driver, José Granados, was a cheerful guy with a sweet smile. Perhaps our happiness has infected him too. He didn't speak much English, but through Google Translate we were able to tell him that his name, which is pronounced Hosay, means in "in good spirits" in the Hokkein dialect. He just burst out in his usual happy laughter!
He can be contacted via phone at +34-659909278 (WhatsApp) / +34-620255732, or through e-mail at info@taxidelasubbetica.com. Their website is http://taxidelasubbetica.com/.


As we drove off, I turned back to see Zuheros, the most beautiful village in the world; this Pueblos Blanco (white town) with it's white-washed housed standing out among the green olive groves and with the grand Sierras Subbéticas mountains in the background. Good bye, and thank you for a wonderful time.
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ALCALÁ LA REAL

As we approached Alcalá la Real, sitting on a high plateau could be seen the Castillo de Alcalá la Real (Alcalá la Real Castle) overlooking and guarding the whole town like a silent sentinel. Like most towns in this region, to the right of the castle can be seen a church. The one here (seen at the right of the castle), the Iglesia mayor abacial de Alcalá la Real (Mayor Abbey Church La Mota Fortress), was quite tall and conspicuous.

1:00pm - Many of the roads at Alcalá la Real are narrow and very steep. Somehow Jose missed a junction, and for him to turn back would be tedious at these narrow streets; so we just told him no problems and to drop us at the most convenient wide street and we will cycle from there.
We misjudged ourselves! The roads when cycling appeared even steeper, and worse still there were lined with cobble-stone which were good for walking but definitely impossible to cycle along with our small-wheeled Bromptons. So, we just swallowed our pride and pushed all the way to our home-stay!

At our home-stay Casa grande, we were surprised that the owners spoke perfect English - and not only that it's the Queen's English, with that distinct British accent! See, the place was operated by the mother & daughter team of Linda & Jade who hailed from England. They were equally surprised that we spoke very good English too. We explained that we were educated in English during our school days as Malaysia was a British colony. then known as British Malaya.
Like many British they have migrated to either Portugal or Spain to set up home as the cost of property and living at these two countries is relatively very much cheaper. They don't stay at Casa grande though, but at another house within walking distance.

2:00pm - We're out for a late lunch, taking a walk out to a place recommended by Jade. This photo illustrates better how steep the roads were - and this is the bottom of the a steeper slope!

Though their houses front directly onto the street and may not have gardens, many locals take pride in greening their balconies and windows.

2:00pm for us may be late for lunch; but for the locals it's an early lunch, their usual Spanish lunch time is around three pm. Above is our lunch at Taberna el Quinto de Cabildo that included Salmon sandwiches, Caesar's Salad, Ham and eggs (with a mountain of fried potatoes), Mushroom Omelet, Seafood Paella, and Cruzcampo Especial Beer & Victoria Malaga Beer.

The work off the heavy meal, we took a short walk around the area, nearby was the Plaza Arcipreste de Hita, a small courtyard where the statue of renown local sculptor Martinez Montares stood. Behind the statue were houses know as the Casas de Enfrente (Fronting Houses) and at the other end of the plaza was the Ayuntamiento de Alcalá la Real (Alcalá la Real City Council).

A nearby notice-board announced some interesting events in Alcalá la Real and the Andalusian region.
One is the Caminos de Pasión (Pathways of Passion) which runs through Adalusia, and which connects the towns of Alcalá la Real (in Jaén Province); BaenaCabraLucenaPriego de Córdoba and Puente Genil (in Córdoba Province); and CarmonaOsuna, Éciaj, and Utrera (in Seville Province). This programme introduces Andalusia through its fiestas and traditions, its food, its heritage, its natural attractions, and its arts & crafts. It also includes the La Semana Santa De Alcalá la Real (Easter Week in Alcalá la Real), with it's colorful celebrations and processions.

Later my buddies decided to go visit the Castillo de Alcalá la Real. Seeing how high up it is, I backed out and decided to stay back at our home-stay to rest my weak knees. To see their visit to the castle, see Sin's hApPy HaPpY blog on Alcala la Real.
Also know as the Fortaleza de La Mota, the castle is located at an elevation of 1,029 meters. It dates back to the 13th-14th century, although some elements of the structure are older.

In the evening it got even colder with the temperature dipping down to 9°C, but felt even much colder with a strong wind blowing. Perhaps to the locals this is normal, but for us   tropical creatures, braving this cold wind was a task and weren't we were glad to get indoors!
Steeling ourselves, we braved the harsh, windy cold to head for dinner. Along the way we passed by the Parroquia de Santa María la Mayor (Parish of Santa María Maggiore), and despite the cold I managed to make a quick stop for photos.

Dinner was at Restaurante Casa Pepe (at a lane opposite the church) and to start of we ordered a couple of bottles of wine. It's a godo thing that most eateries adopt the Spanish custom of providing free complimentary tapas with each order of wine. With our first order came these tapas with a sunny-side-up quail eggs sitting seductively atop a slice of bacon. There were six of us, so they gave us six servings coming in two plates; most generous of them.


The second tapas was one of ham slices on thick slices of bread. I don't think these are the much touted and very expensive Jamón ibérico, but the regular grade air-cured Spanish Jamón ham. Still it's one of the best ham in the world with a strong flavor and a good aroma that last long in the palate.
Back home we were not really wine drinkers, taking it only socially; but here we have learnt to like it. Perhaps it's easier and cheaper to appreciate the finer things of life here 😍.


And here's the rest of our meal (clockwise from top left):
1. Pan-fried trout in olive oil,
2 &3. Pork cutlet on eggs tapas that came free with the house Rioja red wine,
4. Cream spinach with toast,
5. Lamp chops in olive oil,
6. Vinegar-seasoned shark cutlet in batter.


If you're in Alcalá la Real, don't miss eating at Restaurante Casa Pepe, their food is very good and they have won many awards to attest to that.
We didn't really had to order much as we were already half full from the free tapas 😂. If you are touring in Spain, don't be shy - drink more wine as it's good and will also help cut down the food cost.

Brrr ... ¡ES FRÍO!
(That's "Brrr .... IT'S COLD!!!" in Spanish)

(For more photos of the Day 15, Click Here)
This is page 13 of a 16-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D14 Zuheros          |        Go To Other Days        |       Go to D16 Granada 1 > 
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