We were met off the flight at the designated collection point by Mark Lancaster whose wife Zoe had communicated to us before departure by a phone call and email with pedals, helmet, shoes and cycling gear in tow.
After a scenic drive away from the coast to Pedreguer we arrived at Cycle Retreats, as soon as the car doors opened and saw the sight of the beautiful pool and house we were instantly reassured that this was going to be the perfect break. We were then welcomed by a smiling Zoe with lunch already prepared and waiting for us, salad, hams, cheeses and fruit with an array of beverages galore for us to take on our initial calorie boost before the afternoon leg-spinner.
After the scenic tour of the property and facilities, we were shown to our rooms to unpack and change into our cycling gear. Mark had already taken our pedals of us and would fit these onto our bikes while we were getting ready.
The room was spacious and cool with breath-taking views. A small tub of chamois cream was on our pillow with two water bottles which was a lovely touch.
We made our way to the garage where our bikes were waiting for us. Previously we had been asked our bike measurements by email so the bikes we already to jump on. I fitted my Garmin stem that I brought with me so I could record our rides.
Mark, gave us a short safety briefing and checked over that we were all happy, then the automatic gates opened and we were off. Ensuring we cycled on the correct side of the road we headed through some small villages to Benigemela then over the river up through Murla and onto Orba. Whether it was the air conditioning from the plane or just the early morning start to catch the flight out, I felt a little leg tired. Mark had cleverly designed this ride to see how we would fare the speeds we achieved and ability to climb hills to evaluate our ability for future rides. We stopped regularly so we did not get too stretched but to also make sure we were all ok. We were back by 4 pm and rode 20 miles in around an hour and a half with 1417ft climbing. My worse fear had been realised about the bike hire ‘what if it’s better than my own’. I had a black Trek which apart from not easily being able to take the backwater bottle out of its holder easily that was its only fault. Silky smooth gear changes, ultra-light, comfortable seating position could not fault it other than it made my own carbon Cannondale feel average.
So having burnt off the calories at lunchtime we were now met with the speciality of the house afternoon tea, or in my case, beer and cakes (very yummy and delicious). Would have been easy to polish them all off but dinner was just a few hours away so had to engage what little willpower I have for cakes.
Drinks are all free apart from spirits and the champagne for obvious reasons and they provide an honesty system. So it was time to chill by the pool with a few drinks, walk around the orange orchards or catch a mini siesta before dinner.
Now for me, one of the most important aspects of any holiday is the quality of the shower and in this regard 5 stars, plentiful supply of hot water with the power to exfoliate and massage after a hot ride. Ok, I may have gone on a little too much about it but for me, it’s an extremely important factor. There are also baths available should you be a long soak type of person.
Our three-course dinner was served a delightful lamb tagine was served up which was heart and tasty to boot. The Spanish red wine was light and fruity and complimented the food perfectly. Great conversation, but with the impending day of cycling ahead we said our good nights and retired to our comfy bed.
Started with the crow of a cockerel as you would expect in the countryside. Beautiful sunrise sat on my balcony and the warming sun hit my face, I had to remind myself that I was here to cycle and got myself downstairs for breakfast.
With the choice of cereals, juice and fresh fruit to help yourselves and then Zoe bounces in with the choice of porridge or Spanish omelette. I decided on the porridge, given the day ahead and it was creamy and delicious with a little honey. Toast kept coming as did the fresh coffee. A quick briefing after from Mark about what the day was going to entail and to ensure we had our water bottles full and to be ready on the saddle for 10 am.
They offer OTE supplement bars and powders to add to your water again on an honesty basis. Over the few days, I tried the blackcurrant and vanilla both tasty.
Ride – Orba, Parcent & Gata
So we set off on our bikes and to Orba and then Parcent with some gorgeous undulating countryside with typical Spanish sleepy villages.
We stopped at Xalo for our first coffee stop, a quirky cycling café with amazing shirts, water bottles and picture memorabilia from days gone past, tables and lights made from old saddles and wheels were charming.
Then off to Gata to what looked like the Spanish version of a tabletop mountain, again travelling on smooth car-free roads which gives plenty of time to take in the breathtaking vistas. We stopped at Beniarbeig for what was going to be our standard ham and cheese roll with of course the obligatory olives. So after about 45 mins we jumped back on the bikes and went to Benimeli and up to Mont Pego a gentle ascent, which reminded the legs why we have gears, from the top you looked down into the valley and the town Pego. Of course what goes up inevitably must come down and a very enjoyable free wheel section and then a leisurely tapping away down the bottom of the valley into Pego centre where we again sat and enjoyed our second drink break.
From then we climbed again to Orba before descending back home bang on time at 4 pm to see the table set with cakes and a crystal clear blue pool to dive into. All done we clocked up 52 miles with the 3,156ft ascent.
Paella Cooking Lesson
After the obligatory cake munching, I lay on the sunbeds with the sun gently warming my face while I reminded myself how lucky I was to come across this place and their amazing hosts.
You would have expected that after a day’s ride that the excitement finished there, well I for one was wrong. We were told that at 7 pm a local lady would be coming in and showing us how to make an authentic paella. So we convened at the large stone table already set out for dinner with the canopy of the vines overhead. There we viewed and excuse me not remembering her name who carefully went through the step by step from how important it is to have your Paella(pan) flat to correct quantities of ingredients and then once the water had been introduced never to touch the dish again upon pain of death or at least some Spanish curse.
The whole group then sat to enjoy this wonderful meal prepared for us again washed down with possibly too much wine but then why not. Though we were reminded that the following day we were going to be climbing the Coll de Rates. On that note, we drained our glasses and sped to bed.
Woke up to an unfamiliar sight outside my window, and it was not welcome….clouds.
On the positive side it was still over 20 degrees so who cares we were going to be climbing today anyway. So with a double helping of porridge, I was fuelled and ready for the impending mountain.
Ride – Coll De Rates
So with nervous in trepidation, we set out on our quest to conquer this mountain. Coll de Rates is the climb that everyone, from pro riders to novice cyclists, does when in Costa Blanca. It is by no means the steepest or the longest climb in the region, but for one reason or another, the ascent from Parcent has near-mythical status.
Coll de Rates is not difficult to find, we again cycled to Parcent head south and followed the CV-715 direction Tarbena and Callosa. You are then faced with a straight road leading straight into the mountain.
After the initial drag, the real climbing begins with a long and gentle right turn before the road starts twisting and turning higher and higher up the climb, in what seems to be a constant succession of corners and hairpin bends. There is hardly a straight bit of road in the first 4km.
Then all of a sudden, after a beautiful left U-turn comes the hardest part of Coll de Rates. The road straightens, leaving the mountain on your right and absolutely stunning views on your left, which may make you want to slow down just to enjoy them a while longer. In the distance, you can see exactly where you need to go and it doesn’t look near at all. We stopped a couple of times on the way up to enjoy the views and yes take a little break from spinning our wheels, you only use one gear on this ascent so don’t worry about having to change gears.
Luckily, there is an Austrian restaurant at the top where you can recharge your batteries and marvel at your achievement whilst enjoying a rather orgasmic(that will be edited out) apple strudel which was about 5000 calories but oh so worth the effort.
If there is ever a climb you enjoy more the higher up you cycle, then that has to be Coll de Rates.
Two of the party had decided they were done for the day and headed back home to put their feet up and have an afternoon swim, whilst myself and one other continued around the back of the mountain enjoying some wonderful meandering descents with some switchbacks, before stopping at the hotel Serrella for yes you guessed it another ham and cheese roll and olives.
We started again up the mountain to then be met with a few specs of rain. We came to a junction in the road to either continue climbing or descend back towards home, with the clouds building and coming towards us Mark the ride leader took what was the correct decision to head home. Within 30mins the heavens opened and we got soaked but the gradients were gentle and we coasted back home slightly soggier for our endeavours. Though we were due to do 6,000 ft of elevation that day we still managed 3,737 and covered 43 and a half miles. Well, it just showed us that we expect the sunshine but must not be surprised if the odd afternoon does not deliver. It certainly did not dampen our spirits or the cakes as we rolled back into the villa.
Though a couple of us looked like drowned rats whilst the other two rides looked smugly at us, Zoe bounced in again to announce that we would be having a yoga session starting in 1 hour. Well, I have to admit I was not to be feeling the impending body stretching with much excitement but when in Rome an all that. So we all appeared again downstairs with the yoga mats all in place, to have a lovely lady with a smile from ear to ear. Think she could see that we were not regular yogaists so went slowly and methodically with us. I can’t profess to have nailed every position and my pigeon was more like a dying swan but we all gave it our best crack. There were lots of giggles and enjoyment had along the way and I can honestly say we all came away from having enjoyed it especially the stretching parts which given our cycling exploits showed we all needed. Given the position our bodies take up un the saddle for hours upon end it’s clear to see why I recommend some yoga or stretching as I felt rejuvenated after the lesson.
That evening we enjoyed roast chicken legs done in a tomato, garlic and peppers, it was melt in your mouth and still salivating at the thought. Note at the start of our retreat Zoe asked us all if we had any allergies or foods we didn’t like to ensure she cooked something we would all enjoy.
Again our evening was filled with delightful conversation of our heroic events of the day with some great one-liners and quotes from the foot to the top of the Coll de Rates some which modesty prevents me from typing.
Day Four and My Last Day
Normal service resumed with the golden ball in the sky, shaded only that this was to be my last day here at Cycle Retreats.
Ride – Coast of Denia
After our usual plentiful breakfast, we set off this time to the coast, travelling towards Denia and then to Xabia getting to the drink stop of Moraira a stunning town set in a bustling little harbour. There we sat and watched the glistening Baltic sea enjoying our coffee. So at this point, I had an afternoon flight to catch so had to say a goodbye to my fellow cyclists and to Mark for keeping me safe and providing top tips whilst on our rides. Zoe drove down to meet us with Archie and I was whisked off with bike back to the villa to change before setting off back to the airport. With everything apart from my helmet which Zoe kindly posted back to me.
Zoe dropped me off at departures and with a warm hug that is reserved for friends and family went on my way.
Spent my flight going through all the pictures that I had taken whilst on my trip, wonderful memories that I hope to repeat again very soon.
As for Mark and Zoe, unfortunately, I am not literate enough to put into words how thankful and amazing this couple is. Mark, ensures you are safe to ride keeping you informed and laughing all the way ensuring you get the maximum experience out of every ride and his knowledge of the local terrain and bikes I think we only touched on at times. Zoe is the personification of being the hostess, attentive to your every need, drink was always topped up, need to watch her on that next time. Ensuring the collection and drop off is all carried out with military precision.
One of the guests best described it as a swan swimming, smooth and effortless, though we all know what paddling is involved to give the wonderful spectacle and experience that cycle retreats gave me.
Five stars I’m afraid does not do it justice. The true test of any holiday is whether you would go back and I already have my calendar open planning for my next visit.