WHAT I SEE WHEN I RIDE: ORIHUELA, SPAIN
'What I see when I ride' is a series of blog posts that aim at transporting our riding community to some of the places we've been privileged to ride in through text and images.
Years back I used to spend about a couple of weeks every summer in my grandparents’ beach house in La Zenia, Orihuela -in the state of Alicante (Spain), bordering with Murcia. Southeast of Spain. Hot as in summer. It barely rains here.
When I think about this place I can almost smell the grilled sardines my grandfather used to make on the barbecue in the back of the house. The salt, the lemon. I can remember the taste, my fingers all messy, my stomach hurting -worth it. Time slows down in La Zenia.
For the first time, this year, we were very lucky to have the whole house for ourselves, for a month! And also for the first time, I brought my bike and was ready to get out there and explore this region's roads and hidden paths.
Many mornings, at about 7am, I’d start riding towards San Miguel de Salinas, a small town away from the myriad of hotels and restaurants that extend for hundreds of kilometers along the Costa Blanca on my gravel bike -a Specialized Diverge, aluminum frame. Basic stuff (and how good!).
From home base in La Zenia to San Miguel you’d ride almost exactly 12Km on perfect tarmac along a water canal -that I later learned it's 70km long and goes down all the way to Cartagena! (called Canal del Campo de Cartagena del Trasvase Tajo-Segura), to San Miguel. As you exit the canal you'd then go straight in the intersection, and begin pedalling through one of the most enjoyable road rides I’ve experienced to date: 12K of incredibly sharp and punchy short climbs and technical descents, one after the other, no time to chill -you’re either pushing watts up or you’re driving a F1 down the hills -either way you’re switching gears like you’re onboard a Ferrari with each up/down iteration not lasting more than 2 to 4 mins -no flats. Kind of like a roller coaster for cyclists, with literally hundreds of us riding that stretch of road (CV-952) between Alingui Castillo to Restaurante Rebate at any given time.
I loved the fact that this 12Km segment was suitable for every fitness level -you’d see Road, Gravel, TT and MTB bikes. Fast and slow, fancy kit and basic steel frames. All ages and genders. Everyone will wave at each other, all smiles.
Like go-karting, I reckon we were all trying to see how fast we could get at completing the 12K and back lap (24Km) -I must have ridden that road 12 times at least, and I could tell how confidence started to build up exponentially by how I’d start approaching the climbs strategically knowing how much time I’d have to recover during the descent before I switched back to the bigger sprockets and started pushing up again. Also, I saw 2 cars in that 12K section in total, during the month I was there. Zero traffic, pure bliss.
Upon arriving at the intersection with CV-925 by Restaurante Rebate I’d turn right (unless I was chasing laps on the CV-952, in which case I'd just turn back) towards Torremendo- about 2Km of a soft ascend to then descend for about 4Km, very easy (specially after coming from the CV-952 aka roller coaster). Torremendo is about ¼ the size of San Miguel -tiny! Situated right next to the Embalse de La Pedrera (embalse means reservoir). The CV-925 road that then links with the CV-950 makes a full loop of about no more than 10Km around this beautiful reservoir where you’d often see pink flamingos perfectly lined up standing on one foot and many other birds. Hey, what a road to ride.
There was also a 5Km stretch of gravel paths that run along the reservoir on the opposite side and connected with Torremendo, close by the town of Vistabella, that I took a few times, up until I was chased by a mad dog wanting to bite my legs (seriously what's up with this stuff? not the first time that this happens to me) and so I switched back to the tarmac.
I rode around the reservoir with my camera one more time before I left La Zenia as the sun was rising and tried to capture some of the essence of what it felt like to ride solo in Orihuela from mid June to mid July this year.
There is definitely a lot more to explore as you go both further inland or left towards the region of Murcia. I found the roads to be perfectly paved, very little traffic and a strong rider community there. One thing is for sure; I'll keep bringing my bike to La Zenia.
Bringing this piece to an end with a couple of fun anecdotes.
1 // During my rides, I'd see many (like, seriously, heaps) signs pointing cyclists to 'Lovelo Coffee Ride', every km or so you'd see one, not huge, but strategically placed right at a cyclist's eye sight level and exactly in a turn or a curve where riders have to slow down a bit and slightly lift their heads up. It was an aggressive signalling campaign I must say but incredibly smart and well thought, specially because the bulk of those signs were placed in areas with very little transit apart from us cyclists. One day of course, I had to visit these folks. Awesome shop (one of those well done blends of coffee shop and bike shop), very nice people (a Brazilian + Belgian couple run this business), great coffee!, and huge screens with Giro D'Italia Donne 2022 live at the time. Chapeau! If you're around go get a coffee there.
2 // Many times I'd go riding wearing my Hawaiian shirt, the type of shirt you'd wear to go for a walk in the beach, but for 80Km rides instead in this case. The brazilian lady at Lovelo asked me; "did you really wear that shirt while riding?", I proudly said 'heck yeah', and she went "I like it, people doing different stuff." -so now you know, wear your hawaiian shirts on your gravel rides girls and boys, it's the new hype. I did get a few 'wtf' stares a couple times as I passed a few riders wearing my hawaiian shirt about 50Km away from the coast, but I loved those as much as I loved the brazilian lady comment ;) (scroll down to see the infamous hawaiian shirt, while celebrating my birthday with a shot of 'Pacharán'!)
Thanks for reading!
This is it! -me + Pacharán.