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We spent the last week of August riding in Les Arcs, France with Trail Addiction. This is a pending story of the great week of riding we had.
We spent a few days in Malaga, Spain with Sierra Cycling on June 5-9, 2013.
Sierra Cycling has been in this business for over 20 years. Prior to our booking, Sierra answered promptly to all our question that we emailed to them. Sierra's base is located in Fuengirola, about 20 minutes from the Malaga airport. Airport transfers were included in the price of the Sierra's holiday package and they worked perfectly both upon our arrival and departure. Inconvenient transfer times at around midnight were no problem at all for Sierra to arrange.
In Fuengirola, Sierra occupies two houses some 200 meters from the beach. The beach boulevard has good selection of restaurants. Quality of Sierra's house we stayed at was decent. No luxurious but ok. We have to admit that we are relatively picky when it comes to accommodations. Yes, we can happily spend nights in a tent or in a primitive shelter when, for example, in a wilderness. However, when in western European cities, we expect a certain standard, especially in terms of cleanliness. Sierra's house was not free from marks and stains, but decent enough for us to feel ok. Our beds were not very comfortable and they were also too short for anybody longer than 185cm. Rooms were air-conditioned. According to Scandinavian standards, we would give our accommodation three stars. Quite substantial breakfast was included in the price. Beer, wine, soft drinks and juice were also freely available. Overall, the standard of living will not stop us from visiting Sierra again in the future.
Photo: Sierra Cycling's house on the right. View towards the beach.
We were also happy with our guides who were nice, knowledgeable, helpful and familiar with the trails we rode. Uplifts with minibuses worked as well, even though we would have preferred a dedicated trailer for bikes. Instead, bike were packed to the back of vans with blankets protecting frames from scratching each other and pedals from scratching frames. This method of transporting bikes was not really an issue for us, but it appeared to be for some fellow riders.
For those wondering what bike to bring for a holiday with Sierra Cycling, we saw everything from XC hard tails and from full suspension 100mm 29er's to all-mountain rigs with 160mm of suspension. For other than pure XC riding we would suggest a 140-160mm full suspension bike with dual ply tires. During our stay there were some XC riders in a separate group guided by another Sierra Cycling's guide.
We were overall satisfied with our four day's of riding in Malaga. Flight schedules from Scandinavia made it possible to spend a long weekend with four full days of riding by taking only two days, Thursday and Friday, off the work. It was a small price to pay for somewhat exhausted feeling when we headed back to work early on Monday morning after having spent the night on a plane.
When it comes to riding itself, we felt that four days was quite optimal for us. There are, of course, much more trails to discover even with Sierra than what we could explore during our short stay. In that sense, we only scratched the surface of what riding in Malaga has to offer. Having said that, for a full week of riding we would prefer to look for destinations that are practically impossible to visit within a long weekend, either because of much longer airport transfers or due to bad flight schedules.
Regarding trails, the highest altitude where we started our descent was no more than 915m (at the Telecom Tower) above the sea. We regard vertical descent available in Malaga as decent but not great. Especially since other trails started at a lower altitudes. Also, almost none of the trails continued all the way down to the sea level. A typical trail involved somewhere in a range of 300-400 meters of vertical descent. Some trails had slightly more, some slightly less. Each descent was followed by a van assisted uplift. As such, riding in Malaga certainly doesn't compare to lift assisted riding in a bike park. It is different. Not necessarily better or worse. It really depends on what you like and what you are looking for.
All in all, we can recommend Malaga as a destination for those looking for a few days of nice riding in a beautiful landscape, and Sierra Cycling for those looking for a reliable organiser of all-mountain riding in Malaga. Holiday packages from Sierra Cycling are available throughout the year except in July and August when they are close due to the very warm weather.
This was the day many regular visitors to Malaga had been talking about. Today, we were set to head to Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, an area known for its natural beauty. With this being our last day of riding in Spain, needless to say that we were really excited about the opportunity of exploring it. This was set to be a long day considering that our flight back to Scandinavia was scheduled to departure some time after midnight. At the same time, the late flight meant that we could enjoy a full day of riding without having to stress about risking missing the flight.
Desfiladero de los Gaitanes
We arrived at Desfiladero de los Gaitanes natural area after about an hour's transfer with minibuses. We parked our vehicles at a place that appeared to be not particularly high up in the mountains considering that this was supposed to be another shuttle assisted day of riding. Indeed, according to our Suunto Ambit, it was no more than some 400m above the sea level. However, the scenery looked very satisfying already here.
Photo: We were greeted by a beautiful scenery after unloading our bikes from minibuses.
After pushing our bikes in a difficult rocky terrain for a while, it was time for today's first single track descent. It was a relatively short (3km) trail that took us to an altitude of 260m. Keen on pedalling some uphill on this last riding day, we volunteered for a quite steep asphalt road to the next descent that started at 470m. It was a really hot day and some of our fellow riders seemed a bit skeptical whether it really was a wise decision to skip the motorised uplift. Anyways, the next descent was again no more than 2km long to an altitude of 260m. However, its profile made it deeply satisfying indeed. We decided to ride it again, but this opting for an uplift with our minibus.
The next one was the thing of today. A 4km ride on an asphalt road took us to El Chorro, a small village at an altitude of just above 200m, some 15km from a larger town Alora. Located at the heart of magnificent and infamous El Camino del Rey, El Chorro is a popular destination for climbers, hikers, mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiast alike.
El Camino del Rey - The walk of death
El Camino del Rey (The King's little pathway in English) is a 3km long and 1m wide walkway built on a mountain wall around 100m above the ground level. Located between villages Alora and Ardales, the path was built between 1901 and 1905 to provide workers of two hydroelectric plants, Chorro Falls and Gaitanejo Falls, with means of crossing between them, and transporting material and equipment. Camino del Rey got its name when King Alfonso XIII walked the path as he inaugurating the power stations in 1921. Nowadays, the pathway has collapsed in many places. Deemed to be too dangerous, authorities closed access to it in 2011 after several fatal accidents. However, it is still accessible for climbers. With the Spanish government planning to restore the pathway by 2015, Camino del Rey is attracting a lot of enthusiasts who want to experience it in its current, dangerous form.
Before continuing our riding, we had a lunch in a local restaurant with some good food and magnificent views down to mountain walls on the opposite side of the water pod. We were seriously impressed by the breathtaking beauty of this area and can warmly recommend paying a visit to El Chorro.
After the lunch, we loaded bikes to the vans for an uplift to an altitude of 600m, presumably the highest point attainable with a car. From here we had the last two descents of the day waiting for us. Both descents started at the same point but trails were partly different. We witnessed some minor crashes in certain rocky sections of these descents, but nothing more dramatic. Our riding day ended with a cold beer or two in a primitive bar at the El Chorro's small railway station. Then it was time to drive back to Sierra's Fuengirola base again.
With late flight back home, we had plenty of time to pack our bikes and joint the rest of the riding crew for a dinner before we were transported to the airport at just before the midnight.
Photo: Malaga airport at midnight.
Statistics for the fourth riding day (measured by Suunto Ambit):
After yesterday's small group, minibuses were again fully loaded this morning with at least 15 guys joining for today's ride. Riding in a small group really makes a big difference. A large group most likely brings substantial differences in riding skills, resulting in more stops and waiting, also partly due to more flat tires. But hey, this is a holiday and not a competition and therefore it shouldn't be too big of an issue, especially when the sun and beautiful landscape makes any waiting certainly less disturbing.
Montes de Malaga natural park
So, we packed our vans and left the house at 10am as usual, this time heading to Montes de Malaga natural park. The park is located north from Malaga, around a 45 minute transfer from Sierra’s beach house. The park's altitude varies between 91 and 1030 metres above the sea level. Our starting point was at 840m and offered some great views to Malaga, the capital of the Costa del Sol.
Photo: Getting ready for today's first descent at 840 meters above the sea in Montes de Malaga.
Unfortunately, the first 5km section of the descent to an altitude of 470m was on gravel roads, presumably due to lack of any off-road options. However, after a climb to 610m the really fun part started with a 5km single track descent to 140m. There, minibuses were waiting for us for the second uplift of the day.
The second descent started at an altitude of 290m. The straight forward single track down to 100m was short but still great fun, again with some great views down to the valley. We would have liked to continue this descend forever. Too bad that this trail was only 2km long. Once again, we packed our bikes to a minibus and headed for a lunch, which we enjoyed in a nice local restaurant with great views from the patio.
Photo: Time for a lunch.
After the tasty lunch, we were transferred to the start of the third descent at an altitude of 530m. It was a 5.5km long trail and took us down to 90m. This descent was again a bit more twisty and reading from faces it made great fun. On our way towards the valley floor we encountered some animals.
Photo: Proceeding through a herd of animals on our descent.
That was it for the riding in Montes de Malaga natural park. We liked it a lot and it was once again something different compared to what we had experienced in Mijas during the previous two days.
From here, half of our group took a van back to the beach house but we preferred to go for the last descent of the day in Mijas. Half an hour transfer took us to an altitude of 450m in the Mijas. From there, it was a 12km descending route consisting of single track, gravel roads and a final stretch on the asphalt back to the beach.
Statistics for the third riding day (based on Suunto Ambit measurements):
It was again nice to smell the breakfast and fresh brewed coffee when we woke up at 8am. During the breakfast we heard that a big group of fellows who had been riding with us yesterday had decided to take a day off from biking following their in-depth research of local pubs and clubs last night. It meant that we were only three guys, including our guide, heading to mountains at 10am.
We disembarked our minibus at 430m above the sea, thereafter first pedalling and finally pushing our bikes on steep hill for a total distance of some 1.5km to begin our decent at 600m above the sea. From there, the first stage was a 5km descent to 315m was really enjoyable single track in the forest with great views down to the valley. After a coffee break and some snacks in the sun, it was time for something different. After a few kilometers on an asphalt, the rest of the day was dedicated for XC riding. Let us emphasise that our guide was very good at listening to our preferences as regards to riding. It was our unanimous choice to ride XC for the rest of the day.
All in all, we found today's riding immensely satisfying both in terms of variation and views. Our small riding group meant that everything went very smoothly. When back at the beach, we had following statistics for the day’s riding (based on Suunto Ambit measurements):
Photo: A cable car from 800m to 1600m followed by a chairlift took us to the highest point of today's riding at 2160m, the inception of the DH track.