“Final call for Flight EZ8607 to Malaga departing at Gate 109”. This is my flight and I quickly ran into WH-Smith to pick a bottle of water, a packet of wine gums – oh and yes, the August edition of Cyclist magazine.
Finally, I was on my way to spend a week with Julio & Janice (J&J) and their two dogs – Henry & Kavakat their new home in Andalusia, Southern Spain – the Los Olivos Cycling & Triathlon Camp. (www.losolivoscttc.info)
Let me rewind to 2010. My family and I had been living in Dubai since 2005 and I had decided to switch race focus from adventure racing (due to lack of races in the Region) to triathlon. These were the days prior to TriDubai Group when there were only small training groups. Long-time friend Kevin West who captained Tri-Pirates triathlon club, invited me into this small tightly knit group, and this is where I met J&J. Fast forward to 2018 and J&J now long gone from Dubai – living in their retirement dream location high up in the Sierra Jaen mountains running the Los Olivos Cycling and Triathlon Camp. Now, I had been promising to check out their camp for a while, but with the all familiar Dubai hectic work and continual excuses this promise kept on getting postponed. So, finally I was en-route!
So how can I describe Los Olivos? Their home is a renovated Andalusian farmhouse ‘cortijo’ with 4 guest rooms, each with en-suite bathroom, high speed internet, several areas to relax and enjoy the panoramic views. Their camp can more be described as an upmarket bed & breakfast that is geared around like-minded sports enthusiasts and their families. The location is in a fantastic area of Andalusia with great access to many historic towns such as Granada, Cordoba, Malaga and Sevilla.
The local town of Alcala La Real (6km’s from their cortijo) is a bustling traditional Spanish town overlooked by an impressive castle dating back to the 8th century –which kids would love to visit. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants sprawled around the historic town square, great to just sit and sip café as you watch Spanish locals going through their day to day pace of life. This is the real Spain and interestingly, throughout my trip I did not notice any other tourists.
Are you looking for a very cost effective and easy holiday destination and a break from the heat and pace of Dubai that works virtually all year round? The area has some sensational cycling, running and open water lake and pool swimming in a very relaxed and picturesque area of Spain just a mere 2½ hours north of Malaga or 45 minutes from Granada (via British Airways/Turkish Airlines).
The Andalucía region of Southern Spain is steeped with history and was under Moorish rule from the 8th-15th centuries, a legacy that shows in its architecture, including such landmarks as the numerous castles & watchtowers that are nestled high on the mountain slopes. This region is the real Spain – far away from the southern Spanish coastline resorts that act as a magnet to the seasonal British bargain holiday hunters and European baby-boomer retirees. If you are addicted to your morning Starbucks coffee and a copy of the Daily Mail newspaper, then this place is not for you. Come and experience real café, locally made tapas and authentic Spanish hospitality.
After a 3-hour flight I breeze through immigration and am greeted by my excited hosts.
Fortunately, I did not need to pack my road bike as Julio lent me one of his Scott carbon road bikes which made my travel super easy. So, my luggage sports equipment consisted of only bike shoes, helmet and pedals. What’s convenient is that Los Olivos provides rentals of bikes, whether road or MTB, so just pack your lycra and sunnies!
My ears pop as we drive on the winding highway up through the foothills of the Sierra mountains and stop for some early dinner and my first taste of the local Cruzcampo cerveza. I was pleasantly surprised by the relatively cheap cost of restaurant food and beverages in this area – meaning you could be fed and watered for less than $6!
We arrive at Los Olivos before dusk, the shadows draw in over the olive fields and then we are greeted with an uninterrupted orange sunset that paints its way across the horizon from the balcony. The three of us discuss over some more cerveza and tapas, the plan for the next day – this being my first introduction to cycling the hills and countryside of the Sierras.
My residence was guest suite No. 2, a beautifully decorated annexed en-suite room that is accessible from the enclosed quaint white-washed terraced courtyard. I nod off to sleep quickly – even with the 3-hour time difference between Spain and Dubai.
We have an early rise, some coffee and then a chilly downhill cycle into Alcala La Real town to meet cycling friend Tom at their local café. We are greeted by a friendly waiter who understands the cyclist’s caffeine pre-ride fix. Finally, we are ready to spin our wheels to start the 85km circuit tour through the back roads and hills of the Sierra’s. What was immediately apparent to me was the virtually traffic free roads and respect of drivers once one did pass by. Safe cycling – yes, I would give this area a 9/10. Since we were also at >1000M altitude, the temperatures were very manageable – even in the height of summer and with the bonus of fresh mountain air.
When I first heard about Los Olivos, I imagined just hard-core triathletes and cyclists being attracted to this place and spend their non-riding time comparing their race times and how often they shave their legs. Simply incorrect – and a big draw card to this location is the bountiful opportunities for families also. J&J have created their home with a very chilled out ambience with several local attractions nearby. Great place to relax, read a book, amuse their very friendly dogs and train in the endless swimming and plunge pool.
J&J have developed 4 fantastic road cycling tours (differing levels) suitable at various times of the year that start and finish from their cortijo. Additional routes include the challenging and famous climbs often used by La Vuelta a España and MTB cycling that will challenge and immerse you in the natural landscape. The trail running will improve your level of fitness as you navigate through the tracks that meander through the olive fields enjoying stunning scenery. Other ride options include Sierra Nevada mountain (3,478m elevation, being the highest road pass in Europe) which is a 55km drive and provides options of a 36km road or MTB climb. Winter options include some great (and affordable) ski/snowboarding at the Resort.
We have another successful day on the saddle and after an afternoon trail run it is time to relax and enjoy the cool evening breeze. Janice has cooked up a tasty healthy meal for us and we kick back with a local bottle of red to discuss tomorrow’s plans.
As part of Los Olivos camp, Janice is a fully qualified in-house sports soft tissue, massage & sports therapist (UK -VTCT Level 3&4) and gaining quite a local clientele base. So, all I can say is if you visit – you have no excuses! ■
Words + Photos by: Giles Richardson