Extremadura from/to Madrid

The mountains of the Sierra de Gredos lie to the north west of Madrid and regularly feature in la Vuelta - the Tour of Spain. As well as providing the opportunity to tackle some interesting climbs on quiet roads, travelling west through the Sierra de Gredos leads to the fascinating area of northern Extremadura. The return to Madrid contoured the slopes of the hills to the south of the river Tajo, through some very quiet roads, eventually leading to Toledo and Madrid.

An account of a cycle tour in September/October 2003

Going west: Sierra de Gredos to Plasencia

Day 1 Torrelodones to Burgohondo (97km)

From Torrelodones we headed towards El Escorial. The road was busy with traffic heading for the final time trial of the Vuelta and also a major mountain biking event nearby. El Escorial would be a good place to start from, especially if you can leave some time for the monastery and other historic attractions. A steady climb out of El Escorial is followed by a steep descent into Robledo de Chavela. Pleasant roads winding through sparse pine forest and a heavy pine scent brought us to Cebreros. Ancient slim granite fence posts supported the fences at the side of the road. After a much needed cup of tea in Cebreros it was down to join the very quiet N403 northwards for about 8km until turning left on the AV902 for Navaluenga. There was no accommodation open or available in Navaluenga but the Hostal El Alberche in Burgohondo had plenty of room and good hearty food. It had seemed a long day and we were beginning to regret not stopping earlier, perhaps at the hotel we’d passed on the brief ride along the N403. The main activity in Burgohondo seemed to be the dismantling of the bullring that had been erected in the main square for the previous weeks festivities. The hotel had been full all week but now their season was over. We were the only guests.

Day 2 Burgohondo to Arenas de San Pedro via Pto de Serranillos (60km)

We’re soon climbing towards the Pto de Serranillos. Wizened blackberries on the roadside bushes betray the shortage of water through the summer. In damp shaded pockets other bushes show off their succulent sweet berries. The cultivated patches of ground hugging vines get smaller as we ascend. We climb around 700m mostly on reasonable gradients. Just below the summit, bulls graze and at the summit more cattle are mysteriously penned in an ancient stone built corral. Traversing the summit in mist, we coast down through fine weather and pine forest towards a quite different environment. The villages appear more prosperous. Vines have given way to olives. After Santa Cruz del Valle, we cross over the N502. An unwelcome climb of around 200m takes us into Arenas de San Pedro and the Hosteria Los Galayos.

Arenas de San Pedro is a tourist destination with its famous caves, "Cuevas del Águila", discovered in 1963, six kilometres away from the town. In the centre of the town is the castle of Triste Condesa (the Sad Countess), with a great keep and the Gothic 16th-century church of Nuestra Señora de Asunción.

Day 3 Arenas de San Pedro to Jarandilla (63km)

We climb out of Arenas through pine forest on the quiet C501. We are soon in the bustling town of Candeleda seeking out the panaderia (bakery) and its local specialties. The savoury items were particularly good. The road continues through a series of small villages, all of which appear to have plenty of accommodation. The C501 had become the EX203. We were now in our destination area of northern Extremadura. Although not particularly busy, the road is the main thoroughfare from east to west in this area. There are good views of the sierras to the north, but the road seemed somewhat flat and featureless - improved for the benefit of motorised traffic. An alternative might be to drop down to the small road that tracks the river Tietar before climbing up towards our destination, Jarandilla. Here we headed for the Parador with its impressive courtyard and spacious rooms. There is a range of accommodation in Jarandilla

Day 4 Jarandilla to Plasencia (55km)

What a day! The first stretch was about 200 metres from the hotel to the safety of a bar where we waited for a downpour to finish. Roads had turned to rivers. Flotsam was being funnelled through the streets of Jarandilla. We had known that the weather forecast was for bad weather. But this bad? Worse still, it was predicted to continue for some while. Our planned route was to have taken us over the Pto del Piornal by way of the attractions of the Monasterio de Yuste. Charles V, Europe's last Holy Roman Emperor, spent his final years at the monastery that sits just above the village of Cuacos de Yuste. This area is La Vera, a mountainous corner of Extremadura famous for its paprika. In many villages, red paprika peppers can be seen hanging from the old stone houses to dry. In pouring rain and dense cloud our plan was abandoned in favour of following the EX203 directly into Plasencia. The road surface was littered with debris deposited by the recent torrents. Various signs along the road indicated we were crossing one of the famous old migration routes or cañadas. Cañadas are still marked on the 1:50000 Instituto Cartográfico Nacional maps and have their origins in the migratory routes of the wild fauna. As species became domesticated, shepherds maintained the movements of the large herds and the result is a vast network of tracks - really extended pasture - which link up the regions of Spain. In early summer when water becomes scarce, migration (Transhumanz) begins. Livestock were driven vast distances from areas in southern and central Spain into mountainous more humid regions further north. This custom continued until the beginning of the 20th century. A keen interest in the practice, its ecological value and its revival continues through the Organisation Trashumancia y Naturaleza. Some compensation for the appalling weather was the late and wonderful lunch that we enjoyed at the friendly Hotel Rincón Extremeño, just off the main square in Plasencia. There has been a market in the main square of Placencia since the 12th century and there is plenty to see around this historic town. It would be a good base for exploring this area of northern Extremadura.

Returning east: Plasencia to Madrid via Toledo

Day 5 Plasencia to Navalmoral de la Mata (60km)

The bad weather continued, forcing a change to our plans. The intended route for the next few days had been to travel south to Trujillo, then east over quiet roads to Guadalupe after which we would travel north on the Via Verde de la Jara before heading east towards Madrid. This was impossible in the conditions. A long climb out of Plasencia gave good reason to stock up on excellent pastries at the panaderia in Malpartida from where we joined the EX108. On a good day the ride would have been pleasant, but strong cross winds and driving rain made it fairly miserable. Again the day was saved by a great lunch, this time at the Hotel Mayo in Navalmorel. In the afternoon we visited an internet café to research the accommodation options and further plan our revised route. Just plugging the names of possible towns and villages into the accommodation section of www.tourspain.es delivered the information we needed.

Day 6 Navalmoral to El Puente del Arzobispo (60km)

For the third day running we set off in rain. On the EX118, we lurched from one roadside petrol station to the next, having a coffee or admiring the waterfalls spilling off the man-made structures. The Roman ruins got a quick sideways glance as we crossed the Rio Tajo where it is the Embalse de Valdecanas. Turning left onto the EX387 we soon had improved weather and a great ride through ancient vine plantations. Quiet roads led all the way to El Puente del Arzobispo and the Hostale Navas. Another good lunch soon followed at the local bar/restaurant. El Puente del Arzobispo has a beautiful setting on the banks of the Rio Tajo. The local clay provides the basis for a long established ceramics industry. Nearby Talavera is perhaps more famous and well known for its mass-produced ceramics. El Puente del Arzobispo makes claims to be more supportive of a commitment to preserve traditional style and quality with the production of hand thrown, hand painted and individually signed items. Almost every family seems to have a tiny factory, the Hostale Navas included. Ceramics are everywhere! I'd never had a room with ceramic lightshades before nor seen such a stylish frontage to a dry cleaners shop!

Day 7 El Puente del Arzobispo to Los Navalmorales (76km)

Heading south, it was a steady climb to La Estrella where we fix a puncture and have a coffee while contemplating the framed signed photo of ex Chelsea footballer, Frank le Boef, behind the bar. Apparently he married a local girl. Then it is left on the road to Fuentes after which we cross the Via Verde de la Jara that we had originally planned to use. It looked a great route but after all the rain we were glad to be on proper roads. Information on all of the via Verdes can be found at their web site. There are over 7000km of disused railway lines being converted for recreational use and many of them are in remote areas. Recently finished routes may not appear on maps so a visit to the web site is well worth it when planning a trip. The site is in Spanish so the Alta Vista or Google translation tools are useful. The CM4171 took us through Buenasbodas all the way to Los Navalmorales. This is one of those roads shown on the Michelin map with a green line ('scenic') and red dots ('difficult or dangerous section of road'). It didn't disappoint. The road surface wasn't wonderful, particularly around Espinosa del Rey and a fast pace would be difficult anywhere along its length. But with no traffic and good scenery it is well worth a visit. It was just what we needed after the days in bad weather. As the traffic free road wound its way through ancient olive forest, we watched deer with young grazing peacefully. We just made it to Navalmorales in time for another late great lunch, this time at the Hostal Capitol.

Day 8 Los Navalmorales to Toledo (78km)

The CM401 was quiet and pleasant and we were soon at the panaderia in Navahermosa. The CM403 led us to Menasalbas. Outside the town were brown piles of a by product of the local industry. Just as in Puente del Arzobispo, almost every family seemed to have a stake in the local industry, only instead of ceramics, it was cattle feed lots. Lot upon lot surrounded the town creating a very distinctive environment. In looking for the panaderia we found the old centre of the town. This was attractive and not what was expected from the approach through the feed lots. After Cuerva, the CM4013 led us into Toledo. It was interesting to see Toledo but quite difficult to adjust to such a busy place. We stayed at the peaceful and well-located Hostal del Cardenal which lies just within the city walls alongside the main entrance.

Day 9 Toledo to Arunjuez (45km) and Madrid

We left Toledo early. It was a Sunday and we wanted to make sure that we got to Madrid early enough to be able to take our bikes on the Metro all the way to the airport (see Madrid airport details). A pleasant ride along the CM4001 took us to Anover del Tajo. Just a couple of kilometers further and there is a 'barcaza' or ferry over the Rio Tajo. Shown on the Michelin map, in the road picture below, the track to the ferry is on the right between the two road signs. This gives access to a quiet approach to Arunjuez and the railway station. We just walked onto the train with our bikes at Arunjuez station and were delivered to Atocha station in Madrid. From there a short trip on one of the many trains that stop at Nuevos Ministerios connected us with the Metro line to the airport. Simple.