Extremadura via Ávila,Ciudad Rodrigo,Ávila
From Ávila, a long day westwards put us to within easy reach of the natural park of Las Butecas - Sierra de Francia, with some great cycling and interesting sights. A climb over the Peña de Francia and a long descent, led to the delightful historic town of Ciudad Rodrigo. Heading south then got us to our primary objectives, the Sierra de Gata and Las Hurdes areas of northern Extremadura. The return journey was along the northern boundary of the Sierra de Gredos before returning to Ávila.
An account of a cycle tour in April 2007
A route map is available for this tour
Going east; Ávila to Ciudad Rodrigo
Day 1 Ávila to La Cabeza de Béjar (112km)
We had wanted to book somewhere for our first and last nights so that we could deposit things like bike packing materials rather than carry them with us. Our first choice, the El Rastro where we had stayed before, wasn’t available. We stayed at the Hosteria Bracamonte in the old town, which was fine and well placed for finding the road out of Ávila.
By turning left on leaving the walled town by the Puerta del Mariscal gate near the Bracamonte, crossing the river and turning right, then left onto the AV110 then AV111 lead to Cabezas del Villar. This was pleasant cycling along a quiet road amid prosperous agriculture. Left at the junction with the C610 and thunderstorms seemed all around us. We spent a couple of hours in a bus shelter at San Miguel de Serrezuela watching the roads turn to rivers.
The best cycling followed after the junction with the C510 where we went via Aldealabad, El Mirón and Gallegos de Solmiron before heading south to join the busy SA101. Then west through Puente del Congosto with its fortified bridge and impressive looking castle. This bridge was part of an important cattle trade route and tolls provided income to the castle. Just beyond Santibáñez de Béjar a right turn leads to La Cabeza to Béjar. The Hostal is a few kilometers further on the old road that lies to the west alongside the new N630. A former petrol station, it was an unusual place with construction vehicles parked overnight, a man proudly cleaning a Ferrari and an (empty in April) Olympic size swimming pool out back. And a pack of guard dogs. When planning our trip we aimed to get to the more interesting areas as quickly as possible. This was the only accommodation that was available, the preferred alternative in Guijuelo being full. We’d booked it in advance but other than the first and last nights, didn’t book anything else in advance. The thunder storms had turned this into a long day. Had we had more time, we’d probably have stopped to take a look at El Miron – an ancient settlement nestling in a rocky outcrop. At one time it was the administrative centre for a collection of villages.
Day 2 La Cabeza de Béjar to La Alberca (51km)
Our ideal is to get up early (having paid the night before), get cycling, stop somewhere for breakfast and arrive somewhere around early/mid afternoon for a great lunch. This, like most of the days that followed, met the ideal and avoids cycling in the worst heat of the day. Clear skies promised a great day and we headed via Fuentes de Béjar and Valdelacasa to Cristobal. There was a queue waiting for the panaderia to open and we carried on rather than wait. We’d been moving quite quickly on the gradual downhill. From here to Puentes del Alagon we moved even quicker descending about 400metres in a few kilometers.
We followed the C512 climbing gently before turning off below Miranda del Castañar and continuing the climb through Mogarraz and on to La Alberca. We had entered the parque natural Las Batuecas – Sierra de Francia and the villages all displayed fine examples of the traditional Sierra de Francia architecture. Timber frames infilled with stones and then coated to form the walls. Invariably, images and symbols can be seen carved on the lintels of the doorways. La Alberca was the first rural village in Spain to be given National Historic Heritage status. This means that it is a popular tourist destination and is probably best avoided at busier times of the year, but a visit in April was worthwhile. A visit to the Natural Park visitor centre on the outskirts of the village was also interesting. We stayed at the pleasant Hostal El Castillo where we also had a good lunch. It was a quiet location with good views from the balcony. In the evening we had tapas at a bar in the back streets of the town, also good.
Day 3 La Alberca to Ciudad Rodrigo (61km)
From the map it was clear that the best route to Ciudad Rodrigo would involve a climb of about 400m over the Puerto de los lobos. If we were feeling really keen we could climb another 223m to the monastery at Peña de Francia. Alternative routes are possible but look far less interesting. The good weather was continuing and we were soon climbing through the forested slopes below Peña de Francia. The reward was some great views and a long descent to Monsagro, with its circular terraces cut into the hillside below the village. From Serrandilla del Aroyo signs direct you to Ciudad Rodrigo but an even quieter route can be found by following the road left towards Serrandilla del Llano and turn right at the top of the hill. Continuing descent gets you close to Ciudad Rodrigo. We’d read of a hosteria in the main square of Ciudad Rodrigo but felt it was too close to the noise of the square for our tastes. We decided to look around at some of the other accommodation we’d noted before our trip. In the quiet Plaza de San Salvadore was the Hotel Conde Rodrigo and it was perfect. An excellent lunch was followed by a look around the interesting town. You can walk most of the way around the medieval city walls and there are plenty of buildings to admire. The cathedral is notable for the façade on one of its entrances and some interesting carved work dating from 1498 on the choir stalls. Both the Hotel and Ciudad Rodrigo we’d gladly return to.
returning west; Ciudad Rodrigo to Ávila
Day 4 Ciudad Rodrigo to Hoyos (60km)
The quiet C526 climbs slowly from Ciudad Rodrigo to the border with Extremadura at Puerto de Perales. There are even quieter alternatives leading to other parts of the Sierra de Gata and all look like good cycling albeit with a few more ups and downs. After Villasrubias the area became more forested with pine and oak and a notable increase in the amount of birdsong. Just after the Puerto de Perales we stopped for a bite to eat and decided to ‘phone our intended destination. Our preference had been to head for the mountain villages of Acebo or Gata but accommodations were closed. We descended to Hoyos and the very satisfactory Hostal El Redoble in time for a great lunch. Hoyos was for a long period the summer see of the Bishops of Coria. Their legacy is a number of impressive fifteenth and sixteenth century mansions complete with Romanesque arches and heraldic shields. Craftwork is a feature of the areas of Sierra de Gata and Las Hurdes. Lace and crochet work are found in Acebo and Trevejo. Wrought iron and gold work in Gata, carving of volcanic lava in Aldehuela and El Gasco. Woodworking ranges from the famed castanets of La Fragosa and Cereza, to wood carvings, chairs and wooden flutes. The continuing tradition is evident in the modern furniture production workshops as well as rye straw hats and basketry as you travel through the area.
Day 5 Hoyos to Vegas de Coria (61km + 30km)
An ominous weather forecast led to a change in our plans. The original plan had been to spend extra days in the Sierra de Gata and Las Hurdes. Extensive thunderstorms were forecast over several days and we felt it prudent to give ourselves more time for the return to Ávila. In some ways this was disappointing but on reflection the area justifies more time so we will return. This was easy cycling along the quiet EX204 and EX205 in the last of the fine weather. The short cut to the EX204 just after Hernán Pérez was particularly pleasant. Our intended destination was Casares de las Hurdes but we’d had a late start due to the owner of the Hoyos hotel taking the keys to the ‘bike shed’ home. Risk missing lunch by climbing up to Casares de las Hurdes or stay in Vegas de Coria? No contest! Lunch at the restaurant adjoining the Hotel Los Angeles was terrific with the local specialties of lomos (cured pork tenderloin) and pitarra wine particularly memorable. Las Hurdes was made famous by the film director Luis Buñuel in his 1933 film Las Hurdes (or Land without Bread). Described as a surrealist documentary, the film depicts the lifestyle of peasants eking a living out of a very hostile environment. After lunch, a ride up the valley to El Gasco, through the villages of Martilandran and La Fragosa, revealed some of the history of the area and emphasized the remoteness. Disused cultivation terraces built directly on scree slopes are still visible and old stone roofed circular dwellings. There were also a lot of goats, another local culinary specialty.
Day 6 Vegas de Coria to Candelario (60km)
We left Vegas de Coria in rain, the weather forecast proving accurate. We stopped at the Hostal Riomalo in Riomalo de Abajo for breakfast. On the basis of the breakfast and the welcome it looked like a good place to stay. A steady climb to Sotoserrano was followed by a descent to our third crossing of the river Abajo. A long ascent of about 400m to Colmenar de Montemayor was followed by gentle cycling through Horcajo de Montemayor (Hostal) and Valdehijaderos. We joined the SA515 which climbed over a hill into Béjar and a further climb took us to Candelario. Our objective had been the Hostal Cristi where we had stayed before. Along with a number of other hotels it was not yet open for the season – if it was going to open. Mid-week on a rainy day in April Candelario resembled a ghost town. Fortunately the Hotel La Fuente was open and a good place to stay.
Day 7 Candelario to Hoyos del Espino (70km)
Still raining, we headed for Navacarros and the C500 to El Barco. We would be retracing the route from an earlier tour. Finding the road to Navacarros involves getting to the highest point in Candelario, most easily achieved by keeping the main square on your left and looking for occasional signs as you followed surfaced roads (rather than cobbled) most of the way. Once on the C500 we flew along to El Barco, getting colder and colder in the rain and low temperature. From El Barco the C500 took us gently upwards all the way to Hoyos del Espino. The rain had eased and the clouds were lifting. Picking accommodation on the reliable basis of where was busy with locals having lunch we stayed at the Hostal JJ and weren’t disappointed.
Day 8 Hoyos del Espino to El Barraco (72km)
Anxious to find roads we had not travelled on before we turned off the C500 at Barajas and headed for San Martin de la Vega del Alberche where we stocked up at the panaderia. (We’d also worked out that this route to Navalmoral would involve less overall climbing.) In good weather this would have been a great route. In the heavy rain we were even colder than the previous day and thought that it was going to snow. Fortunately by the time we crossed the N502 beyond Cepeda de la Mora the rain had stopped. Until Cepeda de la Mora there had been nowhere open to warm up and shelter from the rain. A long descent past the dramatic setting of Navalacruz put us back on the C500. We were in Navalmoral around midday and the lunch preparations at the Hostal looked inviting. However, another 12km would take us to El Barraco and new roads for our return to Ávila. Before deciding to head for El Barraco we’d looked at the accommodation listing and noticed that there were four places listed. When we attempted to find them we discovered that one was more than 20km to the south on the highway; another was on the highway somewhere to the north and the one we could find was closed. This left rooms behind the El Segoviano bar. The room was basic but the experience and hospitality were wonderful. One of our best experiences. A small room off the bar was the restaurant and we were served some of the tastiest food imaginable. We lingered over lunch and sampled the meal of the day which was a delicious bean dish followed by some form of mixed grill. While we lingered others finished and tables were prepared. In three cases tables were set for individual regulars who duly appeared. Presumably they came in every day but they didn’t speak to one another. In each case no one discussed the menu they just waited for the food to arrive and of course weren’t disappointed. If I lived nearby, I’d go in every day and just take what I was given.
In the evening the restaurant was closed. We sat in the bar having a beer and were asked if we’d like something to eat. So there we were, at an impromptu dining table amid the regulars enjoying more good food and warm hospitality. We’ll be back!
Day 9 El Barraco to Ávila (40km)
We’d wanted to avoid having a long final day to Ávila and from El Barraco it is a fine route via El Harradon and the Puerto del Boquerón. Unfortunately it was still raining. (The road leaving El Barraco to the east does not appear on the Geo/Estel map). We could see much of this route from the train the next day. To get to El Harradon involves a choice of traveling via one or other of the two villages that nestle on opposing slopes of the valley. These are Santa Cruz de Pinares (less climbing) or San Bartolomé de Pinares. The latter is the location of a festival celebrating St Anthony, patron saint of animals, where horses are ridden through fire. Popular with photographers for dramatic photos (try a web search). Less popular with those concerned with animal welfare. From the Puerto del Boquerón, it is downhill to Ávila. We chose El Rastro for a great lunch.