The Right Time in the Right Place

Every place has its best season. If you cycle in Andalucia in the spring the fields will be dappled with gorgeous wild flowers, the grass will usually be green and it will look 1000 times more beautiful than it does in autumn, when everything is brown, brittle and withered. I had often imagined Extremadura to be wonderful but it remained an unexplored part of Spain for me until Mary and I cycled across Iberia with a friend about 15 months ago. Extremedura was brown, desertlike, devoid of grass, boring and pretty unattractive. I'll wager it's not thus in spring. On the other hand, Ireland is lovely in the spring, okay in the summer and marvellous in the autumn when there are numerous browns, yellows and the changes of the leaves. Ireland in autumn is the land of subtle colours. I can remember one September returning from dark green grey and sea-blue Corsica to cycle the ring of Beara which had more colours than a bookie has pound notes in his back pocket. The contrast was astonishing.

In Ireland in the summer you have the Forty Shades of Green of which Johnny Cash sang. He wrote the song himself, Johnny did. Incidentally, as an aside, some years ago a Kerry gaelic footballer, called John, joined a Cork football club, it was alleged, for money. This was not allowed at the time as the game was then fully amateur, but the folks in Kerry were sure he'd taken the gold so he was known there ever afterwards as Johnny Cash.
We were in our apartment in Ayamonte which is on the River Guadiana on the Spanish Atlantic coast (Costa de La Luz) recently. This is across the river from the Portuguese Algarve and it is mostly there that we cycle and walk, rather than on the Spanish side which is pretty but in the shade in comparison to Portugal. This winter has been wet down there but the rain had stopped and the sun was out. The inland Algarve, where most people don't venture, is in full Technicolor with thrown in Panavision and 3D at this time of the year. It has dazzling colour. The blue of the sky and water, the white of the houses, terra-cotta of the roof-tiles, bright green of the grass, white-pink of the almond blossoms, yellow of the Bermuda buttercups, brown of the earth, deeper greens of African palms, reeds , etc. The reason it's not a touring destination for cyclists is simple. It's lumpy-land with a vengeance. It is composed of a series of fabulous little valleys with very hilly roads. Away from the main roads which are perilous paths for cyclists, you have a complex network of well-surfaced small roads with a further network of unsurfaced ones, if they are to your taste.

Here are some photos.

This is in a valley between Junqueira and Botelhas, on a back road, about 4 miles north of Castromarim, and in another world...

Further up the same road, Mary on her ancient Moulton APB. Almond trees are in bloom.

Even the road-signs add colour.

Almond trees festoon the hillside.

Above the Barragem (Dam) de Beliche. Barragem is pronounced barrazhaye with a nasal ending. Portuguese has a lot of nasal sounds. You can see how hilly the roads are but they are not nasal...

Further away from the dam.

The bridge across the Guadiana. This is a motorway bridge. You are allowed to cycle from Spain to Portugal on it (I never do) but not come back. It's some kind of cycling valve then! The yellow flowers are all over Southern Spain at this time of year. They are called (my wife tells me) Bermuda buttercups, a misnomer as they are an African plant which has spread to Spain and Portugal.

As a final illustration...

Autumn colour in Ireland, on the Beara Peninsula

5 comments on “The Right Time in the Right Place”

  1. Mary wrote:

    Garry, what a fabulous post, simply loved your pictures, and I preferred the Irish one at the bottom for both beauty and colour, Ireland isnt known as the Emerald Isle for nothing is it?

    Those almond trees in blossom though, reminded me of our valleys when the sloe trees are in bloom, as a member of the plum family they are one of the earliest trees to blossom, shaggy thorny little trees they are (blackthorn of course), but with small white flowers, and in early spring before the greenary has over taken everything else, they looked just like these almond trees 4th picture down.

  2. Kern wrote:

    Inland Algarve looks very promising for cycling. I noticed Mary was riding her mountain bike. Was this because of the road conditions (e.g. potholes) or the hills? And are the hills as sharp as Ireland's coastal roads?

    You can almost feel the sun seep into your bones in these photos. What a foreign concept at this time of year :mrgreen:.

  3. Garry Lee wrote:

    It's not a mountain bike. It's a Moulton APB, a multipurpose 20in wheel full-suspension bike which can be split in two in a minute. It's fifteen years old or more. It's just the bike we leave for her in Spain. It is good off-road but the roads we cycle here are excellent, though small. It was warm!! 15C max every day. That's nice in winter.

  4. Patrick wrote:

    Very nice Garry. Weather aside, I agree with Mary about the Irish one at the bottom – the Beara Peninsula.

  5. Stephen Howells wrote:

    Hi Garry & Mary! I live near Tavira which is about 30km west of the border. I enjoyed your post but feel you have taken and hence written a slightly inaccurate description of the Algarve. I agree the area around Beliche is tough but most of the Algarve is quite easy riding. Once you get west of Tavira the inland roads are only gently rolling. My usual easier loops cover tiny well surfaced totally quiet lanes around Estoi and Olhao. Sadly the local cyclists (other than me!) tend to still ride on the EN125 which was ok until the new motorway tolls made it unpleasant at rush hours. That said, on a Sunday out of season it is acceptable as a return route being so flat.
    The ferry crossing from Ayamonte to Vila Real S.Antonio is a joy to make for any tourists thinking of crossing. The bridge is very dangerous and its inevitable somebody will die on it eventually and then, no doubt, cycling will be banned. What it needs is a cantilevered bike lane but then again the fact there is no rail link between the two countries in the area is an even bigger mistake.
    Final point, look out for the 90% complete EcoVia route across the Algarve. Its MTB only due to some gravel stretchs but its flat and pretty. A few gaps in it are not marked but ask locals and they will put you right.

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