Cortados, Cabras & Sa Calobra

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Mallorca – the Bay of Puerto Sollér

It’s the beginning of October and the length of day is steadily decreasing. My mood seemingly following the movement of the sun, retreating day by day, as if to brace myself for the long Dutch winter ahead. I’ve always had a hard time accepting summer’s end, but now autumn (or 7 consecutive months of winter, depending how you want to look at it) has come knocking. Still, I am not prepared to give up and give in on summer just yet.. Imagination is a powerful thing and I intend to harness it to recall one last summerly bike adventure on an island in the middle of the mediterranean. Before its vivid memories fade too, like those autumn leaves outside my living room window.

Indulge me whilst I cast my memories back to only a few weeks ago..

Torrent de Sa Calobra pebble beach
The sea is warm like bathwater as me and my wife take one of our many swims in the gorgeous bay of Port de Sollér. The sun is out and it’s hot. 31 degrees is the forecast for the next couple of days. We have a house right above the village and away from the hordes of German pensioners that occupy the towns main square. The bay is not far from our house but not near enough to walk to and from. Fortunately we have a car at our disposal. Mallorca is an island where you need one if you want to move about, especially if your at the foot of the Tramuntana mountain range like we are.
The first couple of days I decide to take it very easy. My wife and I are glad just to be sleeping in, swimming, sunbathing, reading, hanging out together, eating fruit salads in the morning and enjoying delicious Mallorcan wine in the evening. As I am also catching up on some lack of proper rest I decide to take a nap whenever my body tells me so during the day. After a few days my energies seem replenished and I decide to go and collect a rental bike from the local bike shop.

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Mallorca boasts stunning road design such as this road-bridge combination in Sa Calobra, where the road turns 270 degrees under and over itself
On the bike the next morning, disaster strikes in the first downhill turn after nearly an hour of climbing. My front tire is completely flat before I know it and the rim is driving hard over the asphalt while I feather the steerer to stay in a straight line. I come to a full stop inside the shrubs on the opposite side of the curve. My heart is pounding and my head is racing to get a grip on the situation. After a few moments I walk the bike to the nearest gras patch to sit down and inspect the wheel. ‘A blowout like this can only mean it’s going to be a big hole’ I think to myself as I recall the speed at which the tire deflated. Within seconds all air was gone. My suspicions are confirmed when I discover that the casing of the outer tire has ripped where it latches onto the rim of the wheel. I draw the short straw today. The state the tire is in warrants only one choice; that of turning around and making it home in one piece. As I start fiddling around I become aware how cold it is up here. I am wearing only a thin bike jersey and shorts. The strong winds blowing over the peaks are bone chilling. Up here my Garmin reads 11 degrees instead of the 22 at 7 AM in the valley. I get a move on replacing the tire, knowing full well that perspiration and cold are not a happy marriage. I inflate the tire only with the bare minimum to get me down the mountain safely, afraid that if I raise the air pressure too much, the newly placed inner tube will cut again and I am left stranded on the side of a mountain road early morning. Frustrated that my attempt to tackle the famous Sa Calobra climb I had set my sights on had been thwarted, I turn around and  head down. The delight I normally feel when descending down the mountain, being rewarded for a long effort uphill, is nowhere to be found. I descend for at least half an hour while almost continuously applying the rear brake. With the front wheel in such a bad state I want to keep my speed at a minimum and the bike upright. I wasn’t going to touch that front brake again until I was safely back home.

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Coll de Sollér: have a field day on plenty of hairpins
After receiving a new front wheel and tire at the shop, I parked the bike at home. I was going to go for a swim and wait for the nearly 32 degree heat to dissipate before giving it another crack in the evening.

This time I opted for a different route. Sollér offers great options for short, medium and long treks through the mountains as the town is situated in a bowl-like valley surrounded by a variety of mountain passes connecting Sollér to neighbouring villages. I chose to go up the road to Deià, a picturesque hillside village overlooking the sea, west of Sollér. It follows the MA-10, the main artery through the Tramuntana mountain range. From Deià the road continued on to Valdemossa, which apparently is rated the most beautiful town in Mallorca by Tripadvisor. And I could see why when I coasted through.

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Valdemossa – 5 star rating on Tripadvisor
From Valdemossa you roll all the way down to sea level. You leave the mountains for a little while to join the road back up toward the Sollér pass. The roads in these flat parts are also in very good shape, but arrow straight and pretty boring what scenery goes. It’s perfect for a recovery ride or to transfer to another part of the island, but don’t expect anything more from them.

 

After half an hour on the flats I arrived at the foot of the col de Sollér. Here the roads forks in two, one road leading into the ‘cars only’ tunnel by-passing the climb, the other to the ‘old’ road winding up the mountain toward the summit. I had two guys catch up with me at the foot of the climb and the first 5 minutes we rode together. Chit chatting a little about cycling in Mallorca and cycling in general. Soon enough though their pace was too high for me and I had to let them go. They gradually disappeared further after each bend. I selected a steady rhythm and enjoyed the scenery instead of going hard. I would save my legs for another day. The climb itself is very mild. It doesn’t get hard anywhere and the average gradient of 5.5% confirms that. The road is a hairpin paradise as it gradually works itself to the top. The top itself is nothing to write home about, there’s a cafe and someone’s house, but from this vantage point you get a panoramic and unobstructed view of the Palma region and beyond onto the sea. In the meantime the sun was dropping low and all the way to Palma the island was basking in golden light.

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Setting sun above Mallorca with Puerto Sollér in the distance
The next morning we’re off to Inca, a city closer to the center of the island where Mallorca’s largest street market is arranged every week. Hand crafted leather bags and shoes, wooden artefacts and more are on display in thousands of stalls. All in all it’s rather monotonous and apart from buying some espadrilles (Spanish cotton woven loafers) We stroll around for a few hours and then decide to head to Port de Pollença and the peninsula of Cap Formentor on the far north-east side of the island

 

A few days earlier my wife and I had discussed the option of renting a bike for her too so we could go out together for a nice trip. But as the mountains we were in are tough on two wheels, we decided to rent her an assisted bike instead of a regular road bike. Luckily in Port Pollença we found a shop that had exactly that.

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The lagoon near the Cap Formentor lighthouse
You think you can stay with an e-bike when you’re trained a little and then suddenly you realise that you can’t when she slowly pulls away from you with that familiar sound of the electric motor whirring away in Turbo mode. So while she was shooting up the road I was left in the dust and on my own. We were heading for the lighthouse on the very tip of the peninsula of Cap Formentor. The road is never flat and the scenery is stunning. Rocky outcrops alternate with forested areas. You pass remote lagoons and occasionally get to take in the vast views to the other side of the Pollença bay and beyond. For us it was a lot of fun to ride together, enjoy each others company and the beautiful surrounding. The e-bike was the perfect solution. She could join for a 50 km loop with a bike that gave enough support so that we could get over the hills and ride a nice pace as well. Her big smile a silent confirmation: It had been a good day.

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The day before our last I wanted to give another attempt at the famous Sa Calobra climb I had set my sights on earlier. It’s essentially a single road from one of the other inlets 30 kilometers east of the Sollér valley. From Sollér there is only one way to get there and that is up and over the Puig Major pass, which is also the highest summit in the whole of Mallorca (discounting the military road to the very top which is not open to public).

The temperature dropped mid-week and is now a much more agreeable 23 degrees. I left in the morning and am working my way up the MA-10 climb toward Puig Major. This is a quiet and beautiful road winding up around 13 km to the summit. I am in the zone, not climbing to hard but hard enough to break a sweat and to get my system ready for the next climb proper. I pass the place where I punctured a couple of days ago and smile as I am now equipped with less dodgy material and can continue on untroubled. The road leads past two giant artificial lakes and then drops down rapidly toward the turnoff to Coll dels Reis, the last climb before the descent down to Port de Sa Calobra.

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The road to Sa Calobra – Nuff said 
The Italian engineer, Antonio Paretti, had been specially requested to design the road. The story goes he was inspired by ‘the knot in a man’s tie’. Consequently the road was realised in 1932. It’s a fast descent. And a very technical one at that. Kissing the ravines and the rock face the road winds around like spaghetti in a bowl. In around 20 minutes I’m down, shooting past the parking lot and straight to the waterfront where I park the bike and sit myself down for a cortado (short milky coffee) and a pan amb queso (cheese sandwich).

After the break I turn around and start the climb. It’s a beautiful climb back up to Col dels Reis. Not as stunning as in the pictures, but still many vantage points offering incredible views. It’s a harder climb than most others in Mallorca though. With a length of 9 km an average of 7.2% you have to stay focussed and measure your effort. Blowing off your doors at the start due to over excitement is a distinct threat. Once back on top the rush gets you no doubt. ‘Sa Calobra is in the bag’. On top of that I had ‘good legs’ and was able to post a pretty decent time that day in 40:04 minutes  after emptying the tank. Unbelievable to think that professional riders post times of around 24 minutes.

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Ridiculous passageways through the rocks greeting you around the bend
After cresting the top of Col Dels Reis and having caught my breath again I continue eastward on the MA-10 toward Monastir de Lluc. Our travel guide from Lonely Planet had recommended the old monastery as one of the ‘must see’ spots of Mallorca, but I was left a little disappointed upon arrival. The reality is; it’s a monastery. Other than a grand but sober looking building and some beautifully manicured gardens there really wasn’t much else to see. So I decide to have one of the pack of cookies I had brought along and order a freshly pressed zumo de naranja (Mallorcan orange juice is an absolute must try, it’s heavenly!) before turning around and back home. It’s a long slog back up to Puig Major from Monastir de Lluc and I start craving lunch but otherwise I get on fine. The road down to Sollér is a high speed roller coaster. The road surface is just soooo smooth, wide and well designed. And contrary to a few days ago when I had to slam on my back brake in order to prevent me from going to fast, I could now allow myself to gain momentum and fly down.

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The road down to Sollér from Puig Major
The next day I returned the bike back to the shop very satisfied. It’s not that I was finished with riding in Mallorca, not at all. On the contrary, there were plenty more routes to explore, but I wasn’t in Mallorca exclusively to cycle, I also wanted to soak in some more sun on the beach and swim, read, relax, eat delicious food and hang out with my wife until our return back home. It proved to be a wise decision. The island is a cycling paradise and by all means cycle, but Mallorca offers many a great off-the-bike day as well. Go for swims in the many secluded inlets that the Tramuntana mountain range is sprinkled with. With the Cala Deià and Torrent de Sa Calobra being the outstanding choices nearby. Go for a day on the town to Palma and visit the Cathedral, museums and the ancient Arab baths. Leave the car behind and take the heritage train ride from Sollér to Palma right through the mountains. It’s a unique experience in itself. Visit the white beaches and Azure waters at the bay of Pollença and bay of Alcúdia. Or visit the stunning island of Sa Dragonera natural park, in the very southwest. And so on..

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The cove of Port de Sa Calobra

Flying out above the island on our return I marvel at the beauty of Mallorca while it slowly disappears behind us. I am surprised how quickly we’ve crossed the mediterranean when I see the coastline of Spain underneath us the next time I look out of the window. We fly over the Pyrenees and in the distance I see Andorra with its mountainous profile. I grin when I notice how I’ve not even returned from my latest adventure or the contours of the next are already taking shape..

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Video of the last day ride: Mallorca relived
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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