A group of cycling and yoga enthusiasts headed off the Sierra Nevada in Andalusia, Spain for a week of hilly spins, stretching and sunshine in March. Sarah Buckley and Eugène Dillon report back...

The Orwell Wheelers in Sierra Nevada (photograph thanks to Cormac Keeney)

Sarah Buckley

Sinéad Kennedy, Physical Therapist and Orwell Wheeler and Cormac Keeney of Cycle Sierra Nevada teamed up to organise a fabulous holiday, welcoming all cyclists, Orwell and non-Orwell.

A group of about 12 of us went on the trip, flying in to Málaga. We arrived to fabulous sunshine which was a great start. The sun smiled on us for the whole week with temperatures around 16˚ to 18˚- perfect cycling weather.

Sinéad was at the airport to meet us and we had a short transfer to the lovely, quiet town of Vélez de Benaudalla, right at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Anyone who likes hilly spins will love it here – loads of gorgeous routes through the mountains, little villages, views of the sea, lemon trees, mountain goats – it really has it all:-)

Sarah on a descent on Saint Patricks Day - note the shamrocks (photograph with thanks to Szymonbike)

Most of us rented bikes from Cormac and I was certainly very happy with my Rose rental – much nicer than my bike at home and great for the hills.

Once we had our bikes sorted and had settled into our apartments, we went off for our first yoga class to stretch out after the day’s travels.

The yoga ‘studio’ was alfresco – a rooftop terrace overlooking the mountains. What a great way to start the week. The classes were great and very manageable for those of us who aren’t regular yogis. Sinéad ran plenty of classes during the week - ideal to stretch out tired bodies after the spins.

Interclub yoga class(photograph thanks to Eugene SKIL)

Dinner was in Mesón Nacimiento – a lovely family restaurant in Vélez, tucked away from the road with a courtyard and little waterfall. On our first night, we were greeted with delicious paella which went down a treat and was perfect for carbing up before the week of cycling.

Mesón Nacimiento fed us for the week and we ate like kings – starters, main course, dessert and a drink for €12.50 a head – where would you get it? Food was fantastic – starters included melon and jamón serrano and goats cheese salad; mains – chicken, fish, pasta and plenty of veggie options and desserts – flan, ice cream, rice pudding and even a simple orange or apple if you wanted a healthy option. We were told that the best oranges in Spain come from here and they tasted really good.

Cycling kick-off was on day 2. The spins for the week couldn’t have been better for me as a hill-lover.

We followed a great itinerary for the week, building up distance and elevation every day, following different routes through the mountains. We were guided by Cormac, Rafa and Szymon whose friendly banter and encouragement kept us going on the hills. There were short-cut options for those who wanted to do less and longer routes for those craving more lung-busting climbs. And of course we were always free to do our own thing and explore new routes.

On our free day, Wednesday, we all did different things. Some of us cycled and did yoga and others went off for the day to visit other towns including Nerja. Granada is also very close by and a beautiful city – well worth a visit. Lots of great places to see in Andalusia.

Sinead, Sarah, Paul (Sorrento), Aine and Eileen (Sorrento)(photograph thanks to Sinead Kennedy)

We celebrated St. Patrick’s day in style, donning festive cycle-wear and pimping our bikes with greenery to mark the occasion. We did our toughest spin of the week that day including a climb of 26km, spurred on by our patron saint. We all made it through in one piece and we re-fuelled on paella and coca-cola at the peak.

On our last day, there were lots of different activities to wrap up the week – bike orienteering, time trials and self-guided spins to enjoy the last day in the hills. At dinner, there were prizes galore for the week - King and Queen of the Mountain (Eugène and Áine – chapeau ) and Best Dressed on Paddy’s Day to name but a few.

A great holiday from start to finish, ticking all the boxes for spins, stretching and sun.

Looking forward to the next trip : -)

Eugène SKIL Dillon

I returned to the Cycling and Yoga trip in Sierra Nevada this year. I had such a great time last year with the gang that I booked in as soon as I knew the dates. It was the best weather I encountered in all of 2015. The training was great - loads of hills, nice roads, with yoga to complement the cycling. I found it supported my core strength which I need for cobbles and descents. The local people are very welcoming, making it a great experience all round. Another perk are the cheap meals and the ridiculously cheap coffees tasted all the better. We were ten Orwell Wheelers -myself, Toni, Sinead, Steve, Andrew, Aishling, Ronan, Sarah, Aine, LukeGJ, one Italian Galwayman, Charles, and two from neighbouring club Sorrento, Paul and Eileen. We were joined by Cycle Sierra Nevada’s Cormac Keeney (elite level racer with FTT-Oslo), guide Rafa with Photographer Szymon joining us on the epic, long day.

What made the trip really unique was the combination of yoga and cycling. I hadn't done any yoga since the trip last year, I had forgotten how much I missed it. I notice the benefit to my back and my body. We had our first of four yoga classes in the evening after arriving. As we stretched, we could see views of the mountains we would climb surrounding the town.

For our first spin, we left the town and dropped down to the valley floor. The road meandered in the shadow of a spectacular rocky gorge between the Lujar and Chapparal mountains. We turned onto the coast road and cycled through the fertile plains full of greenhouses providing tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. The rugged coastline provided views of the rich blue of the Mediterranean Sea. After coffee and banter, we turned inland to the Lujar mountains and climbed for about 10km. I sweated from the heat of the base layer and the Orwell cycling hat (items I would leave aside for the remainder of the trip).

Yoga class in the evening was followed by dinner. Cormac told us about day two’s route which would bring us the Chapparal side of the Guadalfeo. I reminded Paul of the uphill section on the descent where he distanced me in style last year. The following morning we crossed the Guadalfeo river and climbed up alongside the slopes of Avocado trees to Guajar-Faraguit.

I was enjoying the climbing but particularly getting experience on the technical descents was important. About two-thirds down the descent, I stopped and waited for the gang at a bridge over the ravine. About to start again I heard Paul over my shoulder call out ‘Eugene did you overcook it?’ I sprinted on after him as the road rose up ever so slightly through those rich Olive trees. I was almost on his wheel. It was here in the exact same spot as a year previously, Paul extended the gap as I threw the kitchen sink at it to try to close it. Just like last year I went from hauling my body around the big ring to a smoother gear but could still do nothing to stop it. To make matters worse, Rafa sprinted around me and bridged up to Paul. The hillside on either side was terraced with Olive trees and the small viaduct above the road, where I think an Olive mill is located, was a brief respite where the gap stabilized before the short descent to next town. Upon reaching it, a moment after Rafa and Paul, Rafa turned to me and joked ‘hey man, what happened? Where were you?’

The group came down and we refilled our water bottles at a fountain before descending further. We stopped at an orange producers and got a photo to send on to our Orwell clubmate Gerard.

The mix of Orwell Wheelers, Sorrento CC and the lone Italian Galwayman say 'heeeyyy where are you Gerard?' (photograph thanks to Cormac Keeney)

Days three and four, we grew accustomed to the hills and the technical descents. I learned to channel the weight better through the bike on the descents. Getting daily advice from Cormac, I felt much more stable holding lines on those sweeping bends. I noticed everyone else also becoming more confident too. Consistently Andrew was second on the climbs after me, despite saying in the whole lead up to it that he would die on the hills.

Cormac set out a route he called ‘the Leg Breaker’ for Saint Patrick’s Day. Name says it all. Sinead got everyone to pimp up their bikes with green or wear green kit. Our Orwell kits came in handy. We tackled a 27km climb up beautiful hillsides. The colours were great. I stopped a few times to get a few pics of my bike in the landscape. At one such time Ronan O’Flynn came up and I climbed the rest of the way with him chatting. We arrived into a small town at the top where Cormac and some of the gang, who had a handicap start, were already finishing their first coffee. Ronan downed a coffee and hit the road. I hung around for everyone to arrive and descended after a coffee, a coke and tapas (€1.50!). The road was so quiet and the lighting so perfect. It seemed serene and peaceful. I stopped to take another bike landscape portrait and waited for the guys to reappear.

Eugene and Aine on the 27km climb (photograph thanks to Szymon Bike)

We regrouped and started descending where the road became very technical with a series of bends. A gang of us extended the days cycle to make sure we had 140km completed for the Orwell Randonneur medal. Afterwards there was a yoga stretching session (like a fifth class).

On the final day Cormac had set up the Sierra Nevada challenge where you had to go to a minimum of three places taking a photograph as evidence within 2.5 hours. Intially reserved about it, due to thinking about nothing but coffee and banter. However I warmed to the idea and I formed a two man team with Paul. He was the brains behind our team suggesting our first destination, the Tunel de la Gorgoracha. Just before the entrance to the tunnel Paul saw a sign for Lagos, took out the challenge guide sheet and sure enough the main square in Lagos was on it. It was 9.4 kilometres away, mostly uphill. Reaching the town we got a photo in the square as planned and another item on the list was the town church. We descended back to Velez with Paul suggesting that there should be a waterfall on the far end of the Islamic Nazarí Gardens in the town. We found it and on the way back into town we got our final photo at a lavardaro (wash basin for clothes).

Interclub banter with Paul from Sorrento at the Tunel de la Gorgoracha on the Cycle Sierra Nevada Yoga Challenge day

After coffee Sinead organised a time trial and diligently set out to be the time keeper. I represented the Orwell-Sorrento hybrid team. I was pitted against the Italian Galwayman, representing Independants! It was a very hard earned 16 second advantage that I had over Charles at the end of the 2.5km time trial but I won the t-shirt.

The whole thing was great craic, I even got a custom made medal for King of the Mountains. Great time had by all, roll on next year as I will definitely be planning to go again.