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The snaking road of Sa Calobra

Mallorca is home to several superb mountainous routes. From the undulating Cap de Formentor, to the technical Coll de Soller it is a dream for cyclists that enjoy climbing and wish to test themselves.

There is, however, one climb which stands above the rest. For both its beauty and the challenge that it poses, the climb from Sa Calobra into the heart of the Tramuntana mountains is rightfully the most revered in Mallorca

The Descent

One of the distinctive features of the climb is that you have to descend first. From the Ma-10, just past Escorca, there is a short climb before a fantastic 11km descent to the beach below. The views on the descent are incredible; you can see the road snake down in front of you, in what appears to be a never ending series of switchbacks and sweeping corners.

The road is built into a sheer cliff in places and is acclaimed as an architectural and engineering triumph. At the bottom of the descent, there are a few restaurants, a small beach and a series of pedestrian tunnels which visit secret beaches.

The Climb

Another hairpin bend on Sa Calobra

The only way out from Sa Caloba (apart from catching the seasonal boat to Port Soller) is up the same road that you have come down. As is often the case with mountain roads, the scenery is completely different depending on the direction in which you are travelling, and it is every bit as impressive as the descent

Although the climb is one of the toughest on Mallorca, it is not particularly challenging for anyone who has tackled the Pyrenees or the Alps before. The climb is 11km long and rises from sea level to just over 700m. The average gradient, therefore, is just under 7%; it is fairly even throughout, although does get slightly steeper towards the top.

The Challenges

Although the road itself is not particularly challenging for seasoned climbers; there are other factors which add to the difficulty. Firstly, in order to do the climb you have to cycle to the top of the climb from a different route, before descending into Sa Calobra. There are three main ways to reach the top; from Soller, Inca and Pollensa. Depending on which of the routes that you choose, you will already have climbed between 700 and 1100m before you begin the ascent from Sa Calobra.

Another issue is the weather. Fortunately, it does not rain often in the area, as this would make the route considerably treacherous. However, the sun can be just as a big a problem, particularly if you are not used to cycling in the heat. From May until October, temperatures can be in excess of 30C on the climb, sometimes a lot hotter in the summer. There is nowhere to fill up with water until you reach the top, so make sure that you stock up before startign to climb. The heat also saps your energy, and there is very little shade to hide in once you begin.

The north coast of Mallorca is also sometimes exposed to strong winds. Due to the nature of the climb, with the road snaking around, you will face a headwind in sections. At times, this can be ferocious enough to force you to get off and walk; however, thankfully this is rare. The last 3km of the climb are the most exposed; it is also the steepest section of the climb.

A Wild Goat overlooking Sa Calobra

The technical nature of the climb is more of a factor on the descent than the climb itself. However, it is certainly not a good idea to go flat out the first time you do the descent. There are many tight bends, some of which are not immediately obvious until you are upon them. With sheer drops and only a very low barrier at the side of the road, it is definitely wise to take your time and enjoy the view.

The final challenge with the climb is the amount of traffic that can be on the road at times. In the warmer months, particularly in the afternoon, the road can become quite busy with cars. This can be frustrating on the descent, where cars are queuing back at each tight bend; but is less of a problem on the climb. The drivers are generally very respectful of cyclists, and, because you get such a good view of the road, there are many places for cars to overtake safely. There are also coaches on the road at times; be particularly cautious around these. The driver has enough on his mind trying to negotiate the tight bends, so he may not see you if you try to pass him on the inside.

The road is generally a lot quieter in the mornings and in the very early afternoon. From lunchtime until the evening, you can expect to encounter quite a few cars in the summer months.