Cycling and wine can be a great combination in many ways; whether cycling through idyllic vineyards, visiting bodegas along quiet country lanes, or simply enjoying a glass of the local tipple in a bar at the end of the day.
Wine regions are often very well suited to cycle touring. They tend to have a lot of roads with little traffic; serving all the sparsely populated vineyards. They are often on rolling terrain situated around a river valley, with routes which are fairly easy and accessible, without being so flat that they become boring. And, perhaps most importantly, they offer vibrant green scenery, often combined with delightful historic villages.
Many of the great cycling regions in Europe; such as Provence and Tuscany, are characterized by the vineyards. Spain also has fantastic wine regions which are excellent for cycling; here we look at a few of our favourite which best combine the two activities. We have also included a sample ride based on our cycling tours in the regions.
Rioja Wine Region
Spain's most famous wine region; Rioja is split between the provinces of the Basque Country, Navarre and (surprisngly enough!) La Rioja. It is centered around the fertile plains of the Ebro River and the terrain here is undulating with some short hills, mixed in with much more gently rolling sections.
Much of the region is great for cycling; but we particularly like the stretch to the north of the Ebro River, between Logroño and Haro. Here there are countless bodegas that you can visit, nestled in amongst historic villages such as Eltziego and Laguardia. There are also many quiet lanes connecting the small villages, which make for really pleasant cycling.
Rioja wine is particularly known for its oak aged Reserva and Gran Reserva styles. These are complex and full bodied red wines made from the local Tempranillo grape, often mixed with some Garnacha or Graciano.
The route below is a combination of two rides we do on our Rioja Vineyards Cycling Holiday, starting and finishing in Logroño. On route you pass well known vineyards such as Marques de Riscal and Ramon Bilbao, as well as riding along the Ebro River.
Ribera del Duero
Within Spain the Ribera del Duero name is regarded almost as highly as Rioja, and the wines here are also commonly exported throughout the world. Like Rioja, the Ribera del Duero vineyards are situated in the fertile lands of a major river valley: the Duero River in fact continues all the way from central Spain to Porto in Portugal; where it the Port vineyards can be found along its banks.
The typical Ribera del Duero wines are red (made from Tempranillo grapes (known locally as Tinto Fino), very full bodied and complex. The most highly regarded wineries include Vega Sicilia, Pesquera and Protos.
In terms of cycling, the terrain is mostly gently rolling, with some very flat sections close to the Duero River. Our favourite area for cycling is around the towns of Peñafiel, Pesquera and Roa. The roads here are really quiet, and in excellent condition, and the terrain is easy going, but without being so flat that it becomes boring!
The route below is an extension available on our Old Castile: Salamanca - Segovia Cycling Holiday, which spends a night in the Ribera del Duuero region, and includes a visit to a bodega with a wine tasting. The route is very scenic and, as well as the countless vineyards, it also passes two beautiful castles in Curiel del Duero and Peñafiel; the latter of which also houses a large wine museum.
Cava - Catalonia
The traditional Cava wine region is situated in a relatively small inland Penedes area, between the town of Vilafranca and Barcelona. It is one of the best selling sparkling wines in the world, and in recent years the finest cavas have started to be viewed as legitimate competition to champagne.
The region itself is hilly, but not mountainous, and is very pleasant for cycling. The route below follows quiet country roads and passes some of the greatest cava vineyards, including Codornía. It is possible to take the rodalies train from Barcelona to Vilafranca del Penedes and do it is a circular ride; visiting some of the bodegas on the way. Although we'd advise waiting until you return to Vilafranca at the end of the route to sample the local produce!
Sherry (Jerez de la Frontera)
Sherry is another of Spain's best known exports; with wine having been made in this part of Andalucia for over 3,000 years, when the Phoenicians landed in Cadiz. It is a fortified wine made mainly from Palomino and Manzanilla grapes and is produces by vineyards in the area around Jerez de la Frontera (Jerez is the Spanish word for 'sherry'). Sherry has several different varieties; ranging from Fino (the most common) to Oloroso, which is a more complex drink having been deliberately oxidized during the aging process.
Much of the area around Jerez itself is not that great for cycling. There are many busy roads (linking it to Seville and Cadiz) and it is a bit too flat to be all that interesting. However, nearby towns such as Arcos de la Frontera and Grazalema do offer fantastic cycling posibilites. The route below is partly off road, following gravel tracks through the vineyards. It is a short route and is designed for riders who just like to go out for an hour or two without working up too much of a sweat. It is a nice, short ride if you are staying in Jerez and wish to explore the vineyards - although tasting the wine itself is better done in the city centre.
Basque Txakoli - San Sebastian
Perhaps lesser known than the above wines, Txakoli is a distinctive wine produced only in small parts of the Basque Country. Most production takes place on the hills around the beautiful town of Getaria; situated on the coast to the west of San Sebastian. The typical wine is white and lightly sparkling. It is usually drank young and is quite low in alcohol - often around 9% ABV.
Txakoli is a refreshing drink which is not overly complex, and it is classically used to accompany another of the Basque Country's finest creations - pintxos.
The area around the txakoli vineyards is fantastic for cycling. It is rolling with some longer climbs in places, and offers fantastic views of the Atlantic Ocean as you ride through the vineyards.
The route below is of medium difficulty and heads from San Sebastian to Getaria and is taken from our Bilbao to San Sebastian Cycling Holiday. It begins by climbing the stunning Monte Igueldo; before passing alongside the beach in Zarautz and climbing through the vineyards of Getaria. You can ride the sameway back to San Sebastian if you have to return there; or you can catch the train from nearby Zumaia or Zarautz.
El Comtat - Alicante
El Comtat is a wine region that perhaps is only known around the world by real wine buffs but, within Spain, it is regarded as the next big thing. Situated on the edge of the Sierra de Aitana mountains and the Mariola Natural Park in between Alicante and Valencia; it boasts a great climate for growing grapes. The main variety here is Monastrell, which is native to the region, and produces fabulously complex red wines, which can be high in tannin and alcohol, but also wonderfully balanced to drink.
This is also a great area for cycling. Many tens of thousands of riders come to the nearby Costa Blanca each winter and ride in the hills of the Sierra Aitana; taking advantage of the quiet roads, beautiful scenery and year-round good weather. The Comtat wine region is on the edge of the mountains and so the terrain is rolling hills rather than mountainous, making it a good option for cyclists of various abilities.
The ride below begins and ends in the historic town of Cocentaina, home to a beautiful Medieval tower. It is adapted from our Castles and Orchards Cycling Holiday and, as the name suggests; as well as the vineyards around the Beniarres Reservoir, you all pass cherry, almond, olive and orange trees, making a really pleasant backdrop to the ride. The route is of medium difficulty, as it is rolling throughout but with no long climbs. There is one significantly steep section as you ride up from the reservoir.
Rueda - Castilla y León
The Rueda region is essentially the white wine counterpart to the Ribera del Duero region. It is situated just a few kilometres to the west of the Ribera del Duero, also in the basin of the Duero River, and produces some of the finest white wines in Spain.
Rueda wines are made from the Verdejo grape, which are sometimes blended with Viura and Sauvignon Blanc to produce wines which are very fruity; with both tropical and citrus notes shining through.
The region around Rueda is quite flat, with just a few rolling sections. It is enjoyable for cycling, with very quiet roads and lots of interesting towns and villages to ride through. The route below is a modified version of a ride on our Old Castile: Salamanca - Segovia Cycling Holiday and begins and ends in the town of Medina del Campo. The ride passes through the vineyards of Rueda, as well as the stunning La Mota castle of Medina del Campo.
Mallorca's predominant wine region is situated in the shadow of the Tramuntana Mountains. Binissalem produces both red and white wines and grows are large variety of grapes. The wines from this relatively new region are very drinkable, but without yet reaching the heights of the best that the mainland can offer.
While the wine may not quite be up to the level found in Rioja or Ribera del Duero; the cycling most certainly is. Centered around the villages of Sencelles and Consell; the terrain is rolling with quiet lanes taking you between charming villages. For those prepared to go for a longer and more challenging ride, there are also the climbs of the Tramuntana Mountains looming on the horizon!
The route below is a circular adaptation of a ride that we do on our Mallorca Mountains and Coast and Rural Mallorca cycling holidays. It begins from the charming town of Alaró and passes through some of the Benissalem vineyards, before climbing the scenic and tranquil Coll d'Honor. It is a medium difficulty ride, with the first half largely flat, followed by the fairly gentle and regular climb to the Coll d'Honor.
Bierzo Wine Region(León)
The Bierzo wine region is not as well as known as many on this list, but it is certainly one of the best wine regions for cycling if you are a fan of tough climbs! The region is situated to the north of the town of Ponferrada, on the edge of the Ancares Natural Reserve. The Camino de Santiago passes through here; with many pilgirims stopping in the town of Villafranca del Bierzo, where the local wine is abundantly available. Both red and white wines are made here, with the Mencia grape the most distinctive feature of the reds. This produces wines which are quite low in tannins, but with fruity notes which also age well when stored in oak.
The terrain for cycling is hilly, soon becoming mountainous if you stray far. To the south of the Bierzo region is the brilliant climb to Llano de las Ovejas, while the Somiedo Mountains - home to one of Europe's largest population of wolves and bears - is not far to the north.
This ride is taken from our Ancares and Somiedo Cycling Holiday, and begins in the Bierzo wine region before tackling the legendary cycling climb of Ancares, whose gruelling slopes have been star of the show at some recent editions of the Vuelta a España.