Vuelta EspañaAs this year’s La Vuelta, one of Spain’s favourite sports and the last of cycling’s three annual Grand Tours reaches its crescendo, it is acknowledged as the toughest one yet. The final stages this year feature some of the race’s most difficult ascents, including the brutal Alto de L´Angliru. Located in Asturias, from La Vega, its length of 12.5km gains 1266m in altitude with an average gradient of 10.1% and a maximum gradient of 23.5%. It is the most famous extreme climb in Spain and possibly in all of cycling. It was said when the Vuelta premiered the Angliru in 1999, no one in their right mind could have looked at this narrow, near-vertical Asturian mountain road and thought it suitable for bike racing. But the man who had proposed it, Miguel Prieto, although almost blind, was a fanatical student of the mountains and had one day struggled up the Angliru and been so struck by the steepness of the gradient that he recommended it to the Vuelta organizers. It was a gamble and likely to be controversial, but the Angliru and the excitement it generated were also exactly what the Vuelta needed to revive its flagging popularity. Unheard of twenty years ago, the Angliru is now already established among professional cycling’s most hallowed heights, alongside the likes of Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux.

Following on from the Angliru, the next two tests of cycling are to be found in Anadalucia. The first is the Sierra de la Pandera at 1830m with the recommended route from Valdepeñas de Jaèn covering a length of 16.2km. With an altitude gain of 982m and average gradient of 6.6%, it includes multiple ramps at 15% just to keep things lively. Open from March to December, depending on snowfall, the Sierra de la Pandera has been billed the “Angliru of the South” – with the added scourge of the blazing Andalusian heat. Finding the tiny, traffic-free military road is an exploit in itself, but one which brings ample reward with its summit views of Jaèn and its 13th century Castillo de Santa Catalina to one side and the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the other.

The second to be found in Andalucia is the Pico de Veleta. At an altitude of 3384m, the recommended route is from Monachil via El Purche. The length of 46.6km sees an altitude gain of 2662m with an average gradient of 5.7%. This tortuous, gravelly ribbon of tarmac petering out under the Pico de Veleta in southern Spain’s Sierra Nevada range is the highest paved climb in mainland Europe. Given that trained cyclists say that altitude effect starts to kick in at around 2000 metres above sea level, it’s not hard to imagine how arduous the climbing becomes in the second half of the Veleta climb. The Vuelta has ventured part of the way up but never higher than 2550 metres, and probably never will unless global warming keeps snow off the summit for more than the present window of a few weeks at the height of summer. Several other routes converge near or beyond the Pradollano ski resort, 2100 metres above sea level. The quietest and prettiest one which is the one from Monachil via El Purche.

The 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre says that Spain is a cyclist’s paradise from tip to toe, with some of the most beautiful country to be found anywhere in the world. From the Ancares mountain range that straddles Galicia and Castilla y León in the far north-west, to the Sierras in the south, all roads seem to converge and present a mind-bogglingly beautiful. rippled, velvety green wonderland.

 

Malaga tourismAn average total of well over one and a three quarter million passengers per month passed through Malaga airport during the past three months, a healthy increase on the year before. And it is showing marked increases throughout on a month by month basis that is extremely gratifying. By comparison the second busiest airport was Sevilla, which welcomed three hundred and thirty five thousand travellers.

Malaga airport now accounts for seventy percent of all incoming and outgoing flights in Andalucia and serves around an incredible 125 destinations. Jose Carlos Escribano, president of la Asociación de Empresarios Hoteleros de la Costa del Sol, remarked previously that although it is sometimes judged as a basic airport, it nevertheless is poised to more than cope with demand both now and well into the future. Malaga airport should promote the region heavily as a tourist hub as is the first port of call for visitors coming into Andalucia.

The association recognises that the British market is very important to the hotel industry in the area. It also is working hard to improve on its German connections, as this is still the second most common country of origin of all visitors. British, German plus other European holidaymakers generally stay that bit longer with an average of seven to ten days, compared to the three or four days Spanish nationals spend here on holiday, particularly on the Costa del Sol.

Other news is that northern European holidaymakers are veering away from recent favoured middle east countries because of the unstable conditions in that part of the world. The British in particular have stopped going to the likes of Egypt and the Red Sea resorts. Figures for Turkey and the Balkans are also down. Whilst Spain cannot be seen as a country benefitting from the unrest, it must take advantage of the European tourist rethinking their travel plans. With Autumn fast approaching, Andalucia in particular must approach and promote with relish, the wonderful sights, flora and landscapes to be found during autumn time in Spain.

Many older holidaymakers choose to go on vacation in the coming close months. Their children have flown the nest and they can plan their trip to satisfy themselves. They also wish to avoid the huge influx of parents with children of school age going on holiday during the summer months. There is a further important point in that they much prefer the relatively lower temperatures in the autumn and winter. To back this thinking, many hire cars are taken out for visitors to explore and discover the wonderful heritage that is to be found in the hinterland of Andalucia. Its pueblos are just as likely to be visited as the more historic sights of Granada and Sevilla for example. Therefore, this thinking should be at the forefront of the area’s promotion. One such enterprise that recognises this philosophy is CarGest car and golf hire. As the leading company in Malaga offering that personal touch that is so important, it has expanded dramatically to meet demand. Full details can be found on their website.

 

Summer for the Costa del SolThis summer is embracing good news by the announcement of a substantial tourism boost for the Costa del Sol. Foreign arrivals in June were up 5.9% compared to the same month last year. Also, figures are up for both foreign and domestic tourists across the board.

The Costa del Sol tourism office say the optimistic forecast for this summer season has been confirmed by figures released recently showing that commencing in June, there was a significant increase in tourist arrivals, including overnight stays – for both foreign and domestic tourists – and hotel occupation rates.

Diputación de Málaga and Costa del Sol Tourism Board president Elías Bendodo said National Statistics Institute (INE) figures show the number of foreign arrivals in June / July were up 6.1% compared to the same months last year, demonstrating a sustained growth in overseas tourists. Overnight stays by foreign tourists were up by 4.6%.

Added to this, there was other good news with regard to the quiet domestic market. For this has also shown a healthy increase and thus leading to excellent signs of recovery. Reflected by a 5% plus increase in overnight stays by Spanish tourists compared to the same period last year. Sr Bendodo highlighted the importance of these figures following declines in 2011 and 2012. It is gratifying to know that in these still restricted economic times, Spain continues to not only attract but win back those UK, European and Scandinavian holidaymakers who chose other venues on offer around the globe during recent years.

Other good news is concerning an old and traditional tourist attraction. The breathtaking Caminito del Rey (Walkway of the King) at El Chorro is to be renovated and restored. After years of plans, promises and waylaid project designs, the long-awaited restoration of the famous cliff walkway looks set to move forward.

Officials announced last week the end of continuous negotiations with the resultant “definitive unblocking of the restoration of the Caminito.” For years, the walkway has been in a dangerously dilapidated state and has been the site of numerous accidents, some of them fatal.

The announcement is another piece of good news from the office of president Elías Bendodo. Under the new plan, funded with three million euros entirely from the Diputación de Málaga, the 1.2-kilometre-long historic walkway will be rebuilt using wood planks laid atop the existing concrete surface and anchored with metal supports drilled into the rock wall. The actual method of renovation will create a structure that will fit into and enhance the surrounding landscape. It is easier and much faster to build and with less environmental impact. Once in place, the walkway will also require less maintenance and be simpler to keep in good order said officials. Interestingly, on some sections, a see-through transparent theme will be utilised that will allow walkers to view the old structure below. The target date set for completion for the new walkway is during the middle part of 2015 when it should be open to the public.