Oz tour of Spain – Iberian to Istrian Coasts – Part 1 Iberian Coast | FEATURE
We recently asked for readers to share their scooter touring stories with us. Australian reader, Bill Kesteren was the first one to get in touch. Here’s part one of his European scooter holiday…
This trip had been discussed since our last overseas adventure in Tuscany. Drew and Chel had been talking with Ian and Sue at Gran Tourismo Tours Almeria about a group tour with them, and my wife and I have previously scooted with Edelweiss Scooter Tours and were interested in their Croatia tour. If you look at a map at a large enough scale you can convince yourself that these two locations are close to each other, so a plan was hatched to combine the two in one trip.
Our group flexed a bit in size during the planning phase, however, GTS currently have six scooters, so unless people were interested in joining for the Edelweiss tour only, this was going to limit the size of our group. The final group was my wife and I, Drew Garcia, who is associated with numerous scooter clubs, his wife Chel, Diane Hansen, and Delia Schatz, all scooter riders of various makes, sizes and vintages.
When investigating the trip it seemed that Madrid and Brisbane are on opposite sides of the world. This was later confirmed when checking flight options, as there appeared to be no real advantage if we flew via Canada or the USA to our destination. Or the way we booked via Singapore and Dubai, which was at least broken up into a few sections with a chance to stretch our legs in the transit stops in Singapore and Dubai before arriving in Madrid. We were to stay in Madrid for a few days before heading off to join the tour in Almeria. The hotel she booked for us in Madrid was in a great location and an easy walk to Square Santa Anna.
When in Rome (well Madrid)
Scooters seem to have no real pattern of brand, type or engine size with a fairly even spread of brands with a variety of styles and sizes. There is likely to be a TMAX, Burgman, LX, PX, Agility, D-Max, maybe a Tweet, Zip or Delight and two or more share ride e-scooters huddled together in any parking area. The other observation about Madrid is that it is an incredibly clean city. After a couple of days of exploration, we caught a flight to Almeria.
As we flew over Canjayar, El Ejido, and San Sebastian de los Reyes, and on the decent and approach to Almeria airport we had seen the city has an extensive area of white-roofed greenhouses.
The first thing you see as you leave the airport carpark is a large statue of Indalo man in the middle of a roundabout, this is the first of many as he is common throughout Almeria Province. “Indalo” is derived from the Latin, “Indo Eccius”, which means “Messenger of the Gods”. If you were around 4500 years ago, Indalo may have represented a prehistoric god holding the rainbow in his open arms as a protector, over time it has been used to ward away bad luck and even the “evil eye”. In more recent times Indalo has become a local “good charm” symbol.
After driving past some of the white greenhouses we had seen from the air we were soon in the desert. The region (technically Europe’s only desert) is a mixture of steep barren and green vegetated hillsides, with buildings and ruins in the strangest of places. Finally, we arrived at the transfer point from their car to Ian’s to complete our journey. Diane had arrived the day before and secretly celebrated her birthday. The next to arrive and complete our group was Drew, Chel and Delia who had travelled together from Malaga in a rental car. All were present and accounted for having had en-route adventures along the way, but now everyone was itching to ride.
We picked our scooters and prepared for a quick familiarisation ride. First stop was to refuel the scooters. This was also the time of the first lesson on the new style fuel caps fitted to Scomadi, Royal Alloy, and other new scooters. It must be a bit frustrating for Ian, as though we were saying we understood we still persisted with trying to turn the body of the cap, rather than rotating the internal tab lifted to put the key in while keeping the body of the cap stationary.
Once refuelling was done we moved on to have a look at the collection of cars and vintage bikes and three-wheel scooters in a shed at the back. I have seen Iso Milanos in Australia, but until I was standing in front of one did not realise they made a version of the Ape… though this had a transverse engine with a drive shaft and differential.
A very nice car in the corner that I initially thought from a distance would be a Wolseley or Austin but was actually a Spanish-built SEAT 1500, which were manufactured from 1963 to 1973. It was based on the Italian Fiat 2300 and used a 1481 cc engine from the Fiat 1500.
From the fuel stop we went to Huércal-Overa to have a look around Plaza de la Constitución and Plaza Cura Valera, around the Church of our Lady of Assumption before winding up in Plaza Mayor and some refreshments at the 80s tapas & music bar. There was a property for sale and we anticipated the asking price to be higher, but apparently it could be yours for about 50,000 euro.
It was an easy ride back to the local Taverna, well attended by locals and ex-pats. While there one of the locals arrives on a patina-rich Puch, hard to miss the size of the cooling fins on it, but apparently only a 50cc
Once back, a mealtime was set to sample some of Ian’s lasagne from a family recipe, dinner was followed by swapping scooter swag and an impromptu craft session putting grommets into our leg shield banners.
The ride departed around 10:00 am to San Juan De Los Terreros, which is above Pulpi – the easternmost village of Andalucía. San Juan de los Terreros is a few miles along the coast south of Aguilas. Our first stop was the castle (Castillo de San Juan De Los Terreros), dating back to the 16th century. Built as a coastal fort, it sits atop a headland 150 metres above the coast, overlooking the natural beauty of the Mediterranean Sea and its beautiful sandy beaches and the small coves in San Juan de Los Terreros with their traditional fishermen’s cottages along the coastline. Just out to sea are the two islands of Isla Negra and Isla de Terreros.
We stopped for coffees at the café at Asador El Castillo, near the castle. Ian decided (after hearing us say we could spend all day sitting in the garden of the café drinking coffee and admiring the view) to take us to the nearby Cala Cerrada beach, Playa de los Cocedores.
We rode to a parking area located above the bay of Playa de los Cocedores, which provides a Caribbean feeling on the Mediterranean with fine golden sand and crystal-clear water. As we walked down to the sand, we saw people taking in the sun along the long, beautiful beach. We noticed the caves cut into the rocks at the opposite end to where we were standing and a little break wall creating a small lagoon of sheltered water. Ian and I walked over to have a look at the caves which are the trademark features of this beach. they have been gouged into the rock here, and for centuries fishermen and farmers have used them as shelter.
We regrouped and got back on the scooters for the ride to Bar la Plaza, Plaza Montroy, in Villaricos, our lunch destination. I was pleasantly surprised to find gammon and pineapple on the menu.
After lunch we had a photo stop in the marina, as Dave who had joined us for the day on his Police edition Piaggio Beverley was going to take a few pics of the group. Once we had finished posing for pics we headed off as Dave was going to drop off the back once we got to the highway. We continued on to Antas for some twisties Ian had lined up for us. This was just a taster of what was to come over the coming days and was most enjoyable with a photo stop before we returned to Urcal. Taverna Tabernas was closed for a few days, so we went to the alternative bar next to the church’s courtyard.
After being impressed with the roads on the way back from the seaside, Ian assured us that it was just a taster and that there were more and better roads to come. We headed off and went into the hills with a coffee stop in Taberno. A nice whitewashed village on Mount El Madroño with narrow (and steep) streets and an urban area centred around the church.
We walked up from where we had parked to Tapas Bar El Club del Pensionista which had a covered sitting area out the front. We were sitting in the sun admiring the line up of helmets as Drew walked past with a couple of coffees, suddenly one of the awning posts attacked him, resulting in coffee and cups flying through the air and diverting our attention, not that at this moment Drew was keen on receiving it. The pole was appropriately scolded for its bad behaviour and the coffees replaced. My cappuccino was a little different to what I am used to, arriving with a shot of whipped cream on top (easily removed to return it to a Café Latte).
From here the twisty roads returned on our way to the lunch stop. We stopped along the way after Taberno to take in the views and look back at the roads we had just ridden, both impressive for their shape and condition of the road surface weaving its way through the almond trees.
Another stop in Velez-Rubio near the turnoff to Los Cabreras to take in the views before lunch at Castillo de Velez Blanco, which is open from Wednesday to Sunday, naturally, we arrived on Tuesday.
Never mind, the views were great, and by this time we were ready for some lunch. The café/bar was opposite the castle’s carpark and had a good selection. Over lunch Ian had confirmed with the group that it would be Ok for us to jump on the motorway for one exit (on one, off on the next), as this helps with not having to backtrack. We left the highway on the Santa Maria De Nieva, but cannot say other vehicles bothered us or we appeared to bother them. We visited the wind turbines at Velez-Rubio. After a few pictures, we were ready to head back down the hill over more winding roads to the Taverna Tabernas.
We left at 09:30 for an overnight stay in Bacares. I was now feeling a little more familiar with the streets in and around Urcal village, after the car ride, and later scooter ride on Day 1 and 2. This meant I also knew the twisty section of road near the Hureva hotel would soon be before me, a great little collection of corners before ducking under the highway for a fuel stop.
We stopped briefly for a coffee stop in Los Caroline’s before continuing on. We travelled via Albanchez but did not stop in the village before turning toward Tabernas.
We soon found ourselves near a filming site that has influenced my youth. When I was in my late teens and twenties, The Pogues, The Clash, Joe Strummer, Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious, Elvis Costello, Grace Jones and Courtney Love (in the band Hole) were all favourites. Nearly all of them turned up in a timeless spaghetti western scenario, to take on a gang of coffee-addicted outlaws and their more deadly womenfolk. The movie’s title was derived from a bitter melancholy Clash song on Combat Rock and was made in one of the former spaghetti western film sets near Tabernas. It was also the location where the director had made the video for Strummer’s “Love Kills” anthem for the film Sid & Nancy, which Courtney Love had starred in a supporting role in.
Welcome to Hollywood
It would have taken a bit of highway riding and more time than we had available to go to the specific filming site. Instead, we went to Fort Bravo and the Texas Hollywood sign that soon will be the scooter club Almeria’s scooter rally location. After our Wild West unsealed roads diversion and a refreshment stop we were back to Ian’s program for the day. Ian described the route as if the person designing the road ‘Had grabbed a hand full of string and threw it at the map then said ‘build that’.
Beautiful twisty roads that are a mix of left-right, flowing fast, tight through to hairpins to keep it interesting. We stopped at a few vantage points on the way up the mountain in Velefique and added some stickers to the sign before going up to The Tetica de Bacares which is a peak of 2,080 metres above sea level in the Sierra de los Filabres.
The region hosted the finish of Stage 11 of the 2017 Vuelta a España cycling race (the stage was won by Miguel Ángel López), so the roads were still in pristine condition without the patches, cracks and ruts and ripples you would otherwise expect in roads at this altitude. The road to the summit is mostly asphalted, but very steep and narrow. The final kilometre is especially challenging for carburettor fed 125cc scooters, with gradients between 14-17% on a corrugated concrete surface.
Our next stop was in Benizalon, cerro de Monteagud/ ermita Virgen de la Cabeza. The Monteagud pilgrimage is one of the most important and popular in the province and involves touching the mantle of the Virgen de la Cabeza, make an offering and lighting several candles from the bonfire built there, which can be seen from a distance of many kilometres. The track to the convent is unsealed and in places steep, and not really suitable for scooters, so after a quick photo we continued on (that is it on the hill behind us in the photo).
A little spirited riding split our group up as people rode to their comfort level, till we reached a regroup point overlooking the valley at Ulella del Campo, before our lunch stop in Lubrin. The village is situated at the foot of a crag, in a cluster of housing from which the Parish Church stands out, in the foothills of the Sierra de los Filabres. Following this was a run back to our accommodation.
The transmission towers are situated at the peak, which is in the shape of an equilateral triangle that can be seen from anywhere in the Valle del Almanzora. It provides a panoramic view of the Tabernas Desert, the Sierra Nevada National Park and includes the village of Bacaras where we would be staying the night.
The only part in common with the ride up was the access road to the towers, with the new (to us) road being a bit more open and flowing with a few hairpins thrown in to remind you not to get too confident with approach speeds. There are the remains of a castle built on a rocky outcrop in the river valley, but the village clings to the sides of the hillside in an assortment of narrow streets dotted with art in alcoves. The church has been restored in the village square and it included the cafe we would later sit outside to watch the sunset as locals played Bocce nearby.
The hotel is well situated overlooking the valley with restaurant, bar and well-appointed rooms. The public areas of the hotel have several mounted hunt trophies as the area is a game reserve. The food in the restaurant was great; we had lunch, dinner and breakfast in the hotel and all of it was delicious, though the beef steak was the standout for me.
We loaded up the scooters and had a later start than the previous day as we would be taking a different route to Albanchez. After refuelling in Tijola we briefly took the highway to the exit. I stopped off to take a couple of pictures of some street art along the way, as l liked it when we passed the previous day and could not ride past a second time without capturing it.
But there would be more revisiting today, as our next stop was a village at the foot of a mountain that has a marble quarry at its crest. We had stopped for pictures near Cobdar and had seen the marble blocks stacked up in holding yards and along the road the previous day, but from today’s viewing position it was clear that they are taking the top of the mountain, as if it were a jigsaw. Several pieces have gone missing from the mountain top, with the associated quarry rubble tumbling down one side.
An early start to make sure we enjoyed all the toys in the GTS Scooter Tours toy box, Ian had added a ride up to Jar Head mountain (1,247 m/4,091 ft) to the beginning of our ride to the coast. The way there was slightly familiar as it was the section of road we had travelled on from the wind turbines to home, this time we rode towards the wind turbines on a great, twisty road that flows well and is quite different riding in the opposite direction.
At the top of the mountain we turned right onto a paved track width road to get to the vantage point of Jar Head Mountain and also given how clear the sky was a great vantage point to see all the surrounding valley.
Once everyone (mostly me) had finished taking pictures we rode on past the Astronomical Observatory – Cabezo de la Jara, which is one of the two observatories used by the Agrupación Astronómica de la Región de Murcia. The Astronomical Group of Murcia runs guided night tours, however at this point of the tour, my main concern was that my scooter’s fuel gauge was only showing one bar, having not filled up the night before. We comfortably made it to Puerto Lumbreras to refuel after a quick lap of the town, past the markets on the rambler, and confusing an old lady at the pedestrian crossing in the township. A couple of interesting statues in town, a metal one shaped like a tulip and a second with a windswept looking woman.
Anyway now we were all full with fuel and empty after using the restrooms we were off to a road that Ian had forewarned us is bumpy for a short section, but a worthy shortcut to where we were going. The area is the regions fruit and vegetable bowl with a variety of crops under the white shade sails, some under plastic like we have become accustomed to for growing strawberries, and others in a field in the open. The road lived up it expectations, with no road speed really making much difference and many thankful of the restrooms at the fuel stop. Following this was a perfect section of twisty, well-maintained road that was long enough to more than make up for the discomfort of getting to it.
When we re-joined the major road we stopped for coffee. Ian spotted a rider on a Triumph with a trick paint job. He went over and discovered it was someone he had served with in the army. Also while we were there, an old Peugeot 4 with deflated bouncy castles in it arrived and parked at the opposite side of the shaded area. It did get a little “fun park” for a while as the owner of the vehicle is obviously not accustomed to having admirers, as when he saw me walking around it he came out the café yelling in Spanish (apparently he was calling me a thief). Anyway, through sign language I think I explained I was only near his car to take pictures of it and he settled down and went back inside. A bit funnier to me than him, but it was time to go. Waved Ian’s mate off and continued on our way to Águilas
The area is a popular destination for Spanish people to enjoy a seaside vacation in Spain, and not as geared to the influx of English and other European migrants as other areas. We passed a couple of resorts before riding up the side of a rambler into the coast and then following it to the marina where we stopped for lunch. The seaside was typical of many with dry dock facilities, commercial fishing boats, charter boats and recreation boats moored in the harbour with a backdrop of buildings, but two things stood out. One being the bronze monument to Icarus we parked near on Esplanade Street. It is two and a half meters high and more than four metres wide. The monument, which represents one of the most traditional carnival festivities in Águilas, is the work of the sculptor Mariano González Beltrán, whose work is throughout the territory of the region of Murcia.
The other thing to catch my eye was a bit further along the beach, a locomotive built in 1889 in Glasgow, Scotland on a pedestal in the Plaza de Isaac Peral. It began official services in 1890 and worked until late 1967. It was part of the English-built railway line, which linked Eagles with Lorca and the interior of Almería.
There was a few years of intense commercial activity in the port due to the successful mining in that area. The memorial was erected in 1970 and is a tribute that the people of Águilas that surrendered to the railway to allow economic development of the area.
Touristing time was over – or so I thought as after we left the parking area, Ian took us to the opposite side of the parking area and we lined the Scomadis up in front of a mural running up a staircase in the background looking from the beach and at the edge of the beach sand where it joined the paving. Not a place I would have known of or found with his local knowledge.
So a few more pictures and we were on our way again, up the highway for a bit before turning off and heading toward home. A brief stop in Almendricos to stretch our legs and on our way again. As we were leaving Almendricos a guy that appeared to be seven-foot-tall and dressed in green from head to toe appeared walking toward and then along the road, waving to us as we approached and passed. Soon after passing the grinning green giant, we were back onto winding roads and encountered a green giant of a different kind in the form of a tractor that towered over the Scomadis.
A quick run along the service road next to the highway and we reached the Urcal exit and before we knew it we were back at Tabernas having a few refreshments before parking the scooters for the final time.
It has been a fantastic experience and I could not even imagine the roads we have ridden in spite of having read other accounts of the GTS tours. We were all spent at the end of it in the best way, having ridden some incredible roads enjoyed Iberian food and seen some incredible sites.
Dianne has fallen for the Scomadi and is now considering selling her 1962 Lambretta Li 125, after her wonderful experience she will be checking out the Royal Alloys once they are available. I am of a like mind, if I can find a buyer for my 1981 PX 200E Vespa, it will probably be replaced with a TT200 Scomadi.
Royal Alloy will make an appearance in the US market this summer, so everyone can experience the ride, if not the sights that we enjoyed on our journey. Drew has already purchased a new GT150 -one of the first stock of Royal Alloys to make it to the U.S.A. He was equally impressed by the fact that Scomadi/Royal Alloy that will fit in the RAM Promaster City van (else where know as a Fiat Doblò).
Chel was impressed with the Scomadi, her first time riding a vintage style, but modern twist-and-go ride. The seat was comfy all week. The scooter was nimble and had her not quite getting a knee down, but definitely getting some lean into the corners on the winding roads.
Delia’s reflection is that there is a ‘happy place’ feeling that only riders will understand and that’s what her Vespa brings to her table, but riding the Scomadi’s W.O.T. has given her a new appreciation of them, though will always probably be a Vespa girl.
Are there any negatives? Well, it might just have been the time of the year, but a few of our group in spite of anti-histamines were getting through the tissues and by the end of the tour looked like they had conjunctivitis. Not sure what pollen grass, or other airborne irritant was causing it, but if you are aware of it it’s something to consider when packing your medication and/or wait for a time that the pollen count is lower.
The region is known for its hams, sausages and other tapas ingredients which originate from pigs. Unfortunately, near the Urcal village there is a couple of ponds of pig farming by-product that dependant on the wind direction, the aroma can be blown into your path. At these moments the members of the group with blocked sinuses had an advantage.
Ian and Sue are constantly looking for ways to improve the tour and are investigating some new routes that they may add, such as a week-long journey from Urcal to Gibraltar (or vice-versa) and another one they are investigating is Urcal to the big guns at Mazaron. Keep an eye on their page or join the Facebook group to be kept informed.
As The Pogues sung in the song Fiesta:
“Come all you rambling boys of pleasure
And ladies of easy leisure
We must say adios! Until we see
Almeria once again”
Words and photos: Bill Kesteren
Gran Tourismo Spain
If you’d like a guided scooter holiday in Spain GTS Tours offer packages from 4 to 6 nights with prices ranging from £450-£650. You can get in touch with them at their Facebook page here. Flights from Europe are cheap and easy to Almeria, with Easyjet offering flights from just £69.
We don’t sell buckets and spades but we sell plenty of useful stuff for scooter touring