Murcia province is located in south-east Spain. It's within the Costa Calida, between Alicante (think Calpe) to the north and Almeria (think Málaga and Andalusia) to the south. It's an area with a fantastic climate and great roads, yet cycling in Murcia is currently pretty under the radar.
We wanted to find out more about the Murcia cycling region, so we caught up with John Vicars, a British cyclist who for many years has spent his time divided between the UK and this sunny part of Spain.
In this Q&A he shares his tips on the best Murcia cycling routes and climbs as well as where to stay and what to do off the bike. We hope you enjoy his tips - and if you're interested in cycling in Spain, don't forget to check out all our other Spain cycling guides, here.
1. Where are you based?
Los Alcazares lies in the province of Murcia, which is probably best known as one of the biggest global exporters of fruit and vegetables – the climate is perfect!
It has a brand-new international airport in the town of Corvera (30 minutes’ drive away) and sits a good drive away from the commercialised and densely populated resorts of Marbella to the west and Benidorm to the east. It is quiet and rural and perfect for cycling. The area boasts 70 kilometres of beaches and has a number of 4-star hotels.
Map showing the airport, John's favourite climb of the area and where he suggests staying
2. Why should we visit?
Whilst I live in the UK, I spend around four months of my time each year in southern Spain and, as a cyclist who clocks up around 10,000 miles a year (my wife does more!), this provides us with some distinct advantages.
Firstly, and unsurprisingly, it provides an opportunity to ride in the sunshine at the times of year when it is really cold at home.
Secondly, generally speaking, the roads in Spain have less vehicular traffic and are in better condition (less potholes!).
Thirdly we have the opportunity to train on some longer climbs than you would find in the UK.
3. What's the most famous cycling climb in Murcia? What's it like?
The most famous climb in the area is the Category 1 Collado Bermejo (alt. 1203m) which is in the Sierra Espuña National Park. It is the highest and longest climb in the province and is used as a training ride by local professionals Alejandro Valverde, Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana).
The climb also features each year in the Vuelta Murcia and has been occasionally used in the Vuelta a España.
Set in an area designated as one of ‘Outstanding National Beauty’ the forested climb encompasses many tight hairpins and can be extended by five kilometres at the peak by carrying on to a telecommunications tower known locally as El Morrón (alt 1578m).
The ascent of the Collado Bermejo from a popular local restaurant/bar El Jarro de
Orro in Alhama de Murcia is 18.5 km in length at an average gradient of just over 5%.
The extended ride up to El Morrón adds a further 5 km at an average of 7%.
4. What's your favourite cycling climb in Murcia - and why?
My favourite climb in the Los Alcazares area is the Cabezo de la Plata
(Norte) which is also used in the Vuelta Murcia (the view from the top is shown in the banner photo to this post).
The climb is just under ten kilometres long, but the advertised average gradient of 3% is somewhat deceiving as it includes one or two downhill sections. To give you a better idea of the incline, the last four kilometres average out at over 6%.
Like the Sierra Espuña there is very little traffic on the road – it is a quiet and peaceful ride starting out near the tiny village of Cabezo de la Plata where the landscape is very dry, yellow in colour, and barren. The twisting road slowly works its way up through a forest before it tops out and affords you a very quick descent down the southern side toward the coast. My best time up the north side is 30 minutes - it took Alejandro Valverde only 16.5 minutes in 2019’s Vuelta Murcia!
5. What's your favourite cycling route in Murcia - and why?
My route, which encompasses the climb, starts in Los Alcazares and tracks the Mar Menor coastal road for 15 kilometres (very scenic) before it turns in a westerly direction onto the RM-314 which leads up to and through the 5 star La Manga Golf Club Resort.
John's favourite Murcia cycling route
There is a steady incline for a couple of kilometres before you enter the resort and see the golf courses (north and south courses) and villas on both sides of the road. You can turn left at the second roundabout to access the many resort shops and café’s (Chill Café is highly recommended) or continue the steady ascent past the west golf course towards the top of this gentle climb where you are afforded your first views of the Mediterranean Sea.
A spectacular descent follows down to sea level on a stretch of road known locally as the Green Mile (named because of the strip of green asphalt, a mile in length, that provides a cycle lane) which in turn leads to the small village of Portman where there
is a handy Spar supermarket on the main thoroughfare. Leaving Portman, the climbing starts again, and you are faced with a challenging climb of around six kilometres to the summit at Cruz Chiquita. The climb includes a kilometre downhill section, so the overall gradient is a little misleading, but the uphill sections average at
about 5%. From here you are either downhill or on the level for around 20
kilometres meandering through small rural villages until you reach the Mar Menor Golf Resort where the gradient starts to increase, albeit gradually.
Heading on to the village of Roldan there is an excellent café with outdoor seating in the Church square. This is a good spot to take on board some refreshments before you head out through agricultural land and make your way to the third climb of the day, the Alto Garruchal. This is another gentle ascent of about four kilometres at an average of around 4%. There is a café at the top of the climb (Venta El Garruchal) which precedes a 10-kilometre descent to the village of Torreaguerra.
Continuing north east on the RM-300 within half a dozen kilometres you find
yourself at the foot of the Cabezo de la Plata (Norte), as described above. Following the descent on the south side (sur) head for the village of Sucina where Em’s Bistro will provide you with everything from a toasted tea cake to a full English breakfast (and a cerveza or two should you so desire) or just a sandwich. You can relax here and enjoy sitting outside in the sun next to the village church in the knowledge that
you are only 25 kilometres (all downhill through the fruit and vegetable growing
areas) away from where you started in Los Alcazares and then only a couple for hundred metres away from the beach.
The entire loop is 140 kilometres in length (87 miles) with 1540 metres of elevation.
6. Are there any really good café stops in the area?
There are plenty of good cafés and bars in the area – here are a few of my regular ones:
7. Is there anything that we shouldn't miss?
I would certainly recommend a visit to Las Gredas de Bolnuevo, also called Ciudad Encantada (Enchanted City) which are heavily eroded sandstone formations along the beach of Bolnuevo near Mazzaron. The sandstone shapes are sculpted by water and wind over thousands of years and are considered as a monument of natural interest.
The shapes, formed by clay are yellowish in colour and consist of microfossils that date back to the Pilocene period, about 4.5 million years ago. The sandstone has undergone an erosion process by the elements which has resulted in mushroom and almost vertical shapes that seem to defy the laws of gravity.
It is one of those places you have to go and view for yourself to actually appreciate the stunning and unusual appearance.
8. Where's the best place for cyclists to stay around Murcia?
I would recommend the La Manga Golf Resort as the perfect base for a holiday
(cycling or otherwise in the area). There are plenty of rental opportunities within the resort (villas or apartments) in addition to a 5 star hotel.
La Manga resort is like a small town where you have all the facilities you could ask for on holiday together with a wealth of sporting options. The major cities of Cartagena and Murcia are also within easy reach and the beaches are just a 10-minute drive away.
9. What's the best time of year to visit?
The best time of year to visit the Murcia region for cycling is between February and June and then between September and November.
The months of July and August are extremely hot and draining if you are embarking upon long rides. Whilst the winter months of December and January tend to turn cooler, it is not surprising to see temperatures of around 20 degrees on some days during that period.
10. Tell us about your club
When my wife and I first started to go to Spain on a regular basis some five or so years ago, we decided to join a local cycling club in order to practice our limited Spanish linguistic skills and to become conversant with the local cycling routes. We joined our local club, Club Ciclista Los Alcazares and, to be honest, it was one of the best decisions we have made.
Whilst only approximately 20 per cent of the members speak English we were very warmly received and treated very well as soon as we joined. There are a number of other British members of the club who live permanently in Spain, so you are never short of an interpreter if you start to struggle halfway into a ride!
Club Ciclista Los Alcazares has over 100 members and meet every Sunday morning outside the local town hall before heading off in two groups which are based upon differing speed and ability. The quicker group tend to complete around 100 kilometres and 1,000 metres in elevation during the ride before returning to a local bar (sometimes on the beach!) for a drink and some food.
If you are visiting the area on holiday or own an apartment or villa in the area and want to ride out with a local club on a Sunday morning, then I would recommend Club Ciclista Los Alcazares as one of the friendliest groups in the region. You will find that whatever you age, gender nationality or ability is that you will always be afforded a warm welcome.
Big thanks to John for sharing these fascinating insights on cycling La Manga and Murcia. Sounds like a great place for a cycling holiday - particularly if you're with family that want to enjoy La Manga's other facilities!
Have you cycled in Murcia?
Let us know how you got on in the comments below!
Want to explore other region's in Spain?
There are also a selection of route guides below.