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Komoot Ride of the Month No.2: Fuerteventura

In-depth
24 Feb 2022
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In a series put together with our friends at komoot, we're showcasing some of our favourite rides from the UK and around the world. This time we're off to Fuerteventura, which isn't one of the Canary Islands' most popular cycling destinations... and is therefore the perfect cycling destination

Words Mark Bailey Photography Joe McGorty

Cycling through the wrinkled, coffee-coloured mountains of the Parque Rural de Betancuria, in the volcanic heart of Fuerteventura, I glance up to see two lines of gleaming white pillars curling around the cliffs like rows of teeth.

With one set of these stone road barriers curling left, and another higher set sweeping right, it looks as though we’re riding into the jaws of a giant crocodile.

The markers trace a stunning strip of tarmac that will take us from the corrugated peaks of the park to the black sea cliffs, fluttering palm fronds and booming surf of the western coastline.

With its diverse volcanic landscapes, Fuerteventura – one of the most eastern of the Spanish Canary Islands, less than 100km off the northwest coast of Africa – is full of dramatic geographical gateways like this.

Within the curl of a bend or the rise of a climb, you can pedal from dark mountains to parrot-green cactus plantations, desert dunes to rust-red cliffs and lunar landscapes to golden beaches.

It’s like flicking through a kaleidoscope of abandoned movie sets, from the post-apocalyptic emptiness of Mad Max to the cratered planets of Star Wars and the foam-sprayed sea cliffs of Jurassic Park.

In antiquity, Fuerteventura was already known as ‘the Fortunate Island’. Now it’s official: in 2009 the island became a protected UNESCO Biosphere and Starlight Reserve.

 

With the North Atlantic Ocean regulating its climate and diverting hot Saharan winds away from the island, Fuerteventura enjoys perfect cycling weather, averaging 20-28°C all year round.

The island – which sits at the same latitude as Florida and Mexico – bathes in more than 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. Even in the rainiest month of December, it receives only 3.2 days of rain, with July to September the hottest months.

But unlike its cousins Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote, Fuerteventura hasn’t always appealed to cyclists, who fear its windy reputation.

Even the island’s name is believed to stem from the words fuerte viento, Spanish for ‘strong wind’. And yes, Fuerteventura is a well-known watersports destination, with surfers, windsurfers and sailors attracted by the coastal winds.

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However, the reality is that, according to Met Office data, Fuerteventura averages winds of 11-16mph, which is stronger than the pro cycling hideaway of Tenerife but unlikely to faze riders jetting out from the windswept UK.

Alberto Contador, Fabian Cancellara and the Schleck brothers have all trained here. British triathletes Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee have come here for winter training camps. And on the day I visit, the wind would be best described as a gentle breeze.

To avoid riding in Fuerteventura because of the wind is sort of like never riding in Britain because it might rain.

As a keen triathlete attuned to aerodynamic gains, my Slovakian guide Veronika Kermietova of Easy Riders – a guiding and bike rental company located in Corralejo in the northeast of the island – has an acute awareness of wind speeds. But she has happily lived and trained on the island for years.

‘When the winds get up to 50kmh down by the coast you’ll notice it, but most of the time it is not a big deal,’ she says. Given that most of the island’s best cycling roads are inland, coastal winds are less of an issue.

‘It’s good to explore the island. You can ride to a beach or the mountains. And there are parts even I haven’t been to yet.’

Our driver for today is Stefan Wakeham, the owner of Easy Riders. A Brighton native, he’s lived here for more than 20 years and believes the island is a hidden gem.

‘We’re the second biggest of all the Canary Islands but with the smallest population, so it’s a really peaceful place to ride,’ he says. ‘It is much quieter than Tenerife, with not much traffic and very relaxed drivers. But it’s just fun here, too. You’ve got sand dunes and mountains and beaches. Great views everywhere you go.’

Our 133km route begins in the beach resort of Caleta de Fuste on the island’s sun-drenched east coast. Veronika is feeling a bit chilly and wraps up in a gilet, but given that I’ve arrived fresh from a British winter the 18°C temperature feels like summer to me.

 

Mars landing

After a short journey north, passing lobster-skinned tourists clutching beach towels and inflatable geckos, we dart inland towards the volcanic heart of the island.

The change in scenery is instant and dramatic. The dark blue ocean dissolves behind us as we enter a barren scrubland of ochre earth, squat volcanic cones and distant, hazy peaks, which appear purple in the morning light.

Silver-coloured windmills and strange iron sculptures dot the empty landscape, adding to the eerie atmosphere.

Soon the tiny settlement of Triquivijate appears on the horizon. We pass pretty houses with yellow walls and brown roofs, like oversized pots of crème brulée, and speed through a cactus plantation of exotic green shapes.

Another long dash through fields of white and cream rocks takes us to the larger town of Antigua – a cluster of white houses and windmills surrounded by plump palm trees with trunks the size and shape of elephant legs. Many of the houses here are built in a North African style with flat roofs for collecting rainfall.

Although the road we travelled had appeared relatively flat, the journey from the coast to Antigua involves a long, slow ascent of over 250m.

We continue northeast through a striking Martian landscape of red earth and dust, past rocky outcrops and patches of lurid green scrubland.

Back home I’m accustomed to looking out for potholes, but here Veronika warns me not to get scratched by the cacti that line the road. They’re sharp enough to give your tyre and your leg a puncture at the same time.

When I mention how much the terrain reminds me of movie locations, Veronika reveals that the sequel to Wonder Woman was shot here last year and she volunteered as an extra. Tall and athletic, she was turned into an Amazon for the day. The 2018 release Solo: A Star Wars Story was also filmed here.

We swing west and head into the Parque Rural de Betancuria, a protected region of vast basalt mounds. Only the grey road – which is smooth enough to make my bike wheels purr – hints at any civilisation nearby.

I’m told that just a few weeks ago this landscape was covered in green scrubland, but a miniature drought has sucked the colour out of the terrain. As we edge higher up our first climb of the day, to the 600m Morro Velosa viewpoint, we enjoy panoramic views of the northern half of the island.

‘You can see Lanzarote from up here,’ says Veronika, pointing to a distant dot in the ocean. The islands are separated by just 11km – a third of the size of the narrowest section of the English Channel.

We continue the leg-toasting climb to Morro Velosa and are rewarded with views of rounded ochre hills, scarred with rivers of white rock and deep canyons, which stretch into the distance like a vast unmade duvet.

At the top we encounter a pair of four-metre-high bronze statues representing Ayose and Guise, the ancient kings who once ruled the island.

From here we can also see the sinister 400m dome of Tindaya, which the native inhabitants used to call the ‘Mountain of Witches’.

From summit to sea

After a swirling 200m descent, we arrive in the town of Betancuria, a pretty collection of white houses nestled in the valley and surrounded by dancing palm trees.

In this part of the island, settlements explode into view out of the barren landscape like green oases. The town is named after Jean de Béthencourt, a Norman explorer who in 1405 conquered the island for the Kingdom of Castile. Betancuria remained the island’s capital until 1834, despite often falling victim to Moroccan and European pirates.

Today the only invasion is from two gawping cyclists and a group of trail runners who suddenly appear, sporting vests and hydration packs, out of the dusty mountains. From Betancuria we blast beneath more striking red earth mountains.

I grab the drops and dash downhill at speed, savouring the cooling breeze through the vents in my helmet. We complete another 150 vertical metres of descent to the town of Vega de Rio Palmas, where we are greeted by more palm trees and cactus plantations.

All that descending couldn’t last. We’re now faced with a gruelling 6km climb to the Degollada de los Granadillos mountain pass. As we ride the mountain shades shift from iron red to sea green and gunmetal grey.

The drops to our right become increasingly ominous. If you’re going to fall here make sure it’s to the left, because the final stretch of road traces the top edge of a near-vertical cliff face.

Soon the white stone road barriers loom into view and for the final few kilometres we pick our way along the crocodile teeth towards the summit.

We pause at the top to peer into the valley below, where palm trees nestle in the clefts of mountains. Far below is the vivid green explosion of the Madre del Agua palm grove and the dirt-brown Peñitas Dam.

A collection of buses and rental cars are parked in the car park and I watch tourists clamber out, stretch their aching limbs, and take photographs. Arriving by bike feels like an infinitely more rewarding way to get here. Veronika tries to offer a barbary ground squirrel a bite of her energy bar but it is too busy tucking into an apple core.

The viewpoint also serves up a glimpse of the road ahead of us, with those white road markers lining the long, fast descent into the town of Pajara.

It is a blistering journey, bubbling with speed and adrenaline. As I dash downhill it takes me a while to realise that the landscape has changed once again.

Now the horizon is lit up by the dark blue stretch of the ocean, and the terrain is bleached different shades of white and grey. In one memorable section, the road descends straight for almost a kilometre, as if trying to launch us into the sea. From the small town of Pajara, we head west towards the sparkling coastline.

It is possible to take a detour to the beach resort of Ajuy, where you can dip your feet in the ocean and clamber around the limestone cliffs and sea caves. But we carry on along the coastal road, past glistening black volcanic rocks.

The rounded black mountains here, which are covered in folds and creases, appear to slither towards us as if they’re an oil slick.

I had convinced myself that our dash to the coast would be all downhill, but it is guarded by two gritty climbs of 100m and 200m in ascent, both through a stark landscape of red and lime green earth.

It’s now early afternoon and I feel like I’m dragging an anchor behind me.

 

Spice of life

Having cycled through our planned lunchtime, we’re relieved to edge over the second climb and descend through black sand and solidified lava fields to the coastal town of La Pared.

The rugged and remote western coast of Fuerteventura is practically virgin terrain with almost no urban development except for a few small towns such as La Pared. We take a break to look at the chain of golden beaches below, then ride to Restaurante Bahia La Pared for lunch.

The meal consists of papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes served with a hot pepper sauce), prawns cooked in garlic and olive oil, juicy strips of steak and fried goat’s cheese served with marmalade, which Veronika says is her perfect post-ride recovery treat.

It’s tempting to sit here looking over the sea and sand all afternoon. Fuerteventura has 152 beaches along its seaboard so cyclists will never be lacking in rest and recovery options. But fuelled by prawns and steak, we clip in and continue our ride.

After a few kilometres heading north, we swing east into the centre of the island. Whether it’s the weight of the papas arrugadas or a stronger afternoon breeze, pedalling suddenly feels like harder work.

We slowly spin past black rocks, scrubland and palm trees. The mountains here are much more stark and jagged than the rounded peaks we passed this morning.

Some end abruptly in flat table tops. Others are etched with deep ravines that make them look like the knuckles of a giant fist. We climb to a height of around 300m, drop quickly back down through a tomato plantation, then continue north.

On the horizon is the striking red volcanic cone of Cardón but the landscape here is greener, with thick scrubland and grass rippling in the breeze.

We form a two-up paceline to share the effort, passing another cactus plantation and an aloe vera farm. Up close, I see geckos slithering across the boulders next to the road. We pedal through the town of Tesejeregue, where the terrain is stony and desolate, then experience a brief and unexpected rain shower.

Veronika chuckles as this is the first time it has rained in two months. Within a kilometre the rain stops and the road is dust dry again. The road from Tuineje to Antigua is busier with traffic but it’s only a few kilometres before we swing right onto the quieter road home.

Even on a single-day ride, Fuerteventura has served up a rich tapestry of cycling landscapes. This isn’t a place for epic climbs – the highest point on the island is only 807m – but there are plenty of ascents to get your heart pumping, and a striking blend of scenery to explore.

Veronika insists we visit the pretty fishing village of El Cotillo before we leave, while Stefan wants us to see the famous desert dunes of Corralejo.

With so many different coloured sands and soils here it’s like cycling around a giant spice market, from towering mounds of red pepper and paprika, through thick tussocks of green sage and coriander, and into vast, grainy deserts of yellow cumin and turmeric.

If variety is the spice of life, Fuerteventura packs a punch for any visiting cyclist.

 

The rider’s ride

Kuota Kryon Race Disc, dhwagencies.com

Having heard about Fuerteventura’s windy roads I was keen to ride a bike that was both sturdy and aerodynamic, and the Kryon Race Disc delivered on both fronts in style.

Its bladed tubes and compact frame triangle made for a stiff, fast ride, although it was also comfortable enough for an all-day outing, which Kuota suggests is down to vibration-dampening technology in the carbon layup.

On an island with little rainfall and few technical descents, disc brakes are hardly a necessity, but they were still welcome for the confidence they gave me when diving into corners.

Overall, the Kyron Race Disc is a muscular ride that begs you to get in the drops and crank up the speed.

 

How we did it

Travel

Cyclist flew as guests of the leisure airline Jet2, which offers low fares and a cyclist-friendly 22kg baggage allowance.

For more information on flights to Fuerteventura from London Stansted, visit jet2.com or call 0800 408 5599.

Accommodation

We stayed at the Elba Carlota Beach and Convention Resort, a four-star facility with excellent buffet breakfasts and dinners, two swimming pools and a gym.

We paid around £60 per night, including breakfast and dinner. Visit hoteleselba.com.

Information

Cyclist was supported by Easy Riders in Corralejo. The company offers group or customised private tours from €50-85 (£45-£75) per day, airport transfers from €60, and bike rental (Specialized Allez Comp SL C2 with Shimano 105) from €11.50.

The website also features a host of routes to explore and the company can arrange individual or group accommodation. Book online at easyriders-bikecenter.com or call 0034 637 40 82 33.