Three Countries. Two wheels. One week.
It has been common knowledge in the Explore office for a while that I like to spend a considerable amount of my free time wearing Lycra shorts, mounted on a bicycle saddle, pedalling up the Surrey Hills - so it was very fitting that my next Explore adventure take place on two wheels. Furthermore, as one of the younger members of the team, my list of visited countries isn’t terribly impressive, so this made going on the Cycling Spain, Morocco and Gibraltar tour even more perfect.
Not only did we visit three countries on this trip, but we also had the opportunity to experience three different cultures and enjoy three different cuisines, the latter made that much more enjoyable after a good day’s cycling – we certainly earned our calories!
It was the third day when I burst out with hysterical laughter. We were winding our way down the biggest, longest, most amazing hill I have honestly ever cycled, with stunning views of the Strait of Gibraltar and Morocco on the horizon. It was moments like this that were plentiful on this tour. Those moments when cycling just feels perfect; you are cruising through beautiful scenery and the hill you had to climb to get there was totally worth it. Those moments that make you burst out laughing, simply from sheer happiness.
We spent our nights between two hotels, one in Spain and the other in Morocco. Both of them, I have to say, were very nice. Not only did we enjoy the comfort of these hotels, but the location of them was just pure genius. In Spain we stay in Algeciras, from where we caught a bus to Tarifa, a train to Ronda and a ferry to Morocco; it was a fantastic hub and only a short drive from Gibraltar. Two nights in Morocco were spent in a characterful hotel on the outskirts of Chefchaouen’s medina, just a five minute walk from the heart of the charming blue town.
Speaking of Chefchaouen, if you are ever in Morocco I urge you to stop here; it was a stand-out highlight for all. We took a day’s rest from cycling to wander the maze of blue-walled streets, sit across from the impressive Kasbah, sip sweet mint tea, soak up the atmosphere and watch life go by in this quaint town nestled in the Rif Mountains.
Historically, Morocco and Andalucía have been culturally connected and there is still evidence of this today, with Spanish commonly spoken as a second language and the architecture sharing similarities. Our first day in Morocco was apparently more entertaining for the locals than it was for us however, with nearly every passing vehicle giving us a friendly toot and the drivers offering an encouraging wave – Lycra-clad Brits were evidently not a common sight in the Rif Mountains! I had not visited an Arabic country before, but adjusting to a new culture was made that much easier by the friendly, welcoming Moroccan people.
Food! You couldn’t possibly ask me about visiting new places without me telling you about the food! Spending a lot of time on the coast, naturally we found ourselves indulging in an abundance of fresh seafood, both in Spain and Morocco. One stand-out meal was when we arrived in the Spanish town of La Linea on the border with Gibraltar, where we stopped for lunch prepared by a gentleman who had spent his life frying seafood; needless to say he was an expert at his trade and it was delicious! My favourite food of all, however, was in Morocco. Moroccan soup and meat tagines went down a treat, plus the street food in Chefchaouen just begged to be tasted. Goyo, our charming Spanish Tour Leader, put together a picnic feast each day of our cycling adventure; he certainly made sure we were always happy and never hungry!
Last but not least we have Gibraltar, a place steeped in fascinating history, quirky Britishness and the occasional monkey to boot. It was a bonus to have the chance to visit this interesting little place at the end of an already action-packed, experience-rich tour, just as you would expect from Explore. Cycling through Gibraltar felt very familiar, but just a little different, as we cycled on the ‘wrong’ side of the road passing English pubs and a Marks and Spencer’s.
If you want to get away for a week, you enjoy cycling and want to tick three countries off your list, this tour is perfect. I had a blast, and it was the perfect taster to make me want to go back and see more of Spain and Morocco, which I hope to do in the near future.