Southern Spain, Andalusia

Southern Spain, Andalusia
Depending on the reason and the place, it's often nice to arrive a little early. My Edelweiss Bike tour of Spain's Andalusia region is slated to begin tomorrow morning, and I have several hours to while away before this evening's initial briefing. What to do? That's easy. The Mediterranean's foamy, turquoise waves are slapping the shore outside the Tryp Guadalmar hotel, and they are just too alluring to ignore.

Our tour guide for the week, Claus Lazik, picked me up as scheduled at the Malaga airport and quickly had me situated in the beachfront host hotel. In no time I'm in shorts and a tee shirt, strolling the sand and sloshing through the roiling, chilly breakers. The sun's rays and a warm breeze soon have me yearning for a quick dip, an almost instinctive reaction after ten hectic hours in airports and jet liners. But as I walk toward the other sunbathers to drop off my shirt and flip-flops, I suddenly realize that, even in shorts, I am completely overdressed. I chuckle, shrug, and slightly modify an age-old adage, "When in Malaga…"

On the way back to the hotel, it dawns on me that my exposure to the local preference in swim-"wear" is first on the list of the many new experiences I'll have in Andalusia. My research had prepared me though, with many of the commentaries noting how very open-minded the people are. This, I thought, is going to be fun.

A Moorish marvel: Granada's Alhambra Palace.

El Camino A Grenada

Oh yeah, this is fun. Our crazy caravan motoring out of Malaga consists of three rowdy Brazilian couples, a German engineer, a roadracing Ohioan and his pixie-like pillion, two thermally challenged Canadians, and me, a camera totin' North Carolinian assigned the enviable task of capturing it all. And with Ducati and Suzuki machines rounding out the usual-suspect BMWs, we're taking to the Iberian interior with an international flair that might leave the most jaded Spaniard scratching his head and muttering, "¿Que?".

Before we've left the city limits, it becomes obvious this little ride has a many treats in store. The pavement narrows, winds, and climbs into the Montes de Malaga, with every turn opening up better vistas than the one before of the beautiful city beneath us. Scattered and low, the clouds spar with the sun, constantly altering the range and intensity of the blues in the distant Mediterranean. The snaking roads leave little margin for error, so Claus wisely pulls over to let us begin filling our camera's memory cards. Already, group photos and laughter have become the defining theme of our ride.

In the small town of Colmenar, we stop for cortados. This delicious shot of steamed milk and espresso is a Spanish favorite and the perfect complement to have at a chair and table under a warm, clear sky. Properly caffeinated, we weave back toward the coast and our seaside lunch near Nerja. Freshness is a given: succulent morsels are so readily procured. Ladles scraping the stewpots brought tableside loudly clatter the shells of our servings of juicy clams and mussels, and all the while the waves keep crashing and hissing on shore. It's no wonder my mouth is watering.

Stunning views from the Sierra de Chaparral.

As the day winds down, we're faced with one more steep climb, into the Sierra del Chaparral. Absent traffic or not, these narrow roads pose problems and command respect. Though concentration is an absolute necessity, the mountain views make that task more and more difficult as we approach the summit. Nearing our first overnight stay in Grenada, we see the Puerto del Suspiro del Morro (Pass of the Moor's Sigh). After being expelled by the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1492, the last Muslim ruler of Grenada sighed deeply while staring back at his beloved city. At that, as the story goes, his mother said, "Now you weep like a woman over the kingdom you could not defend as a man." Ouch.

Alhambra and Olives

Edelweiss has arranged a morning tour of one of Spain's most famous, and opulent, tourist attractions, the Alhambra, a sprawling complex of buildings and gardens that once served as the Moorish citadel and palace. Its surviving art and architecture, especially the meticulously carved arabesques, the slender, stalactite-inspired columns, and the fountains and arched ceilings are endlessly fascinating.

Before noon, we're back in the saddle and headed higher on a marvelously smooth, twist-infested route toward the summit of Muhacén, the highest mountain on the Iberian peninsula. While we're pausing at a rest area near the 11,423-foot summit to take in the stunning views from the top of Andalusia, the Canadians are all smiles in this markedly cooler clime, but the Brazilians quickly grab their snapshots and begin lobbying earnestly for a hasty descent. I can't say I blamed them, either - bright as it's been, the sun hasn't been much help all the way up.