A long weekend cycling in Javea/Xabía
Javea, perhaps not quite as famous for being a cycling destination as its nearby neighbour, Calpe, is a small town on the Spanish Costa Blanca. Its lack of fame though shouldn’t put you off from spending a long weekend here.
Javea is a small town with comparatively few hotels – compared to Benidorm just an hour’s drive down the coast and Calpe even nearer – and so has always been more popular with long-term expats than holidaymakers off for a week of sun, sea and sangria. As such, the city also holds less of a draw for professional cycling teams, who typically choose places with a glut of cheap, otherwise unused hotel rooms for their winter training camp destinations.
That being said, once it gets into December and January, hardly a Javea ride goes by without a celebrity cyclist spot. Thomas De Gendt trains round here often, Tosh Van der Sande lives in nearby Jalon, while Astana, Katusha and BMC have all held training camps in the area in the past two years.
If you want to ride the same roads as the pros but stay in a Spanish city that offers a little more authenticity than the abandoned summer sun traps, then Javea might well be the place for you.
Riding, roads & road rage
While Javea does not have any true big mountain challenges equivalent to the Pyrenees accessible from Girona (which we visited in last week’s travel blog), or the Alps reachable from Nice, it does offer an impressive level of variation.
The Vall D’Ebo climb north and inland from Javea is a gorgeous, thirty-minute test of the legs which transforms from pine tree-lined gradual incline to a sequence of exposed hairpins. It unfolds in such a dizzying serpentine way that first-timers are often surprised at where the top actually is when they reach it.
The Coll de Rates, to Javea’s west, is probably the most popular professional training climb in the region. It rises 350m in 6.5 km – a more than manageable gradient – and hugs the northern edge of the Coll most of the way. That means plenty of stunning scenery to enjoy as you make your way higher and higher. The apple strudel they sell in the restaurant at the top is pure dynamite (if it’s open!).
For the Vuelta a España obsessives, the Cumbre del Sol is a must. It’s a mere 20 minutes from the centre of Javea and actually runs through a development of holiday homes to a cluster of radio masts at the summit. What it lacks in grandiosity, it makes up for in gradient. This punishingly steep road has hosted stage finishes won by Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome in two of the last three years.
Alto de Aitana is the largest climb that’s realistically reachable within a day from Javea, but be prepared for an epic day in the saddle. A round trip from Javea to the summit and back will see you clock up about 150km (just under 100 miles) and climb in excess of 2,500m (8,200ft). Closer by (but still a respectable day’s riding) is Castell de Guadalest, an up-and-back-down blast that reaches a very pretty castle at the top.
As far as drivers and temperament go, thanks to the popularity of cycling in this part of the world, drivers are both aware and courteous when it comes to bike riders. At times their reticence to overtake you becomes somewhat comical; the sum total of a broad hard shoulder, entire lane available, plus zero oncoming traffic deemed ‘not quite safe enough’ on some occasions. While we’re on the subject of road safety, Spain has a helmet law which means you must wear head protection while cycling – unless you are in a city, it is really hot, or you are going uphill.
Javea has two bike shops where you can rent a sturdy road machine on which to go exploring. Xabia’s Bike is located down by the beach and they have some well-kept Specialized Tarmacs for hire. The costs are very reasonable, coming in at €21 per day if you rent for a minimum of four days. Nearby Gurugu Bicycles also offers rentals at the low, low price of €16 per day – but we haven’t seen their fleet so can’t testify to the quality of the models on offer.
As we said at the top, the skyline of Javea remains beautifully unblemished by high-rise hotels, so the type of accommodation you’re most likely to find is the good old Spanish villa.
A villa with two beds and access to a communal pool can cost as little as £11 a night via AirBnB, or a little more if you book through booking.com. For large groups it’s best to plan well ahead, as the supply of short-notice accommodation is more scant than in Benidorm or Calpe.
If you fancy extending your weekend away into a remote-working week, Javea also boasts Sun and Co., one of Europe’s foremost co-living spaces – a sort of office-come-hostel that markets itself to location independent workers. Ride in the morning, then be back at your desk and ready to work by 10am UK time.
Food and drink
Javea has a few good restaurants to choose from, most of which are gathered either in the Old Town, or down by the beach in the port area. If you’re after the best tapas in town, head to La Cajita, which boasts a menu that changes daily and is packed with local specialties – plus plenty of free flowing vino tinto.
Down at the waterside, take your pick from La Siesta (fresh fish and salads), Cala Bandida (smoothies and big breakfasts), Monsoon (Thai food) or the Curry Palace, for every hungry cyclist’s favourite unhealthy recovery dish.
A word of warning if you’re planning a long ride on a Sunday afternoon: this is rural Spain, everything will close and you definitely won’t be able to buy food. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across a small village bar – like the one in the church square in Tarbena – that is open and full of drunk old Spanish farmers, and if you’re even luckier, they might have some ham sandwiches left. Our advice is eat where you can and don’t turn your nose up at papas bravas if that’s all that’s on offer.
Javea is a beautiful place to ride bikes with cycling seen very much as part of the fabric of the local culture, not a sideline sport that’s jostling for its share of the road. Soak in the sun that shines almost all year round and rest easy knowing that there’s plenty to keep the family occupied while you’re out on your bike.
Top travel tip
The local Javea bike club goes out every Sunday morning for their weekly ride, setting out from a bar on Carrer Princep D’Asturias. While the first part is known to be something of a smashfest, it rapidly descends into a bar crawl on the way back into town. It’s well worth joining in with if you think you can handle the pace – both biking and boozing!