Day 21 The Big Iberian Tour - El Real de la Jara

Edited by Christine

After 4 nights in Seville we are on the road again and have started what was always the main purpose of the trip, doing the Ruta Vía de la Plata: an ancient Roman route north, and part of the St James Way network.  We are taking the road-bike version to Leon before leaving la Ruta and going to Santander. La Ruta continues north to Gijón -- other versions go to Santiago de Compostela, but because we want to catch the ferry home we will turn east at Leon.

So far so good. Actually 10kms from the destination, Christine declared it was the best day's cycling she'd ever had although I think this had more to do with a premature sense that the journey was over. The last 10kms were a bit of an ordeal and finding the hotel was an absolute nightmare.

First, weather news. After fabulous weather for the first three weeks of the tour it has broken. In Spain when it rains it's cats and dogs. It rained all day yesterday and throughout the night so we felt ourselves lucky when it stopped as we were packing up to leave Seville. Black clouds threatened all morning but we escaped a downpour and the heavens didn't open again until we were snugly indoors having lunch in El Ronquillo. The forecast suggests we could be dodging showers tomorrow, after which normal service will resume and scorchio will again be the order of the day.

Today we did 86kms and because we were climbing from Seville - virtually at sea level - into the mountains of the Sierra Morena, there was uphill to be done. The highest point reached was 560 metres but according to my GPS we gained something like 1700m, losing 1200. Tough work for a pair of cyclists who normally mess about on the south coast.

The road has been brilliant. For the next 3 or 4 days we're tracking the motorway heading north. What this means is that our N630 road, the old main road, is virtually traffic free. Things were a bit messy for the first 10kms but then we got into wide open countryside and it just got better and better.

The landscape, once we had climbed a couple of hundred metres, changed and we left huge fields full of baby sunflowers behind us and entered classic Spanish terrain dominated by holm oak and flower-filled permanent pasture. As we got higher the cattle lower down were progressively replaced by sheep and the famous acorn-fed black pigs that satisfy the Spanish obsession with ham (so much better than its more famous Italian rival).

We stopped for lunch at El Ronquillo and gorged on scrambled eggs and asparagus. Wild asparagus - we've seen the hunters out gathering the stuff - is nothing like what you buy in the supermarket at home. The only better way to eat scrambled eggs is with baby broad beans, quite expensive but not yet in season. Any vegetable/ egg dish here is called revueltos: don't be put off.

Shortly after lunch we left the route tracking the motorway and headed east into the Sierra Morena. The landscape was similar but much more remote. We zipped through Almaden de la Plata, I town I'd been to before on a hike with my Spanish friend Juan. It was at this point Christine announced that this was her favourite day's cycling but the downhill stretch she was clearly anticipating didn't materialise and she was running on empty. When we eventually arrived at the El Real de la Jara she lost confidence in my navigational excellence and refused to follow me up a hill to the hotel convinced that she knew a better route. She then rang me to ask me the way to the hotel but it was hard to give her any guidance when I didn't know where she was. Miraculously we did eventually arrive at the same place at almost the same time.

This is one of the many weekends in Spain when everyone is partying. It's the feria or fair: we saw the signs in Seville but it's here as well. I suspect this could effect our sleep tonight. The hotel we're staying in, on the edge of an industrial estate, has a massive restaurant which tonight is closed, and instead of serving food it's hosting a rock band.


  1. Dear John,
    I've been looking for Trans Spain routes for a while, and have come across yours. It looks fantastic.
    I'm planning to go next May (the whole month, 50-60 miles per day with rest days) with my wife (we're both 65, but pretty fit - we did the sustrans LEJOG last year, and London to Milan this year -
    I've looked at your blog - very detailed, a good read with great pics - I've a lot to learn :-)
    We are planning to have our bikes couriered to Malaga and fly out to meet them. We'll cycle to join the Ruta in Seville. At Leon, we will head North East to Santander to ferry back. A 'coast to coast' trip.
    I hope you don't mind me asking a few questions:
    We usually book our hotels/b+bs in advance for the whole trip. I know this has disadvantages (eg. you have to get there!), and perhaps this isn't the best plan for this trip. How did you do it? Was it easy to find accommodation?
    Do you by any chance have gpx files of the route? This would be our main method of navigation although we usually take a 1:100,000 paper map as backup.
    Best, Dave Harris

    1. Hi Dave

      Thanks for your kind comments about the blog.

      You'll definitely enjoy the RVP although to be honest I enjoyed the off-road version, which I did last year, more than the road version, which I did the year before. Both are good, but off-road is amazing. My Cicerone guide, which comes out next year, will have a recommended best of both world option.

      There is loads of accommodation. Because it's a pilgrim route there is pilgrimage accommodation every 15 miles or so. What I tended to do was choose my accommodation the day before just to make sure I found somewhere I liked but finding places to stay will not be a problem in May.

      There are GPX routes for both on and off-road on If you set up an account, you can find me and then down load all the stages.

      Feel free to ask anything else.

      Best wishes


  2. Hi John, Apologies for not thanking you earlier. I couldn't find my question (and your response) amongst your many pages :-)
    Thanks for your help.
    We're definitely going ahead with our trip - Malaga to London via Santander/Portsmouth in May 2020.
    We'll probably book a few days accommodation ahead, and keep booking as we go along. As you say, probably no need to, but we feel slightly more comfortable knowing we are sorted with a bed and shower.
    As to exact route, I shall not plot this until April of next year - hopefully your Cicerone guide will be out by then.
    Once again, many thanks for your help.
    And more importantly, your inspiration.
    Best, Dave Harris

  3. HI John I am planning on cycling from Seville to Santiago this May. (May 2020). I will be solo unless I find others along way. Are there many pilgrim alburgues along the way? such as those on the Francis or Del Norte?

    1. Hi there

      The simple answer is yes. There is pilgrim accommodation in all the significant towns on the route. Because you're cycling and able to cover greater distances than the walking pilgrim you actually have a bigger choice. Accommodation is not a problem and if you stay in pilgrim accommodation you'll meet lots of other people.

      Have a great trip


  4. Hi John - can I ask is there a reason everyone cycles south to north and not the other way round? we would like to end our trip in Seville and stay there for a few days recovering and exploring, but I skeptical as everyone travels Seville to Gijon is it due to the elevation this way??? I haven't actually planned the route yet but just thought I would ask in case you had some views/opinions. Thanks Vicky

    1. Hi Vicky

      The main difference between north to south is the approach to the Cantabrian Mts, very hard from the north, very easy from the south. From the north you have to climb the mountains from sea level wheras from the south your already up on the Spanish plateau.

      Great trip either way.