Nestled above Granada, just three hours from Malaga lies one of Europe's best kept secrets - a network of incredible natural singletrack nestled within the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
It’s funny how even the mere mention of the word Malaga evokes the negative connotations attached to the over-developed Costa del Sol region of Spain. A vision of cramped apartment blocks, Full English breakfasts and lads on tour instantly comes to mind.
As I wedge myself right in the middle of a hen party at 7am on a Thursday morning, the smell of Jagermeister causing my stomach to lurch, it is hard to comprehend that in a matter of hours I will somewhere far removed from that stereotype. I realise in fact that I have little or no expectation of what the next four days will bring me.
Of course I had done a small amount of research – the obligatory google image search and read a few testimonials via Trip Advisor. But the true extent of what I was about to discover, I had not even considered.
Leaving Malaga airport and the gaggle of golfers, hen and stag parties behind, it was not long before we were driving on quiet roads, steadily climbing the hillside getting closer and closer to Sierra Nevada. The further inland we went, the more sparse the development and the more vast the vista. Every so often we would pass through a small rural village, each smaller and less populated than the last, until finally we reached our destination – Bérchules.
Nestled right in the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and with a population of just over 800 people, Bérchules is no metropolis. But it does have all of the ingredients you need for a successful mountain biking holiday – incredible riding on its doorstep, a couple of good eateries and a bar!
As soon as you step foot in Bérchules, you feel the tension of everyday life seep from between your shoulder blades. A panoramic view across the mountains reaching all the way down to the sea without a high rise hotel in sight – we were certainly off the beaten track.
Home to Mulhacén, mainland Spain's largest peak which stands at 3,480 metres above sea level with no such thing as an uplift service, fitness is a key element to riding in this neck of the woods.
Long climbs on fire road are par for the course. But fear not, the incredible views of the snow-capped peaks set against the backdrop of a clear blue sky are more than enough to distract one from the task in hand.
And as the saying goes, what goes up must come down. And boy does it come down. The entire landscape is littered with a web of goat's tracks that handily enough form some of the nicest singletrack I have ever ridden.
Steep rocky technical sections, switchbacks that open out onto wide alpine slopes before sweeping back through pine forest, farmland and semi-arid Mediterranean scrub keep life interesting as you weave down the mountain side.
Sierra Nevada lends itself perfectly to a long day in the hills. Small rural villages punctuate the landscape with regularity offering much needed sustenance and a break from the beating sun mid-ride.
In terms of route planning and navigation, there is plenty of literature on the tracks in the area thanks to the its long standing appeal to walkers. However if it is your first time in the area, it might be worthwhile hooking up with a guide.
British run company, Pure Mountains, is located just above the village of Bérchules and offers a full service option taking care of transfers, accommodation, food and fully supported all day guiding.
If you are a fan of the hand holding experience then I cannot recommend them highly enough – they even set up chairs on the roadside complete with a glass of juice and cereal bar mid-morning! You can also use afternoon tea complete with freshly baked cake back at the ranch as your motivation when you are feeling the burn as you near the end of a long day’s riding.
Hosts Tim and Jenny know the area inside out so are definitely a valuable resource when it comes to finding the best trails Sierra Nevada has to offer. Their guesthouse, which has its very own pump track in the front garden, accommodates 10 people and can be rented in its entirety or you can book to join an existing group.
The only downside with the latter is the fact that your week’s riding will often be tailored to suit the needs of the entire group. On the plus side the likelihood of you meeting fellow mountain biking fanatics and future riding buddies is high! They also offer skills camps on various dates throughout the year if you are looking to bring your mountain biking to the next level.Prices start at £745 per week based on two sharing.
If the group holiday is not your cup of tea then there are a few accommodation options in Bérchules to choose from. I stayed at Hotel Bérchules which is a quiet, family run hotel overlooking the valley that offers rooms on a B&B basis for €57 per night.