When you think of Mallorca it’s the climbs that are the really big pull for many a bike rider. Stretches of road that look like spaghetti strewn across the flanks of towering mountains feature vertiginous drops and coastal vistas that take your breath away. But it also has pan flat plains and rolling countryside that offer welcome recovery rides if you’ve only got a week or so to explore the island. Here’s Ride Velo’s guide to some of the best rides on this Balearic jewel.
Cap de Formentor
This is a straight out and back ride along a peninsula that starts with a steady climb of about 3 km at about 6% gradient which offers stunning views of Port de Pollenca. Soon you’ll be plummeting down the other side like a stone, full in the knowledge that you have to climb back up on your return. The fragrant waft of pine trees accompanies you through a rolling section before you begin some spectacular climbing and descending with more beautiful views of coves. It’s worth taking some lights with you as there’s a completely unlit tunnel to pass through and, while you can just make out the light at the end, it can be quite unnerving. The road is carved into cliff faces in places and as you round the bend to get your first view of the lighthouse there’s a steep 10% descent that can be hairy when the wind is up. Apparently Bradley Wiggins can get out to here and back in under an hour but you should allow more time than that to admire the views. And the descents are what can be described as extremely technical!
This is another one of those rides where you have to go down all the way to the fishing village of Sa Calobra and the stunning, unmissable beach at Torrent de Pareis before turning round to come back up again, meaning that you get a pretty good idea of what awaits you! In fact it’s a relief to take your hands off the brakes as you start the 9km climb towards the top at Coll dels Reis. This road is an engineering masterpiece designed by the Italian, Antonio Parietti in 1932 (who also built the road to Cap de Formentor) and features a so-called spiral bridge that makes a 270 degree turn back on itself. Other than the incredible views and dramatic hairpins there’s also a section where two rock faces appear to have collapsed into each other making an arch. The average gradient of just over 7% means you gain 668m in altitude over just 9km. A beautiful ride and on every cyclist’s bucket list, Sa Calobra is up there with some of the most famous Alpine and Pyrenean climbs.
While ‘Puig’ means ‘peak’ this climb’s length of 14km has earned itself the sobriquet of 'The Big Pig'. It’s known as Mallorca’s second most popular climb after Sa Calobra and, while it’s bloomin’ long, the gradient of around 6% is steady and not too taxing. Starting out from Soller there’s a long section through shaded pine trees which can be a little monotonous. Once you break out of that, the views down to Soller are worth the effort, however. Stop just before the entrance of the tunnel for a break and you’ll be surprised by how much the temperature has dropped up here. After the tunnel there’s a left turn into a military base to the very peak of Major but you won’t be allowed access, I’m afraid. Just enjoy the descents that weave past a couple of beautiful lakes.
West Coast Ma-10 road from Soller to Andratx
Probably my favourite ride as it passes through some of the most beautiful scenery of the whole island. You can whizz up the climb from Soller to the west, then it’s a sinuous coastal road that hugs the mountains on one side with sea views on your right. Stop in at Deia for a break at one of its many cafes. Favoured by artists, writers like Robert Graves and super models like Kate Moss, you’ll also find ex IAM rider Vicente Reynes in the village bakery. He has a bike workshop opposite if you’re in need of technical assistance. From there it’s up and down the whole way with some thrilling descents, particularly the straight section after Ca'n Costa where you can really fly. If you fancy a bit of sight-seeing turn left at the T junction for pretty Valldemossa, former home of Chopin and George Sands. Otherwise take a right to head back onto the Ma-10 coast road towards Banyalbufar and Estellencs and all the way to Andratx if that takes your fancy. Glorious. You’ll be pushed to find a more enjoyable ride anywhere in the world.
Coll de Soller
The great thing about this climb is that there are hardly any cars at all as they all go through the tunnel connecting Soller with Bunyola. It’s also got more hairpins than Alpe d’Huez, 61 in fact. So, if that’s your thing, you have to give it a try! It’s 6% over 7.3km, so not too hard and there’s a café at the top. Take our tip, it's easier to start in Bunyola than fight uphill with the traffic from Soller. You'll also have the sun on your back all the way. But the hard nuts prefer the challenge from Soller with steeper gradients and more switchbacks.
Alaro – Coll d'Orient - Coll d’Honor – Bunyola - Alaro
This is a lovely circular route that includes climbs, descents and flat. Alaro is a great little town. Try to go there on a market day for its bustling atmosphere. The smell of rotisserie chickens may hold up your progress though. Head north out of town to the mountains for a gentle climb up to Coll d’Orient. A fabulous plateau awaits you in what feels like another world of wild flowers and farms nestled in high planes. Then it’s mostly down to the ancient village of Orient before rising up forested hairpins to the Coll d’Honor. It’s a quick drop down to Bunyola where, if you haven’t already stuffed your face on the afore-mentioned chicken, get some tapas and a cana in the main square. Out of Bunyola it’s flat and straight before you turn off towards Santa Maria through pastures and olive groves before taking a quiet country lane back to Alaro. Feels like an easy day but you’ve conquered a couple of Colls and beasted it along the flat. If you want more of a challenge - try it in reverse with a taxing 8% climb up the Coll d'Honor.
Flatlands and rolling hills
There are numerous routes you can take in the centre of the island that follow quiet cycle paths along country lanes. It's all stone walls, wild flowers, meadows, vineyards, olive groves, ancient towns and villages. If you’re in the mood for a quiet day, taking it easy, then this is where to come. Santa Eugenia is a good place to start where you can pick up a cycle path to Sencelles. The area around Ruberts is gorgeous and Sineu is worth a stop for a bite. Loop back towards Binissalem, the main wine growing region. It’s a mixture of rolling hills and pan flat roads. This is off the tourist track and all the better for it. A sandwich and beer will cost a quarter of what you’d pay in chi-chi Soller and the locals are friendly and welcoming. The riding is gentler although it can get windy.
If you’re based in or near Palma you’ll want to head out towards Calvia. But if you’re a complete masochist, our friend and ex-pro Vicente Reynes, suggests Es Verger south of Esporles. We were far too sensible to attempt the 35% gradient and avoided the whole area but if it’s suffering you’re after there’s no better place to find it. Take a left as you approach, go through the gate which looks like the road's closed and chapeau if you make it!
Explore the east coast including the Parc Natural de La Peninsula de Llevant. Then there’s the lovely old towns of Arta and Petra to discover. Again, this is a mix of flat and hills along country lanes and back roads. The bay of Alcudia and Port de Pollensa are pretty but super busy!
Cala Tuent – take the left turn instead of going to Port de Sa Calobra. It’s a longer (and harder) way of doing the Calobra climb. Or match the crazy feat one guy did of riding to all of Mallorca’s ports in a day. This involves sharp descents that you have to climb back up again. Port des Canonge on the west coast is one of the toughest. We tried the road to Port de Valldemossa and back up again which was quite a challenge! Be prepared for sharp switchbacks and gradients of 15%.
Surprisingly few cyclists venture down to Cala Deia. Heading out of Deia towards Soller take the left turn down to this magical cove of crystal clear turquoise waters. The fisherman’s restaurant (which starred in The Night Manager) serves the best dorada (sea bream to you and me) you’re ever likely to taste although the climb back up to the coastal road will make you sweat.
While the cycle tour companies are extremely well run and offer pretty good value for money, it’s possible to organise your own trip by booking your own accommodation, car and bikes like we did. We loved the freedom and, with the help of the GPS app, had a wonderful time discovering these places for ourselves.
I’ve ridden in the Pyrenees and the Alps. They were lovely. Girona and indeed much of Catalunya were stunning too. I’ve explored the region of Limburg and fantasised that I was racing one of the Classics. But nothing comes close to the fabulous riding we experienced on this gem of an isle that is Mallorca. We’ll be back!