La Vuelta a Ebro

Updated: Nov 2

Our Tour of the River Ebro (plus a Prologue and an Epilogue)

This year (2022) we cycled the length of the River Ebro, which at 930 km is Spain’s second longest river. This is the story of our journey, partly intended as a record of the event but primarily aimed at anyone who might want to have a crack at it themselves. To that end I've included the .gpx files of each stage, which you're welcome to download and use.

Our plan was to undertake the journey after the intense summer heat of Spain had abated somewhat, so we started out in mid-September. We divided it into 7 stages of roughly equal length: about 100km per day.

This proved to be manageable for us physically, as well as allowing overnight stops in some of the larger towns where we had more chance of being able to find vegan and gluten free food. We stayed in cheapish hotels and hostels each night to save on weight and permit overnight clothes-washing in the sinks; we wanted this tour to be about the cycling, not the camping!

We initially tried to find a train from our home in Alicante Province to the start, but due to the rules of long-distance trains in Spain, which require you to have bikes stowed in bike boxes/bags, plus the complexity and expense of taking multiple regional or ‘media distancia trains’, we gave in and booked a one-way car hire from Alicante to Santander.


Overview

We travelled just over 800kms in the 8 days of cycling on our trusty titanium Enigma Etape road bikes, shod with bomb-proof 32mm Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres and carrying our ageing Topeak front and rear bags.

Jon’s bike has Di2 gears and disc brakes; Nicki’s were standard gears and brakes. Both of us have compact chainrings and 11/32 (11-speed) sprockets at the rear: thus, plenty of low gearing for hills plus the occasional off-road sections. We each carried three spare inner tubes in our front bags, CO2 cartridges and a mini-tool along with a healthy stash of route food and electrolytes. We used a Garmin 830 for navigation and our watches (Garmin and Coros) to record the activity, and we both had phones with Google Maps for the detailed hotel-finding at the end of each day.

During the journey, we tried to get to supermarkets which had decent vegan and gluten free foods to boost the sometimes-meagre offerings of the hotels and to enable us to have some decent lunches on route. Inevitably, we did end up having to eat chips on a regular basis, when we were not able to buy anything more nutritious.

We were caught out once in Logroño where everything was shut due to a local fiesta that we hadn’t counted on. We were also well stocked with our own homemade GF muesli to top up on the standard GF toast in most of the hotels – the additional weight was totally worth it!!


The Prologue – Santander to Fontibre (78km, 1287m, 4 hrs)

Ebro Day 0 Prologue
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In Santander we stayed at the Hotel Picos de Europa, which was conveniently located for both our car drop off, local restaurants and easy access to the cycle path out of Santander the next morning. Our room was comfortable and the staff were really helpful. Note that there is in fact a train from here to Reinosa, which would get you up the hill much more easily.

The next day we set off at eight and avoided the traffic by following the bike path out of Santander, which was of good quality, if a little wiggly. It was mostly really well signposted and where signage was a bit thin, the route was pretty obvious. Be on the lookout for the rather clever pontoon bridge that takes you simultaneously over the Ría de Boó and under the motorway. The pontoon access ramp is at what3words///airports.payout.full.

Once across the river the route is pretty simple and straightforward, passing through some gorgeous villages and through bucolic countryside. At Obregón you pick up the Via Verde del Pas, which takes you to Sarón, Pomaluengo, and Puente Viesgo, where you turn right to go up and over a short but testing pass and then down to the Rio Besaya, where the real work of the day begins.

Gently rising at first, the N611 leads relentlessly upwards, through a narrowish tree-lined gorge and then out onto the open hillside with the motorway clearly visible higher up to the right. This climb is relentless: the start of the crawler lane is a bit of an indicator and there are a couple of soul-destroying ramps along the way. Patience is rewarded, however and arrival at Cañeda signals the end of the beginning, with Reinosa just beyond.


At this point we ditched our bags at the Hotel San Roque and headed wearily along to the source of the River Ebro at Fontibre: an extra 10km there and back but it has to be done to keep it honest. Overall a tough day in the saddle but now we’re ready to start the tour proper.



DAY 1 – Fontibre to Trespaderne (100km, 549m, 5hrs)

Ebro Day 1
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You can start at the source of the Ebro at Fontibre or chop 5 off the distance and 20 minutes off the time by starting (as we did) from our hotel in Reinosa. This is a pleasant, straightforward introduction to the odyssey, following the CA 171 eastwards out of town on easy, smooth and mostly car-free terrain.

Soon the enormous Ebro reservoir appeared on the right, its far bank obscured by a swirling bank of fog. At 21 km we passed through the tiny village of La Poblacion, near the Roman camp of El Cincho on the left, before turning onto the Ns 623 and 232. The easy but rather boring option here is to stay on this main road all the way to Incinillas, but we opted instead to turn left onto a minor road at the 31km point, over a cattle grid and up onto the moors, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the tour.

This remote road leads gently upwards, over some rattly gridirons and through some lovely, open, Dartmoor-esque territory, with great views down the broad valley ahead. From the high point at 930m ASL there’s a great descent (mind the hairpin bend!) down to the sweet little hamlet of Ahedo de las Pueblas, and then down again through ancient oak forests to the banks of the Río Nela, one of the Ebro’s higher tributaries. After the efforts of yesterday it was a relief to let gravity do some of the work whilst admiring the intricate clefts and escarpments of the opposite bank.

Emerging onto a slightly bigger road just south of Santelices, you pick up the old Santander railway, which is now a Via Verde that’s undergoing an extensive programme of refurbishment and is well worth following once complete. When we did it the VV was discontinuous and closed in places, and in any case the valley road proved to be delightful, winding its way down through charming scenery to the amazing natural limestone bridge at Peuntedey, which is also a great place to stop for coffee at the half-way point.

The cycling pleasure continues all the way to Cigüenza at 66km, where we promptly lost the route and headed into Villarcayo before turning south on the CL-679 through Horno to regain the proper path. Better by far would have been to turn right at Cigüenza and follow the minor road almost due S along the foot of the hills to Villalaín, then up over the easy-ish pass and down to Incinillas. Soon afterwards the road joints the Ebro and follows it down through a gorge for 4km, before turning left at Valdenoceda (bathing spot on the L) and emerging at Quintana de Valdivielso. Many of the towns here are called “Quintana such-and-such”, which provided some amusement because Nicki is a huge fan of Nairo Quintana, the famous pro cyclist.

Anyway, on you go to the T junction, turn L to Puente Arenas and continue wombling down the now wider Ebro valley, past the Castillo at Panizares and back onto the main road at Cereceda with 95km completed.

Not far now, just 3km to the left turn onto the N629 and down through another spectacular gorge, past some amazing tottering towers called the Tartalés, back over the Nela close to where it joins the Ebro and up into the town of Trespaderne. Here we stayed at the Hostal Restaurante Jose Luis, which has charming hosts, simple rooms, secure bike storage and good food. Our otherwise comfortable overnighter was somewhat marred by the television falling off its shelf and onto my leg (how is that even possible?) but despite mucho dolor there was nothing broken and this ex-soldier was able to soldier on the next day, with only – ahem – a couple of Ibuprofen for backup.


DAY 2 – Trespaderne to Logroño (114km, 760m, 5hrs 10mins)

Ebro Day 2
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Very much a day of two halves, today’s journey began amongst some pleasant countryside but quickly became scrappy and later deteriorated further into a series of laborious drags on busy main roads and an unexpected (and scary) section of motorway. All in all it wasn’t a great day out, despite a few highlights along the way, so here I’ll explain the route we should have taken rather than the one we actually took.

In the centre of Trespaderne turn SE onto the BU-530 (signposted Miranda de Ebro) and follow it for 30-odd kilometres through Quintana María, Quintana Martín Galíndez and Barcina del Barco, with the Ebro winding along on your R. The river soon widens into a reservoir (the Embalse de Sobrón) and the scenery becomes really dramatic where the landscape narrows into a gorge at the 23km point. Here you cross from Castile and Leon into the Basque country and wind your way through an intricate series of tunnels on the very bank of the river. At the T junction with the A2625 you turn R onto the A2122 and follow it less prettily through Fontecha and Zubillaga to the sizeable town of Miranda de Ebro for a halfway break in its attractively pedestrianised centre.

Cross the bridge to the S side of the Ebro (47km) and pick up the BU735 to Ircio, San Felices etc, passing under the AP68 motorway (57km) and following the river all the way. Now called the LR306, the road leads S between the motorway and the river into the larger town of Haro, where you turn E along the A3202 to Bastida. Now you pick up the N232a for a few km before turning into San Vicente de la Sonsierra and following the LR318 to Baños de Ebro (sounds promising!) and then on the A3214 to Eltziego. There are a few lumps and bumps along here, but the line of the river is always visible on the R.

In due course (104km) you join the N232a once again and follow it over a final small rise and down into the finish at Logroño. Following the N232a all the way from Bastida to Logroño would be a reasonable alternative. Its more northerly line takes it away from the river and 100m higher up on the plain, and it’s undoubtedly a somewhat busier road, but the overall amount of climbing is less (331m compared to 419m), so the choice is yours.


There’s plenty of accommodation available in Logroño. We stayed at the Hotel Condes de Haro, a 3-star hotel that was a little above our budget and turned out to be rather noisy thanks to the aforementioned huge and unexpected fiesta that was taking place in the town centre and right below our window.


DAY 3 – Logroño to Tudela (100km, 314m, 4hrs 15mins)

Ebro Day 3
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I called this the “Big Ring Day” because most of the day was spent on the Eje de Ebro, which for much of its length must be the longest, straightest, and flattest road we have ever ridden on. Thanks to a generous following wind it was also one of the fastest, so we made excellent progress all the way to Cadreita at the 80km point. On the way, don’t forget to pay your respects at the memorial to Miguel Indurain in the town of Azagra, where there’s no shortage of locals available to enthuse about his impressive life history and palmarès.

After Cadreita, in a misguided attempt to leave the main road and find the GR99, we turned S towards, then over, the river and into Castejón, dropping onto the service road that follows along beside the railway on its S side. This would have been fine on mountain bikes but on our road machines it was a mistake. Its stony surface provided 5 km of teeth-rattling unpleasantless before giving way to a better – and pleasantly car-free – tarmacked boulevard that led all the way into the lovely town of Tudela. A better option for road bikes would have been to stay on the Eje de Ebro after Cadreita and follow it all the way to Tudela. This would have maintained the ‘fast but boring’ theme of the day, whose easy 100km would be do-able in 4 hours given favourable weather.

In Tudela we stayed at the Hotel Santamaria, which gave us a comfortable night’s sleep after a trek to the local Decathlon for some spares and a very pleasant visit to the impressively beautiful town square, the Plaza de la Judería, with its meleé of bars and cafés.


DAY 4 – Tudela to Zaragoza (89 km, 143m, 4hrs 30mins)

Ebro Day 4
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Today began well with a smooth exit from Tudela on the NA 126, which tracks the foot of the famous Bardenas Reales on the N side of the River Ebro.

Following the edge of this extraordinary zone – the only true desert in Europe – but being denied more than a few fleeting glimpses of its interior was both inspiring and frustrating. Far more frustrating was the sudden deterioration of the road surface at the border between Navarre and Aragón (25km), which is also the point at which the Bardenas Reales come to an end. From here on we cycled with gritted teeth on a potholed surface to Tauste, bullied by HGVs and periodically wishing that we were on the track beside the Tauste Canal, which we could see on our right between us and the Ebro. Indeed, the route contained in the .gpx file above does follow the “towpath” more or less all the way to Tauste, but there’s always the option of reverting to the road if it proves unsuitable.


The rather strange pueblo of Tauste provides some welcome relief and coffee, but the stench of fertiliser hangs thickly in the air and we didn’t linger overlong. Back on the A126 we followed uneventfully to Alagón (60km), where things became much trickier.

The problem with this stretch is that the valley floor is completely dominated by the A 68 (an autovia: cycles technically allowed but definitely not recommended), the AP 68 (an autopista: cycles forbidden), and the railway, which is a major high-speed line. The result is that there is realistically only one way for cyclists to get through to Zaragoza from Alagón, which is by cobbling together a series of camis (minor roads), gravel lanes and farm tracks into an uncomfortable but just-about-navigable route. Some of this is paved, some gravelled and some just earth, which would prove an unpleasant prospect in the rain. Thankfully our day was dry, but even so the route through Torres de Belleren, Sobradiel and finally Monzalbarba (78km) was fiddly and wearying.

Nevertheless, once this almost 20km stretch is dealt with the remainder of the route into Zaragoza is straightforward, and it’s rather satisfying to be threaded under and over the ring road and be collected by a substantial bike path on the bank of the Ebro opposite the Parque del Agua Luis Buñuel (the Luis Buñuel Water Park). From this point onwards you’re in city mode, picking your way along bike paths of varying quality towards an overnight stop. In our case we chose the Hotel Cesaraugusta on Avenida Clavé, which has the good fortune of being right next to an absolutely brilliant Chinese restaurant (what3words///quality.chop.leads) where we enjoyed some wonderfully authentic vegan food.


DAY 5 – Zaragoza to Alcañiz (116 km, 650m, 5hrs 30mins)

Ebro Day 5
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Today we’re continuing to follow the general line of the Ebro until the 70km point, and then veering southwards to pick up a Via Verde into Alcañiz and, tomorrow, beyond. Rather cleverly (though I say so myself) you can head S to find the Imperial Canal (what3words///twisting.rocks.ports) where it traverses the city, and then follow it eastwards and very satisfyingly out of town. There are tracks/roads on both sides of the canal and it hardly matters which you choose to follow, since there are plenty of places to cross. The great benefit of canals is that they’re more or less perfectly flat, and this one provided a gentle introduction to what became a much harder day.


Eventually the canal runs out and you’re forced onto the N232a (again!) just beyond El Burgo de Ebro. Avoid a hilly bypass by going straight through the middle of Fuentes de Ebro and then continue rapidly to Quinto where there’s a quirky café with 2 pairs of legs sticking out of the wall (no, really).

Prompted by an interesting mural in the village, we opted to divert from our planned route by turning L onto the A221 through La Zaida, Sástago and finally Escatrón. This is a fascinating detour, because here the Ebro takes several huge meanders through a beautifully fertile valley as it snakes its way eastward. There’s even a well-placed mirador from which to admire the view and recover one’s breath.


At this point the Ebro heads off eastwards through the hills, where it becomes the huge and fascinating Embalse de Mequinenza, a popular holiday spot much frequented by fishermen and kite surfers. It’s possible to follow this on the A221 to Caspe and the N221 to Mequinenza, but from here onwards it becomes very difficult to track the Ebro through the mountains and into Catalonia without some very serious physical effort. So instead, we go southwards on the A224 to Castelnou (great café!) and Jatiel, before dropping down onto the Via Verde de Val de Safan just before the pueblo of Samper de Calanda, with its improbably huge church.

For 15km this difficult, stony and tiresome stretch leads relentlessly upwards, across and over a huge area of barren and remote terrain until finally emerging at the little village of Puig Moreno, where eventually the tarmac resumes. Never have I been so glad of the resilience of titanium frames, nor so thankful for a decent set of apparently puncture-proof tyres.

From here it’s a straightforward, though still uphill, run past Motorland Aragón (where pointlessly burning up fossil fuels still appears to be a thing) and then blissfully down into Alcañiz, nestling in the valley below. Here we gave the bikes a splash at the jet wash and retired to the Apartamentos Aguilar (C. Santo Domingo, 1, 44600 Alcañiz, Teruel) where we had snagged an excellent off-season offer on a compact and bijou apartment.


DAY 6 – Alcañiz to Tortosa (99 km, 626m, 5hrs)

Ebro Day 6
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This morning we chose to get straight onto the Via Verde del Val de Zafán at the NE corner of Alcañiz, a decision that we quickly came to regret as the line of the old railway proved to be every bit as stony as yesterday’s epic. We would have done better to take the N420 towards Valdeltormo and join the VV where it crosses near the junction with the TE-V-3003 just short of Mas del Labrador.

No matter, alea iacta est, so we pressed on upwards and came to the entrance to the Tunel de Equinoccio (The Equinox Tunnel) adjacent to Valdeagorfa. Here there was a barred grille and a sign warning of danger ahead, but the gate was open so we removed sunglasses, turned on lights and plunged into the darkness. This was perhaps not the best possible idea. The tunnel is fully 2km long and dead straight, so that there’s a light at the end from the outset. One of those lights that never seems to get any bigger.


The tunnel is unlit, very dark and floored with earth and gravel. Very spooky it was, and potentially very disorientating too, as Nicki discovered when she lost her bearings and ended up on the deck. The hand had gone out to break the fall, inevitably, but although bruised it was fortunately unbroken, and it was with great relief that we were able to continue. After all, a spot halfway down a pitch black 2km tunnel that is inaccessible to vehicles could well be the worst place imaginable to have a medical emergency.

Anyway, with running repairs effected with the aid of a compression bandage we made better progress on the now mostly tarmacked route, and really the rest of the Via Verde is quite magical. All the way to Bot the countryside is quite gorgeous on both sides, and after Bot the old railway takes a wonderfu