Sa Calobra (2018, Mallorca)
A tuba should play at the top of Sa Calobra. A long, flat note like something from a Christopher Nolan film. As you crest the Colls dell Reis and start to head down into the port, those first turns give a sweeping view over the valley. Some of the tight switchbacks lie ahead like twisted rope and the sea gleams azure in the distance. It’s dramatic and a booming brass instrument seems about right.
Pollença to Sa Calobra is a classic route, about as familiar to cyclists as Wembley is to football fans. With about a million other cyclists, we rolled out of our sports hotel on the outskirts of Pollença on a bright September morning, heading south-west towards Lluc. The great thing about Mallorca, or at least this end of the island, is how easily you can transit from wherever you’re staying into decent cycling terrain. The road towards Sa Calobra is flanked by pointy green hills and occasional dense woodland.
We found ourselves periodically overlapping other groups of cyclists who would then overlap us when we stopped for a comfort break. Eventually, the groups thinned out as we all found our own pace, and we began a climb towards Coll de Femenia, a low peak before Sa Calobra. From this point, the terrain became more mountainous. The roads begin to curve around the topography of the Mallorcan peaks, jagged dry rock on one side and vertiginous drops on the other.
Somewhere along the way, an enterprising local had opened a shop embedded into a gap in the rock right next to the road. Being on a curve, his view from behind the counter gave a panoramic view of the north Mallorcan coastline, sea and a vast sky. Surely one of the most spectacular workplace views around?
Eventually, following a series of descents we swept into a bowl from where we climbed a series of switchbacks. The gradients were challenging but not into ‘suffer fest’ territory, a mixture of high single-digits and low-double digits. It was a long and dry climb, dust from the rock and road drying our mouths. After a while, up above us at the summit, we could see a gap in the rock where the road had been gouged through and would eventually lead down into Sa Calobra. Cue tubas.
Our descent was less fun than we might have assumed for a route like this. My mate Andy had been here a year ago, and came off on a tight corner, his bike sliding out from underneath him on the shiny road surface. That combined with the cars and buses which fly around the corners, meant we were keeping our speed under a little more control than usual.
The tight switchbacks that carve through the rocky top of the mountain eventually give way to longer, curving roads flanked by rock and trees - no wonder that Sa Calobra translates as ‘the snake’. The road eventually bottoms out through a wooded area into Sa Calobra port where a couple of restaurants sit perched right next to the sea. It was perfect for a lunch stop where we over indulged in some fresh fish and tumbet.
And then came what we were here for. The climb back up from Sa Calobra, 10 kilometres at an average gradient of 7%. Our pace was steady, giving me the time to appreciate the valley in more detail. About halfway up, there’s a house nestled in the middle of the valley that looked idyllic, a thin access road leading off to it. I imagined myself living there, writing and reading books, my mind wandering briefly before coming back to the pleasantly steady grind up the hill.
The twisty switchbacks at the very top present some brief ramps in gradient as a final kicker, including an impressive section of the road that runs through rock before curving back to travel over it. And then finally the summit, where a few groups of riders, curiously all from different parts of the UK, were catching their breath. One hardy Yorkshireman grinned as he headed back to the bottom to do it again, apparently his third circuit. For us, we took on some water and reflected on the enjoyment of the climb.
Go find your pocket: Stay at the Aparthotel Duva which is designed for cyclists and sports breaks, and only a 10-min walk into Port de Pollença or the Old Town: https://www.duva-pollensa.com/en/puerto-pollensa-cycling-hotel/ You can have bikes delivered here - there's no shortage of options at this end of the island!