If you’re looking for something fun and different to do in Andalusia in southern Spain, I can highly recommend cycling the abandoned railways tracks known as the Vía Verde de la Sierra.
Plenty of Spanish people ride this route, but it doesn’t seem well known among international tourists, which makes this a unique and local thing to do.
The track runs through 38km of mountainous landscapes between the towns of Puerto Serrano and Olvera. It’s about a 1-hour drive from Seville or 1 ½ hours from Malaga.
The single-track railway line was built in the 1920s to cross the entire Sierra of Cádiz. Numerous tunnels, stations, and stone bridges were constructed, but the project was abandoned due to the Spanish Civil War and never finished. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that the genius Via Verde program was initiated, which rehabilitated this railway as a cycling and walking track (as well as over a hundred others throughout Spain!).
It’s said that the Via Verde de la Sierra is among the most beautiful Via Verdes in Spain — and I must say I loved it.
It’s cool to ride through the long tunnels and along the old viaducts. If I squinted my eyes while looking at the rocky landscapes, I almost felt like I was in some kind of Wild West locale. I imagined some of the cliffs by the side of the railway to be excellent places for some banditos to set up an ambush. The area is home to numerous condors and eagles, adding to the vibe.
Along the way you’ll pass by oak tree forests, olive groves, and plenty of wild nature. The 30 tunnels are of various lengths, the longest being almost 1km (0.6m).
How to cycle the Via Verde
There are two starting points for the route: Puerto Serrano and Olvera.
You can see a nice map of the route by downloading this PDF.
Bike rentals are available at both ends of the route. Don’t get confused though! I had mistakenly reserved bikes from a rental company in Olvera, when my starting point was Puerto Serrano. Fortunately, I could also rent bikes there without a reservation.
The bikes we got at Puerto Serrano were pretty decent, even though the saddles were hard as diamonds. I guess you can’t be too picky. You can find the rental bikes at the former Puerto Serrano train station (location), which also has a cafe and restaurant. A bike there cost 10 Euro for the day.
If you start in Olvera, you’ll go slightly downhill. If you start in Puerto Serrano, you’ll go gradually uphill. The path is mostly flat though.
The mid-way point of the route is a town called Coripe, which is also accessible by car. You could start from Coripe as well, although I’m not sure if there’s a bicycle rental there. If you feel 38 km (or 24 miles) is a bit long, you could go as far as Coripe and then turn back or get a taxi.
Between Coripe and Olvera are some of the more interesting bits. There’s a protected area around the Peñón de Zaframagón mountain, which is home to one the largest nesting colonies of griffon vultures in Europe. There is an observatory from where you can watch them and learn more about these creatures. Just before Coripe and a little while after are also two of the longest tunnels, 990m and 685m in length respectively.
Since this is not a circular route, you’ll either have to cycle back to your starting point, or take a taxi back.
I took a taxi from Coripe back to Puerto Serrano, which took about 30 minutes and cost 25 Euro. I thought this was quite reasonable given the length of the ride and the use of the taxi’s bicycle rack. You can find phone numbers for local taxis at the former train stations and in the route leaflets.
Although it’s a lot of cycling and occasionally a bit steep, the route is well-supported. Friendly park rangers can give you information and are on call in case you have a problem with your bicycle.
You can’t really reach the Via Verde by public transportation, but if you’re on a road trip through Spain, you shouldn’t miss spending a day riding this wonderful route.