They say that cycling is the new golf – the new leisure activity of choice for fitness-seeking execs. They’ve got the Titleist clubs and the Audi but now it’s that carbon-fibre Bottecchia, Specialized or Cervelo that’s providing their thrills.
Given the success of British riders in the last Olympics and Brad Wiggins’ landmark Tour de France victory this year, it’s easy to understand the across the board explosion in UK interest in bike riding, while the exploits of Dan Martin and Nicolas Roche have captured Irish headlines.
But as well-heeled enthusiasts leave their BMWs in the garage and take to the roads aboard bicycles costing up to 9,000 apiece, this monumental explosion of not just spectator enthusiasm but active participation is a worldwide phenomena – and Mallorca seems to be at the heart of it, thanks to a year-round exercise-favourable climate, glorious scenery and superbly engineered roads along with a native population raised on cycle racing lore.
When I visited this spring, it was estimated that around 50,000 cyclists were on the island. They came from Scandinavia, the United States, Germany and two-dozen other nations besides the UK and Ireland. Many brought their own machines but there are plenty of bike rental shops on the island – their ranks full of advertising executives, money-men, doctors, engineers and other professionals. For once it was those in normal garb rather than the Lycra-clad hordes who seemed out of place.
Given the high social status of so many of these born-again cyclists, it’s Mallorca’s high-end hotel properties that have been able to reap benefit.
Set in the midst of a quiet, quintessentially rural web of traffic-free byways but with challenging mountain roads within short pedalling distance, the elegant Reads Hotel & Vespasian Spa, just outside the bustling little town of Santa Maria, is ideally placed as a cycling base. No wonder the holiday division of the famed Trek bike firm runs its programme from here.
Reads isn’t just cycling friendly, it’s run by a bike riding family and super-fit Malcolm Wyse, son-in-law of the hotel’s creator, often joins his guests for a spin. For Reads own high quality cycling package you simply need to bring your own helmet, cycling shoes and pedals – they will loan you a top-end Giant road bike.
The four-night package includes accommodation, a hearty buffet breakfast, three x three-course lunches or dinners in the hotel’s atmospheric Blues Brasserie, three deep-tissue massage sessions, energy drinks and energy bars to take out on the rides and free use of the spa and its pools – plus knowledge of how to find all the best cycling routes.
Reads isn’t just for bikies though. There are walks into the nearby jagged 4,850-ft Serra de Tramuntana Mountains; a vast range of watersports at the many seaside resorts while Palma is a short taxi ride away for a great night out. Alternatively, you could slum it in the heaving bars of Magaluf – or ‘Shagaluf’ as the lager lout hordes call it. Alternatively, there’s nothing to beat settling in the shade of one of Reads olive trees with an ice-cold beer and a good book, while anticipating some of the island’s finest cuisine.
It’s easy to tell if you are in Magaluf or its rival resort, El Arenal: the first is all Union flags and lager fuelled idiots, the second is lederhosen and sizzling sausages and race you to the sunbed.
Fortunately, it’s easy to escape the Costa del Blackpool and its G erman counterpart. Fortunately it’s easy to escape the madness and explore what is, with Corsica as its only challenger, far and away my favourite Mediterannean island – and what better way to explore it than on two wheels.
While you are doing it, don’t miss the winding road that clings to the cliff edges of the north coast, from the ddelightful little bay of Puerto Soller to Richard Brnason’s La Residencia property in Deai and beyond or the dizzying ride along the narrow crest of the Formentor its much photographed lighthouse.