23 January 2024 – Port de Bernia


Colette and I settled on the Costa Blanca as our winter cycling destination this year, and chose the Cap Negret at Altea as our hotel. We had been there once before in 2017, but it has been refurbished since, and we were keen to check out the revamped cycle facilities. Colette was also hoping the food quality had improved since last time, as she didn’t have too good memories of that aspect.

Well, when we arrived, it turned out that 10 cycling teams were already in residence and the bike storage spaces were completely used up. Luckily we were allowed to take our bikes up to our room and assembled them on the balcony. Note to anyone thinking of coming here at this time of year – make sure you have all the tools to put together your bike, and ideally bring a track pump, as you probably won’t get access to the hotel cycle zone.

After getting the bikes together, we just had enough time before dark to visit the local supermercado for essentials. Next, we got a chance to check out dinner, which starts serving at a cyclist friendly 6.30 pm. Maybe it was just for the benefit of the visiting cycle teams, but the quality of the food was so much better than we remembered, with plenty of choice. Even the desserts were tasty – none of those eye-catching but completely tasteless slices of cake that we’ve had elsewhere. 

If you like rubbing shoulders with pro cyclists at the buffet, then this is the time to go. We were particularly excited to recognise the Trek Baloise Lions at a table close to us, but made a point of not bothering them during their dinner time. Or maybe we were just a bit too starstruck!

Our first day was marred with a bit of rain to start with, but it never got too bad and then stopped completely about lunch time, but we didn’t venture too far from base in case it got bad.

The race passing Colette on the Coll de Rates

The next day, we took the tram to Gata de Gorgos and rode back over Coll de Rates. I decided to see it I could beat my personal best up the climb, only to be pulled over by police close to the top, in order to let a pro bike race pass through. It was the “Classica Communitat Valenciana 1969” and in the end, was won by top sprinter Dylan Groenewegen of Team Jayco AlUla.

Sunday was a day of rest, since we had bought tickets to see the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup race in Benidorm. It was a complete fluke that we’d booked the week that included this race, but since we’ve been avid watchers of the cyclo-cross for the past few winters, it wasn’t an opportunity that we could pass up!

We took the tram and arrived during the junior men’s race. After buying some obligatory souvies, we found ourselves a good spot, unfurled the Scotland flag and made ourselves as comfortable as possible. The flag was in honour of Cameron Mason, who we were cheering for, although to be honest, we cheered for everyone, especially those we recognised.

From top left, clockwise: Me with chopped up hot dogs and bacon on fries!; Colette sporting the flag; Michael Vanthourenhout; Wout van Aert (eventual winner)

We enjoyed the atmosphere and all the racing, apart from the moment when Cameron crashed in front of us. I hope we didn’t put him off. There’s no need for me to go into details of the races as I’m sure there are plenty of great write-ups out there already. I will just show some of the photos Colette took of the action.

From top left, clockwise: Tom Pidcock takes the lead midway through the race; Cameron Mason – come on Cam!; Tom Pidcock; Mathieu van der Poel

Right, after all that preamble, now I will get to the day of the ride in question. This was going to be a ride along an appealingly snake-like road through an area known as Pinos, leading to Port de Bernia at the summit. I decided that we would take the tram to Teulada to start, riding through Benissa before reaching the minor road into the mountains.

After leaving the tram, Strava routing quickly took us onto a busy dual carriageway, thankfully with a wide enough hard shoulder, which we used. It was a bit slow, being mostly uphill, until we reached a turnoff for Benissa. The map apparently showed us continuing on the main road though, so I stopped to look at another map to double-check. At the same time, another rider with distinctive Zwift kit paused just beyond us and I think was having exactly the same routing conundrum. 

In the end, both of us took the slip road, and followed signs to take us into the town of Benissa. The road through the town was uphill in the direction we were going, and still fairly busy with traffic, so we were relieved to finally get through and out into quiet countryside.

Fairly soon, we reached a sign describing the climb of the day that lay just ahead of us, i.e. the Port de Bernia. Zwift man had got there ahead of us and had taken his photo, so he left and we took ours. The climb is quite long at 15.2 km, but only with 2% average gradient. The climb starts out steady but not hard, then flattens out completely before a 3 km section of steep gradient, maxing out at 17% according to the sign.

Although the last bit was pretty scary sounding, I just parked it mentally and got on with enjoying the climb on a lovely sunny and calm day. I planned with Colette that I would stop every mile or so for her to catch up. That worked well, and we passed Zwift man again taking more photos of the views. Then he overtook us and we didn’t see him again.

The climb was very enjoyable, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the views ever changing; dotted with pine trees and distant mountains. After a while, we reached the flat area, and rolled along nice and easy, but sooner or later, the steep section was going to catch up with us. It did just round a sharp corner, with the road suddenly rising steeply ahead. I shouted over to Colette that the steep stuff had started, got into my lowest gear, and prepared for some hard work.

After a while, I reached the 17% section, where it was not just me who was slowed to a crawl, but other riders too. Once the gradient let off a bit, alongside the next kilometer marker, I stopped for Colette to catch up. When she appeared, she didn’t want to stop for a rest, as she had already had one further down, so we got on with tackling the remainder of the climb (still steep, but the maximum on this section was “only” 14%).

I stopped at the end of the steep stuff for my final wait. By this time, quite a few riders came past who were making a big effort up the climb. I think my shouts of “Bravo!” as they passed were generally well received, as they were certainly well deserved.

When Colette arrived, I congratulated her too, but feared she might have been thorougly sick of this climb by now. But the opposite was the case. She rated this as her favourite of the week, with better scenery than Coll de Rates for example. The good news was that we still had 2 km of the climb left, this time at very gentle gradient.

Before we reached the very top of the climb, we found a restaurant off to our right, down a short gravel path. The Bar Refugio – Vista Bernia was open and able to give us some light lunch. We had bread with aoli, cheese and ham and a small bowl of very tasty beef stew. The restaurant had a very impressive panoramic view over to the sea, although our attempts to photograph the view didn’t do it justice.

View from Port de Bernia

Next, we got back on the road and finished off the climb. There was a large group of cyclists taking a rest there and taking snaps of the views out west over the mountains. After the climb of the day came the descent. It was quite fun, but a bit more bumpy than your average road in these parts, so I took it fairly easy. It didn’t seem to take all that long before we were reaching the bottom, where the gradient eased as we approached the town of Xalo.

I checked the time, and we didn’t have a hope of getting back to the station at Teulada for the next tram. That meant we could take it easy and aim for the one after that, an hour later. So we stopped in Xalo for a leisurely coffee in the warm afternoon sun.

Cortado and Americano in Xalo

The next village we reached was called Lliber, with a very slow set of traffic lights that we remembered from when we passed through in the other direction earlier in our holiday. When they finally changed it was like a free-for-all of bikes and cars trying to get through as fast as possible.

The route I’d planned on Strava had 3 more smallish hills to cover, totalling about 600′ between them, taking us to and through Benissa. The roads weren’t as bad as the way out, but still quite busy with traffic and not too scenic. I would definitely work on improving the route if we were to do it again.

When we got to the top of the last hill, I told Colette it was downhill all the way from here. It usually isn’t, but the last 2 miles were a lovely easy freewheel back into Teulada, where we arrived with 15 minutes to wait for the tram. We admittedly did spend quite a bit of time waiting for and riding trams back and forth on this day, but it was well worth it, as I don’t think we would have had it in our legs to reach the Port de Bernia by bike alone.

I would definitely recommend the tram as a way to extend your cycling range for a couple. There is an apparent max of 4 bikes per tram, and we reached that on one of the tram rides this week, so you aren’t guaranteed to get on. Best go out with a plan B in case the tram is full…


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