Bárdenas Reales is a semi-desert landscape covering over 42,000 hectares in southeast Navarre. Made up of clay, chalk and sandstone, years of erosion has sculpted almost lunar effects, full of gullies, plateaux and cliffs. The first thing we came across were abandoned cave houses cut into the cliffs, now housing swallows in the hundreds.
We took a 14km detour to ride up to the official lookout, but it was actually too far away to see much clearly. I would recommend going right down into it for a better view.
It was so windy we almost got buffeted sideways off our bikes. What with the time, and dust clouds coming uninterrupted across the wasteland we decided to move on, riding out to join the highway again. For a bit of the way there was a gigantic side lane for tractors, as most of the land around are farms, which made riding quite stress free. Most our time here was the complete opposite, with a one metre shoulder if you’re lucky. Riding on Spanish roads means trucks, trucks and more trucks. Here I quickly snapped a picture of Cleave before the next onslaught.
We had enough of trucks and highways so as soon as we got the chance we hoicked the bikes up over the barrier to the unpaved service road running parallel. It was uneven gravel and slow going, but we didn’t have a single car the whole way!
The scenery was much more interesting, we kept passing trees with sap or resin being collected.
Stocking up on food in the last town meant we could stop anywhere we pleased for lunch.
And so we did, right on the service road. Cleave made up a salami, tomato and cheese sandwich, we turned up the speaker and had a little dance party to Snoop Dogg.
Onwards we rode, keeping an eye out for rain which we could see in the distance.
We finished at the tiny hill town of Atienza, where we had booked a night’s accommodation. The medieval castle ruins, of which the town is built around, completely dominates the landscape, taking up the entire hilltop.
The castle was built upon Roman and Visigoth fortifications, well before the 10th century, becoming a strategic stronghold passing between the Moors and the Christians before being taken over by the French. It was quite eerie to think this had been here for so long, well before any recorded history of it.
Taking our bikes down two flights of stairs and into our room, we stuffed our pockets full of complimentary packets of sugar cake and set out to explore. The rain had arrived, adding an almost spectral atmosphere. There is barely anything left of the four level castle, which was enlarged and improved by each conquerer. All that remains are the ground fortifications, a single tower and a broken staircase.
The view however was incredible.
We could see the road we came in on, and would take out, stretched out to both horizons. Fragments of the first and secondary fortifications bisected through or had become part of the village houses and garden walls. It was easy to see how this fortress could have been a defiant stronghold in battle, with a 360° panoramic vantage point.
Walking back down we peeked into the bullring, which is still in use.
We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was bustling and loud. The owner kindly printed an English menu out for us, thanks to Google Translate. The descriptions were a bit dubious such as ‘pheasant meat cake’, ‘leaf forest with traditional’ and ‘slaughter of Jews’ (!?). We stuck with the lamb and were presented with massive plates of chops and a tiny, almost apologetic, serving of potatoes.