So, whilst regular long distance mountain bike riders would think nothing of this stunning trek through a biosphere it is definitely not for the faint hearted and without regular bike rides beforehand there is no way this 70km round trip should be undertaken.
You start off at 300m above sea level and hit a peak of 850m before dropping rapidly down into Tolox and back to around 300m.
Please note we DID NOT see anywhere on the actual route to fill up water bottles!
We have a little group that every Saturday or Sunday meets and goes up the Mountain Road from Marbella to Istan (on MTBS).
It’s a great weekly ride of around 35 kms return and very simply, uphill one way – 45 minute coffee break and chat and downhill all the way home.
So we thought we would set out on an adventure to mix things up a bit. There are a couple of great rides out of the village of Istan:
Istan to Monda: 22km each way – More or less 11kms up and 11kms down along a camino – which is more of a dirt road than a mountain track.
Istan to Tolox: 35 kms each way – More or less 25kms up – 5km flatish and 10km rapid descent into Tolox, which you can see on this elevation snapshot.
Istan to Castano Santo: Around 20 km each way – ups and downs.
We had previously done Istan to Monda and been to the Castona Santo (Sacred Tree) before on another route so opted for the Tolox ride, which had been on our agenda for a good 3 years!
Unless you`re hardcore it’s advisable to drive to Istan – there are a couple of places to park but we find the best place to park is in the car park of the old (currently shut) hotel.
As you enter the village take the right fork when the road splits and then sharp right again at the top of the slope, then you go up a steep hill and past the football pitch.
The first 10kms (as always) is the easiest as we set off at 320m above sea level.
You start on a tarmac road that undulates past some amazing scenery that gives you a taste of things to come.
The tarmac comes to an end after 3kms and you then ride on a dirt track. It’s solid and compact so not too taxing and wide enough for the odd 4 wheel drive to pass you.
This first 10km is a real mixture of ups and downs but once past the 7km mark there are a couple of hard uphills that require a lot of huffing and puffing.
At the end of the first 10km you come to a crossroads (see image) where you see three signs – Tolox 22km, Monda 9km and Istan 10km.
This is a good place for a rest – this point is around 550m above sea level.
This for me was the most stunning part of the journey, the camino becomes more of a track but still enough room for 4 wheel drive cars to go along.
It´s more climbing for the next 15kms, it didn´t feel like an endless climb, more of a steady upward slope with some amazing, far reaching views as you climb up to 850m above sea level.
One of our party had a bit of bad luck along this section and had a couple of punctures, which in hindsight were a bit of a blessing as it gave us a chance and take a break.
After 15kms (or so) the path gets wider again, the views even more amazing and you reach the end of climbing as the track levels out.
Something none of us had appreciated was the speed of the drop down into Tolox, it´s a big drop and fast…we went from 850m – 300m in around 8kms.
As you get towards the end steep it´s really fast….about 3kms outside of Tolox you pass a the Cerro De Hijar Hotel (http://www.cerrodehijar.com/?lang=en) which was open.
In hindsight stopping here and eating would have saved us around 90 minutes of riding BUT we would never have been able to take the photograph of Tolox itself – so we pushed on.
Actually, it was more like brakes on for the last descent into Tolox, its gets seriously steep after the Hotel but at least you are back on tarmac….it does go through your head as you’re speeding down into Tolox that you have to come back this way but it´s best to bury that thought!!
I was surprised how pretty and well kept Tolox was. It was Easter Friday and the little town (2000 population) had a real buzz about it.
The main square is a bit off the beaten track but once you find it, there are half a dozen bars and restaurants to eat at.
We sat at one (whose name escapes me – far right corner) and ate well – 8 small beers, 4 coffees and lots of really tasty food for €29! We were so hungry and thirsty (no images I am afraid).
The first 10kms of the return journey are a killer – remember our rapid descent – well we had to go back up it!
I think all 4 of us would admit this part of the trip wiped us out and we had a 30 minute rest at the 15km mark before we embarked on the last 2 hours of “easier” riding.
Take plenty of water / drinks – there is nowhere to fill up.
Lots of sunscreen
Get fit before you embark on this journey
Take spare inner tubes
It takes way longer than you think
We live in a beautiful part of the world!
Don’t plan anything for the evening……