Trams, graffiti, good coffee, a beautiful sun, and the permanent presence of the River Tejo. Yes, Lisbon is a unique city! But right now I'm leaving it behind for Valencia, travelling on a trusty Yamaha Super Ténéré. The Lisbon-Valencia route is actually possible to do in one day, but only by ingesting a mouthful of mosquitoes and stopping only to refuel, and that is not the plan I have in mind.
The 17 kilometre Vasco da Gama Bridge dismisses us as always, static and quiet. It's as if it is wondering why I am leaving. I exit the highway right away and soon bike and rider are heading for the Coruche bridges. These iron constructions have been standing since 1933, small and endearing gems of engineering. I've been looking forward to riding them, and now the rich red girders are flashing past my Super Ténéré on both sides.
Almost without realizing it, I begin to cross the Portuguese countryside: vineyards, olive trees, rich blue skies. My route kisses the outskirts of Evora but I do not stop. My mind is set on Redondo, a small blue town that I visited as a child, and now imagine I had only dreamed of. And yet there it is, the whitewashed houses highlighted with a blue roof here, a blue wall there. It's definitely blue, and in the afternoon sun, definitely hot as well!
The N373 brings me close to the border, and after crossing into Spain the heat just keeps on building. My destination is now Guadalupe, but heading straight there is all too easy (and boring). So I choose the EX-110 and turn into the Extremadura rangelands, mostly to the north of the A5 autovia. The rangelands are vast areas full of vineyards, cork oaks standing motionless in the heat, snorting bulls destined for the ring, and lazy Iberian pigs.
The Hospederia del Real Monasterio in Guadalupe’s medieval city is an ancient monastery turned hotel, with a beautiful inner courtyard. It's blessed with a cool and refreshing ambience that both bike and rider take advantage of. If you visit, make sure you sample their locally-sourced jamon. It comes from the free-range black Iberian pigs this region is famous for.
The next morning, even the main roads to leave Guadalupe are amazing: fantastic asphalt and many curves to help you enjoy the grip. Who needs a highway to make progress? The bike takes me from one curve to the next as if we are both simply skimming through the forest landscape. I detour south to seek the Cijara swamp and there, without realising it, I land in La Mancha.
Today's ride is longer than the first. My idea is to get to Alcalá del Júcar, almost in reach of Valencia, and the roads here in La Mancha allow me to move with a lot of speed and I’m flying through this landscape of vineyards and olive trees and windmills. When I pass through Consuegra and Mota del Cuervo, I cannot but think about Don Quixote. The straight path is the easiest, but also the most boring.
By mid-afternoon I enter the Las Hoces del Júcar region. It's like a micro Grand Canyon in the middle of Spain, with roads that scribble down into valleys instead of up and over mountains. The route from Abengibre to Jorquera opens the door on a whole new type of landscape of white and green. Yes, because the walls of the canyon rocks are so white that they hurt my eyes and the river is still full of trees with all their leaves even in mid October. The entire B-5 from Jorquera to Alcalá del Júcar is pure poetry. But perhaps I am hallucinating, as the motorcycle tells me it's a stifling 35 degrees Centigrade.
I get up early the next morning and catch the first sun rays tickling the CN-3201 north from Alcalá del Júcar. It's a curvy climb that allows you to exit from the river canyon and back to the plains of La Mancha. The road that leads me to Cofrentes is quite simply a racetrack, but the N-330 from Cofrentes to Requena is even better: curves and more curves with reddish mountain walls on both sides of the road.
When I reach Requena the highway A-3 can take me to Valencia in just 45 minutes. But, a highway? Let me check for a better route. Ah, Chera, of course! Another mad road – fast, with very good asphalt. I follow the CV-395 towards Sot de Chera. And yet another surprise awaits me. This road is narrow and curvy with a good roadbed. The landscape is monumental; it reminds me of playing in Morocco's high Atlas.
And so, little by little, sweaty and with a smile on my face, I arrive at Valencia. From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, the bright lights in the harbour invite me to sit on a terrace, rip off my motorcycle gear and ask for a Paella.