The past weekend found us fighting the wind along a scenic stretch of the spiderweb of trails that make up the multi-use Ruta de Don Quijote. This trail system is designed for walkers, horseback riding, and bikers like us. It is well marked throughout the Spanish state of Castilla-La Mancha, though internet information is hard to find. With much research, I was able to piece together a circuit that was a reasonable length to do with two kids.
First, here is the hard to find Map of the Don Quixote Trail route:
This is the other side of the map with information (in Spanish):
If you are free to travel and guesstimate mileage, just go out and read the details on the signboards. At each trailhead or rest stop there is a board with tons of useful information that would be so helpful to have online.
In the example pictures below you see a mileage and elevation chart at the bottom, detailed route map, a list of the different “Tramos” or color coded sections. I would love this on a website. But, alas, you must simply go to the trail and, trust me, it’s there.
The other thing that is wonderful is the trail is well marked with green posts along the way. Some include mileage, or kilometerage? why is there not a word for this? I suppose distance is the word I need. However, in towns the route is not marked. You are on your own to navigate through the villages and magically pop out the other end at the trailhead. It’s a bit frustrating and odd. In larger cities, like Albacete where we live, it’s well marked.
Some sections of the ruta are paved, but mostly it is hard packed dirt road. Our city bikes did just find and were comfortable. A mountain bike or perhaps just some shocks would mean a less bumpy ride. Of course, so would going a quicker pace which we are not always able to do with the wee one. Avi, my 5 year old, is still on a single speed so he did get a little mommy assistance by way of a tug rope at the end of the day.
What about public transpo? Well, that gets tricky. It would be great to start at Toledo, bike one way and return via train, but sadly the Toledo train line goes north via Madrid where you need to change trains before coming back southwest along the line to Albacete. Also, you MAY NOT take a bike on the high speed lines (AVE) without it being boxed and checked as luggage. The local lines, however, are just fine. One line that is convenient, though, as it links Albacete with Alcazar de San Juan, Quero, Temblique and others on the way to Madrid. It also continues south past Alcazar to Valdepenas. This will make no sense to you without comparing the above map of the Ruta with this regional train map:
So! Now you have maps and ideas. Where to go for big Don Quixote impact, low hills, and kid-friendly mileage? Campo de Criptana!
We began the ride mid-morning just north of Campo at the Ermita del Cristo de Villajos. There is a great parking lot here and a little playground, plus a rest stop. It was windy and overcast, but otherwise a fine day and decent temperature to be bundled and biking.
We went south. At first the trail goes east from the parking lot, it’s a tad confusing and we went the wrong way a bit. This portion is paved and passes through olive groves and has a steady up hill. It was quite pleasant and then we came over the ridgeline and saw the windmills!!! The trail dumps you right at the top of the hill behind the village of Campo de Criptana in the windmill park. It was a perfect view – save for the cloudy weather, bit of drizzle, and general yuckiness – to see as far as the windmills in Alcazar. THIS is the PICTURE on my Carrefour bag; the local grocery. 5km from Ermita to Campo.
We stopped here for a packed lunch, La Mancha style, with some mysterious meats and cheeses and baguettes. There is a visitor center at this spot which has cool little booklets that you can get stamped in the “heart” of Quixote country; at 4 regional visitor centers and then get a certificate. I love stuff like that. Campo is where we discovered that the trail is not marked in the village. We slogged through town in the general direction of the trailhead. It was steep!! Make sure those breaks are tip top. After going over the train tracks south of town we hooked up to the trail again and were on our way, and, heck, the sun even came out a bit. Trail begins again here: 39°23’43.6″N 3°07’53.2″W. 2km through town.
The section of trail between Campo de Criptana and Alcazar was not as scenic, but quite direct and flat. It rolls right past the windmills (molinos) on their own hill to the south of Alcazar de San Juan. We had planned to walk up to them, but the chilly windy weather had us all longing for our hotel. They looked pretty from below. 10 km from Campo to Alcazar.
We were booked at the first hotel in the south of town called Hotel Venta el Molino where we got a triple for about 50 euros. It was fine, clean, and had below-ground parking where we safely locked the bikes. After a nap we walked into town to take in the sights. Alacazar de San Juan seemed dead until 7pm; we saw the old city wall (Torreon) and the Parroquia de Santa Maria where Cervantes’ birth certificate is displayed beside a pretty sexy Jesus. The kids played in the Plaza Espana while I got a stamp in my little booklet at the adjacent tourist info center. When Spanish dinnertime FINALLY arrived – at 8pm – we strode into the Las Cancelas restaurant to enjoy the wide array of collectable tchotchkes that adorn every nook and cranny, and to devour some Italian food.
The next morning we slept in a bit to allow the rain to pass and then mounted our bikes for the remainder of our loop. Here is where we veer from the Don Quixote trail. It would be nice to continue the loop around the lagunas west of Alcazar, head north to Quero, and then drop back to the Ermita, BUT that would’ve been about another 40km. That is too much for the kids’ first time out. So, I chose a different dirt trail heading north out of Alcazar that turned out to be a wonderful cutoff and scenic pedal through farm land. It was also a bonus that the sun was out. We hopped on a trail here: 39°23’49.3″N 3°11’57.9″W which was not so nice and we got a bit lost, but it cutoff riding along the road. After it crossed the CM-310 here: 39°24’30.8″N 3°11’36.4″W it got MUCH better and was such a nice ride that Avi didn’t even need a tug and Zoe kept talking about next time we try another section of trail perhaps we can camp in the rest stops. Sounds fun to me! We followed that dirt road, veering right at a Y here: 39°25’52.8″N 3°11’02.5″W until it crossed the well-marked Don Quixote trail here: 39°27’08.3″N 3°09’26.1″W, where we joined up again and pedaled back to the car…. well Zoe and Bryan did. Avi and I needed to stop and help all the caterpillars cross the trail. Worked wonderfully. 11 km from Alcazar to the Ermita.
If you go, let me know! Be sure to bring a med kit, food and water, sunscreen, and your camera. We just brought a small backpack with toothbrushes and clean undies for our overnight; simple is best. You are never far from a town, but a cellphone with a map app is nice to follow along and hit the marks.
After racking up the bikes we drove back down the road to Alcazar de San Juan and drove up the hill with the windmills. You can park right beside them. The first has interesting historical and biological info, while the second has the mill mechanism on display! We were super impressed. This is photo land! From there, we drove to the laguna nearest town – just of the CM-420 well marked on the right – where we hung out in the duck blind with some birders and their fancy Swarovski telescope. The flamingoes are back from Africa!! Avi was so excited; I’m not sure anyone can quite fully understand his love for mingos. We walked to another blind, while he snuck along the edge getting close to his beloved birds and trying not to startle them. It was magical.
Consider adding a stop at Toboso – where Dulcinea was from- and also Argamasilla de Alba where Cervantes was supposedly jailed and thought up Quixote. There is also a castle there. Both of these are the final 2 stops in the stampy booklet. We were too tired, so perhaps next time.