A lot has already been written about the Alto de Velefique cycling climb. Sometimes such write-ups can overstate the case – but not here.
Bearing similarities with Alpe d’Huez, the Velefique (AKA Puerto de Velefique) is the most iconic climb in the Almeria region.
Yet it’s relative lack of Grand Tour history and press coverage also means it remains something of a hidden gem to those not in the know.
The Velefique’s similarities with Alpe d’Huez are partly down to its profile – so don’t expect an easy climb. It’s almost 30 km from the start to the summit of the Velefique at an average gradient of 4.6% with a maximum of around 12%.
It might be a tough climb but the views, tranquility and many hairpins make it feel something special, something worth putting yourself through pain for. For us, climbing the Velefique felt almost like riding it on closed roads in a stage of the Vuelta – in fact there were probably more cars on the road following the peloton than we saw all day!
It’s also somewhat inspiring to be doing a climb like this in what is Europe’s only true desert (the Tabernas desert). You may even recognise the scenery from a Spaghetti Western movie or classics such as Lawrence of Arabia and Cleopatra.
All metrics in this article are approximate.
It’s difficult to pick out a particular highlight section of the ascent of the Velefique, with its 20 hairpin bends and striking similarity to Alpe d’Huez (that has led some to refer to it as Almeria d’Huez)!
It’s a tremendous, non ‘commercialised’ climb that we suspect would be a regular feature in most cycling magazines if it were situated in France or Italy.
1. Tabernas to Velefique: 0-17 km
The Alto de Velefique climb can be accessed from the town of Tabernas (1 hour 15 minute drive from Mojácar). Driving towards Tabernas from the direction of Sorbas you will see the Restaurante Malvinas at the junction of the N340A and the A349. Here you can park your car for free, have something to eat and then start the climb.
From the restaurant car park, you make your way onto the A349 in a northerly direction towards the mountain range. After a few hundred metres you will see a left turn well signposted to Bacares and Velefique. This will take you on to the AL3102 where you will be faced with a steady incline (2-3%) for about 15 km to the village of Velefique.
There is not much to see other than the imposing peaks of the Sierra Fibrales directly in front as you head north with bone dry barren scrubland either side of the impeccably surfaced road. The Desierto de Tabernas is only a few kilometers to the west. The temperature is far hotter than in Mojácar, so make sure you are well stocked with fluids and food.
After around 15 km you start to get the first sight of the village of Velefique: dozens of tiny white painted houses in an elevated position, tumbling down the hillside. We chose not to stop at Velefique as we didn’t want to interrupt our rhythm but, for those that do, it is worth knowing that it boasts a tapas restaurant and a pharmacy should either be needed.
2. Velefique to summit: 17-29 km
The village though is where the day’s entertainment starts. As you meander around a handful of hairpins, with the words ‘Contador’ painted in white on the road and spiky clumps of grass dot the terrain, the gradient starts to increase. It’s at this point where the cursory look at the rear cassette indicates how many gears you have left for the main part of the climb! The gradient of the first four kilometres averages out at around 10% – it’s a real grind and we spent the next half an hour congratulating ourselves on bringing a 32t sprocket cassette!
The actual climb is 13 km in length at 7.2% and is known in the area as Alpe d’Andaluze because of its striking similarity to Alpe d’Huez due to its hairpins and similar length and gradient.
It gives you nothing in the way of respite, as after the initial sufferfest the gradient settles to a constant 7% or so all the way to the top.
There is not much at the summit save for a modest signpost, but the best however is still to come – the descent. Twisting through those hairpins at speed with no cars in sight, stopping only to take the odd photograph of the incredible vista and returning rapidly to the Restaurant Malvinas to enjoy a beer.
Compared with Alpe d’Huez, we think the Velefique is a far superior climb in almost every aspect. True it doesn’t have the same history and heritage as the Alpine climb, but it does have a road surface like a carpet, fantastic open hairpin bends, no traffic (we saw half a dozen cars all day and the same number of cyclists), incredible views down towards the Tabernas desert and great weather whatever the time of year.
In short, the Alto de Velefique comfortably makes its way into our all time top ten climbs in Europe and is (currently!) our number one in Spain.
We started and finished the ride at Restaurant Malvinas at the bottom of the climb. There’s also a restaurant in Velefique, should you need it.
We were staying in Mojácar, about an hour and a quarter’s drive from the start of this ride. We stayed at the Paradores de Mojácar next to the beach in Mojácar – you can find out all about it in our ultimate guide to Almeria, here.
Read our tips for cycling in Almeria before you set out.
Click here for our complete guide to planning a holiday to Almeria.
Keep in mind that although it may be hot on the plains, at the summit at nearly 2,000 meters, it may be significantly colder. Bring something warm to put on for the summit and descent.
If you climb this in summer be aware it’s a long climb with almost no shade.
Descending back down the way you came requires plenty of attention, bike handling skills (especially if you’re going to go full gas!) and brake pads in good condition!
If you want to do a loop ride that incorporates the two ‘Especial’ climbs of the Sierra de los Filabres region (Alto de Velefique and Calar Alto – that were made famous by the 2017 Vuelta a Espana), you need to make a key decision. Are you going to do them both on the same day in what can only be described as a mammoth ride in a loop of around 140 km with 3200 meters of elevation? Or do you make them more manageable and climb them on separate days? For various reasons we ended up climbing them on separate days, but let us know how you go if you tackle them together!
If you want to do this ‘mammoth’ route (i.e. Velefique and Calar Alto in one day), after cresting the top of the Velefique then press on downhill towards the giant telecommunications towers at Tetica de Bacares and the village of Bacares itself. If doing this, here is a hotel in the village where you should stock up on water and food as there is nowhere else for around 50 km as you start to make your way south and then west towards the climb of Calar Alto.
The Velefique features in our pick of the best climbs in Europe – check out the full list here!
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