Around Madrid in 64 kilometres
El Anillo Verde Ciclista is a cycle path of rare imagination.
It circles the wonderful city of Madrid for 64 kms. It runs through rich suburbs, poor suburbs, parks, wide open spaces and narrow alleys. It hugs motorways, urban playgrounds, rivers, power plants, bus stations and a sierra.
It’s a magnificent mini cycling adventure and this weekend, I completed it for the first time.
Madrid is the capital city of Spain, the highest capital city in Europe, third largest city in the European union and home to 6.5 million people, including me.
I moved here in 2019 and became immediately smitten, for the reasons it’s often voted as one of the most liveable cities in the world.
Food, weather, sport, people, landscapes, history, architecture and ‘El Anillo Verde Ciclista’ (AVC) a cycle path that circles the city and captures much of its essence.
I live in a suburb called Montecarmelo. We skirt the very northern fringes of the city, looking outwards across the hilly and often snow capped peaks of The Sierra de Guadarrama and inwards, towards the city itself and the iconic ‘Gate of Europe’ twin towers at Plaza de Castilla.
Montecarmelo also marks ‘Kilometre 59’ of the cycle path and is the starting point of my journey.
One of the things I love about AVC is that it’s available for everyone to use. With an adjacent pedestrian strip in many sections, it’s home to a combination of cyclists, walkers, keep-fit mums, learning to cycle toddlers and grandparents enjoying an evening stroll in the warm Madrid air.
You get the super serious cyclists with gear to match, overtaking a small girl learning the ropes of stabilised cycling.
It’s an interesting route for the expert and a challenging one for the novice but for many a madrileno, native and adopted, it’s sewn into the heart of the city.
The Route Being a circular route there are always two options for you to decide on the direction of travel.
I chose today to go anti clockwise, for the simple reason that from Montecarmelo the first 5 kms are a downhill breeze.
It’s all gravy as I feel like Miguel Indurain during those first moments, flying past the neighbouring suburbs of Mirasierra and Fuentalareyna.
I’m in the groove now.
Alongside golf courses, football pitches, parks and the M30 arterial. Past strolling senior citizens, stressed delivery drivers and canoodling young lovers.
My pace slowed only by the occasional road crossing and errant toddler.
We soon leave the concrete behind and hit the verde with a cycle that takes us deep through the heart of Madrid’s finest green space, the magnificent Casa de Campo.
Casa de Campo is 1700 hectares of natural space. Once home to the court of Phillip II it’s now a community space that retains some of the hunting and country atmosphere from those distant royal days, the exclusivity of which ended when the doomed Second Republic government donated the park to the people in 1931.
Doomed because that brief flurry of early 20th century democracy ended in the disaster of the Spanish Civil War and it was in Casa de Campo where trench warfare and a bloody stalemate ensued for more than 2 years. A battle that took place close to a city centre (just 2 kms away) which refused to give in to the bombing and the siege until the very bitter end.
Today it’s a sunny, green, buzzing epicentre of Madrid life with people just doing their thing around a cycle path that winds its way between trees, lakes, zoo and a luscious grassy expanse.
The lungs of the city are breathing well today (pre coronavirus surge) as I take on one of the longer but still relatively benign climbs. The overall elevation of the path taking you from a 563m low, to 725m peak.
I’m cycling now through the south west corner of Madrid, including the suburb of Carabanchel which bore the brunt of significant street fighting during that tumultuous phase of Spanish history.
Carabanchel is also a return back to the suburbs and one of the most cosmopolitan of barrios, home to a significant proportion of immigrants. The fading green of Casa de Campo coming up against the urban grit of walls, graffiti and high rises.
The biggest challenge at this stage, at least for the uninitiated, is to make sure you don’t lose your way as a gaggle of different streets, junctions and poorly marked directions means you’re at risk of cycling in the wrong direction for a few kilometres (said a friend of mine).
The Lactic Acid
Eventually I’m back on track and crossing the Manzanares river before skirting around the south east fringes of the city and north past the newly minted Wanda Metropolitano stadium, home of Atletico Madrid the recent conquerors of European Champions Liverpool.
I’d love to go into more detail about these final few kilometres, as I pedalled through the outer western suburbs, past the Feria de Madrid and close to Barajas Airport but alas, the lactic acid had kicked in and I was being overtaken by men with 20 more years on their clock.
A final sharp climb took me under and away from the main railway line going North to Bilbao and wearily back towards home, Montecarmelo and a well deserved beer.
Come Grab Your Bike
Madrid is worth visiting for many reasons but ‘El Anillo Verde Ciclista’ should be high on your list.
Give yourself 3-4 hours to complete.
Less if you’re only in it for the time. More if you want to linger and truly enjoy one of the great pleasures of being an adopted Madrileno.