Travel: Adventures in Andalucia on a Royal Enfield classic motorcycle
The mountains of Andalucia are a romantic backdrop for a retro motorcycle journey. Geoff Hill kick-started his with a bunch of like-minded great escapers, eyes peeled for partisans at every turn
I HAVE a confession to make. I love Royal Enfields. Like many love affairs, it started with too many glasses of wine one night, and five months later, fellow idiot Paddy Minne and I found ourselves on two Enfield Bullet 500s in Delhi just about to ride the 7,000 miles back to the UK.
It was 1998, and I'd only got my bike licence two years earlier. And done 30 miles on a bike in my life, including 20 miles to the test and back.
Today, Royal Enfield is the world's biggest manufacturer of mid-range bikes, making 850,000 a year, and the bikes are just as beautiful and classical as ever, but much more reliable than the ones Paddy and I rode all those years ago, which were made of little more than tinfoil and hope.
So when Ed Adams and Sam Pelly of Legendary Motorcycle Adventures phoned to see if I fancied five days' riding one around Andalucia, it took me, oh, a good italosecond to say yes. The shortest known timespan in the world, this is the interval between the lights changing in Italy and the driver behind you honking the horn.
Sam's the romantic, artistic one of the two, a top photographer whose mother had ridden a Harley until she lost a leg in a crash. Undeterred, she bought a trike and rode it around Australia accompanied by a Jack Russell she'd adopted in Sydney.
Sam and his wife Susie took a break from the grind six years ago and went travelling in Central America with their young kids Melo, Lella and Juno, then decided to move to Andalucia for a simpler life in the mountains overlooking the sea.
There he met Ed, a former soldier and Aikido master who could probably kill me with his little finger. His most important undercover job was living in bunkers in Germany with five other chaps for two weeks at a time looking out for advancing Russian tanks through a periscope.
“What should we do when they pass, sir?” he asked the brass hat who dreamed up the idea.
“Er, well, obviously climb out and link up with the partisans,” was the reply.
His plan after leaving the army was to move to Andalucia and enjoy riding his late father's Vincent Rapide, Norton singles and classic BMW – until his father's fourth wife sold them.
Resisting the temptation to link up with the partisans and kill her, he built a wooden boat, started restoring a V12 Jaguar XJS, met Sam, and set up LMA to reflect Royal Enfield's ethos of a return to simple motorcycling fun.
Their base for the Andalucian tour was a 200-year-old villa in the mountains, a former smugglers' rest owned by Diana Padgett, a freewheeling former hippy who in the late 60s had driven a VW camper van from the UK to Afghanistan.
Outside from the rose-draped terrace were views of lush green valleys, wooded slopes, glittering lakes and beyond, in the shimmering heat haze, Gibraltar and Africa.
And inside were open fires and glorious cooking by Lucy Verney, who every night rustled up three courses which made me want to marry her and have her children, never mind the pain.
I'm sure my wife will understand. And hopefully Lucy's husband.
And so to the road with Ed, Sam and our little gang: me, Nick, who back home rides a Kawasaki ZX-9, Finn, who has a Triumph Scrambler and BMW R 1200 GS, and Triumph Bonneville rider Emily.
At lunchtime, we parked the bikes in a glade, walked through the woods to a wide river, plunged into its frigid embrace to cool off, then picnicked on a grassy bank and dozed in the sun. It was like being children again, far from the cares of adulthood.
Even better, we had the pleasures of adulthood, too: like lounging in a hammock by the pool that evening with a cold beer or sitting on the terrace with a glass of wine admiring the view and listening to Lucy rustling up another exquisite feast in the kitchen.
We slept, and dreamed, and the next day took the road to Ronda, spectacularly sited on a 400ft-deep gorge spanned by an arched bridge, with views across rolling farmland and the white villages with their terracotta roofs for which Andalucia is famous.
Well, except for Júzcar, which Sony painted blue in 2011 to promote The Smurfs 3D movie. It's worth seeing, if only briefly.
The next day, we stopped and turned off the engines once just to drink in a silence broken only by the sound of a bee bumbling west in a leisurely fashion, the whisper of the breeze in the roadside poppies and the little lilac and yellow flowers in the meadow beyond, and above us the imagined susurration of an eagle circling in the burning blue.
That evening, we rode for half an hour along a rocky track, camped by a river, ate and drank like kings around the campfire, sang old songs of love and hope, and fell asleep in our swags under a fat moon and a million stars.
“Can't understand where the partisans are,” said Ed as we nodded off. “They were supposed to be here just after the dancing girls.”
After a welcome hot shower and breakfast back at the villa next morning, a lovely ride through rolling meadows and orange groves took us to lunch at Los Cachollas, then with angry clouds gathering for the first time that week, raced the rain back to the villa, lit the fire and curled up on the sofas to watch The World's Fastest Indian.
And that evening, around the same fire, we were treated to the flamenco guitar playing of international maestro Salvador Andrades.
I was hypnotised by his thumb, which after 43 years of playing had grown and curved into an organ in its own right, but I was astonished even more by his talent. We laughed at the genius of it, then almost wept when it was over.
And the next morning we hugged each other, were driven to the airport, and returned slowly and sadly to what passes for the real world. But not before vowing that we would return together to recapture this magical synergy of motorcycles, friendship, food, wine, music and laughter.
And if we were lucky, link up with the partisans this time.
:: Legendary Motorcycle Adventures' five-day Andalusian Odyssey is £1,800 full board, excluding flights.
:: It also does six days in Corsica and Sardinia, six or 12 days in Sicily, 10 days from Spain to the Sahara and 10 days around Britain celebrating Britain's motorcycle heritage, landscape and hostelries.
:: See lma.life for details.