Spain’s greenways cut through some of the country’s most spectacular landscapes — here are five to try

More than 1,900 miles of disused railway lines have been converted to greenways for biking and hiking. These five trails showcase rural Spain at its best.

By Spanish National Tourism Organisation
Published 21 Apr 2021, 14:55 BST, Updated 22 Jun 2021, 13:56 BST
The rolling hills of Metauten are famous for truffles, and the area even has a truffle ...

The rolling hills of Metauten are famous for truffles, and the area even has a truffle museum.

Photograph by Alamy

Weaving through some of Spain’s most beautiful landscapes and found all over the country, from the ancient port city of Cadiz on the west coast to the wild, windswept Aragon mountains in the far north, there are 130 vias verdes — old railway lines transformed into trails. Ranging from a short three-mile mooch to a 100-mile odyssey from mountains to coastline, the greenways are largely flat, well signed, and often come complete with bike rental shops, as well as little cafes and hotels to refuel at, housed in restored stations.

1. Vasco-Navarro

Distance: 63 miles
Start: Estella-Lizarra, Navarra
End: Leintz-Gatzaga, Basque Country
Terrain: towns, farmlands, forests and gorges, with flat and uphill stretches

For about 80 years, a rural service affectionately known to locals as El Trenico, or ‘the little train’, ran along a narrow-gauge railway through the wooded mountains and scrolling wheat fields of Navarre province and the Basque Country. The line closed in 1967, but local authorities have invested pretty heavily in repurposing it for walkers and cyclists, with diversions en route ranging from public murals and industrial history exhibits to stargazing and birdwatching.

Certain sections have been supplanted by motorways or swallowed by urban areas, including the outskirts of Estella-Lizarra, a medieval town that still serves as a major hub on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail, marked by 12th-century Romanesque churches and palaces.

The former train station there is now a nicely appointed greenway start point, and the trail diverts only a little from the original route as it heads out of town and into Metauten, a hilly area known for growing truffles (it even has a truffle museum). The old route picks up after the small town of Ancín, now a dirt trail across a lush plain of vegetable and cereal crops, with oak-fringed trenches opening to a viewpoint over the Lokiz mountains.

This is where to look out for two endangered species of woodpecker, and vivid-patterned native butterflies like the purple hairstreak and Old World swallowtail. The area is also a ‘starlight reserve’, and if you’re riding after dark or stopping nearby on a clear night it’s worth taking in the constellations from an astronomical lookout named after El Trenico.

From there the trail climbs up and around the slopes and gorges of Barranco de Lasia nature reserve. Take a rest at the beautiful 13th-century hermitage and chapel of Our Lady of Arquijas before descending through the Campezo Valley and across the border into the Basque Country.

There’s a Greenway Interpretation Centre at the former Antoñana Station, and a thrilling panorama from the curvilinear Atauri viaduct, near the tunnel at Leorza-Cicujano that has become a showpiece for ongoing cultural project Bidearen Aztarnak: Footprints On The Road. Interventions led by Basque artist Irantzu Lekue and architect Izaskun Urkijo have filled the dark space with bright murals illustrating what Lekue calls “the idea of the greenway as a tunnel to the past”: images of rail workers, local women once accused of witchcraft, and flying autumn leaves line the walls in an expressionist style inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

The closure of the Laminora tunnel means a fairly tough diversion over the steep but pretty Gereñu Pass before a final push through the bike-friendly Basque capital Vitoria-Gasteiz and out the other side into thick beech forest around the Ullíbarri-Gamboa reservoir. The greenway peters soon after, but carry on a little further to finish with a rib-sticking rustic meal on the terrace of the Arrate restaurant in Leintz-Gatzaga, overlooking the Arlabán pass.

The Basque capital, Vitoria-Gasteiz, is bike-friendly, with lots of cycle paths crisscrossing the city. 

Photograph by Getty Images

2. The 40 Days Train

Distance: nine miles
Start: Carabaña, Madrid
End: Estremera
Terrain: mostly flat farmland with some gentle hill climbs

Madrid isn’t one of Europe’s most bike-friendly capitals, but there’s a fascinating ride (or walk) just out of town on a former railway named after the 40 days it took to build during the Spanish Civil War; General Franco’s forces had the city under siege and its Republican defenders desperately needed a new supply line. What survives is a pretty, short route across sparse farm plots, clay hills and olive groves, but the cuttings made by desperate engineers are now home to many bird species and it’s lovely around dusk when they come in to roost. For those after more of a challenge, the route links up with Vía Verde del Tajuña, another greenway that ends with an open-air pool, ideal to cool off.  

Coming in at 105 miles long, the Ojos Negros greenway is Spain's longest, best tackled over a couple of days.

Photograph by ©FFE-Vías Verdes

3. Ojos Negros

Distance: 105 miles
Start: Santa Eulalia Station, Teruel, Aragón
End: Albalat del Tarongers, Valencia
Terrain: ranges from plains to mountain passes, on asphalt and compacted earth

This two-part greenway is the longest in Spain, following a former mining railway from the Aragon mountains down to the Valencian coast. A straight track leads out of an early-20th-century iron mine across a barren plain and into fertile wetlands around the Cañizar lagoon, with archways running over ancient Roman water channels. The steep climb over the Escandón pass is worth it for multiple dramatic viaduct crossings, though the best comes later with the monumental seven-arched masonry viaduct high over Albentosa. After Barracas, the route across Castellón province takes in ruined clifftop watchtowers and the riverside vineyards of the Palancia Valley.

Mallorca's interior is hilly and thick with pine trees, making for beautiful, sweeping vistas. 

Photograph by Getty Images

4. The Manacor-Artà Greenway

Distance: 18 miles
Start: Manacor, Mallorca
End: Artà
Terrain: flat farmlands and wooded hills, on a mostly gravel path

The only Spanish greenway off the main peninsula is this breezy path across the interior of Mallorca on a train line that closed in 1977. Running from the centre to the east corner of the island, the route goes through rustic farms, sheep pastures and hilly Mediterranean pine forest, passing close enough to the sea at Son Servera for a diversion down a bike lane to the beach. Little villages along the way include Son Carrió, known for its apricot cakes.

The Sierra Greenway winds up through the mountains of Cadiz province, passing through no less than 29 tunnels.

Photograph by ©FFE-Vías Verdes

5. The Sierra Greenway

Distance: 23 miles
Start: Puerto Serrano, Cádiz
End: Olvera
Terrain: a slow, gentle incline over high ground on asphalt and compacted earth

There’s a spectral appeal to this railway line through the mountains of Cadiz and Seville province, built for trains that never came – the project was abandoned after the Spanish Civil War. It’s a gradual climb from river lowlands to the high white town of Olvera, on a route through winding tunnels and across spectacular viaducts. Most notable of its ghost stations is Peñón de Zaframagón, now a visitor centre dedicated to the striking griffon vultures that nest in the rocks all around.

The ancient port city of Cadiz lies in the southwest of the country, considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe.

Photograph by Getty Images

Plan your trip

There are maps and suggested itineraries for all of Spain's 130 vias verdes, making planning your trip straightforward and fun. Direct flights from London serve all of Spain's major cities, including Barcelona, Valencia and Seville, from where organising bike hire is easy.

For more information on how to plan a trip to Spain go to spain.info

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