And what if I want to take the trip myself?
A Boston Globe bestseller
'A hilarious account of her epic adventure around bike-mad Spain' Daily Express (Book of the Week)
'This true triumphant tale of her travels will appeal to anyone who's eager for adventure' OK! Magazine
'Combining history, travelogue, and much sampling of regional cuisine, her adventures are related with an infectious gusto and humour' Choice
'A highly likable debut.as unpretentious as a tapas bar, and as brimming with savory morsels' Kirkus Reviews
'Bicycle enthusiasts, rejoice!...Evans spices the account of her agony with amusing tidbits from Spanish history, culture, and cuisine' Library Journal
'This book is great! Laugh-out-loud one-liners, humorous juxtaposition, and dramatic irony dominate...An action-packed story of determination, gall and joie de vivre. The plot twists and turns like the squirreliest of singletracks, in an on-going tapestry of history and scenic beauty crafted by an author of supreme talent...Chock-full of symbolism and comedy, this book entertains even after you put it down' Mountain Biking Magazine
'Evans' derisive wit, directed at herself as often as at the Spaniards, is in the best British tradition of xenophobic sarcasm, parliamentary put-downs and Monty Python moments...I'd never let Evans plan a trip for me, but I found myself more than willing to go along for the ride' San Francisco Chronicle
'Each encounter is portrayed with the humour of someone who always sees the funny side of things.[Evans] uses her down-to-earth attitude and amusing observations to create a highly entertaining travel book infused with her own very individual personality' Press Association
'A fast-paced but reflective memoir about Evans' six-week bike pilgrimage across Spain, complete with sherry binges, mongrel-dodging and watching Lois y Clark in dumpy motels' People
'Evans pedalled 1,000 miles through Spain , taking a six-week tour of the country's golden coasts, vineyards and olive groves. Sampling everything from prawns to paella, Evans discovers one of the best payoffs of travelling by bike: she can eat more without gaining a pound' Shape
'This lively account of Evans' attempt to cycle through the Pyrenees and from Andalucía to Madrid makes a refreshing change from the usual travelogue.A hugely enjoyable read' Spanish Magazine
'Comic female travel writing par excellence; a bike adventure around Spain, deliciously portrayed with snippets of weird history and sumptuous food' Bookseller
'A dangerous read for anyone bored in the office - confirmation that life's a whole lot more exciting out there on the road' Rebecca Stephens, MBE
'A hilarious tale of Polly cycling across seemingly inaccessible parts of Spain on her gleaming Italian bicycle' The Book of Happiness by Heather Summers & Anne Watson
'This is an irreverent and enthusiastic account of how you can travel a thousand miles, eating all the way, and still drop trouser sizes,' Waterstones Books Quarterly
'The author has a self-deprecating humour and a relaxed writing style. But beware: this is the type of escapist reading that might just have you putting panniers on your bike and booking a flight' London Cyclist
After working for four years at a London book publisher, Polly Evans moved to Hong Kong where she spent many happy hours as a senior editor on the city's biggest entertainment weekly. But fighting deadlines from a twizzly office chair and free use of the coffee machine seemed just too easy. So Polly exchanged the shiny red cabs of Hong Kong for a more demanding form of transport - a bicycle - and set off on a journey round Spain.
From the thigh-burning ascents of the Pyrenees to the relentless olive groves of Andalusia, Polly found more adventures than she had bargained for. She survived a nail-biting encounter with a sprightly pig, escaped over-zealous suitors, had her morality questioned by the locals, encountered some dubious aficionados on the road and indulged her love of regional cooking.
While she pedalled, Polly pondered some of the more lurid details of Spanish history - the king who collected pickled heads, the queen who toured the country with her husband's mouldering corpse, and the unfortunate duchess who lost her feet. And wherever she cycled, she ate and ate - and yet still she shrank out of her trousers.
I had to get out of Hong Kong.
The city was going crazy, and it was taking me down with it. The second economic crisis in four years was looming. The property boom had bust; the stock market was plummeting and brokers without bonuses were hurling themselves from high windows and making a nasty mess on the streets below. On the pavements, the hordes scurried, shoved and elbowed their way through the summer smog, screeching into their mobile phones in high-volume Cantonese like slowly strangled turkeys. Over the border in big, bad China, the superannuated Party leaders looked on bemused at their new dominion, at this petulant beast called capitalism.
In the market place, fruit and vegetables festered. Fish flipped over the edges of their plastic washing-up bowls and writhed on the blistering tarmac. Tensions simmered and tempers boiled. The stallholders settled their arguments with Chinese kitchen knives, the chopper being the Hong Konger's second-favourite weapon after the pointy end of an elbow, while the triads nervously fingered their tattoos and lopped off the little fingers of those who annoyed them.
In the alleyway beneath my flat, my neighbours tried to improve their chances in these uncertain times by burning offerings on the bonfires of that summer's Hungry Ghost festival. The stock market could no longer be relied upon to provide riches so they turned to their ancestors instead. The smoke wisped its way past my windows and up to the spirit world carrying the charred remains of paper money, paper sports cars, paper Nike trainers, paper Big Macs and even paper Nokia 8310 phones, complete with paper batteries. Hong Kong is a material town, even in its spirit incarnation, and it doesn't do to antagonize the ghosts with last year's model.
Over in the office where I worked, tucked away among the antique shops of Hollywood Road, life was no less colourful. I was working as an editor on a weekly magazine. We covered the action-packed life of that non-stop, neon-flashing city; we tried to be incisive, quirky, offbeat, ahead of the curve. It didn't always work.
'This is the most fuckin', godawful PIECE OF SHIT that I have seen in ten years,' the publisher screamed at us one day, clutching that week's offering in his hand and shaking it violently as though he were trying to break its neck. The glass walls of his office shuddered; we editors looked sadly at our feet. Most of the men in our office were either gay or in therapy, in many cases both. They weren't afraid to find an outlet for their emotions, to clench their perfectly pert buttocks in indignation, to puff out their tightly T-shirted pecs, to squeal and stamp their cross little designer-shod feet. I was a straight woman; I couldn't afford a shrink. I dreamed of sitting, completely alone, under a solitary, leafy tree where nobody would raise their voice to so much as a whisper. One thing was clear: I needed a change of scene.
I decided to go to Spain. I knew the country and I spoke the language after a fashion, even if my attempts did make the locals laugh out loud. I'd even lived there for a while when, as a university student studying Spanish, I'd been required to spend a year abroad. I knew how to order a beer; I could even ask for different sizes depending on the level of alcoholic refuge the moment demanded. I vaguely understood the words on a menu. Spain would be a nice, restful destination, I thought. It would present nothing too difficult. It would be fun to go back – it was eight years since my last visit – and the fresh air and sunshine would do me good.
To ensure my recuperation, I'd even take some exercise. I wouldn't just visit Spain – I'd cycle round it. I set myself a target of a thousand miles and six weeks in which to cover them. I'd start at the top, in the chic beach resort of San Sebastián, then work my way east, over the Pyrenees and down to Barcelona where I'd strut along tree-lined boulevards with the beautiful people. Then I'd head south to Granada, and westwards across Andalusia to Seville, before heading up into Extremadura, Spain's wild west. I'd then pedal over to the historic capital of Toledo and finally end up in the modern hurly-burly of Madrid.
After six weeks of the cycling cure, I'd be lithe, fit, suntanned. If my tour took a few ups and downs, if I felt the need to let out the occasional primal scream, well, in Spain nobody would notice. They're used to craziness in Spain. In fact, they positively celebrate it. This is the land of the delusional Don Quixote, the obsessive Queen Joan the Mad, and the stark, staring Salvador Dalí. These are the people who have a festival during which merrymakers hurl lorryloads of ripe tomatoes at each other, and another in which they run in the path of rabid bulls all in the name of fun. They drink whisky mixed with Fanta orange from choice.
I often receive emails from readers asking for more details about the places that feature in my books. How can they, too, find themselves squashed onto a cramped, smoke-filled, clattering Chinese bus for hours on end? How can they experience the extraordinary pain of cycling through the Pyrenees with no training, the humiliation of dropping their motorbike in the middle of the road and being too feeble to pick it up again, or the fright of finding themselves on a bolting horse with their hat fallen over their eyes and no feet in the stirrups? For anyone who really wants to do it themselves, here's my DIY guide to It’s Not About the Tapas. Destinations are in the order in which they appear in the book.
The villages of Navarre are very picturesque and well worth a few days’ stay in a bed and breakfast. The place I stayed in Ziga was delightful. It’s called Casa Etxezuria, the proprietress’s name is Mertxe Aizpuru, and the phone number is 948 45 20 78, For more information on casas rurales (country house accommodation) in Navarre go to www.casasruralesnavarra.com or, for rural accommodation across Spain go to www.guiasrurales.com.
Burguete is another great little village (and famous because Hemingway stayed there). Bonansa too is very pretty (and very quiet if you’re searching for peace).
Also, and I’m straying a little from my cycling route now, the Aragonese villages of Uncastillo and Sos del Rey Católico are both fabulous little winding, medieval villages and well worth a visit.
Moving on a little (and missing out Barcelona because nobody needs me as a guide to that brilliant city), Cadaqués on the Costa Brava is still a wonderful, peaceful place that hasn’t changed much over the decades. This is where Salvador Dalí’s family had their summer house; Dalí later built his own home very close by in Port Lligat – it’s now open to visitors. Another must if you’re in this area is the Dalí museum at Figueres. Take a look at my article in the Independent on Sunday for more information on touring Dalí’s coast. For information on the various Dalí houses and museums that are open to the public go to the website of the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, which administrates them all.
Heading south to Granada 1) don’t stay in the very brown hostel that I stayed in and 2) if it’s the last thing you ever do, make sure you visit the Alhambra. It gets booked out – it’s often impossible to buy a ticket on the day – so make sure you book ahead. You can buy tickets online.
If you’re ever on the Costa del Sol or thereabouts, make sure you take a day trip up into the hill villages of Grazalema, Zahara de la Sierra and El Bosque. Or better still, spend the night in one of them. Antequera is also a charming town, and the El Chorro gorge is breathtaking.
If you’re up for a little luxury, Las Casas de la Judería is a fabulous place to stay in Seville. It’s in the Santa Cruz district, on the Plaza de Santa María la Blanca.
In my view, Extremadura is the most under-rated region of Spain and it’s definitely worth a visit. Top the attractions are the Roman remains at Mérida. It seems amazing to me that you can go there and find yourself virtually alone, yet some of the artifacts and mosaics, especially in the museum, are as good – or better – than those I’ve seen in places more crowded by far. There’s information at the Spanish Tourist Board’s website.
There’s also a good parador in Mérida for anyone wanting to stay a night or two.
The monastery at Guadalupe is both beautiful and fascinating and the Hospedería del Real Monasterio is a good place to stay the night.
This is a tiny smattering of the books I have enjoyed about Spain, in no particular order.
The Factory of Light: Tales from My Andalucian Village by Michael Jacobs
Duende: A Journey in Search of Flamenco by Jason Webster
The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali by Ian Gibson
Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving
South from Granada (Penguin Travel Library) by Gerald Brenan
The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky
Barcelona (Panther) by Robert Hughes
Franco: A Biography by Paul Preston
Lorca: A Dream of Life by Leslie Stainton
On Bullfighting (Yellow Jersey Shorts) by A. L. Kennedy
Spain (Travel Library) by Jan Morris