ORIENT, Spain -- I can hear the distant tinkling of sheep bells as I shift gears and huff and puff to get my bike up a steep hill on the Spanish island of Majorca.
Both sides of the road are lined with honey-coloured rock walls, and I stop at the top of the hill to catch my breath and take in the view -- a patchwork of olive groves, vineyards and secluded sheep farms.
Spain's Balearic Islands are famed for receiving more than 300 days of sunshine a year. Thousands of cyclists flock to the mountainous island of Majorca during the spring and fall to enjoy some of the best cycling on the planet. Several professional teams train on Majorca.
Even though I am dressed in Lycra cycling gear, it is doubtful anyone would confuse me with a professional cyclist. I enjoy recreational cycling as a way to improve my fitness level and to counteract an indulgent lifestyle -- especially when travelling. We chose Majorca for its outstanding scenery, exceptional cycling and rich food culture.
When we reach the tiny village of Alaro, I am planning to indulge in a gelato while relaxing in the main square. If I manage to make it all the way to the village of Orient, I will definitely have earned the gourmet dinner that is included in our room rate.
We are staying at Read's Hotel, a small luxury hotel ideally situated at the foot of the Tramuntana Mountains in the heart of some of the island's best cycling terrain. Read's also has an on-site spa and one of the best restaurants on the island, so it's perfect for an indulgent recreational foodie cyclist.
I hop back on my bike and start pedalling again. The warm spring sunshine reflects off the wildflowers that are just starting to blossom. And from the edge of the road, I can see yellow and white blossoms spread out like a carpet across a nearby meadow. Other blooms are pushing their way up through the rough, craggy surfaces that line the roadside.
Traffic is scarce on the narrow country road that leads to the village, and for most of the winding ride, my husband and I do not encounter any motor vehicles. When we reach the village square, a small crowd of locals has gathered in the cobblestone square outside the village cathedral where a brass band is just setting up. We sit on the edge of the square with about a dozen other cyclists and a pile of locals and get ready for the free concert.
As I enjoy a well-deserved treat from a local gelateria, I realize the band is playing an old western song from the movie Quigley Down Under. The song almost seems out of place in a village that dates to the 13th century, but it is well-played and well-received by the crowd in the square.
When the concert concludes, we hop on our bikes to head back on a different road to our hotel. Unfortunately, we can't reconcile the English cycling map with the Spanish road signs and end up taking the long way home.
In the end, we may not have worked quite hard enough to deserve a gourmet dinner, but this is Spain, and it is almost siesta time.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013