Montañas Vacías — bikepacking the wild and remote ‘Empty Mountains’

This is a fantastic wild and remote gravel bikepacking route through the Serranía Celtibérica region of Spain, also known as ’Montañas Vacías’, or ‘The Empty Mountains’. The area is filled with medieval villages, remote refuges, natural parks, high elevation plateaux and infinite forest roads.

I was looking for some remote wilderness time and so this region of Spain, often referred to as ’Spanish Lapland’ (with less than seven inhabitants/km²), fitted the bill perfectly.

Our hardtail mountain bikes fully loaded with bikepacking bags, food and water, weighed in at a hefty 23 kilograms on departure of Teruel. We had definitely packed in holiday mode, not race mode! A big comfy tent, cooking pots and pans, chunky DSLR camera and lots of food, so we could be completely autonomous and stop where we wanted.

In six days we saw just four other cyclists, a handful of cars and only a few people in the sleepy little villages we passed through to re-supply: heaven! In contrast, every morning we saw deer in their hundreds, wild boar, ibex, hares, foxes and squirrels, and by mid-afternoon the vultures graced the sky in their masses. It was like cycling through a European safari park!

We swam in turquoise rivers, slept in mountain huts, ate patatas bravas until they came out of our ears and were met with nothing but kindness by the locals.

This beautiful 700 kilometre (435 mile) route has lots of options and shortcuts available, making it easily adaptable depending on the time you have available. The views and landscapes are incredibly varied but the terrain is almost always rideable, no big hike-a-bike sections on this route. Gravel bike or mountain bike, newbie bikepacker or experienced roamer, this route definitely has something for everyone.

This region undoubtedly has a sense of abandonment, after years of depopulation resulting in schools and businesses closing. As wonderful as it is for someone like me, a bit of a loner drawn to wild places, to cycle through such inhabited landscapes surrounded by nothing but nature, it is also devastating to know that the culture and people of this region are quite literally dying out with the majority of people over 65 years old.

However, I think Ernesto who created the Montañas Vacías route, is striking a wonderful balance of offering us adventure seekers some much desired remoteness with ‘no’ traffic, whilst also bringing some much needed awareness and positivity to the area. (You can check out Ernesto’s Montañas Vacías website for lots more information here.)

Highlights

  • The medieval village of Albarracine…WOW! No wonder it is regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in all of Spain, truly stunning. Spend some time getting lost in the steep narrow alleyways.
  • The River Tajo was possibly my favourite section of the entire ride. Crystal clear turquoise waters flowing through deep canyons. Plenty of swim spots along the route (if you are a fan of cold water).
  • The rugged and remote plateau of Javalambre was a unique contrast to the rest of the route. You rarely find a 42km uphill gravel climb, but this is one! An 1800m wild and beautiful ascent to the summit of Pico Javalambre.
  • There is a wonderful collection of free basic refugios / shelters along the way. I would highly recommend staying in a couple of these. Refugio la Porter and Refugio de la Alconera were my favourites, with stunning remote locations.
  • Gravel bike or mountain bike, the majority of this route was all rideable which makes a pleasant change compared to my usual bikepacking routes!
  • The hospitality from the locals was second to none. We were met with wonderful kindness every day, ranging from someone allowing us to sleep on their floor to avoid a massive thunderstorm to cafes opening especially for us when they could see the disappointment in our face that we weren’t going to get anything to eat.
  • Patatas Bravas!! Simple yet delicious that became a daily staple along the way.

Feel free to ask me any questions, happy to help where I can. 

You will mostly find me over on Instagram @katiejaneendurance but you can also follow along over on Facebook and Pinterest.

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