Andalusia is full of roads with exceptional alignments and impeccable surfaces. In this southern Spanish province to the west of Seville – a picturesque old city that resonates, day and night, with the spirited notes of flamenco guitars – the Rio Tinto valley subtly unveils its forms and secrets.
Far from the hustle and bustle of Andalusia's capital, whitewashed villages bathed in sunlight take life at the gentler pace of the passing seasons. In the mildness of winter, the orange trees lining the sleepy little streets bear fruit that add splashes of colour to life. On the village square, the Palma del Condado café serves delicious tapas at any hour of the day or night.
A few miles further on, under the watchful eye of the fighting bulls grazing peacefully between two haciendas, the small Road 5131 beckons motorbikes.
Through to the tiny village of Berrocal, the road is a succession of tight bends and smooth curves worthy of the most modern circuits. There is little traffic, the road equipment couldn't be better and the surface is irreproachable.
In conditions like this, on a responsive roadster or a fast touring bike, you'll appreciate the handling and grip of the new MICHELIN Pilot Road 4. Below the road, you can still make out the old railway line built by the English in the nineteenth century to link the port of Huelva in the south to the old Rio Tinto copper mine.
Everything is a spectacular red, ochre, orange, yellow or beige in this rocky setting, which is often compared to the planet Mars. This site was one of the most extensive opencast mines in Europe and had a profound influence on the entire region. Take the Bella Vista district in the town of Minas de Riotinto, for example: its Victorian airs are in sharp contrast to Andalusian architecture. It was home to the British community that came to mine copper ore in the nineteenth century.
As we leave the Rio Tinto mining area, we head for the mountains to the north and the village of Aracena. This too is a very popular area with tourists and well known for one of the regional specialties: ham.
On the main road from Seville to Portugal, Aracena lies in the heart of the Sierra de Huelva and the surrounding slopes are planted with oak trees. Acorns are one of pigs' favorite foods and Aracena developed a specialisation in Iberian ham: it even has a ham museum. The road continues along the mountain sides.
Now narrower and winding, it has the wonderful fragrances of oak, eucalyptus and orange blossom.
The sort of Mediterranean road you dream about.