Friday, 11 August 2017

Best Madrid Running Routes and Trails

Madrid is a city with real character: really social people who enjoy each other's company each evening, spending hours together at outside bistro tables. The city offers up hidden gems to those who explore the neighborhoods and parks. And what better way to explore this great town than with a pair of running shoes? Here are six of the best running routes in Madrid. Have fun!
Sabatini Gardens and Royal Palace at sunset
Madrid's Top Runs
Scenic Sights: This route takes you past all the main city-center tourist sights -- Plaza Major, Plaza del Sol, the royal palace and the cathedral and then back through the hip Latina neighborhood.

Retiro Park: This beautiful park is right near the town center, just behind the Prado Museum. Full of ponds, cafés, gardens, sports fields, it's a magnet for the whole city.

Parque del Oeste: This park along the western slope of the city near Plaza de España, offers great views, unexpected antiquities (xxx monument from Egypt), amazing trees and a nice green spot to spend some great running time.

Casa de Campo: This big stretch of open countryside just west of the city center is a great spot for trail running, with a wide network of trails among the light hills, with aquaducts, majestic trees and a little lake, all beneath the hilltop elegance of the royal palace.

Rio Manzanares: The riverside is lined by pedestrian promenades and parkland, perfect for a great morning or evening run. The freeways were placed in tunnels so that people could enjoy life along the river. Great idea!

Cañadas of Montecarmelo: On the northern edge of the city, among all the high-tech companies, there is a great stretch of countryside out in the meadows, with their cañadas, old cattle-driving trails.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Madrid Cañada Trail Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 8 km (5 miles), terrain: hilly, gain 113 meters

Madrid running routes:
Madrid Old Town Sights route
Madrid Parque del Oeste route 
Madrid Parque del Retiro route

Madrid Casa de Campo trail run 
Madrid Rio Manzanares route
Madrid Cañadas trail run
For more running routes, see Route List.

NOTE: In the summer, Madrid is hot, normally around 35C degrees or even higher. Mornings are coolest and the best time to run, but even on hot evenings it can be doable, because often a strong breeze comes along in the evening, making things feel cooler.
The north side of Madrid is known for its modern suburbs and high-tech office parks. Lots of international companies have set up shop there, so you might end up hanging out there yourself.

But running past office buildings and malls might not be what you were hoping for in your time in Madrid. That's where this route comes in: exploring a section of Spanish countryside, with its rolling hills full of local plants and animals, grazing sheep, little farmsteads. A real trail run, and all that right on the edge of the suburbs.
Running group just leaving the cañadas
This route heads off from the new Montecarmelo neighborhood, with its own Metro stop (Line 10, "Montecarmelo"). So it's easy to get to.

The area is known for its little vineyards and orchards. Nowadays it is mainly used as meadows for sheep and horses, criss-crossed by dusty foot trails, the cañadas. This route follows those cañadas, historic cattle-drove roads through the hilly grasslands.

NOTE: The route is not well-marked. We'll follow the yellow arrows for the Camino de Madrid pilgrimage trail for the first few kilometers. But after that, there are no further waymarkers or road signs out along the cañadas. But if you watch the direction of the sun, and on the hill crests you look for the 2.5-km high peaks of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains to the north and the skyscrapers around Chamartin train station to the south, you'll find good orientation points.
Head this way from the Metro station
Getting to the start: The neighborhood of Montecarmelo is a new, planned suburb served by Metro line 10 at the northern edge of Madrid. Get out of the Metro and, once outside, turn around to face the other direction, north.

Now, head north on the sidewalk through the narrow square from the Metro station until it ends a couple of blocks later at a wall, across Av. del Santuario de Valverde. There is a cemetery behind the wall. 
The cross along the Camino de la Cañada
Turn right and run the few meters to the next cross street and turn left to continue northwards along the east wall of the cemetery on the left, with basketball courts on the right. This dusty dirt trail is called Camino de la Cañada, and is used by lots of walkers, mountain bikers and runners.

Follow the trail as it heads downhill, past a cross marking the beginning of the Camino De Madrid pilgrimage trail towards Santiago de Compostela.

Mountains line the horizon to the north.

The trail seems to end at a popular red-painted asphalt track for bikers and pedestrians. But you need to continue straight down the steep embankment towards the railway and the M40 freeway ahead in the valley.
The tunnel under the freeway
The trail curves downwards to the left and then turns right to go under the tracks and freeway, at the 1-kilometer mark.

When you come out on the other side, you are suddenly in another world: little farmsteads and meadows along hillsides, with rutted, dusty trails winding between them. Follow the yellow arrows for the Camino De Madrid trail.

After 100 meters, at a fenced field, take the right-hand trail as it splits, which is still called Camino de la Cañada. There is a yellow arrow pointing the way. We'll later return from the left-hand trail.
Waymarker for the Camino de Madrid
Now just follow this trail for two kilometers. Go under the power transmission lines, heading straight north.

Head gradually uphill towards the rolling hilltop meadows, amid grazing sheep. A couple of other trails will merge from the right side.

Enjoy the beautiful stretches of Spanish plant- and animal-life. The fields are full of pale thistles that look like miniature Atomiums, broom bushes, grasses, thorn trees. I saw a harmless snake, rabbits, hawks, doves. Listen to the locusts chirping. I saw a shepherd with his border collie watching over a big herd of grazing sheep.
Rabbit holes in the arroyo
There are also a couple of horse ranches in the area, so you might encounter some riders. But mainly, it's mountain bikers and runners out here.

At the 3-kilometer mark, you'll see a valley beginning to your left side, stretching to the southwest. That is the Arroyo de Valdecervero. Turn left onto the trail that heads down into the valley. At first, there is no real stream-bed in the valley, but as you continue, you can see it form. Follow it as the gulch gradually gets deeper, full of raspberries and rabbit holes.
Along the arroyo
There are trails along each side of the gulch. Take your pick. You'll see the transmission lines again as we run towards them in the distance.

Just before the 5-kilometer mark, at the first major crossroads with another wide trail, look for a little fenced farmstead off to the left, up the hill to the south. Turn left there.

NOTE: Don't worry, you can take any turnoff to the left to get back, actually.
Turn and follow this trail up past the fenced-in farm
Head up and over the hill, passing the party pavilion of the farm and then more fenced-off areas. At the top of the hill, when you come to the power transmission lines, take the trail to the left. You'll be able to see Montecarmelo across the valley, past the freeway.

You'll then pass a fenced-in orchard on your right side, as well as some old cement gateposts on the left. Just continue downhill as you pass the 6-km mark.
The gateposts and orchard: keep going straight!
You'll see Montecarmelo ahead, past the motorway. There is a long, white building with two black glass stripes of windows to the left of the way we came.

You'll also see a line of trees down in the valley: another arroyo, the Arroyo del Monte, but this one is lusher, supporting a thick growth of trees and other plants.

Turn left at the arroyo and follow the path eastwards. You can clearly hear the nearby freeway to the right. The path will wind along the arroyo for a while.
Along the Arroyo del Monte
When you come to a ruined farmstead, you'll see a fenced-off field. This the first fenced-off field that we saw right after we entered the area. At the end of the fence, turn right and follow the same trail that we came in on, going under the freeway at the 7-km mark, and then to the left up the hill, all the way back to the Metro station.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Mülheim Ruhr River Running Route

Click here for route map  
Length 6.5 km (4 miles), terrain: flat

NOTE: You could also follow the east bank of the river, and it's beautiful too, just a bit less nature and more town.

Everyone likes a comeback story. And this route traces one of the great comebacks of our time: a polluted river in one of the most industrialized spots on the planet is now lined by nature preserves and full of wildlife.

I'm talking about the Ruhr River, which gives its name to the Ruhr Region, the heart of Germany's industrial heartland. It's the most densely populated area in Europe, once full of coal mines and steel mills.
A bit of paradise in the middle of the Ruhr
Most of those old factories have closed now, and the area -- like similar ones in industrial countries all over -- has been fighting for its economic life since then. But the recovery has been pretty successful, and the river has been cleaned up.

Mülheim, located along the Ruhr between Duisburg and Essen, bears witness to this comeback. You can run along both banks of the river and enjoy nature the whole way.

This route follows the west side of the river from the town center, southwards to the Ruhrstrand park in Saarn.
Start in Müga Park
We'll start the run in the Müga Park, a beautiful oasis just across the river from the little basin of the town harbor. Müga sits on reclaimed land, once used for railway sidings, and next to the old castle, Schloss Broich, originally built to defend the area against Norman Viking raiders. Maybe take a look at the castle before you take off on the run!
Schloss Broich castle courtyard
So get yourself to Müga, just north of the Schloßbrücke (Castle Bridge). Close to the river, you'll see a little square fountain pond, our starting point. Now turn south and run out of the park with the river to your left, past the Stadthalle event center.
Paddle boats at the Mülheim harbor
After running under the bridge, the path turns into a boardwalk skirting the river, then continues along a paved path, the Gerbersteg.
To your left, you can already see the paradise-like wetlands in the middle of the river, where water trickles between countless little green islands.

There are a few apartments lining the path here on the right, with a great view.

The path ends at a wooden footbridge that leads to an island in the river. Cross the bridge, towards that big stone pumphouse that houses hydro-electric turbines over a dam.

Bridge to the pumphouse
At the pumphouse -- also the 1-kilometer mark, turn right and continue southwards along the narrow island.

NOTE: Maybe take a look at the neighboring island, the Schleuseninsel, just behind the pumphouse: here's the Wasserbahnhof (Ferry Station), where river tour boats tie up, and there's a great biergarten located there under the shade trees at Franky's bar. This is the place to go any evening with nice weather!
Tour boat at the Schleuseninsel
The island is covered with a mixture of fields, ponds and woods. Across the river, you'll see a few little riverside restaurants and kiosks.
Along the island trail
After another 800 meters, the island ends, and a bridge over a dam will lead to the right to get back to the west bank of the river.  
The dam crossing
Now, at the 2-km mark, continue southeastwards past more woods and meadows. This is one of the most natural parts of the run, with a little wetlands preserve off to the right side.

After the 2.5-km mark, the trail splits, with one part heading over to an island-like peninsula, the Ruhrstrand. Follow that trail to the right.
When you see the car bridge passing overhead at the beautiful half-timbered village of Saarn, turn around and head back to town following the way you came (or maybe cross the bridge and come back on the trail along the eastern bank of the river!).