Peaks: The story of Sa Calobra

The History of Sa Calobra

Palma-born engineer Antonio Parietti didn’t know it. Nor do the majority of the thousands of cyclists who visit the Balearic island of Mallorca each year. But they are kindred spirits: lovers of nature and purveyors of fine roads. We cyclists have Parietti to thank for one of the most finely-laid pieces of tarmac in the world: Sa Calobra. It wouldn't be right for us to mention that we were introduced to Parietti through our friend Paul Skevington who named his own brands after the engineer.

Having completed his civil engineering degree in Madrid, Parietti returned to Palma and was almost immediately engaged in a new road project with one objective – to make some of the island’s wild beauty spots more accessible. The first of his feats was unveiled in 1925, opening the path to the Formentor lighthouse on the most northerly part of the island. A beauty of a road that snakes along the spine of the Cap de Formentor, it could be argued this was the practice run for the masterpiece to come. Because it is Sa Calobra that is the most revered road on the island, by both engineers and cyclists alike. Locals have many nicknames for the climb: 'La Cobra', 'The Knot', 'The Neck Tie' or simply just 'The Hole'. Which you can see an image of below.

Sa Calobra is the small village located in the bay at the bottom and was previously only reachable by boat. Parietti’s road changed that. It was opened in 1932, a year before the Tour de France introduced bonus points for the mountain classification and made climbing one of the most important parts of professional cycling. And so it is in Mallorca. Sa Calobra is where the Tramuntana mountain range, which dominates the north and west of Mallorca, meets the sea. Getting to Sa Calobra is therefore not easy, as first you must climb and then enjoy the swooping descent into the port.

From Palma you should prepare yourself for a parcours with similar statistics to a grand tour stage, and additional peaks in the Coll de Soller and the Puig Major on the outward journey. Luckily the Serra da Tramuntana is distractingly beautiful and was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, rewarded for its well-maintained balance between human impact and preservation of nature’s bounty. Parietti followed the same philosophy. It’s been reported that he preferred to curve his roads to the mountain’s contours rather than tunnel through and change the natural landscape. Compliment not cut.

The KOM on Strava is officially held by Sergio Henao with a time of 24:54. Mere mortals are happy to go under the hour limit and a good time is somewhere in the 40-odd minute mark. It’s a contradiction to talk statistics and times given the objective of this road and the beauty of the surrounding mountains. It’s a destination climb, an out-and-back adventure, and we would advise that you don’t get stuck staring at your stem. After all life isnt always a race.