Every year, the Hollywood A-lister and his best pal Rande Gerber take a weeklong bike trip, and this year is no different. Here is a preview of their next jaunt in Spain.
He is one of Hollywood’s best known faces — so how does superstar George Clooney keep a low profile on holiday? The two time Oscar winner is perhaps the subject of twice the normal scrutiny, now that he and wife Amal are proud parents of twins. Fortunately, Clooney has already found the perfect way to stay under the radar: When he needs to escape the smell of diapers and baby food, the 56-year-old can pull on a motorcycle helmet and dark glasses and head for the highway.
Riding alongside him on long summer trips for the past few summers has been long-time friend Rande Gerber. The pair founded tequila business Casamigos, which was recently sold in a billion-dollar deal, and share neighbouring holiday homes in Mexico. In the past, they have toured their Harley-Davidsons across the US, cruised the Dolomite mountain range in Italy and explored Corsica.
Gerber, who is married to former supermodel Cindy Crawford and runs a bar and restaurant empire, explains: “Sometimes, we ride for 15 hours a day. We never know where we are going — we just get up in the morning and hit the road.”
Taking the Old School route
Gerber adds: “Our aim is to find the road less travelled. George is pretty old school, so we just pack a map and don’t switch on the satellite navigation. With a helmet on, people have no idea who we are.”
Despite the patter of multiple feet, Gerber says the arrival of twins will not prevent his friend from getting on a bike again. “It’s cast in stone. We’ve discussed his being a dad, and nothing stops the ride.”
On top of the pair’s tour list this summer is Spain. Gerber and Clooney have been poring over maps to find the best routes. “We thought we should check out Andalusia because of the mountain roads and passes. The day usually ends in a bar, drinking with the locals.”
To help the celebrity duo find their way, I packed off to Spain with my friend Ian Smith — who happily played George Clooney to my Rande Gerber. I am not a Hollywood A-lister, and he is in IT, but we do know how to ride a motorcycle.
Where to start
Clooney and Co have enough money to fly their bikes anywhere on the planet — but what about the rest of us? Harley-Davidson’s Authorized Tours allow riders to rent bikes at more than 200 of their showrooms around the world.
Bikers can choose from the company’s latest range of machines, some equipped with Bluetooth audio for the long road ahead. The most expensive models even have satellite navigation, far easier to read on the road than George’s map.
The process is almost the same as hiring a car, although riders need the appropriate motorcycle licence. (Health insurance might be advisable, considering the state of some Spanish roads.)
Clooney and Gerber are set to start their summer break in Málaga, home of the Picasso Museum, where Harley-Davidson runs a flagship store. When I get there, assistant Jose Maria has our bikes ready to go. We opt for a Heritage Softail Classic and a Road King — retro models designed for cool touring.
Each has two leather panniers, and there is room on the empty pillion seat to strap on a further bag. Once we establish that Cindy Crawford is not coming, I load up, and we head off into Spanish rush-hour traffic.
Ride through the mountains
Despite their plans for a freestyle adventure, the Clooney gang know they will be heading north from Málaga. That will take them away from the busy A7 coastal highway that used to be called the “Road to Hell” because the traffic was so dangerous.
The A7000 northeast of Málaga to Colmenar is biker heaven. A series of sweeping corners cuts across the centre of the Málaga Mountains National Park, and the road is punctuated by countless viewpoints and jaw-dropping vistas of the Mediterranean. There are no major towns here, just breathtaking scenery, the smell of gorse and wild poppies, and the occasional horse and cart to slow your progress.
For a low-key stay, Clooney is likely to head for the hills and a hotel such as La Bobadilla (from US$170 [$233] a night) — about halfway to Granada. It is the kind of retreat where a publicity-shy superstar can really get away from it all — palm trees, spa treatments and roomy suites with a private terrace to unwind and consider the next film script.
La Bobadilla is tucked away in more than 1,000 acres of olive groves, near Loja. The sense of arrival when you finally pull up on the cobbled square outside is palpable — only the grumbling of our engines disturbs the peace.
The Ocean’s 11 star can make a day trip east from here to visit the Alhambra, the iconic Moorish palace named a Unesco World Heritage Site in the heart of the ancient city of Granada. He will have to dodge the obstacle course of cafés and souvenir shops en route — plus the throng of 6,600 people who pass through the hilltop spectacular every day.
The next day, my road partner and I rise early to avoid the heat and set off due west, towards La Roda de Andalusia. The roads here are faster as we cross the southern plains, passing no-nonsense towns and the occasional vineyard.
We are heading for the Andalusian bullfighting capital of Ronda in Málaga, which will be a must-see for Clooney. Sitting above a deep ravine and surrounded by lush river valleys, it is one of the most remarkable cities in the whole of Spain. The narrow cobbled streets are not well-suited to a heavyweight Harley, however, so we park just outside of town.
Hotel La Fuente (from US$193 a night) is small but tastefully furnished on a quiet hillside. The walls are loaded with artwork, and there is a palm tree that throws welcome shade over the swimming pool. Our roof-top room boasts an enormous outdoor bathtub that, in different circumstances, would wow any leading lady.
Using Ronda as a base, Clooney has a wealth of mountain roads to explore, stretching in either direction through the Grazalema and Las Nieves national parks. The orange-soaked streets of Seville are a 90-minute ride north, with a magnificent cathedral and an old-town area that feels as though it is a medieval film set.
Let spirits be your guide
The star can indulge in his passion for liquor-making with a visit to the sherry capital of Jerez. The city is more than 3,000 years old. A few miles southeast are the Straits of Gibraltar, the perfect spot for dolphin and whale-watching.
Superstars are few and far between in this remote corner of Spain, but head 70 miles south from Ronda to the coast, and you never know who you will see. Pulling up at newly refurbished Amàre Marbella (from US$257 a night) on a Harley is always going to turn heads, even if you are not George Clooney.
With our bikes safely stored in the underground car park, my B-list friend and I avoid the well-tanned hordes on the promenade below by relaxing on the hotel’s roof-top terrace. The views out to sea are magnificent, but this is definitely a place to be seen in your best pair of espadrilles.
Marbella’s remarkable Old Quarter is a rash of narrow cobbled streets, with lively cafés and bars. A Hollywood A-lister would definitely go unnoticed here, while the city’s glitzy marina is definitely the place to be seen.
Andalusia boasts the roads and the scenery to attract any biker on tour. And even if your best mate is George Clooney, have him put on a helmet, and it could be anybody. — Bloomberg LP
Jeremy Taylor travelled to Spain with Harley-Davidson Authorized Tours
This article appeared in Issue 789 (July 24) of The Edge Singapore.