You asked; we answered. Thanks to those of you who took the hardly-any-time-at-all split second to fill out our survey (it’s still open and we’re still listening, by the way, so please take a moment if you haven’t yet), we found out that most of you book your too-limited vacation several months in advance, and you’d like specific suggestions about what to book for each season. This new quarterly series, Start Booking: Where to Go Next, is our response. Many of you will use the post-holiday period to plan out your trip for late spring /early summer, and amigos, have we got a suggestion for you:
Take it at your own pace with a cycling tour of the Costa Brava and Pyrenees of Spain
I’ve already raved about this tiny northeastern corner of Spain in the state of Catalonia (Catalunya). I also happen to love unusual vacations. Put them together, and you have a recipe for the travel equivalent of a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup.
Why not get to know an area that National Geographic listed as one of the 2012 Top Trip Destinations by comparing the smell of clear mountain air to the lazy ocean breezes, or through the meals that sustain you at little off-the-beaten-path villages, or by the conversations that are so easy to strike up amongst like-minded, nature-loving adventurers?
“Cicloturismo” holidays are becoming all the rage in Europe, for good reason. They combine top destinations with slow, ecologically minded travel; sightseeing and the great outdoors; exercise; culture; and (you can’t escape this along the Costa Brava) great food.
If Spain is in your future (I recommend Seville and Granada before heading up to Barcelona and the Costa Brava on your first visit; Extremadura, Galicia and the Basque Country for your second; the Balearic Islands need a trip of their own), make time to incorporate a bicycle trip into your itinerary. For Spain cycling tours, this is where you want to be. I lived in Southern Spain for years and consider the culture one of life’s great indulgences, but trust me on this: the verdant hills of the Girona Pyrenees (Pirineu de Girona) and Costa Brava make for a far superior biking experience than the rather sandy, dry South.
If you value your alone time so you can meander wherever your drumbeat carries you, you’ll love the self guided bike tours I’m about to suggest: a perfect mix of structure and freedom.
You might also find it comforting to know that you can set your own pace and level of difficulty. Lance Armstrong lived in Girona while training for the Tour de France to take advantage of the challenging routes … but hey, where there’s an uphill, there’s also a downhill. Luckily, there are also vast areas of gentle slopes for those who prefer something in the middle.
Get to know the greenways of Costa Brava: Vies Verdes, cycle networks of the Alt and Baix Empordà, and the ENLLAC Project
There are several signposted path systems, impressively well-kept and safely removed from car traffic, that are available to cyclists and hikers throughout the Costa Brava. The longest continuous path, the Vies Verdes, offers 125 kilometers of gently sloping trails stretching from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Coast, and their site details distances and inclines for each portion.
The ENLLAÇ Project, a joint cooperative between Spain, France and Andorra, aims by March 2013 to connect new trails to the Vies Verdes and provide a circuitous route from the town of Gombren, in the Spanish Pyrenees, to Sant Feliu de Guixols on the Mediterranean Coast, and up to Le Barcarès in France. These routes will intersect the smaller, county-level routes of the Alt Empordà and Baix Empordà, mountain biking routes (otherwise known as “all-terrain centres”), as well as national hiking paths. CicloTurisme, the area’s leading provider of cycle tours (Disclosure: CicloTurisme provided us with bicycles and arranged much of the logistics of our trip. It is run by a group of great people, the kind you’re happy to have an opportunity to promote.) gives a great route overview here.
Let’s – for the sake of argument – say you might like to work off the world-famous Catalan cuisine with a bit of cycling, but aren’t exactly keen on biking all the way to France, let alone the entire 125 kilometers of the Vies Verdes. Or you’d like to jump between several of the bike paths in order to hit specific destinations that interest you. Luckily, there’s a solution for that.
Several of the region’s hotels – many designated by the “Bed and Bike” moniker – are specifically geared towards cyclists and rent or even freely loan bicycles (such is the case with our previously reviewed Hotel del Teatre). You can easily drive from one to the other, and hit the trails from there. For a completely car-free option, take advantage of the many local transportation offers available to cyclists. For example, you could stay by the beach in Sant Feliu de Guixols, cycle to the beautiful and culturally vibrant city of Girona, and then catch the train back for free (bicycle included), or vice versa. Check the Vies Verdes site for many more such options.
If you’d rather someone else take care of logistics, check out the all-inclusive services offered by CicloTurisme. They’ll pick you up at Girona’s airport (or you can walk to their Girona office from the train station), rent you a superior cycling instrument otherwise known as a bicycle, and drive you to your route’s initiation and end point or out for daily excursions based around the Moli del Mig hotel, which blends modern and traditional architecture. The level of expertise and convenience makes this one of the best cycling tours in Europe.
Outdoor Emporda was another local company assisting with our trip. They offer sporting services such as mountain biking, running and swimming tours for all you triathletes and triathlete-minded people out there, based in the beautiful northern portion of the Costa Brava, including the regions of Emporda and Garrotxa. Their excursions through the windswept Cap de Creus cape would be high on my list for a return trip.
Where to go
The Vies Verdes people have put together a fascinating compilation of destinations close to their routes called “The Secrets of the Vies Verdes.”
If that’s not named to capture the hearts of people like us, I don’t know what is! These are little-known places of cultural interest or natural beauty located close to the main Vies Verdes routes. Check out this photo of a gorgeous “secret” waterfall we visited:
I think it goes without saying that you should spend some of your cycling adventure in the striking Pyrenees foothills (we biked from Olot to Anglès, which allowed us to take in the Garrotxa Volcanic Area), an area boasting an unfair share of natural beauty as well as Romanesque art; as well as along the coast (we cycled along the “little train route” from Palafrugell to el Castell Beach, and the GR-92 national hiking trail along rocky cliffs from Sant Feliu de Guixols towards Platja d’Aro is supposed to be lovely), which alternates between long, sandy beaches and rocky cliffs that shelter isolated coves with deep blue sparkling water.
In the weeks to come, I’ll be posting a selection of my favorite small villages. In the meantime, check here for an overview of what you can expect to see in the Costa Brava. Why not throw in a Costa Brava hot air balloon ride (we went with Globus Emporda) or carriage rides, visit the Dali museum, or marvel at Modernist (Art Nouveau) Architecture? This tiny area packs a strong punch.
There’s more, plenty more, and much of it centers around food. Check back for next week’s culinary review of the Costa Brava, or sign up now on the right side of this page for email delivery to make sure you never miss out on your next favorite destination.
This cycling adventure in the Pirineu de Girona and Costa Brava regions was made possible by the Costa Brava Tourism Board with help from the good people at Vies Verdes, CicloTurisme I Medi Ambient, Outdoor Emporda, and Globus Emporda. It’s a trip I can’t wait to recreate. To read about our commitment to candid and balanced reviews, visit our disclosures page.
*UPDATE* Since writing this article, the companies of CicloTurisme and Outdoor Emporda have merged in order to provide a fuller experience to their customers, covering outdoor activities from self-guided cycling and walking tours to mountain biking, running and open water swim experiences.
Fellow bloggers from this trip share their own perspectives:
Check out the post from Laurel at Mountainsandmonkeys.com on cycling in Costa Brava; the complete play-by-play of this tour of Costa Brava (with great photography) from Erica and Shaun of Overyonderlust.com; and the fantastic VIDEO of biking the rail trail from Cole and Adela at FourJandals.com.