Catalunya is a two-wheeled wonderland. The areas around Girona, in particular, are buzzing with cyclists, both pro and distinctly not-pro. The amateurs are drawn here by the professionals who call the city of Girona home, hoping to imitate their idols – or better yet, to spot one in a café before a ride.
The professionals have chosen this corner of Spain for many reasons, but good weather, excellent training roads and proximity to two major airports are the factors that hold the most sway. And naturally, as the first cycling settlers who arrived in town a decade ago hung up their race wheels they turned to other pursuits to keep themselves busy – opening hipster coffee shops, mainly, or starting their own cycling clothing brands. It’s these businesses that the tourists flock to, both cyclo and civilian.
The big reveal
It’s no secret that the roads around Girona are well worn with tyre tracks, but what about the non-roads? Everywhere you ride in this roadie’s heaven, you’ll spot wide, inviting gravel tracks branching off from the tarmac. In some places, the national road network actually makes use of sections of non-asphalt – particularly in the most rural areas. Other times, these gravel byways are not used by motor traffic at all, representing a secluded alternative route to the top of some of Catalunya’s most popular cols.
To the east of Girona is Els Angels, a popular climb because of its steady gradient and gorgeous winding smoothly surfaced turns. At the summit though, there’s a gravel path that can be used to link the peak with one further south, Santa Pellaia, via the Puig Vinyoles. It’s a 10-kilometre extension to an easy loop, but it serves as just one example of the incredible options on offer so near to the centre of Girona.
Out in the more rural areas, these tempting gravel tracks abound in even greater numbers. Every turning could lead you to an undiscovered gem, a wild swimming spot, a stunning vista or – admittedly – just some irate Catalan farmer’s front yard. The joy is in being tempted into discovering which.
Further south, over the mountains from the coastal towns of Tossa and Sant Feliu de Guíxols you’ll find loads of these rough-and-ready paths and tracks, which allow you to spend a couple of awesome hours boshing about on some short and steep inclines and descents connecting the different villages.
The gravel trend is driving further innovation in the sorts of events taking place and the services offered by local business in Catalunya too. Eat Sleep Cycle, one of the most popular rental stores in Girona, now offers a fleet of gravel bikes for rent – and you can even hire a set of bikepacking bags from the shop to really go ‘off grid’.
The Rocacorba Gran Fondo – named for one of the most imposing and celebrated peaks around Girona – has taken an innovative approach to route planning, offering a gravel option as well as the more typical road one. The inaugural edition will be held in May this year.
And then, of course, there’s the Pirinexus bike route, a stunning 340-kilometre circuit of both French and Spanish Catalunya, which manages to use almost entirely off-road routes. This epic endeavour is not for the faint-hearted, with most riders tackling it across a weekend. That being said, there is the annual Pirinexus 360, which sees participants do the whole monster route in one brutal day.
By all means, go to Catalunya and ride the greatest hits – the Rocacorbas, Els Angels and Costa Blanca’s coast roads – but don’t limit yourself to just those. Pack your fattest-tyred machine and go explore the hidden wonderland.