Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A road-biking holiday in Girona, Spain

Nigel writes: My main cycling holiday this year was a week in the Spanish city of Girona with my chum Rob. We based ourselves in the city and rented top-class road bikes from a local tour company which allowed us to enjoy a series of fast, unladen day trips into the surrounding mountains.

Girona is in the far north-east of Spain, in the autonomous community of Catalonia. It's 60 miles north of Barcelona and about 25 miles inland from the resorts of the Costa Brava. Although the city itself is fairly flat, there are wooded mountains in all directions which we found offered a week of delightful cycling along well-graded, well-surfaced and mostly very quiet roads.

Girona is a popular destination for road cyclists, with several professional cyclists based in the area (including Lance Armstrong at one time) and there are a number of cycle shops in the city renting top-quality road bikes to visiting club cyclists.

The River Onyar in central Girona, the footbridge by Gustav Eiffel, and the Cathedral

We rented our bikes from Girona Cycle Centre, handily located right in the centre of Girona only a couple of minutes' walk from our hotel. After briefly considering some rather slow-looking "touring" bikes with racks and straight handlebars, we decided to rent top-range Cannondale Supersix carbon road bikes. Neither of us had much experience of riding road bikes, but these turned out to be the lightest and fastest bikes either of had ever ridden, and great fun to ride. And at €120 for six days' hire the cost compared well with the £100 fee (£50 each way) that Ryanair would have charged for bringing our own bikes.

Nigel and his Cannondale Supersix

Monday: Sant Gregori-Les Serres-Bonmatí-Mas Llunés-Estanyol (32 miles)

Our our first day we picked up the bikes and went out for a relatively short spin into the mountains to the south-west of Girona. We soon discovered what cycling in the countryside around Girona was like; once out of the city the roads were empty and the climbs were very well-graded. Although it was clear and sunny, and the temperature was close to 30C, the mountains were covered in trees and there was plenty of shade.

This ride had two short climbs to about 300m but they were not steep and I was able to ride slowly up with several gears to spare. The descents were similarly long and gentle which made for an enjoyable ride down without the need for continuous braking. We stopped for coffee part-way round and were back in Girona in time for a late lunch.


View this GPS track on a larger map. View route on Garmin Connect. Download GPS track (GPX).


Tuesday: Cassa de la Selva-Monells-Santuari dels Àngels(38 miles)

The following day we went for a ride in the Gavarres mountains east of Girona, following a classic route known as the "Els Angels" loop, apparently a favourite of Lance Armstrong.

We rode south from Girona along some rather some flat and dull main roads for about eight miles until we reached the small town of Cassa de la Silva. There we turned east into the mountains and were immediately on a smooth, empty and gently rising road which took us up to an elevation of 350m before dropping down again to the village of Sant Sadurni de l'Heura on the other side.

The climb from Cassa dea la Selva towards Sant Sadurni de l'Heura

A few miles later we stopped for refreshments in the main square in the village of Monells. It was too early for lunch so we just had coffee before setting off back west for our second climb, up to the monastery of Els Àngels. This was rather harder than the earlier climb and took us up to an elevation of 484m. The ascent was straightforward enough but our decision not to eat anything earlier turned this into a bit of a slog, and when we reached the top I was relieved to discover that the monastery there had a cafe selling bars of chocolate.

After replenishing our sugar levels and admiring the view we descended a mile or so to a restaurant for another late lunch before completing our descent back down to Girona.


View this GPS track on a larger map. View route on Garmin Connect. Download GPS track (GPX).


Wednesday: Llagostera-Sant Grau-Sant Feliu de Guixols (63 miles)

After two relatively short days we now felt confident to attempt a longer ride south to the coast. This took us south through some pleasant flat countryside for about an hour until we reached Llagostera.

Near Sant Andreu Salou

Sant Andreu Salou, on the flat section between Girona and Llagostera, which we passed through on the way out and on the way back.

After Llagostera the climbing begin, up to about 460m near the village of Sant Grau, where I had my first view of the Mediterranean Sea. As usual, I was the first to reach the top and sat down to wait for Rob to join me. After half an hour he still hadn't appeared so I reluctantly set off back down the mountain to find him. I didn't have to lose much height before I found Rob wheeling his bike up the road. He had a puncture but since I was the one carrying the pump he had been unable to mend it without me. After making the necessary repair we carried on; this turned out to be the only mechanical breakdown of the week. I climbed with Rob back to the top after which we were rewarded by an exhilarating and spectacular descent down along a series of winding hairpins until we reached the coast road.

A view of the sea on the descent from Sant Grau down to the coast

We followed the coast road east until we reached the small resort of Sant Feliu de Guixols where we stopped for lunch.

The winding, switchback coast road (GI-682) approaching Sant Feliu de Guixols

Our route back to Girona wasn't as spectacular as the route out but wasn't as hilly either, taking us on a different route back to Llagostera before reversing the first part of the ride back to Girona. We arrived back in Girona at about 6.30pm.


View this GPS track on a larger map. View route on Garmin Connect. Download GPS track (GPX).



Post-ride beers in Plaça de la Independència, Girona. The waiters seemed very tolerant of our need to keep our bikes close by.

Thursday: Sant Gregori-Les Planes-Olut-Santa Pau-Banyoles (70 miles)

Today we had the longest ride of the week, a big loop to the west of Girona which took us into yet another mountainous region, the Garrotxa Volcanic Park around the town of Olut.

Most of the ride was on quiet roads but for some sections it was necessary to use some busier roads, though these were still quiet by British standards and didn't pose any problem.

C-63 between Les Planes d'Hostoles and Sant Esteve. Like most of the main roads we used, it was well-surfaced, well-graded, had a shoulder, and wasn't especially busy

We stopped for lunch in the village of Santa Pau a few miles east of Olut. This was the highest point in the ride at about 500m, and was followed by many miles of gradual descent along charming quiet lanes.

El Torn, on a quiet diversion from the main road in the Parc Natural Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa east of Sant Pau


View this GPS track on a larger map. View route on Garmin Connect. Download GPS track (GPX).



Friday: Sant Gregorio-Les Serres-Angles-Osor-Sant Hilari (64 miles)

Today's ride, rather to our surprise, turned out to be the most purely enjoyable of the whole week. It was essentially a long climb to the town of Sant Hilari for lunch. At 800m this was the highest point of the whole week, but the climb to reach it was a delight, a long and very gentle ascent up a series of beautiful wooded valleys along a road which was so quiet that we only saw a car every ten minutes or so.


View this GPS track on a larger map. View route on Garmin Connect. Download GPS track (GPX).



The very long but gentle climb up to Sant Hilari

Saturday: Flaça-Vilaur-Banyoles (52 miles)

Our final ride was a loop through the flatter agricultural countryside to the north of Girona. With no mountains and rarely climbing to more than 200m this was a relaxing way to end the week.


View this GPS track on a larger map. View route on Garmin Connect. Download GPS track (GPX).



Girona

The city of Girona was an attractive place to be based for the week, with a cosy old town and countless bars and restaurants. A good place to unwind after a day on the bike.

The bumpy cobbles of the old town in Girona

The city wasn't an especially cycle-friendly place, with bumpy cobbles in the centre and plenty of big roads and roundabouts further out. However none of the roads seemed particularly busy and we didn't have any difficulty with the local drivers who generally passed us with much more care than we were used to.

Light breakfast at cafe in Girona before setting off

This building in Girona old town is apparently where Lance Armstrong had his flat

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for a good post - im in Girona towards the end of August for a months cycling and so the above is really helpful :)

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  2. We are just about to go to Girona and plan to follow some of your routes. BTW, the final gpx file seems to be a duplicate of Hilari rather than the final trip to Banyoles. Might be too much for us anyway...! Thanks so much

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  3. I've now fixed the link to the Girona-Banyoles loop. Thanks for letting me know.

    Hope you have a great trip!

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