A recent week long vacation north of Barcelona found us cycling the byways and bike paths of Catalonia, Spain. While some might consider a cycling vacation a bit too strenuous to be considered a “slow” vacation, to my mind, cycling is a wonderful way to leisurely experience and savor a little slice of Spain. In the Costa Brava region of Catalonia stark coastlines where mountains meet the sea, green fields as far as the eye can see, vineyards, medieval villages, tapas bars, wonderful coffee, and fish so fresh it fairly jumped off the platter, all joined forces to making this a wonderful week and a memorable vacation.
Our holiday booked with Cycle Catalan helped us with the legwork and made the technical parts of vacation planning simple. While they offer a variety of packages and trips, the one we opted for called “Cycle and Chill” included a week-long rental of a well outfitted, modern townhouse in Calonge, a medieval village just three kilometers from the coast. The three-bedroom townhouse, had not only a private pool, full kitchen, and comfortable living and dining room, but also came with a bird’s eye view of the ancient castle and church spires that chimed the quarter hour, reminding us to enjoy every moment of our precious time in this part of the world.
Alan, the friendly owner and proprietor of Cycle Catalan picked us up at the nearest train station, about an hour north of Girona, at the prearranged time. Bringing us directly to our home for the week, he showed us the 18 speed bikes outfitted and ready for us with side packs, front packs, and a computer.He then gave us a complete briefing including maps and detailed instructions of recommended bike tours for the days of our stay. Alan was available for consultation over the course of the week, and provided drop off and pick up on several days, allowing us to go farther afield without worrying about a grueling return trip. He served as excellent backup when we got a flat tire one day in the middle of nowhere. Within 30 minutes, a replacement bike had us on our way and we carried on grateful that the day had been saved.
The cycling itself was glorious. Well-signed bike paths crisscross Catalonia, and the days we spent biking allowed us a close up look at the land, the people, visiting out of the way places, secluded beaches, and quaint coffee shops and restaurants. The terrain is relatively flat making for easy cycling, and the bikes provided were excellent.
A favorite day took us to the heart of the medieval villages that abound in this region.Beginning in the remarkably well preserved village of Pals, picturesquely set on a hillside, we explored the winding alleyways lined with stone houses, shops and restaurants. During the summer Pals is overrun with tourists, but on a late November morning, with the sun shining in a perfectly clear blue sky, we were the only ones about, and we were warmly welcomed in the one shop that was open displaying local ceramic ware alongside tourist souvenirs.
Leaving modern transportation behind and cycling from village to village allowed us to shed the cares of stress-filled lives, and to be present in the moment soaking up the atmosphere of an age gone by in villages that fire the imagination.Taking to the road, we pedaled our bikes through the countryside to Saint Feliu de Boadoa, another tiny village with a typical medieval square adjacent to the church, several ancient houses and working farms. A stop for a cup of coffee at Can Joan hit the spot, and Joan, the owner himself, served us excellent coffee with a smile. Full meals are available there as well and from the look of the crowds on Sunday afternoon, the food must be excellent.
Our penultimate stop for the day was Can Solivera, an olive plantation where the owners Hans and Daida, originally from Holland, set up shop in 1977, and since then have planted thousands of olive trees, producing exceptional extra virgin olive oil made from Arbequina olives. Tasting the four different varieties of oil on offer, we quickly agreed on the one we liked best, and packed our purchase in my bright red saddlebag, continuing on our way to Peretallada, our final destination for the day. This charming town boasts a castle from the eleventh century, a moat, and city walls. Walking through arched passages and alleyways transports you back to an earlier, simpler age. Nevertheless, we were more than happy to see Alan at the appointed time and place for our ride home in 21st century transportation.
Even when it rains, Costa Brava does not disappoint. On the one truly stormy day we had, we cycled the three kilometers to the coast, and took a walk along the rugged coastline, enjoying the turbulent grey seas. When the heavens threatened to open up once again, we took shelter in a seaside café, ordered coffee, and enjoyed our books until the rain let up.
35-kilometer bike rides might not be your idea of vacation, we found the flexibility suited us well, and enjoyed the simplicity of staying in one place and getting around on two wheels. We were able to plan our days to our liking, deciding where to go, how far to ride, and how much chilling we wanted to do. The wind whistling in our ears, as our legs churned the pedals, soaking up the sun, the scenery, and the sights, it just doesn’t get much better than this!