Cycling Costa Brava Slowly

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.

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View from our townhouse

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.

"Our" living room for the week

“Our” living room for the week

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My bike resting (along with me) on a bike path in Catalonia

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.

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The medieval city of Pals

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.

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Olive orchards at Can Solivera

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.

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Stormy seas at Calonge St. Anthony

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!

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Slovenia, Slowly


Our recent trip to Slovenia was the essence of Slow Travel.  After spending a quick overnight in the city of Graz, and visiting the infamous synagogue that had been dynamited on Kristallnacht, and rebuilt and dedicated on November 11, 2000, 62 years after Kristallnact, we made a beeline for Lake Bled where we spent six glorious days.  That was followed by three more days at a Slovenian spa in Rimske Toplice, but more on that later.

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Graz Synagogue

Lake Bled, an hour’s drive from the capitol of Lublijana, is a shimmering blue gem, with surfaces that are so still, they reflect the lush trees surrounding the lake.  We had originally anticipated renting an apartment with a panoramic view of the lake for six nights.  Little did we realize that the apartment was situated directly above the road ringing the lake, and aside from the view we would be treated to cars, buses and motorbikes switching gears right under our panoramic window.

Lake Bled

Lake Bled

We quickly bailed out, and luckily our landlady manages another property about 3 kilometers outside of Bled, with the perfect apartment just waiting for us.  This one bedroom newly constructed apartment sported a balcony looking out over a peaceful meadow, with the sounds of a running river not far below.  It was situated at the end of a tiny village Bodesce, and about a five minute drive from Bled.  Amazing what five minutes will bring you!  Peace, quiet, tranquillity.  Everything we were looking for in this Slow Vacation!

View from "our" porch

View from “our” porch

Once our suitcases were unpacked and the refrigerator filled, we were ready to set out.  First stop was a bike trip in the countryside.  We rented bikes in Bled and set out on the recommended 35 km route, on empty country roads that included rolling hills, small villages, and outstandingly peaceful scenery.  We stopped at a small restaurant for a drink and conversation with some local school kids that were gearing up for summer vacation.  The cycling trip ended abruptly when Mike’s gears froze on a fairly lonely stretch of the road.  Fortunately, Slovenian people are outgoing and ready to help.  Within ten minutes a man driving a van appeared out of nowhere, loaded our bikes into his van and took a 30 minute detour from his ride home to get us back to the bike store in Bled.  Talk about serendipity!

Mike on the bicycle

Mike on the bicycle

Our saviour

Our saviour

The next day we set off for a road trip to the Julian Alps.  Alps might be a misnomer, for these mountains rise up only 2800 meters at Mount Triglav, but the scenery is outstanding and the ride was beautiful.  We stopped several times to snap photos, and  enjoy the views.

Julian Alps

Julian Alps

Mount Triglav

Mount Triglav

We made our way down to the Socha Valley, and enjoyed crossing over the Socha River, sometimes called the Emerald River ( you will see why) on rather shaky suspension bridges.

Socha River

Socha River

Me on the shaky bridge

Me on the shaky bridge

From there we crossed into Italy making our way home via an excellent cup of coffee (finally!) and an Italian supermarket.  Those Italians know a thing or two about food that the Slovenians could learn.IMG_3565

Sunday brought us to Lake Bohinj, a thirty minute drive away from our apartment.  We once again rented bikes, and this time set out on a 25 km bike ride to the lake through thankfully flat countryside.

Me on the bike

Me on the bike

We took a break from biking to take a cable car ride up to Mt. Vogel, a ski resort, enjoying a beer and the beautiful views at the top of the mountain.

View of Lake Bohinj from Mt. Vogel

View of Lake Bohinj from Mt. Vogel

Monday we sadly bid goodbye to our apartment with the wonderful porch and headed towards Lublijana and on to the Rimske Toplice Spa, but more on that in the next post.

So why, you might ask, is this “slow travel”?

“It sure sounds like you were running around alot,” you say.

In fact, we did move around a bit, but we didn’t do more than one site each day.  We never rushed.  We started out each morning after waking up without an alarm clock, enjoying a leisurely breakfast, sometimes learning or reading for awhile, and only then packing up to go out.  We came back each evening and enjoyed preparing and eating dinner, watching movies on TV and reading.  We never felt that we had to “accomplish”, “get to”, or do anything in particular.  We took our time, and decided day by day, hour by hour, what was next.  For me, this is the essence of slow travel.

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One Last View of the Julian Alps

 

 

 

 

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Graceful Greece

 

Can a four day adventure to Greece be considered slow travel?  The answer is a resounding yes if you are lucky enough to stay at the Costa Navarino about one hour south of Calamata, in the southwest Pelleponnese, the southernmost peninsula off the Greek mainland, and four hours south of Athens.  This area is world renowned for its olive trees, olives (hence Calamata olives) and extra virgin olive oil.  In fact the bus trip to the hotel introduced us to the lush foliage, the rolling hills of olive orchards and grape vines, and beautiful wild flowers.

Olive Orchard -Messina

Olive Orchard -Messina

Arriving at our hotel we were thrilled to see the view from our porch door, allowing us to hear the crashing of the waves on the shore night and day, and enjoy the spectacular views, the windsurfers and the birds.

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To better understand what I am talking about have a look at the video below:

We just couldn’t soak up enough of the porch and the natural beauty surrounding us, thus we decided not to sign up for the variety of bus tours offered under the auspices of the medical conference we were part of, and opted to enjoy a few “slow trips” on our own, making sure we had plenty of time to explore at our own pace and return to our room to enjoy “our”
view.

The first trip we took was to the town of Pylos, about a thirty minute bus ride from the hotel.  Pylos is an ancient town, built on the side of a mountain, and highly reminiscent of the Amalfi coast that we recently had visited.

Pylos

Pylos

While walking around the streets of Pylos, enjoying the fine weather, the friendly people, and the beautiful sites, we chanced on an elderly woman who threw us a greeting.

Throwing us a Flower

Throwing us a Flower

We climbed up to the newer fortress, from the 16th century and learned about the troubled history of the Greeks, particularly as they fought off the Turks.

Castle at Pylos

Castle at Pylos

Aside from the nineteenth century cannons and cannon balls that flew here, we enjoyed the expansive vistas and beautiful views.

cannons and cannon balls

cannons and cannon balls

Top of the Castle

Top of the Castle

View from the Castle

View from the Castle

Our second outing consisted of a 20 km bike ride to the Voidakillia Beach famed to be the most beautiful beach in Greece.  It is shaped like the Greek letter Omega, and because of the natural breakers, the water is very calm, albeit still quite cold.

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Voidakillia Beach

The bike ride also took us around the Gialova Lagoon, which is a beautiful nature reserve.

Panorama View of Bay

Panorama View of Gialova Lagoon

If you look carefully at the picture you can actually see Mike on his bicycle on the far right.

This adventure was just four days long, yet undoubtedly it was a slice of slow travel.  While we didn’t meet many Greek people, and the only word we learned in Greek was thank you – “ef̱charistó̱”, we enjoyed the scenery, the feta cheese and olives, the relaxation, the sun, the wind, the beach and most especially the crashing waves of the Ionian Sea.

 

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