It is in many ways a nation unto itself—proud, independent and rich with heritage. Catalonia is the land of Picasso, Dalí, and Gaudí, who clearly drew inspiration from the stunning surroundings that define this landscape: from the towering Pyrénées to volcanic flats, and rolling pastoral hills to rugged Costa Brava and its azure waters. These scapes and roads combined create an explorational feast for both the casual and more avid cyclist. What a delight it is to experience this region’s diversity of flavours in tapas-sized servings or grilled over an open flame, accompanied by a refreshing blend from the region or a reserva; a treasure from Catalonian harvests of years gone by, all while contemplating the prospect of what tomorrow’s ride will bring.
Day 1. The Garrotxa
After our rendezvous in Barcelona, we’ll drive just over an hour and a half away into the heart of the Garrotxa Natural Park, an ever-changing landscape of dormant volcanoes and rich soils extending from the foothills of the Pyrénées. It is criss-crossed by alluring roads which lead into the Empordá, many of which you’ll become intimately familiar with. Pedalling from the village of Santa Pau, a medieval settlement dating back to the 13thC, we’ll soar on a ribbon of road through the Garroxta to Banyoles where we’ll lunch in the main plaza among the local families and regional travellers who come on weekends to enjoy the shade, serenity, and sport offered by the town’s lake. This afternoon, we’ll enjoy more glorious scenery and quiet roads before reaching our hotel near Figueres in the Alt Empordá. You may want to explore Xim and Ana’s charming property or take a dip in the pool before learning how to make the alioli in David’s kitchen—so good, you won’t believe what’s NOT in it! This Catalan specialty will add a fourth dimension to tonight’s fideua (a Catalan dish made for times of celebration, similar to paella).
Day 2. Figueres
The next morning’s ride is a foray into the Alt Empordà, a region with borders of both geographical and political significance, nestled between the Pyrénées and the Mediterranean. The tranquility of the rolling fields punctuated by the occasional masia (the traditional Catalan farmhouse) and its proximity to the coast attract city folk from Barcelona when they are ready to escape to the countryside. From time to time during your ride, you’ll see the stark and scarred landscape left by a forest fire in 2012. The fire ravaged hundreds of hectares starting at the border with France 30 km away and its southern limit was quite literally at the back door of our hotel. It’s quite incredible to see how nature begins to redeem itself after such trauma. This morning feel free to stop as much as you please—for a café con leche, photo ops, or even to try speaking Catalan with the locals (remember, Spanish is the second language here). Or if you want to ride, ride, ride— we’ve got that covered as well. No matter which option you choose, come lunch time you’ll arrive at the Vinyeta winery. Catalan wines are a well-kept secret and a new generation of winemakers like Josep Serra are eager to share their passion. We’ll tour the grounds, ones that include olive oil and fresh egg production, before sitting down to a home cooked meal of local specialties. Afterwards, it’s a 20-kilometer pedal back to the hotel to enjoy a much deserved siesta. This evening we’ll drive to the nearby town of Figueres, and enter into the largest surrealist “object” of the world, the Teatro-Museo de Salvador Dalì. According to Dalì (the creator of the museum as well as the artist who filled it), the structure is a work of art in itself which is merely accentuated by the hundreds of pieces found inside its doors. Our expert Dalì guide will lead us through on a private tour. We’ll listen to weird anecdotes about how Dali actually lived in the museum for a while and took pleasure observing the visitors who were bewildered by the amassed oddities. After our visit, a short stroll takes us to Figueres’ finest farm to fork kitchen. Bon profit!
Day 3. Baix Emporda
This morning we set out on bikes directly from our hotel. A gorgeous cycle to the south and our next hotel located in the Baix Emporda, takes us through a timeless landscape as we parallel the Mediterranean coast. The towns and hamlets we traverse have witnessed the habitation of indigenous Iberian peoples, followed by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans, all creating and leaving behind a network of trading routes along the coast. Forests and fields intermingle with vineyards and olive groves under azure skies. Stop for lunch en route or bike directly to Mas de Torrent, our Relais and Chateaux digs for a poolside snack. This evening you’ll be dining on your own wherever you wish! So it’s time to enjoy the property and its amazing spa and gardens before you head out (or stay in) for dinner. Should you not decide to have a lovely dinner on the hotel’s terrace, your guides will have some great restaurants to recommend in one of the many picturesque towns nearby. Be sure to let them know what you are looking for.
Day 4. The Mediterranean Coast
The following day we head out directly from our hotel by bike. A longer or shorter ride takes us through the valley of Medieval villages to the astonishingly preserved town of Pals. Here we’ll stop for a delicious lunch before meeting Sandra, a native of nearby Begur who will join those interested in a walk around the village of Pals to learn about the Empordá region’s history. Rich in pirates and mercenaries, the locals were quick to fortify their medieval towns. Re-fueled and edified, the choice of more spectacular riding through the quiet countryside of the Baix Empordá or beelining it back to our delightful hotel and tempting spa is yours. This evening a short transfer will bring us to Bell-Lloc Winery where a lovely dinner and wine pairing await.
Day 5. Exploring the Mediterranean Coast
The following morning we zip through the green hills of the Baix Empordà on four wheels to find our bikes awaiting us just above the seaside town of Tossa de Mar. Also awaiting us: a stunning ride that hugs the Mediterranean shore with views around every corner. The climbs are plentiful but short and sweet the exhilaration of the vistas and descents renders them well worth it. By midday, we roll into Sant Feliu de Guixols and park our bikes port-side to join our skipper Pepa herself and her captain/husband Sergio on the sailboat, appropriately named, Pepa Bandera II. This schooner was built in 1985 in Bilbao, Spain and has taken our hosts on Caribbean explorations, across the Atlantic and the Pacific, Alaska, etc. Imagine the tales they have to tell! We’ll cruise along the coast, with panoramas of the rugged Catalan topography and find the right cove to drop anchor in the azure sea. We’ll enjoy lunch and a refreshing swim in a tucked away cove before returning to shore and our hotel. After one last opportunity to soak up some afternoon downtime, a short drive brings us to final night dinner. We’ll raise a glass to our week’s journey and experience a traditional Catalan feast. With a bit of luck, we’ll be joined by a couple of friends, come to serenade us. Close your eyes, but only after locating your glass, and listen to Habaneras, songs brought home by seafaring Catalan fisherman and merchants after seeking their fortunes in the New World.
Day 6. Homeward Bound
After one final scrumptious breakfast together, our private coach takes you to your designated dropoff location. Adios amigos!