Costa Brava and Girona Pyrenees, southern Europe’s most comprehensive and sought-after cycle-tourism destination
The combination of a unique region that lives and breathes cycling and a range of specialised services have earned the destination the coveted title of “Made for Cycling”
You know what we’re talking about – the world looks different when you’re on a bicycle, everything moves at the right speed and you become part of a moving landscape. In the Costa Brava and Girona Pyrenees there are kilometres and kilometres of safe cycling routes and roads that will have you savouring every stretch of territory as if you were creating it from scratch with every rise and fall of the pedals, whether you are on a road, mountain or gravel bike.
The extensive network of secondary roads, tracks and paths will lead you through varied and surprising landscapes. So, on the same ride you can connect the Mediterranean’s best coves with medieval towns nestled among volcanoes and high-mountain passes in the Pyrenees.
Do you still need convincing? No problem! This area offers pleasant temperatures all year round, varied and beautiful landscapes and classic peaks and routes that we should all experience at least once in our lives – from the famous Hincapie Loop in the Gavarres mountains, Vallter 2.000, the Catalan cycling summit at an altitude of 2,150 metres, Rocacorba and Mare de Déu del Mont, or the coastal road from Lloret-Tossa de Mar to Sant Feliu de Guíxols. These are just some of the gems that make the Costa Brava and Girona Pyrenees a dream destination for cycle-tourism fans.
The day the whole world discovered us
It’s been a long time since Johnny Weltz, former professional cyclist with Fagor and later technical director of US Postal, chose the Costa Brava and Girona Pyrenees as his training base in 1986. Weltz was one of the pioneers, but the real turning point came with the arrival in Girona of Lance Armstrong’s famous –for better or worse– team. The fact is that since then this area has made huge strides towards developing its enormous potential as a sports destination, offering complete cycling services and experiences, meaning that we can plan a personalised cycling holiday for you with highly specialised services. From top-of-the-range cycle hire, including electric bicycles, and accommodation designed to take care of cyclists’ needs, with specific garages for storing bikes, laundry service for technical clothing, physiotherapists and even personalised nutrition. Take it from a seasoned traveller, few places offer this level of specialisation.
In Girona and the Costa Brava people grow up in the saddle
It’s certainly true that the firm backing of professional teams has generated a previously unimaginable draw, but local cycle-tourists have known for decades that right here at home they have everything a region could need to become the envy of the continent. There is a long and popular tradition of cycling clubs in the region’s towns and cities which teach youngsters from a very early age about the benefits of cycling and how to love the sport and make it a part of their daily lives. There are dozens of amateur clubs and the tradition reaches all the way to the very top levels of professionalisation, with teams such as the UCI Continental Massi Tactic Women’s Team and the nursery for promising young cyclists, the Sub 23 Antiga Casa Bellsolà Girona Cycling Team.
As we have already mentioned, the cycling universe has evolved in all aspects, to the point that the Girona Pyrenees and the Costa Brava nowadays have their own important incoming travel agencies, manufacturers of bicycles, components and cycle clothing such as Megamo, Tactic, Sismic and Chapter 3 by David Millar, specialised medical and physiotherapy services such as the Centre Cenit and some spectacular shops dedicated exclusively to the cycling world such as Bici Escapa, Biking Point and very soon Velodrom Barcelona.
The added value of having specialised professional local businesses
There are cycling fans in all categories who prefer to rely on the support of professionals when discovering new areas or trying unique experiences. Here you have the added value of access to many companies that use the very best local knowledge and their specialised services to come up with plans for all levels of difficulty and adapted to suit your budget. Even in the buzzing world of e-Bikes you will also find specific routes to enjoy on electric bikes, with a wide range of ideas that include all the services you need so that you won’t have to worry about a thing and can just focus on exploring the region.
They are experts in understanding your needs in order to design bespoke cycling programmes; people who know the area like the back of their hands and who take care of everything so that you can just start pedalling and enjoying some of the most emblematic routes and uphill stages to cycling’s most legendary mountain passes.
A full calendar of events and competitions…
Stemming from this deep-rooted love of cycling, a wide range of competitions have been developed over the years, drawing thousands of participants to the area annually, including world champions in different disciplines and well-known international figures. The great variety of events satisfies the most experienced cyclists as well as those who are just starting to clock up the miles. The most important dates on the calendar include the great cycling festival Sea Otter Europe Costa Brava-Girona –southern Europe’s leading event–, the Girona Cycling Festival, Terra de Remences, 100% Tondo, Gran Fondo Lloret-Costa Brava, 3 Nacions, Gran Fondo DlaX, the Cadí Challenge, Transpyr Backroads, and more.
…With the world’s best cyclists passing through
And in the professional arena, these roads have seen some of the cycling world’s greats passing through in international competitions such as the Volta a Catalunya and the Vuelta a España, and even a stage in the Tour de France in Girona in 2009. Here you’ll find some roads and mountain passes (map link) that have witnessed the legendary feats of the best cyclists in the world.
In addition, the best MTB riders on the planet meet at the different qualifying heats for the world championship circuit that are held in Girona.
A hobby that has become a philosophy of life
This growing specialisation as a cycle-tourism destination might be explained by the fact that Girona’s people live alongside many professionals from the cycling world who have chosen the region as the perfect place to train. The result? An authentic and unique setting for bicycle aficionados that permeates the roads, squares and alleyways, where it’s quite possible to come across a pro out training. There are many professional teams from all over the world who have chosen the Costa Brava and Girona Pyrenees as the location for their training camps, from Kasia Niewiadoma to Michael Woods and Dan Martin, among many others.
It is also no coincidence that some of the legendary cycling cafés in Girona are run by professional cyclists, such as La Fábrica by Christian Meyer, Federal Café by Rory Sutherland and Hors Catégorie by Robert Gesink. That cyclists have declared eternal love for coffee is easy to understand. A good cup of coffee, apart from the pleasure it brings to your senses, also provides that spark that is sometimes called for in order to cycle at a lively pace, or to attempt several mountain passes one after the other. Now imagine having that delicious cup of coffee accompanied by a freshly baked cake, surrounded by a cycling community and atmosphere that blends the cosmopolitan and authentically local. That’s exactly what you have here –welcome to Girona! One of the cities with the highest ratio of cycling cafés per inhabitant.
A genuine paradise for MTB
Even those who live in this area still discover new paths and different landscapes every time they go out on their mountain bikes. MTB is very popular around here and it’s unusual to find a garage without one, its tyres still hot from the last outing in the spectacular natural areas nearby. It is the perfect place to discover charming mountain villages and experience the priceless feeling of freedom cycling from the Pyrenees to the Costa Brava, among farmlands and crystalline waters. As an example, this video is just a taster of the countless possibilities within your grasp to enjoy MTB in the Costa Brava and Girona Pyrenees.
A dizzying descent through the region’s Bike Parks
La Molina Bike Park is a reference in MTB downhill and enduro. Taking advantage of the resort’s ski lifts, it offers 13 downhill tracks for riders of all levels, a cross-country circuit and a wood-park. In total, 27 kilometres of thrilling adapted rides with all kinds of elements that snake through dense forests and unique landscapes.
The Costa Brava is also considered one of the best places for single track, with circuits in the Gavarres and Guilleries mountains, with endless tracks that allow gentle initiations to this sport, without the technical complexity of the more demanding routes, such as the Bike Park in Osor. This park offers long, technical and difficult circuits for a dizzying descent with carefully designed Canadian-style elements, walkways and wooden bridges that blend perfectly into the surroundings.
And right in the heart of the Costa Brava you’ll find the very best enduro site at the BTT Salines-Bassegoda centre, which even hosts world enduro circuit trials.
And, as you might expect with such strong interest in MTB and a region so perfectly suited to enjoying it, the best competitions in this segment just had to arrive. We’re not only talking about the multitude of popular races that are held in the area, but also internationally recognised trials such as the Tramun, the International Catalan Cup in Banyoles and Girona and the prestigious and demanding stage races such as the Girona MTB Challenge, Transpyr Coast to Coast and the Catalunya Bike Race.
What’s more, this great love of cycling throughout the year has led to the creation of self-guided routes in stages, such as Cerdanya 360, Trinxat BTT, BI6000, Gran Volta a l’Empordà, Tracks dels Volcans, Pedals d’en Serrallonga and Pedals de les Gavarres, among others.
Greenways, the cycle-tourism that best adapts to your rhythm
The magic of cycle-tourism can be experienced alone or in company. The destination doesn’t matter, it’s all about the excitement of conquering the journey metre by metre, enjoying a route that holds surprises you cannot even imagine. The former train tracks that once connected towns in the Pyrenees and Costa Brava with their industries have today become a carefully maintained network of Greenways. There are up to five adapted ways, such as the Carrilet Route (57 km), with gentle rises and different degrees of difficulty. Following these routes you can get to know different zones while cycling more than 140 kilometres and passing through thirty or so towns without having to watch out for traffic, allowing you to focus exclusively on enjoying life on a bicycle.
Here you’ll find an extensive network of cycle-tourism routes from the Pyrenees to the Costa Brava, combining both roads and mountain tracks, complemented by nature, gastronomy, leisure and experiences to enjoy as a family or with friends, while discovering a rich cultural heritage with its time-honoured traditions, from the highest mountains to the most secluded beaches.
Gravel, a lifestyle with the name of a cycling discipline
Born from a passion for cycling kilometres and kilometres on secondary roads and dirt tracks we have gravel riding, which has today become a social and sporting phenomenon. It is a format that allows riders to connect with themselves on their bikes; a lifestyle that unites hundreds of fans who have found their own niche in the cycling world in this discipline, and which has taken incoming travel agencies and guided tour operators by storm, producing all the facilities to hire all the necessary material, including top-of-the-range gravel bikes.
And if there is one route that works perfectly to strengthen this bond, as well as links between regions, it is the Pirinexus: 353 kilometres that connect the province of Girona with Catalan-speaking French areas via greenways, rural tracks and local roads with little traffic. There is also the River Ter Route, a 220 km route that starts at an altitude of more than 2,000 metres in the heart of the Girona Pyrenees and traces the path of the River Ter all the way to its mouth in the Mediterranean. You’ll experience the pleasure of cycling as never before in complete safety along a well-signposted route and with a comprehensive range of complementary services and accommodation that will allow you to enjoy the journey at the perfect pace.
And of course, on top of all that we have the races to put your skills to the test and build that community feeling – something much appreciated by gravel fans. There are one-day races as well as stage routes, such as the Traka Gravel series, Sa Costa Brava, La Santa Vall, the Pirinexus 360 Gravel and the Girona Gravel Ride, the latter forming part of the calendar of sporting trials in the Sea Otter Europe Costa Brava-Girona Bike Show.
What if you wake up in the Pyrenees and feel like visiting the Costa Brava?
It can happen, of course it can! So, what if one day you wake up in the Pyrenees and fancy seeing the sea? You can join José Antonio Hermida and accompany him on a dream journey that combines gravel sections with secondary roads, mountain passes and greenways. Hermida is one of the people who knows this area best and is an international MTB ambassador in Girona, world champion in 2010 and silver medal winner in the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004.
Set the challenge as a journey taken under your own steam, it’s not a competition or a race against the stopwatch. We are talking about around 200 kilometres, much of it slightly downhill, which can be planned at an appropriate rhythm for your physical condition and in as many days as necessary. A journey from the mountains to the sea, an adventure that will be engraved on your memory and will reinforce your cyclist’s DNA.
Pictures: The Col Colective, Klassmark, Volata, Daniel Hugues, Tristan Cardew, Batista-Sans, Archivo de imágenes PTCBG