Explore: Where the sea and the Pyrenees meet

Rouleur spends two days riding on some of the most beautiful roads and paths in the Empordà region north of Girona, a place of inspiration for the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí

This article was produced in association with the Costa Brava Girona Tourist Board

Costa Brava, in the northeast of Catalunya, gets its name from the wild coastline, with many small beaches hidden between crags and cliffs. Costa Brava means ‘rugged coast’ but ‘brava’ can also be fierce or even bad-tempered, due to the Tramuntana wind that blows ferociously from the north, especially in winter time.

This is where the Pyrenees merge into the Mediterranean Sea, though they do not do so in the most peaceful way, and it is as if the coastline has been modelled by an especially playful artist. Cycling in this area is exciting because that geographical drama has also entranced many creative souls: from Salvador Dalí, with a family house in Cadaqués, to Truman Capote, who finished Cold Blood Legacy in a hotel in Palamós.

There are lots of cultural sights to take in, while Girona, the main city in this area, has become home for many pro cyclists in the last decade. Costa Brava has almost everything for a great riding expedition: winding roads, rolling terrain, flat areas, big hills and small roads with no traffic. It also has good weather and small villages to stop by for a coffee or eat the local food.

We sampled some of the best it has to offer through a gravel route that explores the Ter River basin and visits small medieval towns and a road route that runs through the area of the Bay of Roses to the Cap de Creus and the Sant Pere de Rodes Monastery.

Route one: Gravel among pines and mediaeval villages

On our first day, we explored a 116km route along tracks, roads with little traffic and some very technical paths, linking some of the most unique and outstanding spots in the Baix Empordà. We accumulated little more than 600 metres of elevation gain, which meant that the ride was on basically flat territory. This allowed us to enjoy what this area can offer at our own pace. You can just submerge yourself in the landscape and all the small villages with medieval buildings on the route. You can also go fast and enjoy pushing yourself on smooth tracks if you wish.

The route is circular. It started and ended in the county capital, La Bisbal d’Empordà, a town of just over 11,000 inhabitants and famous for its pottery industry, which lies between the Gavarres mountain massif and the Empordà plain. The route began by subtly caressing the lower slopes of Les Gavarres and almost all the elevation gain was on short steep slopes in the middle of pine forests, but these didn’t take too much effort. The route is gentle and pleasant so it allows riders the chance to enjoy the spectacular landscapes and locations.

In a few kilometres we reached the first highlight of the day: the village of Monells, whose Gothic architecture remains almost intact. Together with Pals and Peratallada, it is one of the iconic villages of medieval Empordà. There are spots like Dels Arcs Street and the De l’Oli and Jaume I Squares that are well worth a visit for their charm and beauty. However, the interest of this route is not only architectural, scenic and cultural, but also gastronomic. There are a multitude of excellent restaurants where you can stop and regain your strength.

Once we left Monells, the route took us along an enjoyable stretch of path. Leafy cork oaks provided us with shade, especially welcome in the hottest months. After passing through the towns of Corçà, La Talaia and Foixà we arrived at Colomers by crossing the Ter River, whose waters originate 200km to the northwest. In fact, the source has cycling connotations, because it rises in the peaks that surround the iconic Vallter 2000 pass, climbed every year by thousands of cycling enthusiasts and with a long history in races like Volta Catalunya.

The Ter was our travelling companion for a long time that day. Its waters have contributed to the economic development of the area since ancient times. The agricultural sector, especially apples and rice, has forever been irrigated by the currents of the Ter. We worked our way through the winding streets of Colomers in an entertaining zigzag and then advanced up the subtle slopes between pine forests. We passed through the towns of Verges, La Tallada d’Empordà and Bellcaire d’Empordà, before we left behind the last slopes of the route and entered the great Empordà plain.

Geometrically arranged apple orchards were the main backdrop to our ride for a long time. Then we took fast tracks that allowed us to reach the coast, passing through Torroella de Montrgí, overshadowed by the silhouette of its castle. Just touching the coastline, we pedalled through the streets of L’Estartit, with views of the Medes Islands, an archipelago of seven small islands. From there we entered sandy tracks and small paved roads to reach the Gola del Ter, where the Mediterranean Sea and the Ter River mix their currents in an idyllic haven of calm and clear waters.

The Gola del Ter is a placid and wide area that allows many water sports enthusiasts to windsurf, kayak or paddle board, protected from the big waves and sea currents. But it is also part of the Natural Park of Montgrí and Illes Medes, a rich ecosystem of great scenic, natural and cultural interest. It is worth stopping here just to enjoy the views.

Back on the bike, we continued to follow the river and temporarily moved away from the coast in a westerly direction. We crisscrossed the Ter at Torroella de Montgrí, then later again turned back to the coast passing rice fields, which in summer show their most intense green side. Without the waters of the Ter, rice cultivation would be impossible here. The local rice, known as Pals rice, is named after the main settlement in this area, a mediaeval town with cobbled streets and Gothic-style stone buildings that are part of the legacy of a clearly feudal past.

We then arrived at Peratallada. This pearl of Catalan Gothic architecture is built on an outcrop of sandstone and its wall is carved directly into the rock. Peratallada or Pals are both great places to stop and enjoy a rice dish or a sweet black pudding. If you prefer something sweet you can dig into fritters, which are typical pastries from the Empordà. And from Peratallada it was just a few kilometres back to our final destination, La Bisbal.

The route has so many elements: history, food and pleasant tracks which are rideable at a good speed. The weather is very mild all year round, although July and August can be a little hot. In that case, you can ride early in the morning or in the evening and enjoy the warm summer light or even the sunset.

Route two: If Salvador Dalí was a cyclist, he would ride here

We headed 50km further north to face another circular route that starts and ends in Roses. The coastline here, at the northern end of the gulf, has flat beaches and fine sand, a calm interruption in the otherwise typical rocky and craggy Costa Brava. This 86km route has about 1,400m of altitude gain. And we sensed immediately that this route was a little more challenging.

Again, the first few kilometres of the route were some of the hardest ones: we quickly gained almost 300m climbing the Coll del Bombo pass. After this, we descended towards the town of Cadaqués.

Cadaqués was the residence of the famous Catalan artist Salvador Dalí. His home in the cove of Port Lligat is now a museum, a sanctuary for tourists and visitors who want to know where he lived and where this artist was inspired to create his distorted works. Dalí lived in this former fisherman’s house with his wife Gala until her death in 1982. The attachment Dalí had to Port Lligat and his love for Gala are represented in one of his famous quotes: “We won’t have flowers, or dogs, only the arid landscape and our passion. We will grow old, with our intelligence, together.”

Dalí’s surrealist aesthetic was surely inspired by some of the landscapes and spots we enjoyed on this route. Cap de Creus is a container of dreamlike shapes, the home of rocks with a hallucinogenic air and animal appearance that are straight from a Dalí canvas. This rocky cape is part of a natural park and is the most easterly spur of the Iberian Peninsula. It reaches the waters of the Mediterranean as the last buttress of the Pyrenees mountain range. Beyond, the mountains dive into the sea.

The abrupt relief of this small peninsula is due to the relationship between the composition of the rocks, the deformation produced by tectonic forces and the erosion caused by the Tramuntana wind. When the Tramuntana blows, it whips and wears down the already capricious rock formations of Cap de Creus and the surrounding area. The surrealistic deformation of the rocks in this area is also due to the salinity of the environment. Scarce vegetation and low rainfall have given birth to a wild and impressive landscape.

This territory is an open air lesson in what is known in geology as metamorphism. It’s almost lunar in character here. By bike you can reach the most easterly point of this cape, the Cap de Creus lighthouse. Its restaurant is the perfect place to stop for a short break, take a breath of fresh air after the continuous steep slopes of the area and contemplate this part of the Costa Brava.

Here the Mediterranean is the lord and master and its waters stretch hundreds of miles to the east. While returning along the same road towards Cadaqués, we passed through the Paratge de Tudela. This plain, dotted with delirious rocky figures, was one of the places where Dalí conceived and contemplated some of his greatest works. The artist once described this space as “a mythological place made for gods rather than humans”.

After 33km we were back in Cadaqués, where you can wander through picturesque streets with whitewashed houses and artistic spirit. It is known for the beauty of its labyrinthine old town and the church of Santa Maria. We left Cadaqués and started climbing again. From sea level we climbed some 250m to reach the pass of Perafita. From this pass we descended along a winding road to El Port de la Selva, another coastal town that was once a fishing village, that deserves a stop. Its seafront is much wider than its neighbour Cadaqués.

In El Port de la Selva we began perhaps the most demanding part of the day. The ascent to the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes is long, about eight kilometres. We climbed 500m along the winding, sinuous, aesthetically pleasing and panoramic GIP 6041 road but at the top a great gift awaited: the views over the sea. We could see places like El Port de la Selva, Llançà, Colera and further north. The sparse vegetation allowed us to have a wide view of the Gulf of Lion, which was hidden to us until then.

The culmination of the route’s biggest ascent is the imposing monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes. Built on a spur of the Serra de Rodes mountain range, it is a good example of Catalan Romanesque architecture, being one of the most architecturally sophisticated examples of this style, and its origins date back to the 11th century. It was the main spiritual centre of the county of Empúries, and the large dimensions of the monastic complex give an idea of the splendour and importance that it had in the past.

It is very interesting to observe how the different buildings have adapted to the terrain and are organised around the cloister and the church. Because of its beauty and heritage value, it deserved a stop on our tour, and it also gave us a visual reference while climbing, which is always a motivation.

Continuing along the same minor road that we ascended to Sant Pere de Rodes, we descended towards Vilajuïga. In the middle of the descent you can see the Canigó massif in the distance, in the middle of the axial Pyrenees. Although we could feel the sea so close and you can never escape its presence, this is still a mountain region as well. We completed the descent and rode through a flat agricultural landscape, dotted with vineyards of the Empordà classification, which allowed us to process what we saw in a route that took us fully into the harshest landscape, punished by the natural elements, but also allowed us to get to know unique areas of natural and human dimensions. On this ride, there is the best of everything.

Tactic, versatility with Girona's DNA

Words by Olga Abalos 

Established in Girona since 1998, Tactic is a cycling brand that has captured the DNA of this singular area under the influence of the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees that has become one the most well-known cycling destinations thanks to the influx of professional riders in the last 20 years. Their constant contact with the local cycling community has allowed them to launch two of their flagship collections.

On the one hand, there is the Origin jersey and the Signature bib shorts, which both David and Ània used for the road route that goes to Cap de Creus. While the jersey is versatile and designed for mild and warm climates, the Signature bib shorts, equipped with a high quality Italian bandana with three densities and EIT ECO XFIFTY fabric for excellent temperature control and reinforced pelvic support, are ideal for high intensity rides with good aerodynamics. Together, these two pieces of clothing provide a good balance between comfort and performance.

On the other hand, the Nomad collection was used for the gravel route and comes from close work with Girona’s growing community of cyclists. The Nomad T-shirt is ideal for off-road and more adventurous rides. Loose-fitting, it is made from a merino wool blend that offers breathability, comfort and odour resistance, especially for multi-day rides. If you're looking for a bike packing garment, the Nomad jersey is a great choice. The cargo shorts are also designed for long rides, with comfortable fabrics and reinforced seams as well as three pockets (two on the sides and one on the back) and a high quality bandana for both men and women.

A great thing about Tactic is that all the pieces are manufactured in their in-house workshops, which allows them to have good control of production, research into materials and even show their customers how their manufacturing process works. Anybody can drop by their factory and their facilities, which offer coffees, showers and a rest area for all cyclists, as well as its own shop to buy all their products.

Find out more information at Tactic-sport.com 

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