Girona, Catalunya: A Cyclists Paradise

Barri Vell, Girona

Girona is a cycling mecca, without the crowds. What I mean is that it should be crawling with cyclists, exploring the amazing routes around the region. But it’s surprisingly quiet. I spent 3 days recently cycling around the Gironés region, and what a base it is. Plus Girona is a lovely city to spend a few days in with great food, lots of history in the Barri Vell (old town) and reasonable prices.

2 May: Girona

Flights from Dublin are relatively cheap and arrive into Girona Airport, about 15km from the city. Most people get the bus to Barcelona, but those choosing to remain in Girona are rewarded. Girona is an old Roman city, will amazing Roman walls, as well as an impressive white stone Cathedral with 90 steps (I counted!) descending in front of it into a plaça below.

Luckily FC Barcelona were playing the first evening I arrived, so I watched it in a local bar. It was a joy to watch Messi score (another) hat trick and equal Gerd Mueller’s goalscoring record of 67 goals in one season. Truly a genius. I’m looking forward to the Barcelona derby on Saturday versus Espanyol, which will be a homage to Pep Guardiola as it’s his last game with the club.

View of University & Cathedral from Medieval City Walls, Girona
Map of my 3 rides around Girona

3 May: Cycle up Rocacorba

140km with 2000m ascent. Route: Girona – Olot – Santa Pau – Banyoles – Rocacorba – Girona

Rocacorba is one of the famous climbs around Girona, but what I learned is don’t leave it til the end of your 100km+ cycle, as your legs and lungs will complain! It’s a 13km climb of over 800m, from the lakeside at Banyoles to the top of Rocacorba, which gives you panoramic views of the vibrant green but hilly region below, as well as the snow-capped Pyrenees in the distance.

Rocaborba – I was banjaxed by then. From Catalunya May 2012

The first 100km were really nice, on quiet roads with great asphalt surfaces that made it a joy to cycle through the countryside. It was relatively flat, so covered 58km in 2 hours, just in time for a lunch stop outside Olot. The roads are perfect for cycling – no traffic, beautiful scenery (much greener than you’d think in Spain), lots of farmland, plenty of small towns and villages to pass through, the obligatory churches and local cafes.

Amazing view from Rocacorba, Estany Banyoles in far left. From Catalunya May 2012

The climbs started after lunch, with a nice climb up to Santa Pau, which is in the hills heading towards Banyoles. There was a nice fast descent with soft turns and then I stopped in Banyoles with it’s beautiful Estany (lake) overshadowed by the Pyrenees in the distance. The Olympics of 1992 came to Banyoles – it’s where the rowing was held.

Estany Banyoles. From Catalunya May 2012

Rocacorba is famous as a training climb for many pro cyclists who use it for interval training, due it its steep ascent, averaging 5.7% over 13km, but reaching over 10% in places. The record is about 26 minutes I’ve heard (check out this video of Ryder Hesjedal ascending in 29 mins in 2011). It took me an hour of heavy climbing in the heat. The kilometre signs on the roadside don’t exactly help, as you can’t forget HOW far you still have to climb. This blog gives a good idea of Rocacorba.


4-May: Els Angels

98km with 1100m climb: Route: Girona  – Els Angels – Pals – Calella de Palafrugell – La Bisbal d’Emporda – Girona

Els Angels is also a famous 400m climb outside Girona, with this year’s Volta a Catalunya passing through. There’s a monastery at the top, where Salvador Dalí got married, so that’s the other claim to fame. Compared to Rocacorba, it’s much flatter, so I enjoyed it a lot more (tip: that’s the benefit of doing the hard climb on day 1 – subsequent climbs are always easier!).

Old church in Pals. From Catalunya May 2012

Again, lots of green fields, crops and small sandstone villages. Pals was my favourite, a medieval town with well persevered cobblestone streets and medieval buildings, including a Roman church. From there, my goal was to reach the Mediterranean coast and have a nice lunch beside the sea. Calella is one of the many seaside towns on the coast, so I stopped off for some sardins as well as pa amb tomaquet. The route back was flat and fast, averaging 26kph for the whole trip.

Sardines for lunch in Calella. From Catalunya May 2012

That evening, I did a mini walking tour of the Barri Vell, which dates back to Roman times. There are impressive Medieval walls which you can walk along, on your way to the Cathedral or the less famous Basilica de Sant Feliu right beside it. The whole area is full of narrow streets, with all sorts of shops, cafes and restaurants to discover. The Banys Arabs (Arab Baths) date from the 12th century and would be more impressive, if you could go in and take a dip.

Motivation going up Els Angels. From Catalunya May 2012

The food is excellent, with lots of menu mitgdia’s for €10-13. I’d recommend either Konig which has great food and drink on a lovely terrace, or L’Amfora which has another great menu where I sampled cargots (snails), conill (rabbit) and crema catalana (custard dessert). The Mercat del Lleó de is also worth a visit for breakfast – it always impresses me how Mediterranean people are so into fresh vegetables, fruit, bread, fish and meat. It’s something that we should learn from in Ireland, rather than always going to huge supermarkets for processed food.

5 May: Sant Hilari

90km with 1000m climb. Route MapMyRide: Girona – Santa Coloma – Sant Hilari – Angles – Girona

By day 3, my legs were feeling heavier, so I took a shorter route up to a hilltop town, Sant Hilari. Saying that, there was a still a 20km gradual climb to 900m, but the receptionist in the hotel turned out to be a cyclist who recommended it. It’s a great spin, as again the roads are dead quiet but beautifully paved and with great scenery along the way. The first hour was flat, so it was nice to get a fast cadence and plough along like the pros in the Tour de France (pushing 40kph instead of ploughing through 20kph feels good!).

Some serious scenery. From Catalunya May 2012

The climb to Sant Hilari was much nicer than I expected. It was long but very gradual. I had podcasts to listen to, so learned a lot about The Dubliners as well as Andy Irvine and Paul Brady (through (Miriam O’Callaghan’s podcast series which I totally recommend). On a musical note, I also had Tiesto’s Club Life and Donal Dineen’s Small Hours to keep me company – their podcasts are well worth subscribing to.

Nice flat quiet roads. From Catalunya May 2012

The obligatory coffee stop in Sant Hilari was nice, an espresso boosted my energy and off I set for the descent back to Girona, as I’d a train to catch to Barcelona at 3.30pm. The descent was twisty and fast – with so little traffic you think the road is yours, but I’d one scare that got my heart pumping and made me think it can all go wrong so fast. I approached a blind corner, braked, but not enough and locked my back brake. I skidded across the white line onto the other side and luckily no car was oncoming. For the next 10 minutes your legs feel light as you think: “what if car was coming around the bend?” I’d be mincemeat. Tranquilo, tranquilo, I told myself.

Blue skies make cycling easy! From Catalunya May 2012

So all in all, a great 3 day trip to Girona. I definitely plan on returning and I’d recommend Girona Cycle Centre for rentals – they’re friendly shop is located in the Barri Vell and have a great selection of over 250 bikes. In the next blog post, I’m going to write about a magical night in the Camp Nou as well as running the mile around the Sagrada Familia.

Graffiti – In pensive mood. From Catalunya May 2012

4 thoughts on “Girona, Catalunya: A Cyclists Paradise

    1. hi david any tips for 2 beginner cyclists going to girona we will be based in sargo on the coast jus looking for a couple of handy routes
      regards michael

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