Girona: More Than Just Road Cycling and Coffee Shops
Girona has become synonymous with road cycling training and boutique coffee shops, but the area has A LOT more to offer, and I’m talking about awesome GRAVEL! After our latest XPDTN3 trip to the Pyrenees mountains, we felt it was time to look for lower elevations, and enjoy the sea breeze for a while. Text & photos by Marc Gasch.
Introduction to Rocacorba Cycling
Rocacorba Cycling is one of our 3T Experience Centers in Girona, based on the little town of Banyoles, with the team formed by road racers Ashleigh Moolman, Carl Pasio, parents Johan and Sandy Moolman, plus guide, coffee lover, and all-around nice guy Edward Greene. It was Edward who suggested a trip to Girona following some of the gravel routes he had been creating for his clients who wanted a Review of the dirt on drop bars. The idea of a travel XPDTN3 trip to Girona had also been on my mind for quite some time, so it was a perfect match. Edward did an amazing job creating the GPS tracks, so this was one of those “easy to organize” (for me) XPDTN3 trips, where I just need to show up with my camera gear and document the ride. Thanks, guys! Check the short video we did to get an overview of the trip before going deeper into the photos and story:
Day 1: Girona City to the Costa Brava
Rolling from Girona City to the Costa Brava is all about experiencing the Medieval towns scattered in the Empordà region. Charming villages linked by fast open gravel roads eventually lead you to the Costa Brava; Girona’s famous coastline. The rugged coast made up of cliffs, coves, and rocky outcrops is a sight to behold and a worthy final destination for day 1.
Day 2: Agricultural Region and Banyoles
Leaving the coast behind the route runs through the agricultural region with open gravel tracks, farm roads, and a bit of singletrack before arriving in the town of Banyoles. The eponymous lake is the focal point of this sport-centric town which played host to the rowing competitions during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Day 3: Rocacorba Climb and Return to Girona City
Wheels circle back to Girona city for the final days’ riding but not without the challenge of the famous Rocacorba climb to get out of the way first. Whilst the paved road known as the local testing climb for Girona’s many resident pro riders, the gravel route takes in the lower slopes of the mountain while still throwing in some double-figure gradients for good measure. With the climb dealt with the fast run back into Girona brings an end to XPDTN3.
Day 1: Girona to L’Escala
That was indeed a good recap of what we experienced on Day 1. Even for me, as a Catalan citizen, and having been in Girona before, the route was a (very nice) surprise. World-class gravel terrain, no doubt. What struck me most was the fact that you can start riding on gravel just 5 minutes out of the center of Girona. I know Girona is famous for that on the paved side of things, road pros loving having their coffee in the old city town, and being just 5 minutes later climbing on one of the (big) hills next to the city. Well, the same happens on gravel. We stayed in the conveniently located and recently rebuilt Hotel Nord 1901, in the old town, and next to the Rocacorba Café, the perfect spot to join the nightlife in the city center and start your route without having to deal with too much traffic. Being a “Bike-Friendly” hotel with cycling facilities on the reception floor, and a easy place to store your bike downstairs (or bring it to the room, cause those are huge) Hotel Nord is the perfect starting point for your XPDTN3 trip in Girona. And if you come to Girona without a cycling partner, Lluís, the hotel owner is an avid cyclist himself, so maybe you can go together for a ride! After the Instagram-friendly and mandatory Girona bridge photo that every tourist takes here, we pointed our gravel tires to the Mediterranean Sea, our stop for the night in the little town of L’Escala, famous for their tasty anchovies and amazing beaches. We are at the heart of the Costa Brava, one of the main tourist attractions of Catalonia, but it’s still June, and no high season yet, so the beaches are quiet and mostly empty. Probably one of the best times of the year to visit this area.
Gravel Riding and Beautiful Landscapes
As mentioned before, just a few minutes after leaving the center of the city, we are already climbing a perfect doubletrack gravel road in Els Angels, a combo of perfect gravel and some paved sections that got our legs warmed up for the trip. Amazing views of the Girona Cathedral below us, and perfect temps! Life is good. Late Spring is in full effect here and we are lucky to have all the green fields full of red poppies to embellish our photos. In a few weeks, all those fields will be either yellow or cropped, but right now we are enjoying this as we made our way across ancient houses and medieval towns to the Mediterranean Sea.
The good temps allowed us to carry a very minimal weight on our bikepacking packs. Loren, being the badass he is, won’t even carry an emergency rain jacket. Trusting Accuweather 100% apparently. The feeling of traveling from one point to another in self-sufficiency, but with a lightweight bike is awesome. I did the classical pannier trip when I was young, where our bikes weighted like 25 kg, and frankly, 75% of the stuff we were carrying was never used. Thankfully that has changed, with both my own experience telling me what to pack, and also thanks to new bike gear that allows this kind of trips. If you are jumping from hotel to hotel, you don’t even need a toothbrush! Ask for one at reception. No deo needed if you are good friends with your cycling partner. You will shave when you get back home. Especially in good weather and temps, bring just 1 set of cycling clothing and wash it overnight. Rain jacket doubles as an extra layer for the night at the hotel. Socks? Yes, you can wear them 3 days in a row. No big deal. That’s how we get our packs so small, and frankly, you could be even make them smaller if you are not carrying 2 cameras, 2 lenses, a DJI Drone, a couple of Gopros and, especially, all the damned chargers and cables for all those gadgets…
Exploring Medieval Towns
Halfway to the route, Monells is one of those medieval little towns you cannot miss. Take your time to have a coffee in its amazing Plaça Jaume I (Main Square), admiring the hundred year old stones all the building here are made from. Not all the towns in this route are as cool as this one, so take your time to shoot your Instagram captures to make your friends back home jealous… From here, the route keeps alternating between solitary secondary roads with hardly any car, with perfect gravel tracks, the kind of dirt you can ride pretty fast. We chose to use our favorite WTB Venture 47 tires, but you can use smaller volume tires here, as the terrain is not so technical in this area (will get a bit trickier on the third day). Anyway, having all the WTB catalogue at our disposal, we both Loren and I of settled (for now) on the Venture, the tire I recommend to everyone asking me about the perfect all-around 650b gravel tire, where you can go 45km/h on a road and be hitting a technical rocky singletrack in the following 5 minutes.
Arriving at L’Estartit
Soon we started smelling the sea breeze in the distance, signaling we were getting close to our first coastal town in the Mediterranean Sea, L’Estartit. Home to the famous Medes Islands, a group of 7 small islands once a pirate hideaway, and now a Natural Park included in a special protection area…