Cycling downhill, overlooking the Mediterranean sea, feeling the wind on my face, the speed, the freedom. Sports in Catalunya, I could feel the adrenaline pumping in my veins while venturing myself from the Pyrenees to Costa Brava. An adventurous trip mixed with great wine, delicious food and a sparkle of history. An experience I won’t forget!
I’m a big fan of outdoors activities: being in contact with nature, the freedom… It’s an incredible feeling. After enjoying Barcelona like a local and explore its surroundings, you can spare some time to appreciate nature and practice some sports in Catalunya. What about a cycling route from the Pyrenees to Costa Brava? Fancy a hiking to a medieval castle? Or kayaking through a Natural Park? Catalunya is like a “Disneyland” for sports enthusiasts.
Let’s get our bikes and cycle in Catalunya!
On my last trip to Spain (5th time and I can’t get enough), I was introduced to a very cool idea. A group of hostels got together to launch several sports activities including an itinerary of 3 days cycling from the Pyrenees to Costa Brava. Oh boy, I was thrilled! Cycle through the Pyrenees mountains and reach the beautiful beaches of Costa Brava? With a support car driving along? Yes, I’m in! And that’s how I got hooked up on the idea of doing some extreme sports in Catalunya.
The 3 days itinerary started in San Joan de les Abadesses, the old town keeps its medieval buildings and a monastery that dates back to the IV century. An interesting fact, there are two bridges in the city a modern one and a gothic one. The Gothic Pont Vell (old bridge) from XII century, is actually the newer bridge. During the Spanish Civil War, both bridges were destroyed and the modern bridge was rebuilt first. So technically, the new bridge is the old bridge. [sorry I got lost too :-p]
Insider’s tip: arrive one day before start cycling and head to a restaurant called La Teuleria, the food is absolutely gorgeous. Señor Alejandro runs the family restaurant for over 30 years, he is one of the most incredible characters I have ever met. The opportunity to enjoy a 100 years old wine on his private cellar while he shared some memories involving Salvador Dali was priceless. His cellar is a treasury, among the bottles from the best Spanish harvests, he also has wines that were specially made for the Pope, with the Vatican seal on it!
So, time to cycle, the first day was quite tough. There was a lot of climbing till reaching the highest point at Coll de Canes, 1120 meters above sea level. On the way we stopped in Ripoll to visit the Santa Maria Monastery, the gate is an impressive piece of gothic art. The good news is that after all the climbing comes the downhill part, about 10 km. Yeah, baby! You can go really, I mean really really fast, just take care on the turns.
The first day ended in Vall d’en Bas, where during a glorious lunch I was taught how to drink “Porró”, check this video to learn too. After lunch, with the batteries recharged, we went on a tour around the town and the Mallol medieval village. The old town looks like a set of Game of Thrones. Some alleys were quite spooky, I would not walk there alone during night time. If you fancy, there is a prison cell open for those who want to spend the night.
From Vall d’en Bas the journey headed to Banyoles. On the way, we passed by a lush green forest called “La Fageda d’en Jorda”. Incredible how the temperature dropped inside the forest, about 3-4 degrees! The forest is located in the La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park, but don’t worry, the last eruption happened 11.000 years ago.
Banyoles is famous as a summer destination, tourists love the beautiful lake and the amount of different watersports available. If you are looking for sports in Catalunya, Banyoles is your place. I spot the Belgium Triathlon team training while we were sailing around the lake. After the boat ride we treated ourselves with a fancy lunch at La Carpa, a Michelin awarded restaurant. Delicious food and impeccable service. Try the arroz and for dessert the Crema Catalan, wash it down with Ratafia a local herb liquor.
Day three, it means that our challenge was about to end, but not before a hiking to Sant Salvador de Verdera Castle, uphill of course. With some pauses for pictures, we got to the top in 1 hour. The trail is not that hard, you just need to take care with some loose rocks. The reward is the 360 view, mountains, sea, fields, beaches… Spare some time to visit the Benedictine Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes. Look up when you get inside the main church, the light passing through the windows creates a wonderful effect. I would love to see this place on season 6 of Game of Thrones! [They will shoot season 6 in Girona, so close… And yes, I’m a GOT addict!]
Back to the bikes for our final downhill, this time with a bonus: sea view. I found the road till Llançá a bit dangerous. Potholes, sharp curves plus the speed are not a good combination. You want to practice sports in Catalunya, but a visit to the hospitals is not in your plans, right? So slow down on the curves 😉
Don’t forget to buy your Travel Insurance!
Llançá was our final stop, the city has a nice laidback atmosphere. You can enjoy a walk on the beach, check the day catch on the Fishmarket or enjoy other sports in Catalunya 🙂 Since we are on a beach town it makes sense that our next sport choice involves the sea.
We were supposed to do a sea kayaking tour around the beaches of Llançá. We received the safety instruction, boarded on our kayaks, paddled a bit and then our instructor Pau, said: “You gonna get wet”. I thought that was another joke since he could not stop making us laugh. However that time was serious, he explained that “Tramontana” started blowing.
Tramontana is a very strong wind that comes from the north and the consequences are not that good. Suddenly the sea changed, waves shaking our kayaks, and we could see the boats returning to the port. It’s was nature showing its power! Pau took us to a safe place near the beach where we had great fun playing games of trying to stand on the kayak or even changing positions.
What an adventure! Cycling, hiking, kayaking, not to mention the amazing and proud people we met in Catalunya. The 3 days itinerary is suitable for everybody, you can do it on your pace, no rush, you can be sure the support car will be ways there for you. Take time to enjoy the beautiful fields, landscapes, and ancient villages. Don’t forget to recharge the batteries with the delicious Catalan food and wine!
Now a summary to help you to organize your adventure trip full of sports in Catalunya:
How to get there to Catalunya
Flights: Girona or Barcelona airports operate flights to everywhere. Including low-cost options. To find the best deal check Skyscanner or Expedia. From both cities you can take a bus to San Joan de les Abadesses.
Train: Girona and Barcelona are again the hub. Consider a Eurail Pass, we wrote a great guide about the pros & cons of using a Eurail Pass. After the train, you can take a bus ride to San Joan de les Abadesses.
Bus: Teisa operates a bus line San Joan de les Abadesses.
Where to stay in Catalunya
Barcelona: Guesthouse Barcelona Gotic
Girona: Equity Point Girona
San Joan de les Abadesses: Hostel Ruta de Ferro
Vall D’en Bas: Hostel Vall d’en Bas
Banyoles: Hostel Banyoles
Llançá: Hostel Costa Brava
Do you know you can rent a house, a boat, a castle or a room on Airbnb? Curious? Sign up here and get a discount on your first booking!
Where to eat in Catalunya
Barcelona: Focacceria Toscana
Girona: Can Roca
San Joan de les Abadesses: La Teuleria
Vall D’en Bas: Cal L’Esteve
Llançá: El Vaixell
Sports in Catalunya – Tours and info
Bikes rental & car support: Centre Logistic de Bicicletes
Kayaking: SK Kayak
Now you have all the info to enjoy the outdoors and practice sports in Catalunya. Are you ready for this trip?
PS: A big thanks to Albergs Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona, Costa Brava Tourism Board & all the companies involved for putting this trip together. It doesn’t matter who paid the bill, you always get our sincere opinion.