Pushing down on the pedals hard, one foot at a time, we crawl slowly uphill. Cowbells chime out as we steadily climb the quiet roads, winding through the foothills of the Pyrenees. Sweating in the heat of the sun, we finally reach the top and are awarded incredible views. But now the fun really starts, picking up speed, the road invites us to pedal harder. Crouching low on our bikes, we rush downhill, negotiating the tight corners, holding on for dear life, hoping that this hill will continue forever…
Cycling From The Pyrenees to the Costa Brava
Four hostels in Catalonia have teamed up to offer a unique cycling experience. The Ruta del Pirineu a la Costa Brava passes through four unique regions of Catalonia. On this diverse trail, you can experience the food, traditions and wine from each region at as fast or slow a pace, as you like. We completed the route in three days but you could easily spend more time at each location if you wanted to experience each of the off the beaten track locations in more detail.
The Route from the Pyrenees to the Costa Brava
Without a doubt, the diversity of this trip is what makes it so unique. Starting in the foothills of the Pyrenees and ending at the coast, there is something for everyone on this route. Nature lovers will appreciate the flawless scenery of the area, photographers will be drawn to the fantastic landscapes and foodies will revel in the appetising local dishes on offer. For adventure travellers, there are possibilities for a range of activities such as hiking, kayaking, and rock climbing along the route. History fans are no doubt going to enjoy diving into the stories and legends that surround each of the quaint little villages.
Pyrenees to Costa Brava Day 1: San Joan to Vall d’en Bas
Your first day, moving by pedal power, takes you from the historical town of San Joan Des Abadesses to the magnificent valley of Vall d’en Bas. Leaving San Joan the road is mostly flat until you reach Ripoll with the beautiful Santa Maria de Ripoll church being the main highlight.
After visiting the church take the road out of town and get ready to climb. The road winds gradually uphill, affording you stunning view over the valley. Climbing up the foothills of the Pyrenees, cowbells ring out from the surrounding hills and horses venture curiously to the roadside as you whizz by. Turning a final corner, you reach the pass; Coll de Canes at 1,120m. Take a rest and gather yourself because this is where the fun begins.
Descending from the pass is fast and a whole pile of fun. Be careful to raise your inside leg as you round the corners to stop your foot from clipping the ground. Racing along, the road surface is pretty good here but keep an eye out for loose stones and allow plenty of time braking going into the corners, unless you’re complete badass of course!
Travelling at speed, balancing your bike through the corners, it shouldn’t take long before you reach Olot. This is one of the largest towns in the area. The road passes through the town and out through some beautiful agricultural landscapes. The surrounding hills have incredible natural features and you quickly realise the expanse of the Vall d’en Bas. From Olot it’s about 8km to the Alberg De La Val D’en Bas where you can crash for the night.
Pyrenees to Costa Brava Day 2: Vall d’en Bas to Banyoles
Vall d’en Bas is a beautiful region, surrounded by hills, which are criss-crossed with hiking trails. Ask the helpful staff at the Alberg for information on the routes and spend a few days exploring the hills and medieval villages or get back on your bike.
From Vall d’en Bas it’s back to Olot and onwards towards the magical La Fageda de la Jordá. This beech forest is a place of local fairytales, where strange creatures live and it makes for a peaceful place to stop and grab some shade. Taking the main road east through the Volcanic Zone of Garrotxa, you can stop for a quick visit to the crater where a church is oddly positioned. Or, you can ride the last few metres of road before the day’s big descent.
Hold on tight. The road slithers down the hill, winding from side to side and the surrounding hills quickly become a green blur. Racing ahead, there are a few small ups and downs bringing you through small villages before finally reaching the shore of Lake Banyoles.
Passing the Santa María de Porqueres church, you round a corner and the lake leads you into the town on its shores. Spend the evening dining al fresco in the main square or just relax at Alberg De Banyoles.
Pyrenees to Costa Brava Day 3: Banyoles to Llanca
Today is the final day on your bike and there’s one body part that will be most thankful. Saddle up early because today is a long trip. Put the last two days together and you have this epic closing journey. If you’re not feeling up to it you could split this day in two by staying a night in Figueres.
From Banyloes it’s a relatively flat road leaving the lake behind you. The snow-capped peaks of the high Pyrenees rise to the north as you begin an incredibly tough ascent of Sant Pere De Rodes. The road winds its way left and right up the mountain with views of the coast getting better and better at each bend. Eventually, the top comes into sight and the views will just blow you away.
Take a break here to refuel at the restaurant inside the restored monastery or take the short 30-minute hike to the top for a 360-degree panorama of the area. However tired you are, it’s worth every step to the top… trust us!
The good news is the hard work is over. From Sant Pere De Rodes, the road takes you downhill at speed. As the steepest section of the road on the entire trip and probably the worst surface, it’s advisable to take care here. There are barriers in place on the hairpin corners but you don’t want to find yourself in that situation. Slow down coming into the corners and keep your eyes on the road ahead.
Easier said than done in this situation though as the views are simply mind-blowing. The Costa Brava is in full view below; the deep blue of the Mediterranean meets the white sands of the beaches dotted along the coast for miles.
Reaching the end of the road take an immediate left and follow the road along the coastline all the way. The Alberg De Costa Brava, will be your home for the night in Llanca and we honestly couldn’t think of a better place to finish up.
After a mammoth cycle trip from the Pyrenees all the way to Costa Brava, the smell of the sea air will no doubt be welcomed. Celebrate with the local speciality of fresh urchins if you’re still feeling adventurous and wash it down with a well-earned cerveza.
Your job here is done!
Cycling Pyrenees to Costa Brava: Questions & Answers
1. Do I bring a bike or rent?
This is really up to you. If you’re an experienced cyclist and would feel more comfortable on your own wheels then, by all means, bring your own bike.
However, there are high-quality bikes available for rent also through Centre Logístic De Bicicletes. Talk to them too about organising a support team that can follow you along in case of any issues.
2. What about my big luggage?
If you are renting bikes from Centre Logístic De Bicicletes and are using a support team, the van will follow along behind you with your bags. The other option is to speak with the hostel owners; they are great guys and will no doubt be able to arrange to get your bags to the next hostel.
3. What should I bring for the cycle trip?
As with any trip like this, bring as little as possible. You don’t need to be kitted out in the best of gear. We wore shorts/leggings and a quick drying sports t-shirt and that was perfect. It might be a good idea to have a light jacket as the mornings can be cool and in the mountains there’s always a chance of rain. Choose between a pair of good cycle shoes or wear comfortable runners.
Bring water with you and some snacks. There are cafes and restaurants in all the major towns along the route, so you don’t need to worry about bringing a lunch with you. Have a good breakfast and dinner is available at all the hostels in the evenings.
A puncture repair kit, a pump, sunglasses and sunscreen are essential. A cap is a good idea in sunny weather if you don’t want to look like Rudolph at the end of each day.
4. Where can I stay?
Four hostels have joined together to create this cycle route from the Pyrenees to the Costa Brava. These hostels are strategically positioned along the route.
Beginning in San Joan Des Abadesses, you can stay at the Hostel Ruta del Ferro. Rooms in the hostel are for four people and each has a private bathroom. There is free wifi in the common area and access to the town where there is a pharmacy, some small shops and local cafes.
In Vall d’en Bas, set in a quiet roadside setting, is the Alberg de la Val d’en Bas. It’s a 10minute cycle into the nearest town from here, so it’s best to have some supplies with you. The hostel is newly renovated (2015) and each room has four beds, lockers and a private bathroom. There is wifi available here in the common areas and a nice terrace at the back to relax after a long day of pedalling.
Llanca is the finish point for your trip and what a place to finish. You can swim at the beach at the back of the fishing harbour to celebrate or just go straight to Alberg De Costa Brava. This lovely hostel run by Marc, Marta and Jordi, is the perfect spot to re-energise after your trip. There are dorms, twin and private rooms available, all with shared bathrooms. There is wifi available in the common room and two laptops to use. However, the highlight here is the garden, grab one of the two hammocks and put your feet up. Or if you’re feeling energetic hit the water and explore the area by kayak.
5. How fit do I need to be?
Anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can take this trip. We are by no means major cyclists with just one previous 3-day cycle under our belts in Taiwan. But that was a while ago! There are some tough hills on the route but with a good bike, plenty of water and some rest stops, you should be fine.
If you want to do some training before taking on the Ruta del Pirineu a la Costa Brava, try some stationary biking or spinning classes. Of course, if you can do the real thing, even better! Alternatively, work on your cardio with some swimming or jogging to get yourself ready.
6. What are you waiting for?
Stopping in small typical Catalonian villages, taking in the countryside from your saddle and moving slowly through a variety of landscapes are just some of the reasons to take on this epic trip. Cycling from the Pyrenees to the Costa Brava is a truly memorable experience and one that will stay with you for a long, long time to come.
So, is this for you? Would you like to cycle from the Pyrenees to the Costa Brava on the stunning Ruta del Pirineu a la Costa Brava?
Let us know in the comments below.
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