I love cycling. Since living in France it has quickly become my preferred method of getting round. It’s faster than walking, environmentally friendly, and you get to take in the scenery and fresh air. Plus the odd fly, for nutrition. So when the opportunity to spend three days cycling around Costa Brava presented itself, I jumped at the chance.
Ok, so the real reason I jumped at the chance was because the cycle trip included a balloon ride. But it turned out that cycling is one hell of a way to experience the gorgeous countryside of Costa Brava, even when not floating above it suspended by nothing but hot air and ultramagic.
I was initially a little concerned by the proposed itinerary for our three day trip. I like to think of myself as fairly fit, but the first day included nearly fifty kilometres of cycling. And the route was right up near the Pyrenees. And even I know that the Pyrenees are a fairly big pile of mountains. Fifty kilometres of leg busting sounded like hard work, even with a balloon ride as pay off.
I needn’t have worried though. Our route was all about taking in the old rail trails of Costa Brava, which have been converted into lovely cycling routes, as part of the Girona Greenways programme, known locally as the Vies Verdes.
And one thing that most railways have in common is that they are usually flat, valley following affairs. So, despite towering mountains all around, our route took us gently meandering around the hills and through pretty villages, offering the scenery with not so much of the effort. Result!
Our little group explored all kinds of hidden spots, best reached via a leisurely bike ride. Some of the highlights were:
The gorgeous little waterfall and swimming hole
On the 57km long narrow gauge railway route which we followed between Olot and Les Planes d’Hostoles, we stopped at the picturesque gorge of Cogolls, where a little waterfall tumbled into an appealing swimming hole. We even dipped our toes in, to see how warm it was, though none of us were as brave as the local in attendance with his dog, who entered the water with gusto.
Had we had more time (and some swimming gear), we totally would have headed in to the water. As it was, lunch wasn’t far away, so after taking a few photos and admiring the wetness of the happy hound, our stomachs rumbled us towards:
A picnic feast of kings
My general memories of picnic lunches involve rain dampened grass and slightly moist sandwiches, followed by, if I was lucky, a bag of crisps and if I was unlucky, a piece of fruit. It was all well and good, but hamper toting affairs they weren’t.
Our picnic lunch in Costa Brava was a slightly different affair. Wine, for example, was front and centre (never mind the fact that we still had 20km of cycling ahead of us). A variety of different sausage types were on offer, as well as an array of cheeses. There was bread, along with garlic and fresh tomatoes. The latter of these two items are supplied in order for you to rub them vigorously against the first, to create a Catalan speciality. It’s also tremendously good fun.
Lunchtime entertainment was provided by Shaun of Over Yonderlust, who demonstrated to the group how to fall off a bike safely. Given the state of his hands afterwards, I’m not sure “safe” is the word I’d use. Still, the entertainment value was high, and with the food and wine, lunch had to be one of the finest picnics ever. Huzzah!
Here, at the site of the town’s original brickworks, stood Quart’s old pottery workshop, founded back in 1926. We took a tour of the facilities, peered in wonder at the vast drying kiln, and then had a go at our own pottery making.
I had, prior to the pottering, given Vera a quick run down of some key pottery techniques by playing her that famous scene from ghost that launched pottery into the global consciousness of the world as a sexy, Demi Moore filled activity. At least, that’s how I remember it.
Sadly, our pottery class was lacking a few key ingredients to enable us to recreate the Ghost scene in full. To start with, there was no Demi Moore at all. The Righteous Brothers were also notable by their absence. But perhaps most importantly, there was no potters wheel. We were going to be getting down and dirty by hand. Yay!
Presented with a lump of clay and some pieces of paper, I have to say my mind departed from it’s usual sane track, and I ended up creating a rather surreal scene featuring the figures of an angel and a devil fighting over the earth for man’s soul.
That’s totally what you got from the above image, isn’t it? Not some randomly arranged bits of dirt? I knew we were friends. Don’t worry though, I’m keeping to photography as my main artistic outlet.
And that was the pottery. The other highlight from the trip that stuck in my mind was:
The steam powered engine of yore
The railway lines we were cycling weren’t build for scenic purposes, as the above pottery museum demonstrates. Rail has always gone hand in hand with industry, and this was no more apparent than in the town of Angles, where we visited the site of the remarkable Bures d’Angles steam machine.
This puffing, steam driven monster dominated one of the rooms in the Angles factory, once home to over 1,100 workers involved in textile production. And the steam engine was the driving force behind this piece of Catalan industrial history.
All of that is of course terribly interesting, but who cares about a rusty bit of old iron mongery? No-one, that’s who. Which is why it was such a pleasant surprise to see this machine in all it’s finery, looking like something out of the pages of a steampunk novel, in fully working order.
I’m talking gleaming pistons, shining cogs and lubricated… well. I’m sure you get the idea. And then, as if it being in working order wasn’t enough, they flipped the switch, and like waking a dragon, the device puffed to life, giving us a glimpse of a world where steam was king. Quite fabulous stuff.
Those were some of the many experiences we were able to take in as part of our bike the rail trail experience. If you want to get another perspective on the rail trail experience in Costa Brava, then I can recommend Four Jandal’s take on biking the rail trail, which even features a rather nifty video, in which I may or may not have done a skid. Over Yonderlust also did an excellent piece, which features Shaun’s aforementioned bloody hands.
There are of course some people to thank for making this trip possible, who you probably should check out if you were planning on doing something similar. The chaps behind the bikes were Cicloturisme, who lavished us with fine and sturdy steeds, including helmets, water bottle and even saddle bags. They also put on the finest damn picnic lunch ever.
The actual routes we followed were the Vies Verdes Girona, or Greenways of Girona, and their website lists all the various routes, difficulty levels and distances involved, as well as the highlights to look out for. It’s all very well put together and nearly impossible to lose yourself even for a navigationally challenged chap like me.
We were guests of the above companies as well as the Visit Costa Brava folks, as part of our ten day Spanish adventure. Don’t worry though, however much fun I might have had, my opinions remain my own.