Barcelona is great – everyone knows that. I love the city and have been five times now. What I’ve recently come to realise though, is how awesome the surrounding region of Catalonia is too.
If you’ve done the obligatory cycle trip of Barcelona and now want to spread your wings and get some speed up, there are plenty of routes just a few hours outside the city for you to try.
I recently went on a cycle tour in Catalonia to experience some of the countryside routes for myself. I found vineyards, marshlands, wetlands, easy routes, harder routes, cool little towns, vista-rich bridges and amazing caves to cycle through.
I’ve listed how to get to Barcelona and back via public transport after each route. Of course, it’s easier to get a mate who doesn’t want to cycle to bring a car and pick you up and drop you off, but where’s the fun in that?
1. Discovering Columbus in Pals
Have you ever tried an e-bike? I hadn’t but thanks to the e-bike company Burricleta that’s all changed, and now I love them. Electric bikes are definitely something different to normal cycling, rather than a replacement, as it did take away the fun and effort of going long distances, although, or course, that can also be the attraction.
We picked up the bikes and had a quick go around the Burricleta circuit, which included mini hills and slaloms. Reminded me of the cycle proficiency test I failed when I was 12. The e-Bikes don’t replace the action of cycling, but they do give you an extra oomph when you go up hills or cycle really fast. And there’s always that trusty rev button to play with when you start lagging behind (like I did).
I cycled 25km of the 36km route around Pals, with a quick tour of the main fortress along the way. Our guide told us how the people of Catalonia passionately believe Christopher Columbus was Catalan, they have the documents to prove it and want the world to know it. The Spanish say he’s Spanish and it’s a source of anger between the two. Google says he was Italian, so I’m none the wiser but it’s always interesting to hear a discrepancy. Once that little history lesson was over with we carried on through the vineyards and plazas of the area back to where we started.
Train from Barcelona Sants: get the train to Flaca (1hr 49) and then it’s a bus, taxi or cycle from there. This is the most difficult of the routes to get to via public transport, even though it’s not actually that far away.
Get back the same way, in reverse, obviously.
2. Green Ways Girona
The Green Ways cycle route from Llagostera to Sant Feliu de Guixols is safe, flat and ends at the beach. The 57km route crosses 3 regions and 12 towns. For such a simple and straightforward route there are plenty of rewards; the scenery is stunning and there are inviting cafes and restaurants lining the route for refreshments. I only did 20km of the route as a sampler, but anyone with a decent level of fitness could do the full route in a day.
The roads here were so quiet, which I guess can also be dangerous as you get a false sense of cockiness. Some of us in the group were from London so we had to laugh when our guide told us to be careful of traffic – look to the left, tumbleweed, to the right, tumbleweed, and go.
The route ends at the beach at Sant Feliu de Guixols. It’s a beautiful spot off the usual tourist trail and in September, the sea was cool and refreshing after the sun-drenched bike ride.
Once you’ve freshened up here head to the old railway museum, which has been converted into the El Tinglado restaurant. Sit outside and enjoy some tapas while admiring the view of boats in the harbour, the beach and the fisherman vying for a catch.
Train from Barcelona Sants: 1 hr 20 minute train to Caldes de Malavella, and then it’s a 9km cycle or taxi to Llagostera
Get a bus back to Girona from Sant Feliu de Guíxols (51 mins) and then train back to Barcelona (39 mins).
3. Poblet to Montblanc
Of course with a mountain involved this is a more difficult route than routes 2 and 3, with plenty of uphills to keep you busy. If you don’t think you can handle it, try using an e-bike again. Or just give it a go and see what happens…
Follow the Ruta del Cister route and you’ll enjoy three stunning monasteries along the way, and see where the famous Torres wine is made too. If you’re feeling adventurous, halfway up the mountain in the town of Montblanc you can swap routes and take the more direct, more difficult route, straight to the top before enjoying the downhill straight into town.
Montblanc town is an interesting little place to hang out in for the afternoon after your cycle. You can climb up to the fortress towers on the outer wall and see how the soldiers guarded the town during the Spanish Civil War, and enjoy the views. Some people actually have houses in these towers – amazing. Montblanc town is surrounded by mountains and isn’t far from the sea making it quite a desirable place to live now, but at one time it was one of the poorest places to be in Catalonia.
I’d strongly recommend you check out Restaurant Cal Jordi here. The fish was incredible, and Jordi himself comes round with a porre of liqueur at the end of the meal so you can finish your meal the Catalan way. Boozey.
Train from Barcelona Sants: Get the train to Lespluga de Francoli (2hrs 10) and then it’s a 3.9km taxi or cycle into Poblet.
You can get a train straight back from Montblanc into Barcelona Sants (2hrs 3 mins).
4. Benifallet to Bot
The route from Benifallet to Bot follows the old railway track of the Val de Zafan. The track has now been converted into a green route, only open to walkers, horse riders and cyclists. At 40km long, it’s all downhill. Weeeeeeee!
Along the way you’ll pass through caves cut out into the mountains, and over bridges looking out to the stunning Catalonian valleys and mountains. This route really is one of the most scenic cycles I’ve ever been on. I did it from 5pm until 7pm in September and the setting sun lit the valleys and mountains up beautifully.
If you have the time make sure to check out Prat de Comte along the way. It’s an absolutely stunning gorge that I’d recommend you take your swimming stuff for, and a picnic, and some Champers if you can (or cheap beer).
Train from Barcelona Sants: go to Tortosa Train Station (2 hrs 9). From here get the bus the 25km to Benifallet, or cycle it. Same again back, in reverse.
5. Cycling the Ebro Delta
I’d never heard of the Ebro Delta National Park before my trip but it’s certainly imprinted on my mind now. A vast wetland as far as the eye can see with mountains one way and a view to infinity the other. We passed reservoirs, rice fields and isolated beaches along our loop, as well as flamingos enjoying some summer sun. I loved the lookouts – little cabins where you can sit and watch the scenery as if it were a TV – apparently we have them in England, but I’ve never noticed.
Unfortunately I fell off here, no fault of the Ebro Delta, as I was coming off a bridge and trying to look like a tough cyclist navigating the corner. Worried about my GoPro in my bumbag I launched myself to the side and smashed my elbow and leg. Got some tough-looking cuts, grazes and bruises, arr yeah.
You could spend as long as you like here, cruising the wetlands, bird spotting, checking out the little houses the workers once lived in and guessing what’s growing where.
We did 36km and so I was definitely ready for my traditional paella feast from the Casa de Fusta by the end. Served with local wine, yum!
Train from Barcelona: Get the train from Barcelona Sants to Lampolla-El Perello-Deltebre (1 hr 56) and you’re done!
Same way back as you’ll do a loop round the park.