Spain diaries: The ‘Greenways’ of Catalonia

8th May 2013
Photo of Spain diaries: The ‘Greenways’ of Catalonia 1/2 by Sumi Rajesh
Cinco de mayo
Photo of Spain diaries: The ‘Greenways’ of Catalonia 2/2 by Sumi Rajesh

A long awaited cycling trip to escape the cacophony of the city to a place away from the crowds, a new country, language and culture. Maneuvering an unknown terrain and figuring out how to get to the next destination would be the thrill, a little adventure for our family of four. The “Via Verdes “are old unused railway lines that have been recovered and reconditioned for use by walkers and cyclists- the greenways of Catalonia. I was convinced. The charm of living in villages and small towns; riding along the countryside on mud paths were the lure.

We would have to depend on someone to move our luggage while we enjoyed our days out on the bicycles. After a bit of research I found “Cyclo-Tourismo,” an eco- tourism specialist who would facilitate it for us. The brief was very clear-a week it would be, not more than 80 kilometers in a day considering we were doing this with a 4 year old on the seat and a 9 year old riding her own bike. The stays would be farmstays or B&Bs in the villages and small family run hotels in the towns.

A train from Barcelona got us to Girona. We arrived at the bike rental office and did a quick test and got all our gear in place. Loaded the car with luggage and bikes and were off to our starting point, Sant Feliu de Pallerols. Estella, the young energetic driver was full of information on the region, people and the political situation. The people of Catalonia, being denied the right to their language and culture are working towards an independent state from Spain. She left us after a briefing of how our luggage would be moved each day. By 8am we were to keep it ready in the room and they would move it to the next location for us. Emergency numbers, maps and a little guide- book were handed over. We were ready to go and would meet her next only to return the bikes.

Day 1

A small town surrounded by the Pyrenees- “Sant Feliu de Pallerols.” We had the day to ourselves to laze in the family run hotel and cycle around the small town square.  Met a young boy over lunch, he barely managed to speak a few words in English. He was the son of the owner and helped around at the restaurant, post school. We gathered that it was the church carnival that day and there would be a procession through the village in the afternoon. After a little snooze, we were ready for the extravaganza. Men on stilts dressed as the King, Queen and soldiers; a group of kids performing and a band playing folk music. It was a culture feast. We followed them through the town. Every 500 meters they would walk, stop and perform. People would join in to dance. The town square had a fair, food and music. A magical evening…

Day 2      

The day started quite gloomy. Rain… but we were decided on having fun. The girls were very excited to be in the middle of the woods, hearing the stream, following it. We parked our bikes and explored walking with a few hikers. The rain just worsened, got cold and we had to stop at a wayside restaurant for a warm drink. A group of other cyclists were taking a lunch break too.

Our accommodation for the day was at a small village, La Callera de Tar. We were put up in a lady’s house. She lived all by herself with her cats. We were to use one of her bedrooms. The town, we were told, had this small chapel, abandoned, about 100 years old. It sounded a bit eerie and the girls were quite excited to go see the place. It was their little adventure, walking around the ruins in the muck, imagining how it would have been years ago; spinning stories around the ruins that they would tell their friends. Cycling around the village we saw country folk going about their day, chicken and ostrich farms and some beautiful houses. Peace…Dinner was home cooked-soup, fresh breads, some chicken and dessert. A group of young couples were also there. The fire- place was lit and coffee served.  The girls got busy with the cats…

Day 3 & 4

The “Ruta de Carrilet “through the meadows of salt to the historical town of Girona. The route was parallel to the highway but fairly off it. We crossed farms, bridges and the lovely meadows of salt trees to the charming town of Girona. One couldn’t ask for more from this historical town, ancient arcaded houses, churches, cobbled streets, enclosed by walls; the cathedral and Arab baths, boutiques along the streets of the old town, the huge garden in the middle of the city, families spending the day out in the Sun. The old and new town marry a mix of cultures.

With a day off cycling we decided to take the train to Figueras, visited Salvador Dali’s house, now a museum. Back in Girona, we had dinner at a restaurant by a brook. It was filled with memorabilia and the story goes that Dali married Gala in a room there!

Day 5

Bidding goodbye to Girona, with a heavy heart, we set off to Campllong- a town with a factory, a church on a hilltop, a town hall, cattle farms, houses and 500 people.

A working farm with cattle, sheep, chicken “Agroturisme -Sant Dionis” was our homestay. A 150 year-old stone house, part let out to travellers.  The house had an enclosed courtyard and a well.

The girls spent the afternoon with the dogs and chicken, helped the old granny in the herb garden. We raced up the hill on our bikes to the church. Watched the Sun go down beyond the village with the melody of the bells ringing.

Dinner was baked beans and seafood paella. Sylvia, the owner spoke English. Her son and husband joined us for dinner. The boy played football and he had aspirations of playing for the province team.

Day 6 & 7

Our last day riding, this was the most difficult yet the most beautiful ride. Passing through an old abandoned railway station, uphill, downhill, small town squares, houses, farms, forest and views from hillocks. 75 kilometers of cycling brought us to the beautiful beach town of Sant Feliu de Guixols. Smell of sea and the afternoon Sun greeted us to a stretch of white sand and a lazy town.  Food, wine and a walk along the beach, watching families winding up…

Away from the reality of our lives in the city, close to what our hearts yearned, a memorable time in the greenways of Catalonia.