Cycling Catalonia is a bike lover’s dream. A good climate year-round, stunning scenery, and that incredible combination of mountains and coast within easy reach – not to mention a fascinating culture and delectable cuisine to explore.
With hundreds of amazing mountain bike trails around the Pyrenees and the Catalan Coastal Range, plus plenty of incredible cycling routes all over the region, Spain’s northeastern corner is a glorious area to explore by bike. Here’s a taster of some of the best cycling routes in the region. These are especially suited for people like me – keen but not particularity fit or well-practised cyclists…
Barcelona Beaches – Costa Barcelona
As I discovered on my trip there in May, Barcelona is a very cyclable city, with loads of bike lanes and a Boris-bike style rental system round the city. But, there’s nowhere better for cycling than along the city’s seafront. A wide, palm-lined promenade starts close to the marina in front of the Gothic Quarter, and follows Barcelona’s beaches all the way to the Fòrum. The 7km route is super easy – flat all the way and following the Moll de la Fusta bike lane – but it’s a beautiful and relaxing spot for a cycle.
If you have 3 or 4 days in Barcelona, try a longer cycle. For a lovely day trip, you can push on to the seaside town of Badalona just outside of Barcelona, or head back into the city via the bike lanes of lower Av. Diagonal toward Glòries.
Vies Verdes – Costa Brava
Barcelona is overflowing with tourism, but so many people seem to overlook the rest of the region – even nearby Girona, which is just as beautiful (if not more so) and a gorgeous city to explore. It’s also within cycling distance of the coast via one of Catalonia’s Vies Verdes, or Green Ways, disused railway tracks which have been converted into paved cycling routes. The Girona Green Way starts in the foothills of the Pyrenees, following the old Olot-Girona railway, and connects in Girona to what used to be the Carrilet, a narrow-gauge railway which ran all the way to the coast.
You can cycle from the mountains to the beach along the full Green Way, a 125km route, or, for the easier option, you can cycle the 39.7km Carrilet route from Girona to Sant Feliu des Guíxols (or half that if you start in Llogostera). It’s a packed granite sand track that’s downhill almost all the way, with clear Vies Verdes signs and services along the way.
Ruta del Cister – Costa Daurada
On the other side of Barcelona, the Costa Daurada region of Catalonia offers still more superb cycling routes. Up in the Prades mountains, the Ruta del Cister or Cistercian Route connects the three incredible Cistercian monasteries of Santes Creus, Poblet and Vallbona. The full circuit is 108km in length by mountain bike, with some diversions from the walker’s footpath, and passes through dozens of beautiful historic towns making it possible to spread the trail over several days.
If you don’t have the time or the stamina for the full route, a great small section to do is the route from Poblet Monastery to Montblanc, a medieval walled town which is home to a stunning cathedral. The distance is about 15km over a combination of paved and packed-earth roads, plus an off-road biking trail. There are a few tricky uphill sections, but the route is generally quite easy.
Val de Zafán – Terres de l’Ebre
This last cycling route is my favourite of the bunch: the Val de Zafán in Terres de l’Ebre. This is a stunning region in the south-east of Catalonia that gets far less tourism than the Costas, but it’s a great place to explore, with some hugely varied landscapes, from rugged mountains to flat marshlands. Another Via Verde, the Val de Zafán follows the old railway track which once linked Puebla de Hijar and Tortosa, through some dramatic and beautiful landscapes. The full route is 40km and downhill on paved cycle tracks all the way.
For the short version, the 11km Bot to Benifallet section of the Zafán runs through some spectacular gorges, with dozens of very long tunnels that are great fun to ride through (as long as the lights work!). Very gentle, and very fun, this cycling route is gorgeous – and great for families.
Have you been cycling Catalonia, or elsewhere in Spain? I’d love to hear more suggestions – what have I missed?