We threw our legs over the top tubes of our bikes and headed away from our friends Hotel in L’Argentera. Five days of hospitality, food and certainty. You do become fatigued by decision overload on the road. It is good to rest the brain. It had also rained hard and for hours at a time. Just 8’c as we descended to the coast at Cambrils to catch a train into Barcelona. We could find nothing on the WWW. that indicated that the roads around Barcelona were anything but hellish. We were going to ‘Cherry Pick’, and take the train.
The view from the train windows confirmed we had made the right choice. Terrible roads, mass tourism mixed with squalor and some of the worst campground I have ever seen. Good call and I suggest you do the same. I also suggest that you go visit Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. €13 entry does feel like you may be on the receiving end of a rip-off, but it is stunning. Barcelona does not feel like Spain one little bit, other than things are shut when you need them to be open. It is a whole lot more busy than it was a few years ago when we were here last. We fled from the tourist honey pots and enjoyed the quirks that back streets had to offer.
The N11 away from Barcelona has little to offer the touring cyclist. So, we took advantage of our unsponsored status and took the train out to Blanes with absolutely no guilt at all. Back on the bikes we hit steep hills of coastal riding straight away. Lloret de Mar and the Mediterranean, the destination for my first holiday abroad aged 15 and where I learned that wine is not made from blackcurrant and diluted with water. Sick for two days as an introduction to wine.
We pay €17 for a camp near the unfortunately named town of Tossa de Mar and it is actually rather nice. Rain overnight and 11’c combines for a slow start with more up and down coastal riding. Each little town here has its own strip of sand, hotels of a more or less grim nature and a clientel from a particular country. German, French and Scandiwegan in the nicer parts.
The CI 682 is lumpy but very nice indeed. A great place to cycle in fact and off comes the gillet as the day warms. The road ‘zigs’ and then ‘zags’ and then a complete wall to climb as it gets hot. There are Cork trees, remnants from a past harvesting but none have been touched in years.
We descend into Sant Feliu de Guixols where Esther decides that she needs to tell me that her gears are not working. I take the cable off and try to move the rear mech. It is unhappy and resists. “How long has it been hard to shift?” she looks at her shoes and then at me,”Quite a while”. The gear shifter has been broken by repeated forcing. I have the look of someone who has just took a bite into a bad olive. “Well we are not going anywhere”.
We find a hotel and push the bike towards a bike shop to wait the two hours for it to open. Twenty minutes late it opens and to give credit where credit is due, things move swiftly. It is broken and the only replacement is in Madrid. We mime ‘Hand it to a courier and get it here as quickly as possible’. That is as far as we can get today, and walk around the town. “Could have been worse, this is very nice and it could have been Lloret de Mar”.
We spend an evening at the bar in our Hostel watching football. It is a fiercely partisan crowd for Barcelona against Chelsea. They should have won at least 1-5 but somehow all the luck is with the home side. It is 1-0, with 10 minutes to go and already chairs are being put onto tables as passion evaporates. It is sad to witness. We will spend another day at least in charming Sant Feliu. THings could be much worse.
Second homes for well to do Spanish and French, and a resistance to mass tourism combine to make this a bit of a gem. We wander around till bike shop time taking in patisserie treats that have improved dramatically in the last 50k as we near France. And then a remarkable thing happens. The bike is done and in just 24 hours. Hurrrahhh indeed and remarkable for Spain.
We head out in the morning, hugging the coast and watching the gps. Not knowing the Spanish for ‘private road’, we do a circuit of € million homes before retreating back and around what is now a very obvious security bollard.
We stop trying to be clever and take the C325, keeping the Mediterranean on our right. This is all rather posh. We stop for a coffee and find that at €3.25 for two, just how posh.
The landscape becomes rolling and then quite flat and totally nothing like Spain. We are trying to link together bike paths to keep off the main roads (These exist all over Spain and you should call them Via Verde and look them up here). Untypically for Spain, it is working and there are even signs. We pass through a village called Pals, which is where you should be taking your next holiday and bringing your bike.
There are vineyards and fruit farms and things are green and lush indeed. There is money here that is obvious, and things are just picture book perfect. We get the first glimpse of a snow capped Pyrenean chain and wow are they big. We touch the coast and then head North and inland.
A big storm fills the horizon and we dive off the road along a track and into the Apple trees to throw up the tent. It is manicured and a bit intensive, but there is grass to camp on for the first time that we can remember.
We have a brew in our hands and are watching light aircraft take off. The sky is black and they are trying to beat the storms arrival. They all point one way and get blown in another. ‘Are they mad?’ I remember an episode of ‘Some mothers do ave em’, the one where Frank Spencer is taking flying lessons. “Well Mr Spencer, there is just one thing to remember”. “There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots. But there are no old bold pilots”.
We are up early and away hearing tractors working close to our camp. It is still early as we pass through Castello de Empuries. We are looking for the smallest hill to climb on our journey North as we run along the base of what becomes the Pyrenean chain on the GI 610. We climb, and hit the coast at Llanca and go in search of some food. Cheap calories are what you are after as a touring cyclist and I should have been more awake. It was cheap enough, just. But there where obvious signs. The word ‘drizzle’, used in the context of food is never going to indicate big platefuls, and the clincher, rectangular plates. I would have got a Snickers straight after if there was a shop open.
The day was getting warmer and hot even as we were served up a series of long and stiff climbs as we made our way into France and out of Spain. I have crossed a second country now without being stung or bitten, which at times last year looked like an impossibility.
The ride along the coast here is yet another one for your ‘to-do-list’ on a light carbon road bike. The final descent lined with vineyards brings you down into Banyuls sue la Mer. We sit and order a coffee with Spanish in our heads and French still to work properly. There is something strange when it arrives. Two lumps where all through Spain it had been sachets. Of course, this is how it is going to be here. ‘Camping Municipal’ at just €9 a night, is also how it is done here in France and for which we are so grateful – we smell, and need a shower.