Velo Veneto is very excited about our first trip outside of Italy. Join us in the Catalonia region of Spain this June! Of course, we called on local experts when building this trip; Ex-pro and Girona resident Craig Lewis will be our special guest, and our own Jamie Bookwalter has provided her advice as well. Here’s her take on why the area is such a great place!
One of the things I love most about Girona is that this place continues to hold surprises for me. Brent and I first began spending time here in 2010. I remember my first week here; I told my coach I was just going to be on the bike 4-6 hours every day because the riding was so alluring. The first time a person rides Spain’s equivalent of Highway 1 (GI-682) is not an experience they easily forget. It was easy to binge on riding; incredible views await around every single corner on every single road. Girona has a network of tiny mountain and country roads, seemingly to nowhere, I wonder why anybody bothered to pave. You might think that after a few years, the novelty of mountain-ocean-cliff-tiny-chapel-in-the-middle-of-it-all views could wear off. They don’t.
Brent’s job as a professional cyclist gives us the opportunity to live anywhere in Europe that is blessed with good weather and close to an airport. In fact, a lot of professional cyclists keep coming back here; the cycling community swells to over 80 pro-continental or pro-tour riders in the spring. Lance Armstrong famously lived here in the late 1990’s and I’ve had Catalans tell me he still lives here (nope, definitely not). We bought our car from Levi Leipheimer when he was retiring, who bought it from Chan McRae, when Chan was retiring. I think there is something about this city that draws cyclists in and keeps them here, and it’s not the weather or community alone. It has more to do with the fact that a person can live here for years and keep stumbling upon a road they still have yet to ride, a trail they have yet to hike, a new restaurant that just opened… the richness and depth of this place keeps us coming back. (That, and the fact that dealing with the bureaucracy here is like adopting a really crappy cat&emdash;you spend way too much time trying to get it to understand the litter box and it still craps in your house, you’re positive it doesn’t like you and sometimes you wish it would just disappear, but at some point you realize you’ve invested too much in the damn thing to give it up).
A few weeks ago, I was on a solo mountain bike ride in the hills behind our apartment, and I came across a chapel (Sant Joan de l’Ern) from the 13th century. The plaque next to it said the nuns that lived here all died in the Black Plague. It’s incredible to me that I can stumble upon a chapel built in the 13th century in what is basically my backyard after 5 years of spending weeks and months in Girona. (And it’s incredible that ANYTHING could be still around from the 13th century. At home in Western North Carolina, we give historic designation to houses built in the 1930’s. But I digress.)
Today, I hiked with a friend in a canyon near Castellfolit de la Roca, a short drive outside Girona. I’ve spent quite a bit of time riding near this area, but I had no idea this canyon existed. The walls of the canyon were so tall they blocked out much of the sunlight, and water in the river was crystal blue. We lunched at Sant Aniol chapel (built in the 11th century) and saw one person in 4 hours.
When we finally got back to the car, adventure craving sated, I noticed another sign: “3.5 hours to the peak of Bassegoda.” It seems a bit rude to leave that mountain unclimbed… This part of the world is something quite special, and while speaking Catalan will probably always elude me, I’m staying comfortably antsy exploring the back country each year, and continuing to fall in love with this place.