Thomson Tales

Ride the Road Less Traveled: Gravel Riding the Back Way From Barcelona to Girona

If you’ve already explored the world of gravel riding, you know how fun and challenging it can be. Once past the Termina el Pavimento sign, there’s mile after mile of beautiful twisting roads and tracks. Zero traffic except for local farmers and the occasional shepherd. And spectacular scenery, not to mention all kinds of surprises you’d never encounter on asphalt.

Best of all (at least here in Spain), you can easily pop back off the gravel and find yourself in one of the dozens of sleepy, isolated villages. Take in the sights, meet the locals, enjoy a pastry and a coffee… all in places the tourists never hear of, much less get to visit.

Now Thomson premieres the first trip to link two of cycling’s great venues—Barcelona and Girona—via dirt and gravel roads. We think this gravel-riding adventure is one of the most exciting trips we’ve ever done. And we should know, since we just finished scouting it.

Where the road ends, there’s gravel. Where the gravel ends, there’s this.

Gravel Riding the Stairway to Heaven

Barcelona is surrounded by hills and sits on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea (just two reasons Thomson is headquartered here). But its unpaved backroads are largely terra incognita, even to the locals. Which means you and your Thomson riding partners will be among the very first cyclists to discover them.

You’ll enjoy  27 kilometers of challenging climbs and spectacular views as we ascend from Barcelona with views of the city and the Mediterranean below us. We’ll explore beautiful Collserola National Park. named for the local mountains separating Barcelona from the Vallès plain.

But that’s just the warm-up.

Time to Unpack Your Climbing Legs

Next day we tackle the back way (via gravel riding, of course) up nearby Montserrat mountain and the famous stone Santa Maria Bendictine abbey and monastery near the top.

Montserrat is a bucket list destination for rock climbers, pilgrims and tourists alike. But most visitors take the train to the base and complete their journey by railway or the Aeri de Montserrat funicular (cable car) to the top. But that is them; this is Thomson. And so are you. We’ll do it the hard way, the back way, gravel riding along the old road that follows the river Llobregat, before turning up the mountain and, eventually, to its tortuously steep final climb to the abbey.

View from the top: the Abbey at Santa Maria de Montserrat. Yes, we’ll be cycling up to the abbey. From way down there in the valley. And did we mention it’s gravel? (Creative Commons license)
Inside the Montserrat cathedral. (Creative Commons license) Click to enlarge. It’s worth it.

Stage Two of our trip takes us north along the Mediterranean coast, then inland through the Montnegre National Park and the medieval village of Hostalric, where we pause to explore its 12th century fortress. Then onward, riding in the cusp of the Otoño en el Montseny, autumn in the Montseny forest, and finally into the spa town of Santa Coloma de Farniers.

In addition to its spas, Santa Coloma is famous for its markets, castles, wildlife…even a Buddhist monastery. You’ll also enjoy a well-earned night’s rest here, which is good. Because you’re going to need it.

Fortress battlements in the medieval village of Hostalric. The village is literally built around the fortress, sometimes touching its walls.

Up and Down Into Girona

Welcome to Stage Three of our adventure, the 2-day trip into Girona. 160 km (on gravel, remember). Two serious climbs on the first day, followed by the long 74 km descent into town on the next (and final) day.

Girona is built on the confluence of four rivers (the Ter, Onyar, Galligants, and Güell). Because these descend through the Catalan hills on their way to the plain where the city lies, they’ve carved out some of Europe’s best cycling routes as they go. We’ll be making our descent along some of those routes, exploring less-known backroads even the pros haven’t discovered.

Best of all, the end of our trip will find you enjoying an espresso and perhaps a bocadillo at the La Fabrica coffee shop. Which is where the pros—and now you—hang out.

gravel riding ,TBT,Thomson,cycle touring,Spain,Barcelona,Girona,Gravel.Offroad,Backroads,Back Roads

In the oldest part of Girona, on the banks of Riu Onyar. Factor in sights like this and the never-ending local roads (not to mention the coffee at La Fabrica), and you can see why so many pros choose to live here. (Creative Commons license)