Thomson Tales

Off Road Adventure — Barcelona to Girona by Gravel


There’s nothing that epitomises freedom quite like the bicycle. Since its invention the bicycle has accompanied many millions on their adventures, offering them a chance to explore the world in their own unique way – by road, path and gravel.

However, this pure and exploratory aspect of cycling is often set to the side with the grandeur of modern bicycle racing garnering more interest from the cycling community. For many, exploring the world by bike is reserved for crazy ultra-endurance athletes and enthusiastic bikepacking aficionados, and perhaps something that they’re not going to try anytime soon.

But it doesn’t take a trip around the world to discover new things, nor an untamed wilderness to provide the backdrop for an unforgettable adventure. Our speciality trip from Barcelona to Girona chooses the roads less travelled, hopping from gravel, to trails, to pavement along the way. In the silence of the mountains and the solace of the shaded valleys along the route, you’ll re-discover the very thing that made you fall in love with the bicycle all those years ago, the feeling of total freedom.

A Spanish micro-adventure

The continental US isn’t the only place with miles of gravelled fire roads and singletrack, the Catalan countryside between Barcelona and Girona are also blessed with them – making for some incredible off-road adventures.

Starting in the Catalonian capital of Barcelona, this tour travels northwards in the direction of the Pyrenees, soaking up sun, skipping by the Mediterranean sea and sucking down a few optional Spanish cervezas along the way. Snaking its way through clandestine valleys and over gruelling climbs, the route finally makes it to Girona, the unofficial cycling capital of Europe and the place many pro cyclists call home.

It’s road biking, just without your classic asphalt. Before you don your cargo shorts and slap on a pair of gravel-munching tyres, let’s take a closer look at what’s covered on our 7-day Spanish micro-adventure…


Catalonian delights

After landing in sunny Barcelona you’ll be taken to the hotel by one of our friendly guides for a nourishing lunch and orientation meeting. It’s then time to ready the bikes and head out into the hills that form a natural parapet around the city of Barcelona.

These hills are littered with little-known gravel roads, taking you to heights and viewpoints where cars and other vehicles seldom stray. The vistas from the top of these hills are spectacular, especially at dusk when the streetlights from the city below illuminate the urban sprawl.

The first day isn’t a long one, but it’s still a testy introduction to the kind of riding you’ll be doing throughout the rest of the trip. Day 2 kicks the riding up a notch, tackling one of the most iconic mountains in Catalonia, Montserrat.

Topped by an ancient monastery, Montserrat is one of the most popular tourist spots in the Barcelona area, a place regularly frequented by pilgrims and rock climbers. Instead of trekking the gravel tracks, or climbing the cliffs, you’ll be pedalling across them by bicycle – taking the iconic road alongside the Llobregat river to the summit.

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)
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)

Following the coast

Day 3 heads northwards from Barcelona and the Collserola National Park into the Serralada de Marina, another breath-taking expanse of rolling hills.

You’ll have a chance to bid Barcelona goodbye as you hop onto the dirt-covered coastal roads, views behind you extending all the way down the Mediterranean sea and the ever-diminishing city.

On day 4 you’ll wake up to more stunning views of the coast, but will be soon forced to leave them behind as you take a turn inland through the Montnegre National Park towards the medieval town of Hostalric. This small pueblo lies on the outskirts of the majestic Montseny forest, home to some of the most enjoyable sections of singletrack and gravelled tracks that this tour has to offer.

With the Queen Stage of the trip the following day, you’ll want to rest up as much as possible in the quiet town of Santa Coloma de Farners – the end of day 4.

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

The Queen Stage

There’s only one way to the cliff-top hotel at the end of day 5 and that’s upwards.

You’ll start the day off climbing the Pantà de Susqueda, warming your legs up for the brutish climb still to come. The two climbs are separated by an incredible, 20km-long section of gravel that gives you the chance to really put your adventure-ready rigs to the test.

The fun doesn’t necessarily stop at the foot of the final climb, but the riding certainly gets a lot harder. It’s 15km up to Rupit and the mountaintop hotel, so make sure you leave just enough in the tank to be able stand at the summit and drink in the amazing views.

Girona bound

Day 6 is a long but relatively easy ride to the finish in Girona, giving you more than enough time to reflect on the adventure you’ve had so far.

The route follows the El Carrilet road, a former railway line that connected the historic city of Girona with its satellite towns in the 1950s. Built with compacted gravel and dirt, this long-distance cycle lane is popular for other two-wheeled adventure seekers – it actually makes up part of the epic 340km gravel route, the Pirinexus, which loops round from Girona, into France and then back into Spain across the Pyrenees. Something for your next visit, maybe!

The gravel riding doesn’t end here, there’s still the iconic road through the heart of the hilly La Vall d’en Bas region to tackle. The road takes you all the way to Girona and the end of your trip, but not before a coffee and bite to eat in one of the city’s many coffee shops. Indeed, the coffee scene is absolutely booming in Girona, with regular spanish style cafeterias across the street from trendier, specialty coffee vendors. Oh, and did we mention the eating out scene is among the liveliest and most varied in Spain?

When you’re not gorging on recovery carbs, take the time during the evening to tour the city’s Barri Vell district (the oldest and most beautiful part of the city). Don’t spend all night drinking in the medieval architecture though, you have an early start in the morning to catch your flight home.

Interested in taking the roads less travelled and experiencing the many delights between Barcelona and Girona? Then click here to take a detailed look at the tour, including the full route, the dates and the prices. Once you’ve done that, take a deep breath and sign up – adventure awaits!