Cycle on holiday? Sure, I once rented a bike in Valencia for a few hours to cycle round the Jardines del Turia. But a cycling holiday? Well, let’s just say I'm more likely to be sporting a sun dress than pulling on padded shorts when on vacation. But when I got the chance to try out UK-based travel company Headwater’s Contrasts of Catalunya trip, a 6-day holiday relying on pedal power, I reconsidered my holiday wardrobe. After all, the yoga and pilates retreat I went on in Morocco turned out to be one of my most relaxing trips ever – could active holidays be the way forward? It was certainly worth finding out: after all, Catalunya is one of my favourite parts of the country, and true to the Contrasts of Catalunya name, the routes took us both along the Costa Brava and through the beautiful (and thankfully relatively flat) countryside of the Empordà.
|The Emporda countryside|
So before I knew it, my suitcase was packed with the aforementioned padded shorts and a cycling helmet nestling between sun and swimwear. I was Costa Brava-bound to show off my new gear on routes that would take us from Calella de Palafrugell to Platja de Pals, then inland to La Bisbal d' Empordà before returning to Calella. The routes sounded idyllic: apparently we’d ride through rice fields, alongside orchards and through the picturesque medieval villages of Pals, Toroella de Montgrí and Peratallada, pausing at our leisure (or perhaps when we were panting for breath).
Headwater has been offering self-guided cycling, walking and activity holidays for 30 years. Specialising in ‘relaxed activity holidays’, their trips are planned with the less-sporty in mind, making them well suited to very occasional cyclists like me. With holiday options in Europe and further afield, Headwater offers cycling trips in Andalucía and Asturias as well as Catalunya, plus walking holidays throughout Spain. Holidaymakers are provided with extensive route notes, a map and, in this case, GPS files to navigate from hotel to hotel by bike. There’s no group, no guides: you can travel solo, with friends or family and go at your own pace. There’s thankfully no need to pack light either: Headwater transport your suitcases to your next destination while you’re transporting yourself.
|First & final stop: Calella de Palafrugell|
My friend and I were met at the train station in Flaçà (almost 2 hours north-west of Barcelona) by our Headwater reps, who drove us to our first stop: Hotel Garbi, perched above coastal Calella with a commanding view of the bay. Having already received our route notes and detailed information about all our destinations by post, the reps briefed us on the practicalities of cycling in Catalunya and gave us tips on the towns we’d be visiting. Information absorbed, we were fitted with our transport for the week: two slick silver 21-speed bikes, complete with handy panniers. After a year out of the saddle, I was surprised by how wobbly I felt – how was I going to cycle 24 kilometres the next day? Clinging to the fact that the Headwater brochure describes the Contrasts of Catalunya trip as ‘ideal for first timers’, I tried to relax and enjoy my seafood dinner with a spectacular sea view.
All too soon we were bidding adéu to the Hotel Garbi and hitting the road. For all of two minutes: a few metres down the road, we turned onto a country track. Well-surfaced and wide, we rode side by side and contemplated the views across freshly-harvested fields, admiring hilltop villages in the distance. A few kilometres in, with the town of Palafrugell in sight, we paused for water – and to reassure each other that actually, this cycling lark wasn't so bad. It was certainly relaxed going so far despite the encroaching August heat: the terrain was mostly flat and the scenery stunning. Our confidence had grown: we pushed onwards, guided by the GPS files mapping our route. I greeted fellow cyclists with a breezy ‘Bon dia’, acting as though this was how I spent every Sunday morning. The road cycling was easy too; roads are blissfully quiet out in the country so we barely had to contend with traffic.