Riding in the Costa Dorada



The clatter inside the restaurant was deafening. The animated burble of Sunday lunch chatter, the discord of plates being stacked, glasses chinking and cutlery clinking, all bouncing back and forth off the stone floors and tiled walls was a shock, after the solace of the road. But, we’d been hammering round the hills of the Parc Naturel de la Serra de Montsant all morning and we were now hungry, very hungry.

By Rob Penn

Wednesday 2nd May 2018

Spain is a beguiling country. Whenever I think I’m getting to know it, I discover there’s more. I have ridden a bike across Andalucia and over the Sierra Nevada mountains. I have lumbered over the great cols of the Pyrenees, pedalled through the Picos de Europa, roamed the hills above Girona and explored the lanes inland from the Costa Blanca. But, I have to admit, I had never heard of the Costa Dorada before the London bike show this year. One hour south of Barcelona, deep into south Catalunya, this is a region of golden beaches and sunshine, but also serried limestone hills, monasteries, prestigious family wineries and a network of winding mountain roads that will delight British cyclists, particularly in autumn and spring.

We set off on a ride from Cambrils, the old fishing port turned Mediterranean resort town, with our guide Alberto. The warmth – 15°C at 9am, rising to 28°C by mid-afternoon – was like a salve after the long British winter. Alberto runs a bike shop in Barcelona, edits a cycling magazine and guides. On the warm up, a gentle 15km incline into a light wind away from the coast, through Montbrió del Camp heading towards the forested hills, Alberto talked about Catalan independence. Widespread enthusiasm for the movement means the roads are marked like Alpine cols on the eve of the Tour, with separatist insignia, while many trees are bound with yellow tape.

The first proper climb begins in the village of Duesaigües. Take a ride in calming olive tree orchards and almond trees, evergreen oaks and maple trees, deep into the hills densely populated with Aleppo pines.

The traffic disappeared. We climbed gently in the shade as groups of locals whistled down through the tight bends past us, exclaiming ‘adéu’ – the Catalan version of ‘adios’, it means ‘goodbye’ or literally, ‘to God’. Or, as Alberto chipped in with a twinkle in his eye, ‘it could also mean “God help you”.’

Over the pass – Col de Texiata at 540m – and we were rolling down through the celebrated vineyards of el Priorat, across a rugged landscape of slanted terraces, red stone churches, Romanesque bridges and sleepy hilltop villages with cobbled streets. In places, it is as picturesque as Tuscany. We passed a group of cheery French cyclists on a multi-day tour of Catalunya. And then, as lunchtime approached, there was no one – no cars, no cyclists, no people. It was as if a spell had been cast. The busy hotels and beaches on the Mediterranean seemed an age away. ‘When you leave the coast, everything stops,’ Alberto said.

We rode on, climbing a 740m pass near the village of La Morera de Montsant beneath the 1,000m limestone cliffs of the Montsant massif. We still had 35km to go when we reached the restaurant, a converted farmhouse, but it was mostly downhill back to the coast and the wind was now with us. All morning, Alberto had been promising plates of cured meats, lamb chops cooked with beans, roast potatoes, walnuts and sweet wine. As we lent our bikes up inside the barn, we could hear the clatter inside calling us.

Robert Penn is the author of It’s All About the Bike and a director of Bikecation.

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