Costa Brava without the crowds! See the real Spain from the seat of a bicycle without a tourist in sight

By Dea Birkett

‘Ow. Ouch!’ My 12-year-old twins Savanna and River were complaining. It was our first day in the saddle, and our bikes were bouncing over paths rutted by spring rains.

For a week we were getting about the Costa Brava by our own steam – no buses, no trains, no car. We were following the footpath alongside the River Ter, running from La Gola on the coast up to the small town of Torroella de Montgri. This is the Costa Brava without crowds.

We rode past fields of barley and wheat, while in the distance we saw the gleam of the last snow on the mountains.

Our bikes were waiting for us at La Gola with everything we needed, such as helmets, water bottles and detailed maps. Bike paths weave through the region, so we rarely went on roads.

The right way: (From left) Savanna, Dea and River on their bikes as they rolled through Catalan Spain

The right way: (From left) Savanna, Dea and River on their bikes as they rolled through Catalan Spain

When we moved from one farmhouse accommodation to another, we just left our luggage there in the morning and it would be waiting for us at our new destination that night.

We passed mighty stone villas flying the Catalan flag as if they were still inhabited by a grand duke warding off Spanish invaders. Every hour or so we’d reach a medieval hamlet with a sundial to tell the time by in the postage-stamp cobbled square. In each there was a Romanesque church; the twins were relieved it was never open. The only word we learnt in Catalan was tancat – closed.

In true Spanish style, we took lunch very seriously, but our pocket-sized Spanish dictionary was no use at all because all the menus were in Catalan.

We ate three courses at least – mussels in garlic, braised pork cheek, crema catalana (like a creamy crème brulee), while jugs of chilled red wine (included in the price of every meal) were continually refilled.


‘No need for Jesus here,’ quipped one of the twins, having read about the wedding feast at Cana in school recently.

We’d bought guidebooks to the Costa Brava but all were useless. Not one of the medieval villages we stopped at was in them – Fontclara, Canapost, Vulpellac, Monells, or Peratallada, with its narrow cobbled streets.

The handlebar counters said our longest ride was 26 kilometres – just over 16 miles. ‘It’s wrong! My bottom says  it was at least 40,’ complained one of the children.

Thankfully the routes were flat, and we weren’t in a hurry – we only had to reach our next destination before sunset.

Often it was if we were parting a rainbow during our daily rides. Bright red poppies bordered narrow dirt paths, while beyond them was a field of yellow rapeseed and beyond that were open green foothills.

Historic: Stone arches in Monells, one of the many gorgeous towns our writer wheeled through

Historic: Stone arches in Monells, one of the many gorgeous towns our writer wheeled through

Each night was like arriving home. We’d be greeted at a farmhouse by the owners and fed at their huge kitchen table.

At the 13th Century Mas Masaller, everything was crooked – the terracotta tiles, the whitewashed stone walls, and the beams above our ancient, dark wooden bed. Hosts Joan and Marta served solid Spanish fare – croquettes, a giant tortilla, locally produced  cheese, farmhouse salamis, homemade jam. Nothing we ate came from a supermarket or had a wrapper on it.

It meant any benefits from spending the day in the saddle were outweighed by the fine food. But we did discover a part of Spain we felt no one had travelled through before. We were explorers, our bikes our trusty steeds.

And our bottoms? Well, they’re glad to be back sitting on a bus.


Inntravel (, 01653 617000) offers a six-night cycling trip for families in Catalonia from £680 per adult and from £335 per child when sharing a family room. The price includes six nights’  half-board accommodation, luggage transfers, route  maps, cycle hire and cycling accessories. Flights are extra. 

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