The small Catalan city of Girona in the North East of Spain has become the choice destination for riders looking for some of Europe’s best cycling roads.
Retired professional Christian Meier is just one of dozens of current or former racers who make up a growing anglophone and antipodean community in the city, taking advantage of the affordable cost of living, good transport links and a high quality of life.
He’s not the only one: ex-pat Aussie and Movistar rider Rory Sutherland recently opened his own cafe/restaurant, named Federal, in the old city.
“When people come they realise how great Girona is: great roads, great places to eat and stay, and I feel like it’s one of the safest places to ride. Cars are very courteous and friendly,” Meier says.
Who better to offer a guide to the best roads and best hangouts in his adopted home.
“The most spectacular piece of coast road I’ve ever ridden”
The coastal loop is my favourite ride. From Girona, head southeast to the coast at Tossa de Mar, then ride up the coast to Saint Feliu de Guíxols.
It’s sinuous, windy, the water is incredibly blue and there are almost no cars. Come back over Calonge and back inland towards Els Àngels and it’s about 120km. It’s perfect. In the winter time, as a pro, I would do that ride a few times a week.
“If you rock up around 11:00am you can run into 10 pros training on the climb”
Rocacorba has got this name over the last couple of years, and some riders go and do their pre-Tour test on the climb. But training-wise, I used to go Rocacorba once or twice a year, just for the novelty.
There’s another climb called Saint Martí Sacalm, out of a small town called Amer. It’s 8.5km long, but it has a really good steady gradient of around 6% all the way. So it’s good for doing efforts.
Rocacorba starts very steep, then goes flatter and then has a steeper section at the end, so it might be good for a certain type of training. But the Amer climb is perfect for training, you can do big gear stuff and you can ride high cadence in between.
I used to train there perhaps 100 times a year, but I would probably only go to the top around 10 times. I think a good time is around 22 minutes.
“It’s 8:30pm before you know it”
Go to Plaça de la Independència, around which you’ll find all sorts of restaurants and bars, and have a beer and just people watch. You can easily pass an afternoon or an evening there. Typically the way it goes here, around 7:00pm or 8:00pm you go for a drink, and at around 8:30 or 9:00pm you go for dinner.
It’s obviously quite late, but when you come to Girona and you’re here on vacation, it’s really nice to go out at six or seven, have a couple of beers, and you’re at 8:30pm before you know it. It’s a lovely experience.
My favourite place is called Boira: that’s one of the main places on Independència.
“Girona is just a cool place…you’re going to find some pretty cool restaurants.”
El Celler de Can Roca was number one restaurant in the world for a year, but there are so many places in Girona that are little gems.
There’s a place called Plaça de Vi 7, which means ‘place of the wine.’ The sommelier there is renowned as one of the better ones in Europe and they have some good food and a creative kitchen.
Another one of our favourites is called Brots de Vi. They have some nice salads and a healthier lunch: one of the few places you get avocado and things on your salad.
They also have a nice little terrace outside and it’s in a little area with four to five restaurants just around the corner from Espresso Mafia. It’s a hustling, bustling area so you can sit out on the terrace, do a bit of people watching, have some good food.
“You run into all sorts of neat alleyways and places”
Do a lap of the wall: it’s awesome. At the top you have a vista of the whole city. If you start down on Plaça Catalunya you’ll finish up around the cathedral, so then you can drop off the wall and you’re in the old town.
Depending on how into museums you are there is the Jewish Quarter, and the Jewish Baths are some of the most important in Europe.
From the station you can reach the Salvador Dali museum in Figueres in a 20 minute train ride, and that’s spectacular to see.
“The tourist train really has to gas it to get up the hills”
Most places have patatas bravas and other simple stuff on the menu that is good for kids, but if you’re going specifically with kids there’s a place called Blanc, attached to Hotel Ciutat de Girona, and that has a kids menu.
Most places put a menu for €12-15 per person, and that typically includes bread, wine, appetiser, main and dessert. Those are quite good value, and you can get in and out pretty quick too.
If you have younger kids there is a little tourist train that leaves from the stone bridge which does a lap of the town and explains things as you go.
There are a couple of places in the old town where it really has to gas it to get up the hills; in fact I’d recommend anyone do it, not just kids!
“It’s the perfect descent”
One of my favourite rides is up the back of the Amer climb on a gravel road. You basically ride up to this dam and then you come down the asphalt side.
You have to be up for it – it’s not the smoothest gravel road you’ve ever ridden – but it’s a perfect descent because they repaved it last year. It’s incredible.
I don’t understand it sometimes; around Girona they pave these tiny little roads where no-one would ever drive. It doesn’t make sense but for us it’s the most perfect thing ever.
Girona airport, located 15km from the city centre, serves flights to various European destinations.
Barcelona city centre (115km by car) is now 38 mins from Girona by a recently upgraded direct train line to Barcelona Sants station.
Barcelona airport (20 minutes by train from the central Barcelona Sants station) serves many European and intercontinental destinations.