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Girona

Summit of Rocacorba

Classic Climbs of Girona #5: Rocacorba

By Girona No Comments

20 km from Girona on a nondescript road in the outskirts of the town of Banyoles, overlooking the sparkling blue lake is the mountain of Puigsou, also known as the climb of Rocacorba. Once a well-kept secret amongst those in the know and only fully paved in 2006 it is now arguably one of the most infamous climbs in the Girona area and one of the first places people head to when visiting the city on two wheels.

Like many of the climbs in Girona the popularity of Rocacorba comes not from its association with huge grand tours and TV coverage but from a slowly built up reputation amongst the professionals who live and have lived here, perhaps none quite so much as David Millar, who founded the Velo Club Rocacorba. As the number of riders in Girona both amateur and professional continues to expand the so-called ‘secrets’ of the area become less so and Rocacorba is no exception.

The fact that the proverbial cat is well and truly out of the bag with regards to Rocacorba is no surprise, the location itself carries enough of an appeal. Banyoles is worth riding to in itself, simply to soak in the beauty of the lake and surrounding area. In addition to its location, part of Rocacorba’s appeal is the challenge of the climb itself, there are few climbs in the area that begin to match it for the gradient and length. When you take the full 14 km into account the average gradient of 5.6% is laughably deceptive and hides the brutal reality of slopes of up to 15% for long periods. However, take the climb as 10 km, starting from the stone bridge over the Matamors river, cutting out the flatter bottom section and the average gradient is a far less forgiving 7%.

How to get a quick time up Rocacorba

But it’s not all just one big wall, the key to climbing Rocacorba in a quick time is to hit the gas on the few interspersed flat sections against your legs’ better wishes. Once the red and white radio masts come into view you can be reassured that the top is near, but don’t get too comfortable, as some of the hardest slopes are within the final few kilometres.

Don’t miss: Rocacorba Food Truck

But, not all of Rocacorba is pain and suffering – alright, most of it is – but the addition in June 2017 of the Rocacorba Food Truck situated 1.5 km from the summit and open every weekend means that the effort required to reach it can be rewarded by delicious local food and drinks. The Food Truck was founded on the concept of passion for mountain sports and local produce and it’s well worth making sure you plan your visit to Rocacorba to be at the weekend to make sure you catch it. Before stopping for a well-earned snack, however, climb the remaining kms to see the stunning views from the top and sit with your legs dangling off the hand gliding ramp feeling on top of the world. There’s only one way up and down so you’ll be going past on the descent anyway.

Want to take on Rocacorba yourself?

No cycling trip to Girona is complete without an ascent of Rocacorba. To experience the challenge of Rocacorba yourself why not sign up to our Girona Experience tour or simply visit The Hub to rent one of our Ridley Bikes and book a local guide to show you the way.

For more information Rocacorba Food Truck visit their Facebook or follow them on, Instagram and don’t forget to check out their jersey’s and tee’s in our Eat Sleep Cycle Girona Hub.

Thanks to Bike Office Espana, Tomas Montes @arriere_du_peleton, Rocacorba Food Truck & Sergi Mas de Xaxars @de_xaxars for the fabulous photos.

Girona Cycling Climbs

Classic Climbs of Girona #4: Mare de Déu del Mont

By Girona No Comments

Girona is renowned as a cyclist’s paradise for a reason: the city provides the perfect base from which to explore the myriad climbs of the surrounding area as well as being home to a plethora of cafes and restaurants – and as we know, cyclists love coffee and food just as much as riding bikes! This is the first of a forthcoming series of blogs on the cycling highlights of the Girona area, and what better way to start than with one of the most iconic local climbs and a real favourite: Mare de Déu Del Mont.

Let us first dispense with the problematic mouthful that is its name: Mare de Déu Del Mont literally translated, means ‘mother of God of the mountain’ and is actually the name of the shrine located at the top. A HC behemoth and one of the longest climbs in the area you would be forgiven for issuing forth a ‘Mare de Déu!’ of your own upon tackling the gradients of it’s upper slopes.

There are two ways to take on Mare de Déu, the ‘easier’ route is from Cabanelles: 18.54km with an avg grade of 5%. The gradient is more constant and less gruelling on this side but there are also short descents and flats in places, which do provide welcome breaks but can mess up your rhythm (this is true of both sides). The bottom slopes are surrounded by woodland so there’s nothing much to look at but your own stem or whoever happens to be in front. As you gain elevation, however, the trees give way to some of the most stunning views around which coincides nicely with the most painful part of the climb so you can concentrate on picking out where you just climbed from instead of your burning legs. Indeed, one of the draws of climbing Mare de Déu del Mont is the spectacular scenery from the very top of its 1,093m summit which include panoramic vistas of the surrounding area including the Pyrenees in the distance, Banyoles Lake and, on a clear day, the Costa Brava coastline.

The second route is through the Medieval town of Besalú, the charms of which make it worthy of its own blog, and I would recommend posing for the obligatory photos with the 12th century Romanesque bridge before Mare de Déu leaves you looking sweaty and knackered. From this side it’s 20km in length and the average gradient is still 5% although much of that comes from the flatter bottom section. After taking a right turn in Besalú the road edges upwards slightly before you reach the tiny town of Beuda where the climb begins proper. From there you need to choose your gear selection wisely as the narrow road can go from a descent to a 10%+ slope in a matter of one corner. After a few kilometres of this and a series of hairpins comes a junction – it will be very tempting to take a right and descend the other side down to Cabanelles but that won’t get you any glory or kudos from your mates so take the left and continue the climb following the same road as the Cabanelles side for the remaining 6.6km of 7-10% gradient to the top.

It’s worth adding that, once you’ve enjoyed your fill of the scenery on offer from the top, the descent should be treated with great respect and care as the roads are narrow, steep, and twisty and there may be oncoming traffic.

Ridley Helium SLX

First ride: Ridley Helium SLX

By Bike Hire One Comment

The brand new, custom painted Ridley Helium SLX had been sat staring at me for 3-weeks. I’m a bit funny with riding a new bike without a proper fitting session and I simply hadn’t had time. But when Tiesj Benoot won Strade Bianche on it, I dropped everything, put on the nearest cycling clothes (lucky for you no photos of that catastrophe) and headed out into the Girona sunshine.

A new bike normally feels strange on the first ride. Especially because this time, I decided to trial a new saddle. I’ve had some numbness troubles downstairs and determined to fix that, will test the Eat Sleep Cycle Fizik saddle fitting programme (Test any saddle before buying). I am starting with the Antares which is wider than my previous Arione. Idea being the sit bones rest on it rather than that important nerve which eventually causes numbness. For the first few rides, the sit bones hurt a bit, but that’s a sign of a good position.

In addition, this was the first time I’d used Rotor cranks. Since they are manufactured in Madrid it seemed fitting to have them on our rental and race bike fleet. I know, you can’t fault Shimano, but I wanted to give it a go. I’m not sure if it’s the shape of the Rotor cranks or if they genuinely are better but they felt good from the offset.

Other upgrades on the bike include the legendary Fatboys, the creation of Drew Gill at Spin On These (http://ridefullgas.com/). I could write a blog just on these wheels which have broken the age-old idea of narrow tyres and high pressure. The opposite results in more comfort, more grip and a better looking bike! Finished with the new Ultegra shifters, brakes and derailleurs, what is left is a very light and attractive looking bike.

From the off-set the bike felt stable, if not a little high at the front. The Helium has a reasonably large stack and I´m used to riding slammed race bikes. Due to a combination of back problems and more riding in the high mountains, I’m open to giving a higher front end a go.

Instantly I noted great responsiveness when accelerating to beat the red lights out of town. The bike felt super stiff. Once into the countryside things started to speed up and in the aero position, I was pushing 50 km/hr easily. A great start!

It was the first climb that signed and sealed my decision to ride the Helium this year. As the bike is the race choice of our sponsored race team “Rocacorba Racing” it only seemed fit for that climb to be Rocacorba. At nearly 1,000 meters it’s tough, with gradients of over 14% in places.

As soon as the slope steepened the bike just seemed to ride away from me, begging to be ridden faster, jump out the saddle on the bends instead of cruising around and keep the pace up all the way to the top. Wow, the bike is light and yes I noticed a big difference from last year’s race bike (a Guerciotti).

Chatting to several other professional riders in Girona who also ride the Helium, we´ve heard plenty of stories of the bike being under the legal limit of 7 Kg. But us amateurs don´t need to worry about that and every gram in our favor is potentially more kudos!

All that was left was the ride down and a combination of the Fatboys and bike stiffness made that very enjoyable. The slightly higher stack was not detrimental to the descent.

Last and not least, the bike looks great. Ridley´s custom paint jobs are top notch, with a full colour palette and several designs to choose from. I went for a stealth look, with a touch of Rocacorba Racing blue, but below you’ll see just how adventurous you can be with it…

A Grand Départ we will never forget

By Girona No Comments

This weekend we opened the doors to our brand new Girona Hub, a pretty momentous & proud moment in our short (but intense) history.

Our early blog readers will remember how Eat Sleep Cycle started: in August 2016 we ran our first tour from Girona to Biarritz with a rented Enterprise van and 6 intrepid clients. In November 2016 we opened a tiny local in the Barri Vell and stocked it with 7 Cinelli rental bikes.  That winter we developed our blog into a website, added some tours and started to take more & more rental bookings. By April 2017 we had a fleet of 20 Orbea bicycles and were opening a second premises just over the plaza.

We thought we had made it but had little idea about the surge in business to come. The 2017 season was bonkers & brilliant. We ran tours across the Pyrenees, recced new itineraries in the Dolomites & Picos mountains, rented bikes, guided rides around Girona and worked all the hours we could. By the end of 2017 we knew we needed more bikes which, in our 20 bike-hook HQ, was not an option. We started taking bookings for 2018 and worked out we needed around 70 bikes to meet the demand of early bookers. We went to see out of town storage units, considered a 3rd local on the same plaza & tried convincing (ie. bribing) our landlord to rent us his garage.

Then one day in December Lee walked past a beautiful glass locale on Placa Catalunya, located next to popular cafe +Cub, with a sizable Terraza. There was a ‘For Rent’ sign on the door with a number to call. Lee called it & the wheels started turning.

Fast-forward two months (nothing takes very long at Eat Sleep Cycle) and we are the proud tenants of Carrer del Vern, 3. We have 70 beautiful Ridley rental bikes (now including Gravel & Mountain bikes), two workshop spaces, a bike fit studio, a bike rental pick-up space and a beautiful retail space showcasing kit made in Catalunya, Worx Bikes and leading brands Assos & Ridley.

Friday night was opening night and we were overwhelmed by the turnout. Our Hub was THE place to be seen on Friday night. It was a party packed with people who’ve been part of our journey – family, friends, teammates, club members, our lawyer, our builder, the ladies from Tourist Info, town hall representatives, pro riders, colleagues from other cycling businesses & journalists all flocked to the Hub. We overflowed out the door and onto the terrace, people were jammed into both floors, queuing to get in and see the new space. It was a very proud few hours for the team.

+Cub (our new favourite neighbours) welcomed us by running a bar for the event with delicious juices, cava & beers. Silvia (our new favourite employee) baked an Eat Sleep Cycle cake to die for (prepared with the pastry chef from El Celler Can Roca no less!) and ESC volunteers kept everything running behind the scenes.

We followed the opening night with a weekend of cycling, offering free guided road, gravel & mountain bike rides, a trip to the Rocacorba Food Truck and a delicious lunch at +Cub. We hosted a Retul Bike Fit talk by the legend that is Emi Molina from VeloLoveFit, we offered massages by Gabinet Medic Girona, we launched our race teams Rocacorba Racing & Els Àngles Racing.

The whirlwind weekend is over and now we’re working in the Hub and turning our attention to delivering an epic 2018 of cycling. Here’s to the next chapter in the journey, we cannot wait!

Photo Gallery by George Harper

Cycling Climbs of Girona: #3 Sant Marti Sacalm

By Girona No Comments

Sant Marti Sacalm is THE 20-minute power test cycling climb of the Girona region and if you come here for a visit you can´t leave without giving it a blast, as we say in Eat Sleep Cycle language.

At 5.2 miles, or 8.6 kilometres it´s not particularly long and at an average of 7% it´s not leg-breakingly steep either, which is probably why I like it so much.

But there´s a lot more to it than that  and in no particular order, it´s a climb with a paved road all the way to the top with your reward being absolute solitude and a pretty basic cafe.

If you´re really going well you can ride it in the big chainring – though the steepest section is inside the opening few hundred metres so be careful not to go into the red zone here as you´ll pay for it later.

 

To reach the start, you simply ride west out of town through Salt, Bescano and Angles before swinging down right at the roundabout there and on towards Olot.

After 10 kilometres of undulating road on a hard shoulder you´ll reach the town of Amer but before you exit it you´ll see a sign left for Sant Marti Sacalm.

Enjoy the last breaths that you can call your own because when you reach the top of the plateaux and see that road snaking around to the left, that´s what you´re looking for.

Yes, Sant Marti goes up and up and up and up and up. It doesn´t level off ONCE so just settle in and find your rhythm.

The key to a good time here – and I´m just outside the top 50 guys to have went up it so I´m hardly an expert, is ride within yourself for the first two minutes until you´re over the steep stuff.

Then prepare to suffer for the rest of it.

If you´re lucky like I was you´ll have someone just hanging ahead of you to help drag those last few beats out of your heart.

I recorded a pretty embarrassing average of 169 beats a minute for my effort, so I´m convinced there´s loads more in me on this climb…though probably not the six minutes I need to beat Simon Yates´time.

VITAL STATS

Distance: 5.2 miles/8.3 kilometres

Average grade: 7%

Max. Grade: 11%

Altitude at the top: 816m/2,346ft

Elevation difference from the bottom: 605metres

Els Angels Girona Cycling Climb

Cycling Climbs of Girona: #2 Els Angels

By Girona No Comments

Els Angels, often mistakenly called “Hells Angels” by Girona newcomers (a simple error in pronunciation, not down to its difficulty…read on) is the climb that got me to Girona. Tired of poor training routes around my work for lunchtime escapes, I was determined to do any job that had good riding on the doorstep. So when I zoomed in on the windy switch backs of Els Angels in Google Maps, the base of which happened to be 500 m from the office, I knew that job was for me.

Funnily enough, when we (Louise and I) moved to Girona, the very next day was the annual hill climb competition up, you guessed it, Els Angels. It’s part of the annual Girona Cycling Festival run by Bike Breaks, the best cycling festival I’ve seen and I love to participate in every year.

The night before the competition I thought I better check out the climb. Louise had really bad cramps that week. Foolish me had booked an apartment on the 4th floor with no elevator and that had aggravated her legs. So it was a lone recce of a climb that was to become an integral part of my life.

The first thing that hit me is it is literally 5 mins out of Girona center. I didn’t even have to stop at a traffic light to get there. A common complaint from locals is it isn’t enough time to warm-up. Anyhow, there I was at sunset in June cruising up this beautiful wooded climb thinking “I’m in paradise…..ah yes, a race tomorrow, must take note of bends…and stuff”. A few things came to light. It’s reasonably long at just a smidgen over 10 km. It flattens off and even descends at least twice. That’s a nightmare for keeping a high power going but a lovely break if you are cruising up. It has a bit of everything – long straights, switch backs, hidden sections in trees and open sections staring out onto the mountain range. It’s a truly special experience.

You know you are at the top when you see a large cross. If you are feeling strong at that point you can do the 500 m extra to the Santuari of Els Angels where you will be treated to stunning 360 degree views.

The day of the hill climb came. I pushed Louise to the start line, she could only pedal with one leg. Our hopes of her winning the posh watch (to pay our first months rent) were blown so the pressure was on me. But there was no way I could beat these local guys. Great excuse to pay the man a visit though, its my favourite place to be.

I ALWAYS go off to hard on TT’s, especially up hill. But on a short one that isn’t always bad, it depends how badly you can bury yourself within your own pain and suffering! I just went as fast as I could, span those pedals at the highest cadence I could whilst pushing as hard as I could. I wasn’t looking at any numbers which all would have told me to stop. At the top I collapsed, you could tell I’d tried hard put it that way.

When I was called up for first place I couldn’t believe my ears. With a time of 22:40 I’d managed to secure the watch. We’d be staying in Girona after all.

Girona Cycling Els Angels Hilll Climb Granfondo

Last June was my 3rd Hill Climb competition. It never gets any easier. Though the climb itself only averages a measly 3%, when you go full gas it really hurts! I have beaten that first time by over a minute, now at 21:32 (14th on Strava with a pretty prestigious crew). Its my claim to fame, one of the only races I’ve ever won and a piece of suffering I like to re-visit every year to check I’m still cycling enough.

VITAL STATS

Distance: 10.1 km
Average grade: 3.0%
Max. Grade: 8%
Altitude at the top: 414 m
Elevation difference from the bottom: 344 m

Cycling Climbs Girona #1 Sant Hilari Sacalm

Cycling Climbs of Girona: #1 Sant Hilari Sacalm

By Girona 2 Comments

My introduction to Sant Hilari couldn´t have been any worse; a freezing cold gilet-less descent on January 7th, 2012 followed by my training partner hitting the deck VERY hard and escaping the sharp edge of a steel road barrier by the width of a tyre.

He can count himself lucky he got away with a night in hospital, half a dozen stitches over his right eye and a broken bike.

Yes, that´s the first thing about Sant Hilari Sacalm: you never descend into Anglés between December and March because it´s just too dangerous.

Now, it IS possible, but how much can you enjoy a slippery descent that could wipe you out in a millisecond?

Take my advice; climb Sant Hilari Sacalm from Anglés and descend into Santa Coloma de Farners. And enjoy sun on your face for most of it.

This is a Girona Classic and is still, three years on, one of favourites because the only thing I love more about the climb is the descent. And from Santa Coloma de Farners it´s a pretty flat run home, save for the little ´kicker´in Sant Dalmai which I always use as a burial ground for my final effort of the day.

Now, back to the climb. The quickest way to get there is head west out of Girona through Salt, Bescano and Anglés, a 20-kilometre ride.

Next you take the GI-542 to Sant Hilari Sacalm and once on it you just stay riding the whole way.

From bottom to top it´s 25.4 kilometres at a very generous 2.6% average gradient.

Everybody has a gradient they´ll feel suits them best and for me, this is mine.

The gradient allows you to settle into a really comfortable, smooth rhythm without much need for changes in gear. In fact, it´s so gentle that if you´re fit you can do it in the big chainring.

The maximum gradient is ´just´ 7% and this is just after the midway point by which time you´re probably well warmed up and into your stride.

Starting at 144 metres you climb to 810, so it´s not exactly in the clouds and thus you won´t freeze at the top unless you´re completely under-prepared.

The climb is ideal for a 20-minute power-test as it´s very quiet and relatively traffic-free.

The only place where you´re likely to get held up is in Osor about 9 kilometres in.

After this, the grade is a solid 4-5% for around 6 kilometres but you´re rewarded with a flat section and some very gentle stuff at 1-2% for the rest.

You know you´re almost at the top when you see the water tanks on your right-hand side on the last few corners and when the road yawns out ahead of you with a slight rise at the end, that´s your cue to sprint!

The climb is as peaceful as they come with a river flanking the right-hand side for much of the way up before it disappears from view.

The surface is paved the entire way, though do be careful on corners as there´s often leaves and gravel. It´s very possible to crash hard going up this hill so take care and don´t push it too hard on those switchbacks.

I love the climb because it offers great peace amd you don’t have to be that fit to get up it. By that I mean there are no steep gradients that require you to get out of the saddle.

My own personal record is around 50 minutes though I haven’t really tested myself in well over a year now.

Maybe it’s time for another showdown…stay tuned!

VITAL STATS

Distance: 25.4k

Average grade: 2.6%

Max. Grade: 7%

Altitude at the top: 815m

Elevation difference from the bottom: 675m

 

 

 

Girona in ‘winter’ and the season of base miles

By Girona No Comments

I absolutely love this time of year in Girona; the tourists have moved on, the light at sunset is magical and the markets are exploding with colour and flavour.  We are still riding with our arms and legs out and some of the Eat Sleep Cycle team are actually improving their tan lines! But then again it is still Autumn and we are normally blessed with warm temperatures right through December with Girona’s short Winter starting in January and lasting until the end of February.

For racing and leisure cyclists, the start of November is typically the time when some form of structured training is recommenced after an October break. At Eat Sleep Cycle we are no different and for the next four months we are focusing our energies on getting the very best out of the great weather.

There seems to be a myth that it´s too cold here to base yourself in Girona for Winter training but having spent the last three winters here, I´m well-positioned to say that´s not the case at all.

This year, we had a week in February where the maximum temperature on each of the seven days of the week were as follows: 17, 19, 20, 21, 17, 15 and 17. Hardly Baltic?

January is probably the coldest month and it is chilly in the mornings if you´re planning to ride early. But wait until 11am and the Mercury will already be up into double figures.

Far from wanting to be accused of biasthe coldest temperatures it got down to on that same week were 5, 2, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 2 degrees Celsius, but these are all hit at night time when you are tucked up in bed and resting those legs after a long day in the saddle.

So, you can see the temperature range on any given day is quite wide – and the same can be said for the actual conditions. We do get wind and rain, but more of the former (especially further north towards the coast) and much less of the latter. Statistics actually show more rainfall in Girona in May, March and even April than January or February. So expect plenty of blue skies and sunshine even if it is a little cooler than the Spring months.

One question we often get asked is what to bring and how to dress appropriately for Winter in Girona. To that we say the following; be prepared for all types of weather, be it wind, rain or sunshine. We get it all, and sometimes we get it on the same day!

Always pack Winter kit (It´s worth noting that Team Sky riders flew home from Majorca last winter as the island got snow, so expect the unexpected!). Bring a good base layer as well as leg and arm warmers, and a skull cap is one of the first pieces of kit I pack wherever I go as you lose a huge amount of heat through your head. Keep your fingers and toes warm with overshoes and gloves – though expect to shed both these layers as the day progresses.

Girona is quite unique in that it is situated between the high mountains and the sea, meaning you have access to all types of riding. So even on a day where rain is forecast there is always a ride window and somewhere in the Girona Province where it is not raining. You’ll often hear a local rider telling their heroic story of escaping rain byheading in another direction!

Aside from it being a top cycling destination it doesn´t ´close up´ in Winter like so many other training destinations. Being a University town there is an amazing energy to the place with so many bars and cafes and restaurants – and more are opening by the week. 

The price of hotels and apartments is a fraction of what you will be charged in summer while you’ll also benefit from the quietest training roads.

So, ask yourself what you want out of a Winter training holiday and if it’s any or all of the above, then why not give Girona a shot this year? See more info here

Girona’s perfect season

By Girona No Comments

I’m in the perfect frame of mind to write this blog. I’ve just spent the day at the beach in a small place just outside of Begur called Taimaru. It’s a 50 minute drive from Girona. It was the most perfect day I have ever spent at the beach. The sun was warm but not too hot that it drains your energy away, the beach had atmosphere but was by no means overcrowded and the water still held the warmth from the Summer and beautiful transparency that it always seems to have. The Costa Brava is just one of the reasons why Girona is so special in the Autumn. I use Autumn casually here because today for most people would be an excellent summer’s day. The factor 30 was out in force!

Back in the old town, pros are regularly seen strolling the streets, sipping coffee in La Fabrica, or popping into our shop to say hi. It’s finally the off-season for them – the long awaited and well earned piss-up that commenced last night at the Girona Gala dinner.  If you like rubbing shoulders with the who’s who in cycling and cool cycling memorabilia (including if I remember correctly a signed jersey from the 1975 Tour de France winner) you should consider this event next year. It’s all in aid of the Qhubeka charity and organised by the Peloton Brief. The hard work and organisation really paid off on the night. This has become a landmark on the Girona calendar.

At the end of October we will see the start of Girona’s crazy 2 week festival kicked off by the Carrefoc (translated as fire festival). I will not even attempt to describe this. You have to come and see for yourself! There are fair ground rides some how (I can only presume its real magic) positions in the complicated array of huge trees in the local Devesa park. The kids legs regularly brush tree branches and this seems to add to the fun of the whole thing.

Because its now the off-season we can finally enjoy delights such as roasted chestnuts, cake made fresh at Martina’s kitchen, the best Xurros in Girona (and probably the world) right in front of our shop and cafe CON LECHE, yes with as much milk as possible. We can eat as much of these delights as we want until we start to feel really guilty and the winter training kicks in. Me, i’m just getting started with my food treats!

At Eat Sleep Cycle we run more regular club rides and smaller tours including Micro Adventures. They attract locals and are more of a cool escape from the city than working. The riding this time of year really is spectacular. As well as being the perfect temperature, the light and changing environment (including multi-coloured trees) makes for a feast for the eyes on every ride.

So here is to many happy Autumn miles in Girona!

Girona Cycling Living in Girona

20 reasons why living in Girona is awesome

By Girona 5 Comments

Since moving to Girona in September 2014 I can say with authority it’s the best place I’ve ever lived. I spent a summer in Boston at 19 and another in Sri Lanka at 20. I moved to Australia the following year and resided in Bondi for six months. I’ve spent most of my life in Ireland, either studying or working.

I had a great life where I lived in Ireland, earned good money doing what I loved, worked with amazing people, lived with or close to my best friends and family and wanted for absolutely nothing, or so I thought.

So I quit the job, packed my bags (and bikes), moved to Girona and started on a journey that has been the most exhilarating one I’ve ever been on so far. I had no idea where it would take me when I came – but it’s one I’ll not be ending any time soon.

I knew one person when I arrived. The only trouble was, she was moving to the US for work the day before I came and I was taking her apartment on a six-month lease. The key was under the mat when I found it on Carrer de la Rutlla. I opened the door to a new life in Girona 18 months ago, not knowing anyone or a single syllable of Spanish or Catalan.

Here are 20 reasons you should do the same…

1) The lifestyle

So what does that word actually mean, then? Well, to me it’s year-round sunshine and a (very) relaxed attitude to life. Life is savored and enjoyed at a slower pace here. People walk in the streets at night, stop to chat for hours, take a beer or a coffee at any hour of the day and are genuinely interested in how you are. Well-being is everyone’s business.

2) The weather

Yes, the sun shines here an awful lot and there’s no better feeling than opening the blinds in the morning and having your eyes burned by the brilliant ball in the sky. It stays there too. It sounds cliché but the weather impacts my mood. I’ve been in a good mood now for 18 months. Feel free to hate me!

3) The food

Girona is blessed with some of the best restaurants in the world and in fact, it has one that’s twice been voted the world’s best. (El Cellar de Can Roca). There are endless eateries in the city and they’re very well-priced too. You can get a superb three-course meal with wine for less than €20 while during the day, most places will serve a set menu, or Menu del Dia for under a tenner. This, by the way, is a bottle of water or wine, a bread basket, two main courses and a desert! Not bad eh?

4) The coffee

Prepare to become a coffee addict or aficionado. I’m probably the former at this stage…and I’m not seeking help for it! The place has an array of places, but the best is La Fabrica. It’s a stunning little spot in the heart of the Barri Vell and it’s where all the pros get their cortados in the morning. Amber Meier will greet you with a smile and if her husband Christain isn’t racing (with top professional team Orica-GreenEDGE), he’ll be on hand to serve you too. Coffee spots crop up every week…the trouble is keeping up!

5) The people

The people of Girona are warm-hearted and kind. They inquire about you, they hold doors open, they greet you in the street, they’re welcoming and mild-mannered. They are immensely proud of their Catalan heritage and make you feel like one of them. I’ll never forget the help I received the night I locked myself out of my apartment; free hostel stay- check, free use of phone – check; loan of money – check.

6) The cycling

Okay, so the reason I am here is to work as a cycling journalist and yes, you may or may not know this city is home to over 100 professionals. Why? Because it offers everything an aspiring pro could need….keep reading.

7) The roads & cycling routes

If cycling nirvana is what you’re after, you’ll find it here. Think endless kilometres of rolling terrain with the only sound being that of your own laboured breathing and the occasional search for an easier gear. The roads are in immaculate condition and it is a fact that I am yet to puncture here! I have what I call a ‘car counting ride with a friend where we ride for one hour hard and predict how many cars we’ll meet on the ride. The person who guesses correctly gets a free coffee from the other. Often, the winner has won by accurately predicting we would meet zero cars.

8) The climbs

There is such a variety of roads in Girona and its surroundings that you could do a different ride every day of the week if you wanted. You can be climbing for an hour and a half (on Mare de Deu del Mont) or just less than half that (Rocacorba), both of which are within an hour of the city. There are the lovely 3-4% draggy roads where you can do some strength work on or a complex maze of second and third-category roads you’ll never get bored of. There’s the popular beach loop to Tossa de Mar via Llagostera or the ever-popular Olot loop (100k). Really, there is everything you could want for a training base here.

9) The cost of living

Compared to other places in Europe, Girona is much cheaper and this has been one of the main reasons why I’ve enjoyed it so much. Simply put, you can enjoy a higher standard of living for less. You can eat out cheaply, you can fill your fridge and get change from a €50, you can get car insurance cheaper than the UK and Ireland, second-hand cars offer good value, and healthcare is free. As you won’t need to heat your house, there is a saving to me made there too.

10) The Costa Brava

Some of the best beaches in Europe are less than half an hour from here. My personal favourite is the little-known Tamariu but further north, Cadaques is a real find as well. Take a ride out from Girona to Platja d’Aro on a Saturday morning, stop for breakfast in the latter and ride home over Sant Grau. Trust us, this shit is good for the soul.

11) It’s safe

Not once have I seen a physical confrontation in the street during night or day, not once have I been woken by noisy neighbours or drama on the streets on Thursday nights when students apparently hit the town, not once have I been set upon or intimidated while walking home. I was told keep the noise down once while singing once one night…

12) It’s clean

The city prides itself on appearance and you’ll have to look hard to find rubbish, anywhere!

13) Learn the language

Okay so it is most definitely CATALAN here and don’t be one bit surprised to be answered in the ‘native’ language if your question or statement is in Spanish. The city is a real centre of Catalan idealism and the language is something they intend to hold onto. However, they all speak Spanish too and there are language schools where you can learn pretty quickly. I’m here 18 months and can definitely solve everyday issues with what I have.

14) Fiesta fiesta fiesta!!

No country has a longer life expectancy in Europe than the Spaniards and they’ll tell you it’s because of their commitment to enjoying themselves. This means partying and lots of it! Girona’s two big annual festivals are the week-long Temps de Flores in May and the festival of Sant Narcis in late October is another that draws upwards of one million into the city. There are calcotadas in February and March (huge family gatherings where spring onions are roasted and dipped in Romenesco sauce), there’s the festival of Sant Jordi in April which is like Valentine’s Day only men receive a book and women a rose. There are harvest festivals throughout the summer and autumn while Christmas is a real time of celebration here. The norm is three weeks of non-stop revelry!

15) The mountains

If you like to ski, hike, fish or snowboard, Girona is less than two hours from the Pyrenees where you can access some of the best slopes in Europe. Andorra has hundreds of kilometres of powder snow in winter and an endless amount of trails to explore in summer. The Vuelta A España and Tour de France usually make a visit to the mountains and at Eat Sleep Cycle we hope to bring you there before too long.

16) The sense of community

Girona is small and if you know nobody coming here, then you are just like me. Now, I actually feel this is my home and I’m lucky to have such a close network of people I can call on at any time. Example? Last year I cut my hand at home. With blooding streaming from it I ran to the street seeking assistance. The first woman I met was the aforementioned Amber Meier who directed me to a medical centre but as we walked towards it, I met two more women who took one look and said the pharmacist would do the needful. The pharmacist washed the wound, patched it up and didn’t even charge me. Those five people are now people I see regularly, call friends…and owe a favour to!

17) The wine

Okay, I’m no wine expert but I do love a good Rioja! Especially when it costs a euro for a glass.

18) Tapas

What better way to refuel after a hard ride than €1 tapas at night, in a packed Placa Independencia, under a dipping sun? That’ll do nicely.

19) The tourist trail

Where do we even start? Girona has a wealth of things to see and do and for my own article dedicated to this, check out a piece I did for the Irish Examiner last year.

20) The sense of community

Yesterday I motor-paced Zak Dempster. On the road home we met Ryan Mullen doing his time-trial efforts. Earlier that week I borrowed a book called Core Advantage from Aussie pro Ellen Skerritt. I must give that to a Novo Nordisk pro before Friday. When I got back to town I took a wander around the old town and met Marcel Kittel and Koen de Koert deciding where to head for a ride. Further up the bridge the ‘Scandinavian Mafia’, as we call them, were planning their day’s ride.

People help each other out. We borrow stuff from each other. The pros train hard together, they race harder against each other and drink a beer afterwards.

Girona. It’s cycling’s greatest gathering place.

Be a part of it with Eat Sleep Cycle.