Setmana de la Bicicleta
Pedalling along Ripoll’s Via Verde, cyclists pass full-bodied hazelnut trees, wild snapdragons, oaks and white-topped yarrow flowers. Located in northern Catalunya, the countryside around Ripoll is lush and leafy. Along the 12-kilometre track, which starts in Ripoll and ends at Sant Joan de les Abadesses, are farmhouses both occupied and abandoned, crumbling bridges, mountain streams and forgotten train stations looming track-side like old ghosts without a purpose.
Such backdrops make cycling in Catalunya a definite pleasure and with a variety of routes providing for all ages and abilities, there’s no excuse for not getting on your bike.
The Vias Verdes follow an extensive system of former railway tracks in Spain, which were closed to trains years ago. The government has since turned these outdated tracks into ‘green routes’, available for biking and hiking through Spain’s countryside.
There are currently 1,800 kilometres of Vias Verdes in Spain specifically for bicycle riders. Catalunya has four such routes, three in Girona and one in Tarragona.
Via Verde: La Ruta del Ferro i del Carbó
Ripoll’s Via Verde, called La Ruta del Ferro i del Carbó (Iron and Coal), is the easiest track in Catalunya, with the mouth of the trail conveniently located near the RENFE train station in the centre of Ripoll.
Probably because of its convenience and paved, well-maintained trails, the Ferro i del Carbó route is popular with families. Parents and kids pile in the car or onto the train with picnics and helmets in hand and make a day of exploring Ripoll’s old railway. At the end of the line, at the former Sant Joan de les Abadesses station, there’s a café, a kids’ playground and picnic tables, all helping to make this route a stress-free family outing.
Gregorio López Hidlago is with Amics del Senderisme i la Natura, a family-friendly group which organises outings to natural areas in Catalunya, including trips along the Vias Verdes. For López, getting out and experiencing nature goes hand-in-hand with protecting it. “On every excursion we meet people and make friends who share a similar interest in the environment. It’s an opportunity to do something that is cultural and also in defence of the environment.”
Catalunya’s Vias Verdes cut though some beautiful territory, and their existence certainly helps to protect the pristine natural zones which surround them. These green routes put people in touch with the outdoors, and enhance their appreciation of the need to protect it. When families come to ride along the Vias Verdes, they are taking part in a fun, healthy activity together, but they are also teaching their children an appreciation for the outdoors, said Lopez.
Via Verde: Girona—Sant Feliu de Guíxols
Not all the Via Verde routes are for families, however. Stretching between Girona and Sant Feliu de Guíxols (it follows the train line that once connected Girona residents with the beach), Girona’s Carrilet II route is more of a challenge at 39 kilometres. Unlike the Ripoll track, which is paved, Carrilet II is a compact dirt path that tunnels through the forest and spits cyclists out in front of the Mediterranean. Since 2000, the route has been used as a Via Verde, offering a satisfying surf-n-turf tour of the Catalan countryside. Because it’s a one-way track, those who would rather not go back the way they came (and therefore do 80 kilometres of biking) should plan a pick-up in Sant Feliu de Guíxols.
Via Verde: Olot—Girona
The most difficult route in the Girona Via Verde cluster is the Carrilet I trail which runs between Olot and Girona. This is a 54-kilometre track, which demands stamina and an early start. In its former life, the route was the railway connecting La Selva to Girona, but it became obsolete in 1970. Nowadays, it is a pleasant, albeit longish, ride beside Olot’s volcanoes and riverbeds. This track can be reached by train to Girona or by bus to Olot. Almost all of the Via Verdes offer a cultural element of interest along with their natural appeal. Carrilet I is no exception, and its trail visits monasteries and the Hostoles Castle, adding a bit of historical flare to the journey.
Volta a la Serralada del Corredor
While the Vias Verdes are ideal for families and beginner/intermediate riders, they may leave hard-core cyclists wanting more pain and gain. Those seeking to test their physical limits and map-reading skills should pick up a copy of Toni Llovet’s book, Itineraries en BTT per la Serralada del Corredor i els Voltants de Mataró. The title is a mouthful, and the book is in Catalan, but it’s very informative with plenty of useful information and detailed, hand-drawn maps. Llovet’s book gives a time frame for each route, plus its difficulty level.
The Volta a la Serralada del Corredor route, for example, is classified as medium-to-hard in skill and technical levels, and covers 54 kilometres. The trail starts in Mataró and heads northwest through pine forest passing the villages of Canyamars, Llinars del Valles and Orrius. Making a giant loop, riders head uphill and then down again ending the route on the other side of Mataró. Volta a la Serralada del Corredor is described by Toni Llovet as a being a “complete” route, as it has all the important elements to make it attractive, namely: historical sites, natural beauty and a place to eat good botifarres. Riders who take the Volta a la Serralada del Corredor challenge will pass by stone lookout towers, monasteries, castles, old masies and occasional views of the sea. Llovet’s book includes three other similar routes, all off-road and challenging.
Clearly the Volta a la Serralada del Corredor bike track requires a mountain bike and the right gear. Those with city bikes should stick to the Via Verde trails, which are much more accessible and easier on the tyres. The Via Verde website is a useful tool for planning a trip, and offers a complete list of Vias located near RENFE trains. Those without bikes can partake as well, as there are plenty of shops to rent a bike for the day in Barcelona. They cost about €15 per day, and the shop will provide a lock, chain and helmet.