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This round-up is part of a series on our cycling trips, which we organise in conjunction with Thomson Bike Tours. Our latest trip, a dream ride through the most beautiful landscapes and iconic climbs of the Swiss Alps and Northern Italy, is taking bookings now. Click here to sign up!

There’s nothing more exciting for a cyclist than a new adventure, discovering new roads, climbs and destinations. This is exactly what Abraham and I, along with a dozen clients embarked upon during the last week of April. From a cold, wet East Coast day lay ahead the sunshine and rural roads of Girona, an ancient Spanish city in the heart of Catalonia that has quietly become a mecca for cyclists, both pro and amateur.

Catalonia is also the home of Thomson Bike Tours, who would be our hosts for the next week. Their meticulously planned tour would take us into the mountains around Girona for challenging climbs and stunning descents, would see us exploring the history of the region and city itself, and even venture onto gravel in the final days of the trip.

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The first day began with a welcome at the airport from Thomson, a wonderful reunion for some as last year we spent a week in Tuscany with Sergi, one of the guides that would be taking us around Girona. A quick briefing in a hillside hotel, and we were off on a warmup ride up the Els Angles climb in the mountains to the east of the city. The newly paved road we were graced with made the long, undulating descent back down the valleys and switchbacks even more ideal.

With our legs now warmed up, we were primed and ready for the following day spent rolling through even more beautiful countryside. Greeting us were a couple of perfect climbs, including the steady gradient of the Santa Pellaia (a local’s favourite), and the winding roads up to the Coll de la Ganga. Thankfully, after an admirable 4,500ft of climbing, the day was finished in the cool pools and luxurious spa of the PGA Catalunya hotel.

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Day 3 was always going to be a highlight, and proved to be a day that will live long in my memory of most beautiful rides. One of Europe’s best known winding roads, we rode the iconic stretch from St. Feliu de Guixols to Tossa de Mar. The serpentine flow of repeating climbs and fast descents, along with breathtaking views of the deep blue Mediterranean made the day more special than I could have imagined. The day sadly had to come to an end, finishing with a delicious paella overlooking the beach and 12th century castle in Tossa de Mar.

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The next day we transitioned into the mountains, west of Girona. International attention from the cycling community started around 2000, when the US Postal Service team re-located to Girona from Nice. Since then, these mountains have become a “secret” training ground for pros, the punchy climbs on quiet roads providing perfect terrain for practice between races. For our own cycling team we’d formed for the week, the mountain climbs proved challenging, with gradients peaking at over 20% on wet pavement. This was all forgiven when we found ourselves in the ancient mountain town of Osor, at a roadside cafe overlooking the Pont Vell, a stunning 15th century bridge in the heart of the town. Arriving at the end of the day in Sant Hilari Sacalm, we rolled into another superb hotel, a boutique spa we were lucky to have all to ourselves. Food, wine and good laughs were shared late into the night.

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After 4 days of riding, our legs were finally ready for the toughest day of the trip, with over 6500ft of climbing in some of the most extraordinary scenery we’ve ever seen. After passing by the Sau reservoir, we transitioned onto some small farm roads climbing through the cliff sides up to Rupit, one of the most picturesque ancient towns in Catalonia, with history going back over 1000 years. After a quick stop, we were straight into some high countryside cliff riding before reaching our final destination, the Hotel l’Avenc, a surreal hotel that combines historic stone buildings with clean modernist architecture. With an indoor pool and local beers, you couldn’t get a finer setting to freshen up the legs for the next day.

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Anyone who is familiar with Signature knows that we have a deep love for gravel, so it was inevitable it would feature at some point on this trip. After a stunning first section on road bikes, we bid them goodbye and set up our gravel machines. Back past Rupit and out of the mountains, and we were mostly descending, flying down the valleys on the smooth gravel of a converted train bed all the way back to the outskirts of Girona. After the last two days of tough climbs, this long descent was well earned! The route took us into the historic old town of Girona, for an opportunity to see the legendary cycling shops and cafes the city is known for. From the refined bike shops of Service Course and Velodrom to Espresso Mafia, a coffee shop with the honour of being featured in Rouleur magazine. Girona really lives and breathes cycling, a city rich with cycling history and culture. To no-ones surprise, jerseys from these Girona icons can now be seen rolling through town in Greenwich!

Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to Spain if we didn’t talk about food. Every meal was such an experience, no matter which hotel we stopped at, but on Friday night, Thomson had arranged something special. A private dining room and tasting menu in Girona’s catacomb-like Mimolet restaurant was the perfect way to celebrate the week. Glasses were raised, wonderful speeches were heard, and accomplishments were celebrated as new friendships were formed.

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As the final day dawned, another epic day of gravel was ahead of us. Bringing our trip full circle, we headed back to Els Angels to explore its much lesser known gravel routes, continuing on perfect dirt roads to again climb the Santa Pellaia! All of us were pushing our gravel bikes to their limits on this final day, even the Thomson guides giving it their all to get up the cliff-like ramps and challenging terrain. Heading back to Girona, the talk amongst the group was all about bike tech, discussing wheel choices, tire width and optimal pressures, prepping for the further adventures that members of the group have coming up this year. After pastries and cortados in La Fabrica, another iconic cycling hangout owned by former professional racers, it was time to conclude this unique and stunning trip.

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After only a week in Girona, it’s clear why so many pros decide to settle in this cycling city. Other than the spectacular rides and ideal training terrain, the city’s open, welcoming community and deep culture is enough to make you want to stay. Our thanks go to Thomson, for giving us the opportunity to explore and experience your home turf; it was a real pleasure to share this hidden gem of European cycling with our clients and friends. Above all else, the trip proved to us yet again why cycling is the perfect way to explore landscapes, cultures and communities.

– Ruedi Laager

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