Gravel cycling has taken Girona by storm. To those that know Girona, this comes as no surprise. With its history of pro cycling, endless gravel trails, favourable climate and experienced cycling service providers, Girona’s gravel cycling opportunities are eminently suited to gravel adventures.

But how do you go about planning a gravel bike trip or tour in Girona? Where are the best gravel routes and what do you need to know before you arrive ready to ride?!

In this article we speak to Eduard Kirchner who runs Cycle Tours Catalonia. Eduard has been riding Girona’s gravel trails before gravel was even a “thing”. His business (and its predecessors) have been in Girona since 1996.

Eduard shares the background to the gravel scene in Girona and practical info on where and how to ride gravel in Girona, including gravel routes, gravel events and information on gravel bike hire and tours. We hope it helps you plan your next cycling holiday in Girona!

All metrics in this article are approximate.

Part 1: Gravel cycling in Girona

Why is Girona a cycling mecca?

Historically, Girona has been a popular base for the pro peloton, particularly those from outside Europe. There are several reasons they choose Girona:

  1. The quality of Girona’s roads. In Girona there is an extensive network of secondary roads with low traffic, moderate gradients and flat riding too. Girona’s location also allows for riding in all directions, north, south, east, and west. Within 100 km of the city there are ten to fifteen ascents of medium difficulty, ideal for training and others of high difficulty with more than 1000m of total ascent.  Despite being a city, the roads into and out of Girona have relatively little traffic and are very rideable. This allows for varied training close to the city.
  2. The climate of Girona is very good for training all year round, with temperatures in winter of 5 to 15°C, and in summer of 27 to 33°C at noon.
  3. The cost of living is relatively affordable to be able to live comfortably on an average budget.
  4. Girona is located in Europe in the centre of the routes of the three major world cycling competitions, the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España. This allows cyclists to easily travel to the most important routes in just a few hours by car to train there and get to know them in detail.
  5. There is a strong tradition of cyclists who chose the city of Girona as their residence. The first was Johnny Weltz, a good friend of Pere Muñoz, both Fagor team riders, who decided to settle in Olot to train at the end of the 80’s. Later Johnny was the director of the Motorola and US Postal team where he convinced Lance Armstrong to settle in Girona together with George Hincapie. A long list of professional cyclists followed: Christian Vande Velde, Tyler Hamilton, Fred Rodríguez, David Millar, Dan Martin, Christian Meier, Adam Yates, Michael Barry, Dan Craven, Rory Sutherland, Robert Gesink and many more. Some of them settling permanently and founding businesses, cafes and cycling shops. Currently, more than 100 professional cyclists of different levels, regularly live in the city, sharing apartments, training together and in a good environment.
  6. As Girona is not large, you can feel the buzz of the cycling-focused atmosphere and cycling has a strong presence among the commercial activities in the city.

 

As a result of these things, as well as word of mouth and the work of different cycling tourism companies in Girona, the city is now seen as a world-class cycling tourism destination.Group of cyclists on a cycling tour of Girona province in spring

What makes Girona a great destination for gravel cycling?

This history of cycling in the city is an important backdrop as it helps explain why Girona is so well placed to cater to all cyclists, including gravel cyclists.

However the main reason Girona is becoming known as a gravel mecca is that its natural environment means it’s supremely well suited to gravel.

Plains

Girona’s agricultural plains includes fields of cereals, corn, grass for animals, vegetables, to fields of fruit trees such as apples and peaches, and at the foot of the drier mountains, the vineyards and the olive tres. This varied agricultural scene is dotted with medieval towns and farms.

This means that there is a very extensive network of historic access “roads” to towns and farms and farmhouses spread throughout every corner of the region. These quiet roads are a mix of farm tracks, sandy/dusty trails, rocky/stony roads and compacted earth. There are also the via verdes, disused railway tracks that have been especially adapted for leisure, and are now joined together to create easy and safe routes that criss-cross the Girona countryside. This range of quiet gravel roads is perfect for gravel cycling.

On top of the gravel tracks and roads are the medium-sized asphalt roads with very organic shapes adapting to the soft relief of the plains, very nice to ride.

Mountains

Surrounding the plains are gentle mountain ranges mostly below 500m high, which also have a vast network of historical roads generated since ancient times for the agricultural exploitation of forests. These mountains act as watchtowers and give a perspective on the plains (as well as exceptional views). The mountains are also fantastic decorative backdrops and offer inspirational and romance in all directions.

Sea

Finally, the Costa Brava offers up a contrast, with the glittering sea, charming beaches and rugged, natural coastline. Fortunately,  the towns are still pretty small and not very built up and there are many gorgeous small fishing villages of great charm, such as Tossa, Calella, L’Escala or Cadaqués.

Cyclists with green fields on a dirt track

The development of gravel cycling in Girona

Local passion

Gravel riding burst into Girona with great force and enthusiasm from the beginning. With the terrain so good for gravel, locals have embraced the other benefits

  • lower technical level than mountain biking, with less physical demand
  • more safety off the public roads
  • more social by being able to go in parallel chatting.

Since the beginning of gravel in 2017, Girona has become a magnet for gravel-lovers.

Two cyclists on a gravel trail near Girona in Catalonia Spain

Gravel races in Girona

The rapid increase in gravel riders in Girona led some mountain bike competition organisers to begin creating gravel bike races and events. It was a new way of organising the races without marking the routes and only distributing the GPS file for participants. Little by little these competitions developed and grew in distance and participants until they became seen internationally as benchmark gravel competitions.Examples include the Traka, Sea Otter Europe and Sgrail – more details below.

This environment of strong gravel events in Girona, combined with promotions by different companies dedicated to the organisation of specific gravel tours, has boosted Girona’s reputation as a “gravel territory” at an international level.

Current situation

I believe that gravel cycling has become complementary to road riding; I’d estimate that 40% of locals now ride gravel.

If we look at our guests who come to ride in Girona from overseas, the proportion of gravel tours is currently lower, not due to the lack of demand for gravel cycling tours, but due to the great tradition that road cycling holidays have had throughout Europe for more than 20 years. However in our experience, the growth of Girona as a gravel destination is currently exponential, doubling every year and we expect this strong trend towards riding gravel to continue.

 

Gravel routes in Girona

Girona is fortunate to be able to offer gravel routes to cater to all speeds, abilities and fitness levels.

As any gravel cyclist knows, the difficulty of a gravel route lies in

  • the percentage gradient of the slope. The ideal gradients for medium difficulty gravel routes would be slopes between 6-7% maximum. However, there are many gravel bikes that come equipped with gears with very short ratios, almost like mountain bikes. This allows you to do routes with steeper slopes of 12-14% or more.
  • the distance. Currently the gravel scene is seeing a tendency towards longer routes up to 100-120 km. This is quite achievable as gravel bikes are quite fast if there is not much ascent.

It’s also important to acknowledge that routes – especially gravel routes – can change over time. Gravel routes are much more unpredictable than road cycling routes; they can alter with heavy rain that causes trails to be washed away. Some routes may be manageable in dry conditions but significantly challenging after rain.

A route that one experienced cyclist enjoys can be daunting for a newbie. One of the rough roads a roadie finds tough might be ridiculously easy for a mountain biker. It’s important to bear in mind that recommending gravel routes is difficult because the perfect route varies due to these things.

Bear this in mind as you read the suggestions below (and it’s also a reason to consider getting a local to help you plan your gravel cycling trip!).

Girona gravel cycling routes – beginners

For beginner routes, our suggestion would be routes of 50-60km with a total ascent of 500-700m with a maximum slope of 6-7%.

In Girona we have two areas of flat terrain that are ideal for this level of gravel route:

  • The Girona plain, which allows you to leave Girona to make multiple circular routes to the South, all of them of great quality, with very well-kept agricultural surroundings and mountains such as Gavarres, Sant Grau or Les Guilleries.
  • The Empordà Plain, larger and with the Costa Brava on one side, is the other area that allows infinite routes, inland and along the coast. The Empordà is also very notable for its large number of very well preserved medieval villages, which allow routes that take in the architecture as well as traditional bars and restaurants where you can enjoy local hospitality.

Example: Gironès Route

This is a route through the plain to the south of Girona. It’s a well-kept agricultural area with impressive farms. The roads are wide gravel tracks, but maintain a very organic layout, with slight ups and downs.

Overall, it is a lovely, varied route that’s accessible to a range of riders, even those that aren’t overly experienced with gravel cycling.

Girona gravel cycling routes – moderate

In our opinion, a moderate level gravel route should incorporate more mountainous terrain with gradients of 9-10% slope, with longer distances up to 100km and 800-1000m or more of total ascent.

From Girona, we can go out touring the entire Gavarres mountain range, combining the Empordà plain and also the Girona plain. It includes cycling mountain tracks that allow you to climb to panoramic points, such as the Sanctuary of Els Àngels or Puig d’Arques, from where you can appreciate the entire territory with views of great beauty.

These kind of routes will require effort, but how hard the route finally is will be determined by how much you push yourself. These are routes that can be done at cruising speed, or, if you want, on the limit!

Example: Les Gavarres Route

This route combines areas of plain with tracks that go up to the Gavarres mountain range. The network of mountain trails are very old, therefore they have a very organic layout, with reasonable climbs. Reaching the different peaks of the mountain range such as Els Àngels or Puig d’Arques will be rewarded with spectacular views over the entire region.

This is a demanding route for people used to gravel riding. Allow for a full day’s ride.

Girona gravel cycling routes – challenging

In our opinion, challenging routes are routes in which the gradient is very demanding regardless of whether you can go faster or slower. They are itineraries with very steep climbs over 10% up to 18-20%. The distance is usually over 100km and can easily reach 140-150km and 1,500-2,000 m+ of total ascent.

From Girona you can climb mountains such as Sant Hilari, Santuari de el Far, Rocacorba, Mare de Deu del Món or even out of the foothills of the Pyrenees and into the “Pyrenees proper”. The ascent of all these mountains can be combined with flat sections on the plain to be able to add kilometres and complete a high-level gravel day.

Another option to raise the level of a gravel outing is to introduce single track routes that could be more suitable for mountain biking; but of course care is needed and this should only be done by very experienced riders. Gravel purists will consider that this is not gravel, and that we are in the terrain of mountain biking.

Example: Rocacorba Route

Rocacorba is one of Girona’s classic roads. Climbing to the top of Rocacorba, almost 1,000m high, mostly off-road on a gravel bike, is a demanding experience and you have to be in shape. The return by Banyoles Lake allows you to relax a little and enjoy the territory in the second part of the tour.

Without a doubt it is a route you’ll need to ride pretty intensely for most of the day, and arrive in Girona with the satisfaction of having climbed one of the highlights of our destination.

Multi-day gravel tour routes and bikepacking

At Cycle Tours Catalonia, we are big fans of bikepacking; we love the philosophy of adventure and tourism. The idea behind bikepacking is that the route lasts more than a day and you’ll need to sleep on the way.

The ethos is to travel by bike with little equipment that allows you to go very light and thus not limit the kilometres and the ascent of each daily stage. It is not about loading the bike with saddlebags, tents and cooking equipment, but about carrying the minimum equipment. Normally it is combined with sleeping in accommodation of more or less luxury, taking advantage of having local cuisine for dinner, and so discovering a little more about the territory, its customs and its culture. (There’s more about bikepacking v gravel bike touring, here.)

Example: Great Tour of the Empordà (6 stages / 7 nights)

The route back to the Empordà provides a total immersion in the Girona region, passing through stunning countryside and past the turquoise coast, passing through countless medieval towns, fishing villages at the coast. The route climbs to the extreme end of the Pyrenees, where the mountain range delves into the Mediterranean Sea at Cape Creus.

Being a multi-day route, in some stages we propose two versions of the route that allow the route to be lengthened or shortened. It is a trip of adventure and discovery; it is not focused on a great sporting challenge, but it is necessary to be in good shape.

More information here.

 

Gravel races, events and festivals in/around Girona

We are fortunate to have a full calendar of bicycle events in the Girona region. Here we highlight a few of the great gravel races in Girona.

Sea Otter Europe

The largest bicycle event held in Girona is the Sea Otter Europe, which brings together a fair with 250 exhibitors, many competitions and demonstrations. It is a festival that more than 5,000 people attend over the two days. Gravel races are also included with different distances.

The Traka

The second most important event in Girona is The Traka. It is a long-distance gravel competition with routes of 560km, 360km, 200km and 100km. It is probably one of the largest gravel competitions in the world. It is an authentic festival throughout the week.

Sgrail

A relatively new event to the Girona scene is the Sgrail gravel triathlon event which includes an 88km gravel ride. It’s inspired by three-time Triathlon World Champion Jan Frodeno.

Cyclists in a haze of yellow rapseed flowers near Girona

Tips for gravel riding in Girona

Do you need help riding gravel in/around Girona?

Girona is a populated region with infinite possibilities for tours, places to stay and places to visit. Organising an excellent route can be within anyone’s power, you will just have to dedicate enough time to select “the best one”, and put it together in the most efficient and pleasant way to have a great experience.

The advantage of working with a local company is that the professionals have already done many hours of work for you. The professionals who organise tours have the knowledge of the territory, and their desire is to organise a tour in the best way so that it is a great experience.

I know I am biased, but I think most people can see that this is helpful!

What equipment do you need for gravel cycling in Girona?

The most important thing is to have a great gravel bike to ride! Fortunately, here in Girona we offer great gravel bike rentals. This means our guests do not have to travel with their bikes, with the risks that that entails.

The personal equipment for riding gravel in Girona is the same as you’d need anywhere in the world, perhaps taking into account that it rains very few days a year, and that the temperatures are very good most of the year. We would recommend dark sunglasses, sunscreen and two bottles of water.

What time of year to go on a cycling tour in Girona?

Any time of year is a good time of year for gravel riding in Girona. Just bear in mind that we have two main temperature extremes in Girona: December-January with temperatures of 5 to 15 degrees, and July-August with temperatures of 27 to 33 degrees.

Where to stay for a gravel cycling tour in/around Girona?

As Girona is a tourist destination in its own right, the region has hundreds of accommodations of all types. You can find luxury hotels, simple hotels, small and large hotels, rural houses or apartments. (Check this article on where to stay in Girona for more.)

The main recommendation we make to our guests is that they combine staying in Girona with having a few nights somewhere on the Costa Brava. I think this provides a much more complete experience of our region than just staying in the city. Girona is a great place to spend several days, and there are lots of routes out of the city. However, cycling from a location on the coast also allows you to enjoy a plunge in the sea at the end of each day of cycling!

Another option is to do a self-guided or guided multi-day tour and move from one accommodation to another each night.

Tips for renting gravel bikes in Girona

When renting a gravel bike, an important consideration is the gear ratio. It is always preferable to rent a bicycle with a friendly gear ratio, to be able to best tackle the different slopes that the tracks and roads present. So you want your largest sprocket significantly larger than smallest chain ring – for example 38 tooth chain ring with 44 tooth smallest sprocket. 

It is a good idea to do a short ride before you leave the rental shop to check that the bicycle fits correctly and that everything is in good condition.

Currently all bicycle rental businesses in Girona have good quality bikes, although in high season it might be difficult to find one that is available! As a result, I’d always suggest booking in advance.

 

Part 2: CycleTours Catalonia gravel bike routes + tours in Girona

Cycle Tours Catalonia has been developing gravel routes in/around Girona since 2019 just before the pandemic. Our objective has been to offer a complete range of single-day routes and multi-day routes, with two difficulty options for each of them, to be enjoyed by locals and those that want to come on a gravel cycling holiday in/around Girona.

We also have a large fleet of 30 high quality gravel bikes.

What tours do you offer in/around Girona?

We offer road, gravel and touring cycling in and around Girona. Typically, we are focused on beginner and moderate routes but we also love to support stronger riders and we adapt the tours for them. We have options available for all levels of cyclists, from beginners to moderate and strong cyclists.

We offer both guided and self-guided formats.

Our self-guided tours allow us to offer experiences to small groups, couples or even solo travellers. Due to the staffing costs of our guided tours, our standard is a minimum of six people, as otherwise the price becomes rather expensive per person.

We always offer a version of our tours with standard, 2-3 star accommodation, and a premium 4-star version. If you want a luxury level tour we can also adapt the accommodation to 5 stars, boutique hotels, Michelin Star restaurants and private cultural guide services, boat rentals, wine tastings, cooking lessons and more.

When we work with clients, we are always careful to ensure the routes will meet their expectations regarding their fitness levels and experience. As discussed above, this is particularly important with gravel cycling holidays in Girona.

You can find out more on our website, here.

Gravel cyclist by the sea on Girona's Costa Brava coastline

What gravel bike rentals do you offer in/around Girona?

Currently our rental bike fleet offers two brands of gravel bike: Specialized and BMC.

From the Specialized brand we have two models: Diverge STR Expert, with double suspension and Crux Comp, a lighter model than the Diverge and more for competition.

From BMC we have the URS 01 THREE, with electronic shifting. It’s a very versatile, comfortable and fast bicycle.

We also offer premium road bikes with electronic shifting and carbon rims, like the Specialized Tarmac Expert, Specialized Aethos Pro and Roubaix. We also offer mountain bikes, touring bikes and all kind of e-bikes.

You can find out more on our website, here.

What is special about what you offer?

The most special thing we offer is that we are local. The DNA of the company has always been to combine the excellence of services with our local knowledge. We are very proud to work to make our clients enjoy our home, on our roads, with our countryside, introducing them to local cuisine, culture and the people here.

Our clients enjoy the best routes, with the best bikes and with a professional team, with good English, that are passionate about their work.

Our philosophy of tourism is based on three key things:

  • Support local: Our objective is to bring our clients’ attention to all the differentiating details that our territory, our people, our destination has.
  • Live in the moment: Time is the most valuable thing we have, when we receive a client we are excited that our client takes their time to live the experiences deeply. It would be like traveling in the here and now. We are looking for a conscious traveller.
  • Learn: Every trip is a new experience. Learning about the destination where we travel is also learning to respect and value it.

We think gravel riding is a type of cycling that perfectly combines sportsmanship, the adventure of discovery and a lot of fun!

Bike in the Pyrenees mountains with view of gravel trail

How should someone find out more?

On our website you can find all the details of our tours. Give us a ring, drop us an email, or visit our shop in Girona and we can offer all additional information or customised tour details you need.

 

Big thanks to Eduard for sharing these insights. Tell us about your gravel cycling experiences in Girona in the comments below and, for our firsthand experiences of travelling with Cycle Tours Catalonia, read this article.

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Eduard Kirchner

Eduard runs Cycle Tours Catalonia. He was born in Barcelona and has lived part-time in Barcelona-L’Escala (Costa Brava) since he was two years old. Eduard was a silver medalist of the Spanish MTB Orientation League and a member of the Spanish national team from 1999 to 2001. He studied Sports Management at the University of Barcelona and he has been general manager of different sports clubs until he founded his own bike tours and rental company, now Cycle Tours Catalonia.

Last Reviewed: 04 April 2024

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