It’s no exaggeration to say that we think this route offers some of the best cycling in Spain. It combines dramatic vistas with a challenging, but do-able, amount of climbing and all on smooth, peaceful roads where you’re rarely disturbed by traffic.
You pass through the Priorat and Montsant vineyards and around the imposing slopes of the Serra del Montsant Natural Park. The skyline is always impressive, with neatly laid out vines contrasting with the looming natural beauty of the deeply creviced orangey/grey slopes of the Montsant mountains. The villages you pass are uniformly small and attractive: ancient beauties like Gratallops, Bisbal de Falset and Porrera, perched on hillocks clustered around a tall church tower.
But enough on the scenery – what’s it going to take out of you?! Well, this is a punchy ride, and though it’s 87km are not as long as some rides you might be used to, it packs in 1,600 metres of climbing. There’s little flat: you’re generally either going up or down. The big climb of the day comes from Bisbal de Falset, about 30km into the loop. It’s then a 10km climb up to the first summit, a short section of flat/downhill before a 4km climb to the top. The good news is that none of the gradients on today’s numerous climbs are too nuts: the maximum gradient tops out at around 9%.
All metrics in this article are approximate.
This is a top notch ride with no lowlights; it’s all beautiful and a lot of fun to ride.
Unfortunately we hit bad weather, but just imagine our photos with the usual brilliant blue skies behind them – absolutely outstanding scenery!
If we had to pick one favourite section, we loved the narrow, winding road from La Bisbal de Falset to the un-marked summit. You feel like you’re really out and exploring, away from towns and people. Miles of wooded hills stretch around you and there’s a calm sense of serenity.
1. Falset to La Bisbal de Falset: 0-30 KM
The route heads out of Falset on the wide T-710. It feels like quite a main road but it was beautifully quiet when we were there. You descend down for around eight kilometres before climbing up through a rural valley, covered in trees and rocky outcrops. You pass the pretty old village of Gratallops that overhangs the Siurana river and dates back to the 1100s, then there’s a sweeping descent down to La Viella Baixa, past hillsides covered in vineyards and scrub.
Just before La Viella Baixa you see the brown sign for the Parc Natural de la Serra Montsant and ahead of you are the distinctive craggy orange heights of the Montsant mountain range.
After La Viella Baixa, the road turns into the narrower T-702 (though there’s still a well-kept centre line on the road). You climb for around 3.5km up a hill up to Cabaces, descend a bit and then the road heads on up to La Bisbal de Falset. You pass craggy gorges, giant boulders and there’s a short tunnel too (no lights needed); it’s a great stretch of road.
2. La Bisbal de Falset to Ulldemolins: 30-55 KM
Just after La Bisbal de Falset, you take a right up a steep concrete ramp. You might momentarily wonder if you’ve taken a wrong turn – but no. You’re now on a narrow lane that sees you climb a further 300m over 8km. You pass dramatic boulders and cliffs and a carpet of green forest. There are no buildings or sign of human life as far as the eye can see (okay, well apart from the odd electricity pylon and wind turbine!); you really feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere (because you are!). There’s peace and serenity that’s gorgeous.
Just over the top of the climb, you drop down to the C-242 and it’s then a lumpy 10km to the Crestes de la Llena summit, before you descend to Ulldemolins.
3. Ulldemolins to Falset: 55-88 KM
With wooded cliffs ahead, you climb up to the top of Coll d’Albarca (marked at 774m) before a swooping 6km descent down to Cordudella de Montsant, another classic Costa Daurada town with stately stone buildings that you could easily pass in a blur, as you whizz on past, down the last 4km of the descent.
You’re then on the penultimate climb of the day, snaking up the quiet, wooded road to the top of the Coll de Porrera. From here you fly down into the charming town of Porrera. If you fancy a coffee, to fortify you for the final climb of the day, head into the narrow streets of this hilltop town and you’ll find a few bars that should be able to help. On your way, you might notice the sundials on the houses – they’re something the town is famous for. When we were there, they were just setting up for what looked like a wine festival. There was a bubble of chatter, stallholders setting out their wares and a real sense you were in the heart of authentic Spain.
The final climb is around 5km long (200m of climbing, 4% average gradient) and takes you up and out of the Porrera valley. On the way up you pass green, terraced slopes dotted with stumpy trees and vegetation. The hilltops undulate around you – it’s a stunning last climb.
Up and over the other side, and the rolling hills stretch into the distance. It’s a beautiful 4km winding descent, that’ll allow you to build up some serious speed if you let it. Take care!
We hit bad luck with the weather for this ride, so we were on a bit of a mission and didn’t stop for coffee en route.
However, other than in the 25km stretch between Bisbal de Falset and Ulldemolins, you’re well served by little villages/towns every 5-10km that would no doubt be able to help you out with food and drink if you got stuck. However, do bear in mind that these are all very small places so it’s best to have your own back up supplies, just in case the village restaurant happens to be shut.
It’s also worth knowing that there’s a Repsol garage at Cornudella de Montsant, at about 65km into the route.
Costa Daurada’s interior is pretty sparsely populated. The villages feel very local and un-touched by tourism.
We get the impression that the overwhelming majority of people stay on the coastline, where there are lots of hotels and things for tourists to do – plus a wonderful beach. This is what we did – we stayed at the Estival Eldorado Resort, near Cambrils. You can find out all about this hotel and our stay, in our guide to cycling Costa Daurada.
Check out our tips for cycling the Costa Daurada before you head out.
You may spot a couple of the distinctive Costa Daurada wine cathedrals on this route (see photo below). Built in the Modernist style at the beginning of the 20th century, they are impressive to look at. They were built like this because the Costa Daurada’s agricultural cooperatives wanted to turn their wineries into places to be admired – and Modernism was flourishing at this time. The name “wine cathedral” was coined by the writer Angel Guimera. They’re an interesting, and unusual sight. If you want to find out more, some of the cooperatives organise guided tours.
The two different wine designations in this area are the Priorat Qualified Designation of Origin and the Montsant Designation of Origin. They’re both high quality and of some prestige.
The Montsant area is also known for its excellent Protected Designation of Origin Siurana olive oil.
You’ll see a lot of different vegetation on this ride – it varies from holm-oak woods and shade-loving plants to the typical herbaceous plants of very dry areas. The varied relief allows these different microclimates to exist alongside each other. We visited in early May and the wildflowers on the verges were spectacular. We’re not botanists, but the bright pops of colour along the road, were beautiful.
For the eagle-eyed, there’s also a lot of wildlife. The Monsant cliffs are the breeding ground for various birds of prey, there are mammals such as weasels and wildcats and the river has a population of reptiles, amphibians and fish.
One of the overriding memories we have of this area of Spain are the little villages with their churches and chapels. It’s no surprise then that the name Montsant means Holy Mountain and it comes from the many chapels, which are often located in the most unlikely but stunningly beautiful places.
If you’re doing this ride from Cambrils, it’s about a 40km, 40 minute drive that takes you on the main roads (TV-3141 and N-420). The alternative is that you make it a really big day, and cycle to Falset. It’s a 36km ride over Colldejou, a 560m pass that lies between the coast and Falset. We were short on time and drove this route over the pass. There’s no doubt, it’s a beautiful road – it’s just a question of whether you’ve got the legs to add on this additional 36km each way plus the 88km loop from Falset once you get there! If you’re interested, check out the first 36km of this route (which is not one we rode on this trip) – this is what you’d need to tack on to the Falset loop described above.
Have you done this ride? Does it win the award for best cycling in Spain?!
Let us know in the comments below.
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