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Catalonia has become a hotspot for cyclists, food lovers, wine drinkers and culture seekers. The balance of exercise with good food and fine wine means you can enjoy the latter part guilt-free. Catalonia might just be the next place on your bucket list for the ultimate experiential holiday.
Due to the area’s mountainous landscape and terrain, Catalonia and the Empordà have long been an under-the-radar go-to for cyclists – amateur and professional – who want remote mountain trails to test their credentials. The area even hosted a stage in the 2009 Tour de France, when the world’s best cyclists battled their way through the Ardenya mountain range. Head there today and you can tackle the same track or pick from any number of beautiful little routes that dissect the land. With so many options on offer, it’s probably best to plan it around where you want to eat later that day.
The northeast of Catalonia is home to Alt Empordà and Baix Empordà, both of which boast beautiful seaside towns and national parks. Due to the area’s proximity to the Mediterranean, the quality of the seafood here is as impressive as the stuff grown and reared on the land. Over time the region has become recognised as a cuisine capital, whether that be for small, rustic eateries or some of the finest Michelin restaurants in the world.
According to the Mas Estela winery, the combination having the Mediterranean on the east and the Pyrenees to the north, as well as the tramuntana winds blowing through, all make Alt Empordà one of the best places to find red wine in the world. The wind cools the grape vines, while the climate instils the wines with their unique, full-bodied character. Recently, family cellars, on the advice of renowned oenologists, have started adding innovation into their wine making. Produced on a small scale and sold locally, these wines, compared to UK alternatives, are an absolute bargain.
While the climate in the Empordà is perfect for local vineyards, the same conditions provide a wide range of soil types that are ideal for the production of olives. There is an ever-increasing interest in the range of olive oil available and, just like wine, the huge array of of olive types ensure different bodies and tastes, suitable for different meals. Clos de la Torre, in Alt Empordà, is a fantastic place to stop off for a lazy picnic and you’ll even get to try some of the amazing olive oils if you book a tasting session.
Fans of Catalan architecture should head to Baix Empordà, where they can visit Cellar Brugarol. Riding in and around the Gavarres mountains promises outstanding natural beauty dotted with quaint medieval villages, which make for perfect pit stops along the way.
The Empordà was also home to the mischievous provocateur and prominent Spanish surrealist artist, Salvador Dalí. Born in Figueres, he was known for his flamboyant personality as much as for his undeniable technical virtuosity. Much of his artwork resides in the Dalí Theatre and Museum in his town of birth, however, it was the seaside towns of Cadaques and Portlligat that inspired much of his work. Take the day to cycle southwest and you will find the Gala-Dalí Castle in the medieval town of Púbol – a place Dalí could only visit with written permission from his wife and muse, Gala. Well worth the trip if you have the leg power, or an electric bike.