My Girona

Downshift into a Mediterranean pace and spin like Lance in Spain's Catalonian hideaway

¡Qué Lindo!: Costa Brava just east of Girona     Photo: Corel

TEMPERATE, TRANQUIL, AND EQUIDISSTANT from mountains and sea, the Catalonian city of Girona (pop. 80,000) is the nesting ground of an elusive migratory species: the professional cyclist. Every winter, 10 to 15 of them—including five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong—descend on Girona, establishing seasonal headquarters and stretching their shaved legs on forest roads in the Pyrenean foothills or along the sunny Mediterranean coast.
Girona proper is steeped in the history of its medieval old city, a cobbled labyrinth of narrow alleys and watchtowers separated from the city's modern business district by the smooth-flowing Onyar River. But that's not to say it's a backwater. Girona is to Barcelona what Boulder is to Denver: an adventure-sports utopia just an hour's drive from a major metropolis. Girona's foothills, like Boulder's, quickly ascend to high-altitude skiing and climbing. But what puts Girona in a league of its own is the Costa Brava, a white-sand stretch of Catalonian coast less than an hour's drive east, overcrowded by sun worshipers in summer but serrated by a procession of deep coves perfect for secluded diving, kayaking, or romancing.
WHERE TO PLAY Start with the Vías Verdes ("Green Paths"), part of a countrywide network of more than 500 miles of dirt and gravel railroad tracks turned biking trails. Sixty-five miles of Vías Verdes radiate from Girona, highlighted by the 50-mile out-and-back route to the coastal port of Sant Feliu de Guíxols. Refuel on tapas and then power the short climb to the hermitage of Sant Elm, a lookout point with a grand view of the Mediterranean. Bike rentals are available in Girona at the Centre BTT de Catalunya (011-34-972-468-242, www.gencat.net/turisme/btt). Visit www.costabrava.org/ang for Vías Verdes information. If lactic acid has your quads in knots, give your upper body a workout in the sea. Kayaking Costa Brava (011-34-972-773-806), headquartered in L'Escala, 25 miles northeast of Girona, rents gear and offers a full menu of guided trips, including a demanding six-hour tour of the Cap de Creus, a 54-square-mile reserve, the marine portion of which teems with fish ($60, including all gear and guide fees).

APRÉS–ADVENTURE In Girona, grab a beer in your bike shorts along the Rambla de la Libertat, a river walk lined with casual restaurants, bars, and cafés. For serious dining, change into your evening finery, then cross the pedestrian Sant Agusti bridge to the Plaza de la Independencia, where you'll find Boira, a river-view restaurant serving specialties like arroz de lobregant, spiced rice and seafood (about $63 per person for three courses; 011-34-972-203-096). Nights go off at nearby Platea (011-34-972-22-72-88, www.localplatea.com), a sprawling 1929 theater transformed into a thumping dance club.
WHERE TO STAY With medieval stone walls, antique wood furniture, and bougainvillea cascading from every balcony, Pension Bellmirall (doubles, $70, including breakfast; 011-34-972-20-40-09) is a seven-room boutique hotel glowing with old-city charm.
HOW TO GET THERE Girona is 60 miles northeast of Barcelona. Delta (800-221-1212, www.delta.com), among other airlines, offers direct flights. Frequent and speedy trains ($16 round-trip, as many as three per hour) make the Barcelona–Girona run in less than 90 minutes. Added bonus: You can haul your bike at no extra cost.

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