Bicycling from Colliore, France to St. Feliue de Guixoils, Spain

By Sean Cleary (cleary (at sign) Copyright by Sean Cleary, cleary (at sign), permission granted to reproduce electronically for noncommercial purposes only.
I rode from Montpellier, France to Barcelona, Spain at the end of July and beginning of August. This description is of the day I crossed from France into Spain along the Mediterranean.

I slept in the ruins of an old fort north of Colliore. I had found the commercial campgrounds crowded and not such great places to stay. It seems like tourists use them as less expensive alternatives to hotels. Many of the campers had set up veritable compounds, with lights, radios, tents, tables and it looked like they'd been there for weeks. As a result, the campgrounds tended to be very bright, noisy and full of drinking tourists who were awake all night. So I'd found it more convenient, comfortable to sleep more or less by the side of the road. This place was great- there was a old castle with an impressive (dry) moat and bridge and nearby were more recent forts which were convenient and dry to sleep in. There was plenty of room for my bike to stay out of the evening rain, too.

This part of the French coast is where the Pyrenees meet the Mediteranean. It is quite impressive and dramatic, with some great places where the hills come right to the coast.

I got up early and rode down into Colliore proper, which is quite a charming town. There is a big castle right on the cove in the center of town and the streets near there are narrow and old. There was a TV crew setting up for some kind of production there and they were just having breakfast. There was a little harbor there and things looked pretty picturesque. There was a wonderful path along the rocky coast which made a nice morning walk.

The riding along the coast there was great. It was quite hilly; generally, it would be leave a little town, climb up 150m or so to leave the valley, then contour a bit, and soon drop down (sometimes quite quickly- 40+ mph which is a lot since I'm a wimp about going fast) into the next valley with another little town on the sea. There were some impressive ruins and towers on the higher hills further inland, including the Tour Madeloc, which is quite prominent.

The tourist offices have named this part of the coast "The Vermillion Coast" and it was gorgeous, if not particularly vermillion. There were some nice steep cliffs down to the very rocky coast and also some sandy beaches. There were some nice rocky capes as well.

I poked around Cerbere for a while, which was the last town in France. I spent my French coins on bread, yogurt, cheese and chocolate and waited around for people around the world to wake up so I could phone them and finish off my French phone calling card. Also, I wasn't sure how easy it would be to use the phones in Spain. (Turned out to be very easy, also.)

From Cerbere, it was another little climb up to a 170m col and into Spain at the crest of the col. There was more traffic here but not really bad at all. I got some passing German tourists to take my picture next to the "Espana" sign. It seemed like in general people were having a hard time guessing where I was from. Lots of people thought I was Dutch- beard, on a bicycle, weak French? but few picked me out as an American. I guess there aren't many clues when you are traveling alone because there isn't anyone with you to speak English or whatever with. Then again, my bike says "Bridgestone" across it in big letters, which should help.

It had gotten warmer now so it wasn't too long until I was looking for a good place to jump into the Mediteranean. There was a crowded beach at Colera which I swam in. Again, the towns along here were nestled into little coves and were quite nice, generally with loads of boats anchored in the coves and so on. I continued on following the coast to El Port de Llanca, which also had lots of tourists on the beach. I stopped by the train station to see what kind of noises they made at my bicycle. I didn't want to ride the train, just find out how much it was since I was planning to ride the train from Barcelona to Valencia in a few days. They seemed to say that it was no problem, but I wasn't sure. My Spanish is pretty much non-existent. The little Spanish I know I picked up from watching the World Cup games on TV and Sesame Street when I was a kid. But again, when people found out I was from California, they wanted to talk about soccer and I was well equipped for that.

I continued along the coast, up and down a bit in the heat, to another beach town, El Port de la Selva. There was another very sheltered cove and beach here, so after a swim and a shower, I was off into the hills south of there. There is a long gentle valley climb out from there and it was very dry countryside. I saw some other cyclists but no proper tourists. At the pass at the top, I was debating whether or not to head out to Cadaques, which looked promising, being on an isolated cape. But it would have been a spur trip with a fair amount of elevation loss (and then gain) and I was worried that it would be touristy there as well. So I decided to skip it and head downhill to Roses, another beach town down the coast.

There was a long twisting downhill with some traffic, so I stopped to let a bunch of cars pass, only to catch them up further downhill. I stopped at a junction and was looking at a map since I wanted to make sure I was headed the right way before heading downhill more. While I was stopped there, a cyclist came by and rode over. I asked, in Spanish, pointing at the map, if this was the road to Roses. My Spanish is pretty awful and whenever I don't know the Spanish word, I substitute the French word if I can think of it. So he replied, more or less, that it was and asked me, in Spanish, if I was French. So then I switched to French and asked about some of the other roads and areas nearby. He was blondish and speaking French with an accent so I asked him if he was German, which he was, which was great, since my German is actually ok. So we talked in German about some of the beaches nearby and the roads and then he asked again where I was from, and when I said from California, he laughed and said in very good English, that we should have been speaking English from the beginning! Evidently he had worked in Texas for two years and his English was very good. A rather ridiculous episode...

So downhill to Roses, which was a bigger tourist town, and hot with a big beach. So after a swim and some bread and cheese for lunch, I headed inland along a busier road. In Roses, while I was in a little market, someone took my swimsuit which I'd left to dry on my rear rack on my bike outside. It was tied on with a girth hitch so it took some undoing and I only left it briefly. That was however, the only problem I had the whole trip. They were, though, nice swim trunks with a big zippered pocket which is good to swim with keys in. Oh well, I think the touristy areas are in general much more risky than the small towns. I left my bike leaning against walls while I went inside shops all the time in small towns with no problems at all.

This area, part of Spain's "Costa Brava", has some sections that are quite flat so I headed across the valley on these parts. I aimed south across a broad agricultural plain and rode through some wonderful little towns with old churches and narrow streets. After crossing the river Ter, which flows out from Girona, I went through some more towns to the bigger town of La Bisbal. It seemed to be big in the ceramic business and was more of a commercial/industrial town. From there, I rode uphill on a wonderful quiet road through the hills and forests of "les Gavarres." That was cooler and there was practically no traffic so I was very happy.

From the pass there, it was a twisty downhill to the Mediterranean again. I met some mountain bikers who were also riding down into the town of Calonge. There was a nasty car wreck in town with lots of police, fire trucks and ambulance-looking things there.

This section of the coast had nice hills behind the roads but the beach towns were pretty much filled with tourists. Some of the areas were fashionable-looking and some more run-down. I rode through La Platja d'Aro and then the much bigger Sant Feliu de Guixols. Sant Feliu was filled with tourists and shops and was quite a big town, going on for quite a while. There was a big carnival type thing along the beach and it was beginning to get darkish. I didn't want to stay in any of the campgrounds there, though, so I carried on out of town along the coast. Immediately after leaving town it got much nicer, with a very hilly twisty road along the coast. It was something like the nicer sections of the Pacific Coast Highway, in California. In any case, I soon found a place to sleep off the road and ate dinner and slept well.

Miles for the day: 113, averaging about 13mph. I wasn't keeping track of elevation gain but it wasn't too bad. I'd found the Spanish food shops at least in the farm and beach towns to open nice and early, close during the middle of the day, and open again until sometimes 9pm or so. It was great, not having to worry about finding a place to get something to eat.

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