Five nights on the Costa Brava - From Munich to Spain to France - CycleBlaze

May 19, 2024 to May 24, 2024

Five nights on the Costa Brava

A Change of Pace

So what’s the difference between a Jill/Dave self-supported bike tour and a luxury Trek Travel  bike tour?

Well, let’s see:

On a Jill/Dave self-supported trip we stay in a 1* tourist hotel with a bathroom-down-the hall:

Our basic room in Rosendal, Norway, bathroom optional.
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Rather  than a suite in a 5*  “high society” place:

Hostal La Gavina in S’Agora
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On a Jill/Dave self-supported tour for lunch we have half a sandwich filched from the morning buffet:

Lunch in a posh setting, somewhere in Spain.
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 Rather  than a multi-course meal with unlimited wine at Finca Bell Lloc winery.

Before the start of a three-hour lunch.
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On a Jill/Dave self-supported tour for dinner we eat at whatever place is open even if it’s just  a taco:

We enjoyed our tacos in Olot a lot.
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Rather than  a 7 course meal from a Michelin-starred chef:

Candlelight restaurant in S’Agaro, one of several sweet courses.
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On a Jill/Dave self-supported bike trip, if we have a mechanical issue Dave fixes it himself in the freezing rain;

Somewhere in France with a flat.
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Rather than have our crew of three bike guides/mechanics look after it.

The guys hard at work and at our service; Eric, Miqui, Ivo.
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On a Jill/Dave self-supported tour we have road conditions like this:

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Rather than routes with spectacular views like this.

Tossa de Mar
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You get the idea I’m sure.

We have spent the last 5 days in luxury, doing a lot of scenic riding every day and being fed excellent and copious amounts of Spanish food and wine and also enjoying the company of our friends, Jim & Diana, from South Carolina, which has been wonderful.

The guides were great: they are Eric, Ivo and Miqui from the US, Bulgaria and  Catalonia, respectively . They really know bikes so have been a font of knowledge. The absolutely coolest task they performed- unasked -was to clean our bikes and do a full degreasing and lubing of the drive train the night they picked up our bikes before we started the trip. (This was funny because Dave had spent three hours that day cleaning the bikes in the bike bath at the Doubletree. "Really, Dave, you cleaned and lubed your bikes last night?" Obviously there was more to do). We also got some assistance and suggestions from Miqui on various mechanical issues. Dave's bike uses a Kiox 300 control unit and over the last couple of years has tried and failed to figure out how to take it off the bike when we're parked in sketchier areas. We were even told by our bike store that these units cannot be removed. When Dave told Miqui about this, he went over to Dave's bike, loosened one screw and slipped the unit right off!

We have been living in a cycling cocoon: Trek Travel provide a RWGPS (Ride with GPS, a popular cycling app) itinerary that outlines all the rides and the other activities, what time you need to show up for dinner and lunch and what you need to bring. There is a support van that carries extra gear although we occasionally preferred to have Dave carry a single pannier with our rain gear. There are two guides riding their bikes along with us everyday and they surreptitiously hang out and ride where they are needed and gently herd the kitty cats as necessary. The third guide drives the van, sets up bikes racks and snackage at the rest stops, and can drive back to any rider who might be experiencing mechanical problems. The guides pretty much know what's needed even before we know we need it. They carry our panniers, refill our water bottles, etc. After being on the road for a month it’s pretty amusing. And, yes, we have been spoiled by the whole experience. 

Our group of riders consisted of 19 people- pretty much couples and mostly older (retired or about to be) although there were two younger couples from Wisconsin (both husbands worked for Trek). I had heard from others that when you do a small tour it’s typical that 95 percent of the folks are super polite, considerate and fun to be around. But there is always one annoying person or couple.  That was not the case with this group. Almost everyone has done a Trek Travel trip before - we were the exception— and one couple had done ten.  One couple planned to do another Trek Travel trip immediately after this one.  The group was from Wisconsin, Washington, New York and Georgia, everyone an American. I got some good ideas for future travel; one couple, Chris and Jessica, had lived in the Netherlands so I was able to pick their brain about route ideas.  Most people came from interesting professions and one person was an actor and still was working —Jack Garrity — he had many claims to acting fame but the one that sticks out is that he appeared in Law & Order SVU. It was very interesting to talk to him about his acting career. He said his work life involves going to 3 or 4 auditions a week and he’s gets enough gigs from that to continue working regularly.

The riding: The riding itself was reasonably challenging but with well-designed routes and stops for breaks. The riding is good in this area although there were some busy roads at times. The climbs were fun but not insane. Each day's routes were well thought out and usually included an "avid" option that typically included extra kilometers and climbs for those who were feeling particularly perky. This particular tour is billed as recreational rather than for avid riders which explains why it gets so many couples. For the first 4 days we rode more in the interior of Catalonia, but on the last day we did a signature ride from S’Agoró, where we were staying,  to Tossa de Mar along the coast. The usually busy coastal road was quiet and the views were spectacular. Tossa itself is a charming but touristy place and we were glad our tour was staying in S’Agaro.

The day's routes was an out and back affair, but the views changed on the return and it felt more like we were doing a loop. View were wonderful in both directions.
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On the way to Tossa de Mar a group of us were stopped by police and told to pull over and wait. There was a production company filming an ad, for shampoo or a salon, we weren't sure, but they were making a couple of passes through a short tunnel and the police wanted us to wait until they were finished. The spectacle certainly was interesting.

The caravan through the tunnel consisted of 3 vehicles with the camera car leading the way for these hirsute vehicles.
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"Makeup!" There must have been a dozen support vehicles and dozens of people involved in this shoot.
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Accommodations: Over the course of five nights we only moved once so it was two nights at Mas de Torrent Hotel & Spa followed by three nights in S’Agaró at Hostal de La Gavina. Both were beautiful, elegant five star places, way fancier than our usual digs. Mas de Torrent was originally built as a farm during the Moorish conquest (8th century) and after the Moors were expelled it eventually became a Jesuit Monastery. We had a lovely room, but no tub, so we would not stay again (to say nothing of the expense).

Hostal de la Gavina (Don't be confused, this place ain't no hostel!), in the town of S’Agaró, was even more interesting. The original owner, Josep Ensesa, was one of the first people to recognize the beauty of the Costa Brava region as a tourist area and he convinced his wealthy father to purchase the track of land that became the town of S’Agaró. Josep began developing the area in 1920. There was a bunch of films made in the area in the 1950s and beyond and La Gavina became an old line high society place.  The hallway in the bar has a long row of photos of famous movie stars taken while they stayed there. The Ensesa family also exercised nearly complete control over how the area would develop - land use planning by dictatorship- but the result is the area is beautiful, at least at this time of year. Miqui our guide reports that Trek Travel only does this particular tour in the spring and fall because it’s too crowded in the summer. Dave and I are not beach people but this is a beautiful beach and this would be on my list to come to at this time of year.

Hostal de Gavina, in S’Agaro, Spain, not a hostel.
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There is a particularly beautiful 3K walk you can take from the hotel along the beach that highlights both the coastal beauty as well as the magnificent home nearby.
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The organizers do a pretty good job at mixing things up. In the middle of the trip they did a sailing boat cruise and lunch- we skipped it in favor of a walk along this really cool footpath around the bay  and visiting the gym for a workout, but reports on it were positive. One day the lunch stop was at Finca Bell Lloc winery and we had a short wine tasting during lunch and an amazing multi-course meal that just kept coming. One of our guides, Eric, taught us the proper way to make Catalonian tomato bread, which is the ubiquitous Catalan food product! After that three hour extravaganza we had an 18 k ride home but fortunately it was mostly downhill. 


Observations: 

A five-day Trek Travel trip doesn’t have much in common with cycle touring across Europe on your own. About the only common denominator is you’re on a bike for much of the day but everything else is pretty much different.

Cycle touring - for us -  is all about exploring new places on your own, finding your own adventure, and figuring things out for yourself. It’s about making your own choices - and mistakes - and living with the consequences.  A luxury organized bike ride is the total opposite; the bike-riding is great but you’re doing it with no rough edges, no thinking, no stress. It’s been a great change of pace but we excited to get back on the road……

Today's ride: 142 km (88 miles)
Total: 828 km (514 miles)

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Mark LongYour Trek Tour sounds great, but we missed your regular blog updates. Loved the contrast photos between your way and the Trek way.
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2 weeks ago
Jacquie GaudetI also enjoyed the contrast photos. When Al and I showed each other where we’d stayed in Girona in 2016 (on separate trips for various reasons), he commented that the 4-star hotel he and his group had stayed in wasn’t our kind of place. My hole-in-the-wall B&B didn’t seem to exist anymore.

PS: in Spain, a “hostal” is usually a basic hotel, not a hostel.
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2 weeks ago
Mike AylingYou now have a lot of riding to do to work off those big meals!
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2 weeks ago