DAY 1: TARRAGONA- SIURANA. 107km with 2.040 m + climbing
It’s been almost 25 years since I settled down in Tarragona, and when my parents told me we were moving here, I frankly had no idea where I was going to. Turned out Tarragona is a friendly mid sized city in the southern coast of Catalonia, with beautiful beaches, Roman “UNESCO World Heritage” sites and 310 days of sun a year (we sometimes like to call it “Tarracofornia”…)
You probably stayed with me for the last part: yes, 310 sunny days a year, which makes it a paradise for cycling. I know Girona is all the rage now, with all those bike-friendly hotels and hipster-Instagram cafés, but I truly believe Tarragona has better climate and the same world class roads (and singletracks) as Girona. You heard it here first…
And what better way to prove it that going on a RIMBY, starting in Tarragona city and moving north-west to the conveniently located mountains of Prades and the Montsant area, a little mountain range with twisty little roads that go up to 1.200 meters straight from sea level. This is where the famous Priorat wine is produced, competing with Logroño’s world class Riojas in quality and taste.
I know, I know, if you live in ColoRADo, 1.200 meters of altitude is probably where you need to drive DOWN to do your shopping. But when you start your day at sea level, 1.200 meters, with a few mountain passes up and down in between, can be a very fun thing. And there’s no beach in Boulder to finish your ride the right way…
Our route starts at my place, by the beach, and points north via a series of small villages (Catllar, Secuita, Vallmoll, etc) that gets you through the flat part of the route quite fast. Half an hour later, with almost no traffic, you are at the feet of the first climbs of the day. Our destination for tonight is Siurana, an amazing little village perched on the top of some majestic cliffs, and known as one of the top destinations in the world for rock climbing. Lots of 8c+ and 9a, etc climbs have been pioneered here. You cannot miss “La Rambla” area if you are into ropes, chalk and carabineers.
But before we get to Siurana, we need to conquer a few climbs, and the first one is La Mussara, a second category climb starting at Vilaplana, and the one that owns the best views in the area. La Mussara’s profile marks a 9,8km climb with a elevation of 613m, and a 6,28% average. Nothing hardcore, just a fun and beautiful climb to start the day right. There’s a cyclosportive event that bears its name and it has become the benchmark climb for all the roadies in the area. Get up under 30 min and you know you are fit as hell.
We got no plans to ride it in under 1 hour with all our photo stops and the bikepacking bags (excuses, I know). It is all about enjoying the views, having fun and forgetting about numbers (like it always is for us anyway…) Our bikepacking bags (can we call it “roadpacking”?) are filled only with the most essential items: flip flops, rain jacket, a swimsuit and a polyester t-shirt for the hotel and toothbrush-toothpaste. You don’t need anything else to spend one night in a cool hotel where dinner and breakfast is included. We would be using the hotel laundry if necessary (or just use the basin for a quick cleanse) and relying on their towels, food and hospitality.
Of course the life of a photographer is always a bit more complicated than that… My bike looks a little more loaded cause it was. My essentials were the same as Loren’s, but I was also carrying an Outershell small handlebar bag where a Sony mirrorless camera with 2 lenses were carried. The Apidura frame half-bag is the most convenient for me to carry a few spare batteries, cards, cables, blowers, filters and the oh-so-hated chargers. Man, my life is a nightmare of chargers. Iphone-camera- camera 2- Wahoo – GPS watch, please can someone turn ALL devices to wireless charging? And only one unified charger. Yes, keep dreaming, I know…
On the top of the La Mussara climb we are already dreaming about a tortilla sandwich and a second coffee . Public announcement: a “tortilla” in Spain is not a Mexican tortilla, but a classic french omelette… We were not ready for finding out the mountain hut was closed for holidays…noooo! Ok, plan B, swallow a granola bar and head down to our next stop: the village of Prades.
Prades sits at almost 1.000 meters above sea level and its called “Villa Vermella” (red village) because of the stones in the area have this red hue which all the houses are built with. It’s a touristy little town known also for his potatoes and being the perfect coffee stop for cyclists, but the real cool story about Prades is this one:
Every year the “Festa del Cava” is held here. What’s that? Well you take your huge 1.900’s water fountain in the middle on the main square, and connect it with pipes to the local council building. There, some volunteers open bottles of Cava (Catalan drink similar to Champagne) all night and drop the liquid from 12 to 6AM via the pipes to the fountain! Thousands of people gather around to drink and listen to the music in a, let’s say, pretty crazy party. Around 4.000-5.000 Cava bottles are used that night. Hangover guaranteed. 100%.
After a quick lunch (well, ok, not so quick or light, two plates plus dessert…) we start our way down to Ulldemolins, a gate to the neighbouring Montsant mountain range (maybe a case for a future RIMBY), a beautiful granitic gigantic mountain that dominates the landscape here. But today’s target is another one, so we climb back up to Col de l’ Albarca, where we start seeing the cliffs of Siurana in the distance.
From this point of view, the climb looks like an impossible thing. Where is the road? Only huge cliffs are visible from below and the village looks only accesible by helicopter.
But there is indeed a road going up there. And yes, you guessed it, a steep one. The pavement (gravel until 1996) wanders following the lower parts of those cliffs, following the valleys formed by years of flooding and water, and twisting through pine forests and rosemany brushes. Smells like mediterranean here.
The climb to Siurana is not a popular cycling climb, cause this is a “cul-de-sac” road, where you need to go down the same way you climbed up, so that puts the village out of some of the most famous cycling routes in the area. But we looked for a hotel up here, so we did not have any excuse to skip this beautiful and scenic climb.
The climb is only 6,65 km, but with a maximum of 17% grade is not for the faint of heart. Once at the top, and after grasping some air, the views are totally worth the effort. You can spot the turns of the road we have been climbing below our feet, serpentining through the valley in an almost impossible way, waving its path between climbing walls full of the colorful helmets of the climbers, making their way to the top of them, while hawks and other birds fly over our heads. Magic.
Siurana was the last Muslim stronghold in Catalonia. After other towns were conquisted, Siurana still resisted. The cliffs of la Gritella and its powerful castle made it practically unreachable. The legend explains that just before the defeat, the daughter of the Valais of Siurana, the beatiful Abdelàzia, appeared riding a magnificent white horse, and rode it to the cliff close to the castle. When she arrived, the animal made an impressive jump and both disappeared to death in to the abism. The sceptics will found the footprint of the horse of the princess printed in the rock, as a proof of the last run of the horse carrying Abdelàzia to immortality…
As for accommodation, there is not too much choice in Siurana. Be aware that only 20 people live here so it’s a really really small town. We booked our shared room at Hotel Siuranella, a small cozy hotel with only a few rooms with amazing views and a nice restaurant. Be aware the restaurant is the gastronomic-michelin-gourmet type…so, not (Spanish) cheap. Dinner menu starts at 35 euro per person without drinks, and there are no too much other options in town. If you are on a shoestring, the nearby Camping site offers shared rooms or private bungalows with restaurant service, so that’s another option.
DAY 2:-SIURANA – TARRAGONA. 102km with 1.080 m + climbing (and 1.820m downhill! )
Weather forecast called for rain, so we were lucky our first day was sunny. But rain ticking on the roof all night was a bad sign. We wake up early, and we find out the breakfast at the hotel is as good as last night dinner. And while we were indulging in homemade preserve, artisan bread and freshly brewed coffee, we start to realize we might get lucky again, cause it suddenly stops raining and we can even see some clear skies in the horizon.
Anyway the first descent back from Siurana to the main road is a chilly one. I mean, not Scandinavian or Scottish cold, but cold for a couple of mediterranean riders in September, after a big breakfast and starting downhill without even turning a pedal. You know what I mean. Rain jackets and carefully designed turns to avoid crashes in the wet 17% turns under the cliffs.
Once we reach the village of Cornudella de Montsant down in the valley, we choose another small climb that would take us up again, through vineyard fields that are being harvested, and amazing views of the fog leaving the Montsant mountain top. The vineyards of Montsant have their own wine denomination (DO Montsant) even if so close to the DO Priorat region.
We taste some of the grapes on the field and took our jackets of for some of the first climbs of the day, that would take us to the village of Morera de Monsant, a balcony to all the valley below, and home to one of the toughest climbs in the area. Luckily for us, we are doing the climb on reverse, so it became just a steep downhill…
Almost at the bottom of the descent we come across one of those commercial cycling groups coming probably from Salou or Cambrils hotels, riding on rental road bikes, and suffering and zig zagging just at the start of the climb. We bet they would have to push the bikes further up, by looking at their faces in the “easy” part of the climb….
Village after village, we go deeper into the Priorat area, home of one of the stronger red wines in the area. Priorat wineyards grow in steep hills where manual labor is a must, and the rainfall is so scarce and the terroir so unique (black slate and quartz, known here as “llicorella”) that gives birth to one of the only two wines in Spain (along with Rioja) with the DOCa, the highest qualification for a wine region according to Spanish wine regulations.
After visiting the Monestery of Scala Dei (where the monks started producing the first wine in the area in the 12th century) we stop in the village of Porrera to refill our bidons (with water, not wine) and proceed to climb again to the famous climb of Coll de la Teixeta, the gate to the coastal part of the route. From up there, you can already see the mediterranean sea again, and take the beautiful downhill to Duesaigües, on the way to the fisherman and tourist village of Cambrils, where ice cream is waiting for us. And not “any” ice cream, but 2016 World Cup Gelato sub-champion nonetheless. Not kidding. Delicious.
From there we decided to stick to the coastal route that waves though the tourist towns of Cambrils (relax) and Salou (party) to enter back to Tarragona from its southern part, and be able to ride through some of the most iconic spots of the city.
There’s more in Tarragona than Roman history, but it’s undeniable that this is our specialty. During the Roman Empire , Tarraco (Colonia Iulia Urbs Triumphalis Tarraco) was the most important city in the Iberian Peninsula, and the territory (Hispania Tarraconensis) extended as far as the actual Galicia and part of nothern Portugal. Around 27 bc, famous Roman Emperor Augustus settled down in Tarraco and the city flourished under his influence. The highlights of a quick tourist (bike) visit to the city cannot miss the Amphitheater, located in a amazing location as a balcony to the city main beach, as well as the parts of the old Circus, that are now mixed with the current building in the old city. You can still enter a pub with live music and big party (try “El Cau” for this) to find the actual roof is part of a 2.000 year old roman building.
A walk (or ride) in the old part of the city reveals other interesting jewels like the walls surrounding the city, the Forum, or closer to our time, the Cathedral and its surroundings. Round it up with a quick extra night stay and a nice seafood dinner looking at the Mediterranean Sea and there you have the perfect weekend…
So here it is, a quick RIMBY 2 day ride , organized pretty much 2 days in advance, and showing the best rides and spots my backyard can offer. What about you? Get a friend, plan a RIMBY and show us your backyard!
Enjoy the rest of the MEGA PHOTO GALLERY here:
Tarragona is located 1 hour south from Barcelona, so you can fly to Barcelona Airport and get a transfer (even a train), or also try to fly to the Reus airport (mainly by Ryanair) only 10 minutes from Tarragona.
Accommodation is no problem, several hotels serve the city , as well as some B&B and a good Airbnb offer. I recommend Hotel Nuria, 100m from the beach, 10min from the city center and a good restaurant.
For this trip we went for Strada bikes on bikepacking packs, to prove road cycling can also be a multiday mini-adventure…and still have a light nimble bike
MARC’S STRADA DUE:
Strada DUE frame size M
Ultegra Di2 with 50-34 front and 11-28 rear cassette
Discus C35 LTD wheels
GP 4000 28mm tires (actual width on C35 LTD wheels is 30mm)
THM Clavicula SE crankset
THM Tibia 100mm stem
THM Ulna handlebar
Selle San Marco Mantra
Bontrager Flare rear light
LOREN’S STRADA PRO FORCE:
Strada PRO size M
Sram Force, with 50T chainring and 11-32 cassette
Discus C35 PRo wheels
Pirelli PZero Velo 25mm tires (actual width on C35 PRO wheels is 28mm)
3T Aeronova Team Stealth handlebar
3T Apto 90mm stem
Selle San Marco Aspide 2
KOMOOT route for day 1:
KOMOOT route for day 2: