One of the most beautiful cycle paths in Spain leads through the idyllic interior of Catalonia to the beaches of the Costa Brava – following the tracks of steam locomotives.
the essentials in a nutshell
- The Ruta del Carrilet bike tour starts at La Garrotxa Volcano Natural Park in Catalonia.
- It is one of Spain’s 127 “green” cycle routes that follow disused railway lines.
- The old train stations now serve tourists as cafes, museums or restaurants.
- On the way to the Mediterranean, the road leads through “Catalan Switzerland” among other places.
If you expect strange lava landscapes like in Lanzarote, you will be disappointed in La Garrotxa Volcano Natural Park. It’s been a long time since the small volcanoes here in the interior of Catalonia in north-east Spain.
Meadows and forests have long covered the volcanoes with their green mantle. In the middle of this hilly landscape lies the picturesque village of Santa Pau. Old stone houses and winding streets characterize the sleepy village. It smells like firewood.
Here in Garrotxa begins the Ruta del Carrilet. It runs from the Para-Pyrenees through Catalonia to the Mediterranean coast of the Costa Brava and is one of the 127 “Vías Verdes” in Spain. Where steam locomotives once puffed, these “green paths” now run.
These are disused railway lines that have been turned into walking and cycling routes in nature almost untouched and far away from car traffic. Since the train tracks were not allowed to have any gradient, the paths are ideal for bike rides, pleasure cyclists, but also for wheelchair users and walking with children.
Former railway stations along the way have often been converted into hotels, restaurants, cafes or small, charming museums. There are almost 2,500 kilometers of these “greenways” in Spain today.
Volcanic cuisine on the table
The Castell, the castle of the barons of Santa Pau built in the 14th century, rises above the medieval center of the city of Santa Pau. The church of Santa María, which is worth seeing, dates from the 15th century.
“Our village is not only a popular destination, but also a good starting point for hiking and cycling routes in the natural park and the various volcanoes,” says Jesús Pont.
In Placeta dels Balls opposite the castle, Jesús and his wife run the Cal Sastre Inn. It was opened by his grandparents.
The tables under the old stone arches are all occupied. Some of Jesús’s guests come 120 kilometers from Barcelona just to try his famous “volcanic cuisine”.
A refreshing drink that is heavy on the stomach
House specialty: Fesols de Santa Pau. Small white beans have a protected designation of origin. Jesús prepares them as cod and tomato salad according to his grandmother Ramona’s recipe.
“The beans grow only here and, like our other volcanic products, like potatoes or mushrooms, they have a very special taste because of the soil, the water and the microclimate,” assures Jesús, who grows his own vegetables.
After the bean salad, there is cannelloni with béchamel sauce made from fresh mushrooms, truffles and Catalan butifarra sausage. “Perfect reception for your tour,” says Jesús.
Unfortunately he is wrong. The “volcano menu” was delicious, but it’s also heavy on the stomach when cycling on the way to Olot. It goes up and down.
In the footsteps of volcanoes
38 volcanoes characterize the picturesque hilly landscape of Garrotxa. An old quarry looks deep into the Croscat volcano and reveals the different layers of lava that glow in black, red and brown.
At Santa Margarida Volcano, bicycles must be parked below. A short hiking trail leads through oak and chestnut forests to the crater rim. There is a small Romanesque chapel in the circular volcanic crater.
The sun burns. The shade of the trees is more and more welcome on the way to Olot through the fabulous beech forest of La Fageda d’en Jordà.
A hundred meters above Olot, the Montsacopa volcano with two old watchtowers offers a wonderful view of the old town with its wonderful town houses.
From Olot to Catalan Switzerland
Olot is the current starting point of the Ruta del Carrilet. From here it leads to a first section in Girona and from there to a second section in Sant Feliu de Guíxols on the Costa Brava. This is a total of about 95 kilometers.
First, from Olot, it passes through the green valley of Vall d’en Bas, also known as “Catalan Switzerland”. The road passes over railway bridges and through narrow gorges that were once carved into the rock for steam locomotives.
Cheese and whiskey for bike tourists
At the edge of the path near Sant Esteve d’en Bas, the sign “La Xiquella” indicates a small cheese dairy. Oriol Rizo produces cow’s and sheep’s milk here in the traditional way.
His raw milk cheeses have won numerous awards. Sometimes they taste like hazelnuts, sometimes like almonds, sometimes like herbs. Some are spicy and some are mild and creamy. In any case: perfect provisions for the tour.
A few kilometers further you can taste Oriols cheese in a really original and interesting way at Roy Lawson and Goretti Raurell. Roy is Scottish and offers whiskey-flavored cheese tastings at his inn right on the Ruta del Carrilet. This results in strong contrasts with intense flavor combinations.
Your guesthouse “La Rectoria de Sant Miquel de Pineda” is surrounded by fruit trees and is specialized for bicycle tourists. He is a former parish priest. Next to it is the Romanesque church of the 12th century.