Day 1 – To Sant Feliu De Guíxols
We spent one night in the quiet aire at Quart, near Girona, then decided to drive back to the coast, primarily in search of warmth. We arrived in Sant Feliu De Guíxols and into what turned out to be a very popular central aire, busy with winter sun-seekers. Knowing very little about the area, we visited the Tourist Office and then, on their recommendation, went for two short coastal walks, one on each side of the central town beach.
Firstly we walked to the south of town, rising quickly along a well-worn path with expansive views over the town beach, harbour and bay. We passed expensive looking stone-built houses, with neat pools and gardens, clustered into the natural rocky outcrops. Near here we found a flat rock to lie on and had our picnic lunch overlooking the sea, with the rugged sun-bleached coast disappearing beyond the horizon. We lingered a while, the sleep inducing sun-trap proving difficult to escape.
Back through town, we passed the marina boats and climbed a second path, this time following the coast north. A longer route, we passed several narrow, hidden coves with tiny sandy beaches, and through covered forest trails. This wilder, rugged coast further from the town was simply beautiful, and peacefully free of other walkers.
We originally thought this town would be a one day stopover, but it quickly intrigued us with its quiet charm and many exploratory options, so we decided to stay a few more nights. We had always intended to be in France for New Year but had found the Costa Brava to be quite compelling. The weather window was clear, dry and bright and the small towns snuggled into the steep green gullies captivated us so much we decided to linger for longer.
Day 2 – Around Sant Feliu De Guíxols
We cycled a portion of the Garden Route, following the coast from Sant Feliu to Tossa de Mar. We had a tough hill climb out of the aire to the high coast road, then fell into a great undulating and winding ride following the coastline. We passed through areas of tall, bright green trees with grey undersides, the entire hillside slope looking blurred due to the shimmering contrast between the colours. The coast road snaked out before us like a dropped ribbon, rising and falling with each gorge, but never too steep to be anything but pleasurable.
We passed several private inlet beaches, over-developed with pools, sports pitches and restaurants, then locked off from use at this time of year as the hotels they serviced were empty. We also saw many other cyclists and motorcyclists; it looked a wonderfully engaging road for touring bikers to enjoy. We ate lunch above a high-sided sandy bay, the sea water a light turquoise so clear we could see the bottom from our high vantage point.
“I am a part of all that I have met…”, Tennyson wrote, and the reverse is equally as true – all that we see and experience becomes a tiny but indelible part of who we, as individuals, are. The joy of this coast and of our cycle along it is something we will always carry with us.
Day 3 – Around Sant Feliu De Guíxols
After our recent walks and cycle, we felt up for nothing more than lazy day and a quiet, gentle walk about the town. We discovered a few more squares and an inside market building we had previously missed, then sat a while at the beach, enjoying the stillness. This being New Year’s Eve, we wanted to be rested in case we found a party to attend, but the town was silent and still. We had dinner back in Benny, then a few drinks later, around 11pm, we wandered back into town to look for activity. There was none to be found, so we stood, embraced together, on the empty beach for the end of year bells. It was a thoughtful and quiet end to an explosive, full and life-changing year for us.
Day 4 – To Tamariu and Bellecaire d’Emporda
On New Year’s Day we rose early and drove north, the roads empty and the towns we passed through closed and silent. We took the main road up to Palafrugell and turned east to the coast, parking up on a long wide street in Tamariu. The town’s whitewashed beachfront and circular cove were beautiful in the morning light, so we lingered for a while, thinking of a possible swim in the cool, clear waters. Reluctantly, we moved on to walk the coastal path to Llafranc as originally planned.
We followed the neatly established and well-signed path, passing through small hidden coves and scented pine forests, with trees bent over like question marks, either by wind or in search of sun. We climbed steep rocky cliffs, avoiding exposed, twisted tree roots with every step. The entire path was a stunning, quiet 6km walk, either in beautiful sunshine or deep shade, until we reached the equally pretty bay and town of Llafranc. We dropped down into the town and had our lunch on the seafront, watching many families play on the beach. There were large crowds of people in the fancy seafront restaurants so we concluded that New Year’s Day must be a very popular day to have a lunchtime meal out with family.
We returned to Tamariu by a slightly varied route through the backstreets of Llafranc, before following the original coastal path back to our starting beach. The water in the cove was now a little choppy from growing winds so our desire to jump in was abated and we instead retuned to Benny. From here we drove further north to stay in Bellecaire d’Emporda, at a rural commercial camping aire near the coast that was to be our last overnight stay in Spain. We arrived to a locked site and staff all away on siesta, but were let in by another motorhomer who had the gate code. We parked up and enjoyed the remainder of the day’s sunshine on our comfortable grassy plot.
Day 5 – To Cadaqués and Saint Andre, France
From Bellecaire d’Emporda, we passed through Natural Parks and snaked over mountain passes to visit the celebrated coastal town of Cadaqués. This was a difficult and narrow stretch of road to drive, but very beautiful in the morning sun. A low mist hovered in the valley and made the grey towns we passed look like apparitions.
We wandered along the sea front and harbour enjoying the views back over the white town, although the beach was not as pretty as those in Tamariu or Llafranc, as it was mud grey pebbles rather than golden sand. Some of the smaller alleys and streets were very steep and formed from either bare rock or built with large slate pebbles on edge, making for a grippy but slightly awkward surface to walk on. We saw a very large group, easily over fifty members, being given a tour of the town, with earpieces on to hear the guide. They trailed slowly after each other, heads down, like a solemn funeral march, and it looked the worst possible way to experience this bright and interesting town. We explored for an hour or so, but were getting impatient to move on, back into France.
We returned some of the way on the same road, before turning right and following the coast road in the direction of Portbou and France. We bypassed the opportunity to visit the notable monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes in favour of making good time arriving in our chosen aire. You always have to leave something to return to the region for.
We paused for a short while at the top of the pass, just as we entered into France. We noted the interesting coincidence that, with our regime of driving on alternate days, Nicky had been the designated driver for each day we had crossed a notional national border, this being our fifth so far. Once across the border back in France, the towns immediately took on a different demeanour, highlighted by choice of building materials, the change of road markings and the language and font used on signs and shop displays. The road, though, remained as crooked and winding as ever, as it meandered its twisted route between the tree-covered mountains and the rugged coastline.
We finally arrived in the small town of Saint André, on the outskirts of the large tourist town of Argelès-sur-Mer. We stopped in a small aire in a shared car-park and happily relaxed. With Spain now behind us, our journey through the south of France was primed to begin.