Inspirational Trails 22: Girona
Written By: SportsShoes
In part 22 of our Inspirational Trails series, fell runner Hannah Cairns, tells us about her trip to Girona in search of new trail running adventures.
With the hope of catching some much-needed winter sun last year, we headed to the town of Girona, 86km (or 54 miles if you’re old school) north of Barcelona. When we stepped off the plane, I was hoping for that familiar warm heat to hit my face. But instead, I zipped up my coat and we made our way to the train station.
Whilst the Spanish sunshine was a feature of each day, I’d evidently over-estimated the temperature and definitely hadn’t packed accordingly. But that didn’t matter, we were on our holidays. Well, I might have originally understood it to be a winter sun holiday, but my partner had a different idea. This was a winter training camp.
I’d never heard of Girona, but Eddie had. Being a keen cyclist, he knew that it is a hub for professional cyclists and runners alike, good cuisine and rolling hills. He was not wrong; clearly, he had done his research.
The ancient walled city of Girona, perched on a hillside in northern Catalonia, is an ideal day trip from Barcelona, en route to Costa Brava beaches or the Pyrenees ski resorts, all of which about are an hour away by car. But Girona deserves a longer stay. Dominated by the cathedral and the River Onyar, the narrow streets of Girona form a labyrinth of routes to wander the city streets, and I can guarantee that the only question on your mind will be:
where shall we eat first?
One of the best ways to explore a new place is to run around it, and that is exactly what we did. Our luggage was dumped in our apartment, the jeans were off, and the shorts were on. We quickly learnt that the city itself didn’t take long to explore, but that wasn’t why we were here; we were here for the hills.
The next day, with fuel in our bellies, and our climbing legs ready and raring to go, we headed higher. Meandering through the city streets before the sleepy Spaniards had awoken, we stopped to marvel at the cathedral for just a second, before continuing past the university grounds where the chic city stopped, and the countryside began. Suddenly, it was just us, the hills and the sun. The typical tourists didn’t venture this far, and we did not mind one bit.
Our first aim was to reach the castle of Sant Miquel which lies between Celrà and Girona, upon mount Sant Miquel, and is one of the most popular cycling and walking routes in the area. Research had told us that this offered a stunning vantage point over the valleys of Sant Daniel and Celrà, so naturally we wanted to see this for ourselves.
The road continued for some time, passing a few houses dotted on the hillside, and we continued straight along the main road between a pine forest and next to the Miralles stream. We then reached a second bridge, that of Sant Miquel, before finding a path on our right that was accompanied by a sculpture, “Girona, llindar d’Europa” (Girona, the threshold of Europe). Shortly afterwards we came to the Can Lliure farmhouse, where the road ended and the sand began. Using the handy app, Maps.Me, we carried on along the trail and instinct told us that if we were going up, we were on the right lines.
The higher we climbed, the more rewarding the views became, and the easier the path was to follow. Clearly, we weren’t the first up and out in Girona after all, as some locals had beaten us to it and were approaching the summit. But, after our best attempt at a Spanish greeting, they let us past and we were soon admiring the vista, catching our breath and soaking up the mid-morning sun.
From this point, the views were panoramic, and the paths upon the surrounding hillsides became easier to identify; their sandy yellow colour providing a stark contrast to the green shrubbery and trees that formed a carpet like covering. The golden trails carved out a plethora of possible routes in the landscape, all waiting to be explored. But for now, the descent beckoned, and so did lunch.
Relaxing into our afternoon was not hard in Girona. We wandered the streets, admiring the beauty of each building whilst hopping from café to café, sampling the local cuisine as we went. That was the one positive of our so called ‘Training Camp’- the post run feast. And Girona didn’t disappoint. We were spoilt for choice.
The next day, after re-assessing our routes, and some good old-fashioned Googling, we thought we would venture a little further. We had all day to explore, and supplies to provide some mid-run treats, so we weren’t in a hurry.
Ascending the same way as the previous day, we once again reached the summit of Sant Miquel, and for the second day in a row, we clambered the iron staircase to the top of the tower to stop for a quick breather, and for a few more photos. From there, we took a slight detour and after a few wrong turns, stumbled upon the correct path to our next summit, Els Angels. The easier way to this peak is by car, and provides a great route by bike, and although the road to the top provides a guaranteed route to follow, the dirt tracks are much more fun!
At the top of the Els Angels climb, we were greeted by more spectacular views, and a monastery. During peak season there is also a café and a restaurant, but as this wasn’t open, we made do with our Haribos and biscuits! With views to the Pyrenees, Garrotxa and the Mediterranean Sea, it wasn’t a bad place for a pit stop before descending the route we had become familiar with, where the closer we got to Girona, the more our stomachs churned with hunger, and our thoughts and conversations turned to the next meal.
Girona provided the perfect location for our ‘winter training camp’, and with more time I know that we would have uncovered many more potential routes to explore and conquer, but all good things must come to an end, and home beckoned.
When I walked through the door at home, I put the washer on, changed into my running kit and headed straight back out of the door. My winter training camp wasn’t quite over yet, for I had 6.5km to go to reach the ever-elusive 100km training week, and I wasn’t going to be defeated. Little did I know that those 100km weeks would gradually become more normal, but a year ago that challenge was on a whole other level and I’d actually enjoyed the winter training camp. Run, eat, relax, repeat.
You can follow Hannah and all her running adventures here.
Photos: Credit to Hannah Cairns