Expert Cycling Guide: Osona, Spain
Pitted as Girona’s savvy rival, Osona is a hidden gem tucked away in the Catalan mountains. But can it really rival its more famous sister for cycling, food and friendliness? Jenni Gwiazdowski finds out…
Most keen cyclists will have heard the word about Girona being the new cyclist’s mecca – a pro’s paradise boasting world-class riding, a beautiful backdrop, amazing Michelin-starred restaurants and great coffee. But Osona? Not so much.
When I was asked to sample a trip to Osona in Spain’s Catalonian mountains with the promise of pro-level climbs, welcoming locals, and food, glorious food, I was a bit sceptical.
Could I be first to discover the ‘new, new’ cycling mecca? Or is Osona simply capitalising on its sister’s notoriety? It’s a tough job, but someone had to find out…
My first sensation was of the glorious Mediterranean sun greeting us with open arms as we step down from the plane. Win! Then, as we travel to our accommodation we are treated to sensational views. On the one side you can see snow-capped mountains. On the other, a crystal blue sparkling sea. Add the two together with that glorious weather, and this nature-heavy environment is ticking my retirement boxes.
Next up, my road-bike-loving senses automatically gravitate to the state of the infrastructure. And lemme tell you, the roads are as smooth as my roadie boyfriend’s shaved legs. No potholes here, nosirreebob!
And finally, there’s the proximity to incredible climbs. Montseny is Osona’s queen mountain, but the Costa Brava and Pyrenees are a hop, skip, and pedal away.
At first glance, this looks set to be a belter of a trip. But let’s cut to the nitty gritty…
This is a beautiful breath of fresh air, quite literally and figuratively speaking. The air quality is rejuvenating (my snot isn’t dingy!) and the drivers are polite (shock horror).
The routes are Gorgeous with a capital “G” and there are very few cars in the hills; very few cyclists as well. The ones we do see greet us with a friendly ‘A deo!’ which translates to ‘god go with you’ but actually means see you later. Try it, you won’t be disappointed.
Osona Cycling Tours (the brainchild of Cristina and Sandra), arranged a wonderful package for us and, as part of it, gave us the knowledge to enjoy both guided tours and self-supported routes.
Cristina and her partner led us on our first ride, which took us from Lluçanès to Montseny National Park (totalling 85k with 1,200m of climbing and finishing at Coll Formic). I had to make peace with those climbs because the descents were gobsmackingly good and I’m still fantasising about how gravity pulled me through each hairpin turn, my stomach going one way as my body went the other.
Not having to constantly worry about oncoming cars gave me extra peace of mind as I flung myself down the mountain, Pantani style. Incredible.
The views as you ride are stunning and, with the geology nerd in me rearing her hard hat, I kept stopping to take pictures of various rock formations surging out of the mountains and providing a breathtaking backdrop.
As an extra bonus (as if you need more): dotted throughout the mountains are natural spring fountains where you can refill your bidon with fresh spring water, as mother nature intended. Now that is the dream!
We stayed at the Seminari Vic, an actual seminary that was built in the 1940s, which has been converted into a no-nonsense hotel.
I don’t say no-frills, however, because this place is pretty classy. Our room was modern, clean, and fully air conditioned, complete with a sexy frosted glass shower in which your roommate may catch a glimpse of your silhouette. A bit naughty for this ex-Catholic!
I highly recommend this place. The location is very close to the charming old town / city centre, and there is a cafeteria that caters for all diets, including hungry cyclists. As a bike-friendly hotel, they are also more than happy to store your sacred machine.
The restaurant at Seminari Vic is surprisingly delicious. I was a bit hesitant of the buffet style, but don’t be fooled. The menu is full of local specialties, and includes options for vegetarians (less so for vegans, but as with other dietary requirements they are accommodating, so long as you tell them). Highly recommended is the Crema Catalan, the local crème brûlée style dish.
My other hot pick is Fonda d’Alpens, a rustic restaurant that boasts brilliant homemade Catalan cuisine. Run by Joan (pronounced Joe-ahn), you’ll find it in the village of Alpens (aka the middle of nowhere), yet fully packed on the weekend, a testament to just how good it is.
They love cyclists, and Sunday club riders stop here to have a munch, then carry on. We liked it so much we went twice. Joan speaks English and is happy for you to order off-menu if you just need a massive plate of pasta. Make sure you try the Escalivada: smoky grilled eggplant, bell peppers, and tomatoes.
Also on the Osona Cycling Tours team is Sandra, resident nutritionist and baker. She gave us delightful homemade ginger cake slices to keep our energy levels up.
You’ll be pleased to know that coffee in Catalunya is A-ok, too. Order a cafè americà (americano), cafè sol (espresso), or carajillo (coffee with a splash of alcohol) if you need an extra boost. Add a bunyol, and you’ve got breakfast (or elevensies, or second breakfast) sorted.
As with most things in life, it’s the people you meet who make the experience memorable, and the gang behind Osona Cycling Tours really made our trip. Yoga instructor and police officer(!) Cristina from Catalunya set up the enterprise with her friend Sandra, a nutritionist and keen cyclist. Raimon (Cristina’s husband) and Jordi are the logistics crew; they both lead rides, tune up bikes, and pick you up from the airport. New addition, Englishman Darren, is a guide with an unshakable interest in local birds of prey (he treated me to a twitching lesson as we climbed Coll Formic).
You can tell that this crew really love what they do. They were so excited to take us out and show us their massive secret garden of Osona. And to be fair, it’s definitely something to be excited about.
Multi-disciplinarian Cristina brought us to her small yoga studio on our recovery day. She guided us through an hour-long session, which focused on stretching out the muscles that cyclists tend to tighten up. (Hip flexors, I’m looking at you.) While trained in Vinyasa style yoga, she modifies the sessions to suit the time of day, type of riding done, and exhaustion levels. It felt great to relax and stretch my body out after such a long ride!
During the weekend, the Vic city centre market springs to life, bustling with locals selling flowers, fruit, vegetables, clothing, potted plants, and specialty items like cheese and oils. My favourite were the mushroom stalls run by the old men (fun guys), who were selling different mushrooms and truffles found on their excavations nearby.
Then, of course, there’s the Mediterranean (great for a mid-ride dip) and the Pyrenees (perfect for testing your mettle), which are both a tantalising hour away.
The descents were next level. I had never really encountered snaking descents like these – the kind where you feel the centrifugal forces at work and like you’re on a roller coaster – but Osona and the surrounding area kept delivering them and I kept loving them.
I’ve mentioned the scenery already, but it really is sensational. You’re out in the real Catalonia, you feel like the only foreigner in town, and the locals are happy to see you. It’s brilliant and really feels like you are on a proper intrepid adventure where you get to see and taste the real deal.
Oh, and who could forget that incredible leg massage by Nuria from Mes Salut Physiotherapy. I’m a fan of massages, but I’ve never had a post-ride sports massage before, so you can imagine my joy when I was treated like the pros by local triathlete Nuria. I asked her if she could do it harder, but she replied “You don’t want me to do it harder.” I took her advice. It was minty and smooth, and the next day my legs felt ready to tackle the next climb.
Travelling to and from Barcelona by plane STINKS. We faced endless delays with EasyJet both to and from London. However, there is an alternative: I discovered that there is a train that takes you direct from St Pancras in London to Barcelona. It travels via the south of France, runs next to the Mediterranean Sea, snakes through the Pyrenees mountains and basically costs the same as most air tickets if you book three months in advance. It only takes 11 hours, which is basically the same amount of time it took us to fly (delays included). Next time I’m trying this train thing.
To wrap up
I loved it. The air was fresh, the food was good, the people were kind and Osona Cycle Tours really showed us a grand old time, taking us into their hometown and treating us like one of the family.
I’m one of those people who prefer the hidden back door to the showy front one, and Osona has plenty tucked away. I highly recommend booking a tour with them, especially if you’re a woman. Cristina and Sandra are incredibly friendly and easy to relate to, and Raimon and Jordi are a great supporting act. I felt like I was part of the family.
With Girona being the current go-to cycling mecca, I would definitely vote for Osona as a competitive alternative, simply because it feels like the mountains are yours. Quite honestly, I wanted to stay a month longer.