Photography: Harry Dowdney | Words: Harry Dowdney
A gentleman, but an elbows-out racer. A Namibian country boy turned cultured polyglot. An accidental style icon and now a local tour guide. Meet Dan Craven, the multi-talented pro cyclist who has been helping Rapha Travel find the best roads and restaurants for its trips to Girona in Spain this year.
Craven, who Rapha spoke to over coffee during the recently held Pro Team Camp, has lived in the charming catalonian city since the tail-end of 2014, and feels like he’s finally found the right place to lay down some roots: “There was always something about the way that people talked about Girona. It wasn’t what they said, but it was how they said it.”
As a result, he moved in without even riding the roads that would become the bread and butter – nay, olive oil – of his training, trusting his instincts after a globetrotting career that has seen him go from Namibia to Switzerland and England via Germany.
Just like Nice and Monaco on the Côte d’Azur, and Lucca in Italy, Girona has become known as a hub for professional riders, and the abundance of skinny racers around town has both benefits and drawbacks:
“If you want to go out and do a six-hour training ride, you know there is also someone who wants to go and do a six-hour training ride, especially in winter when nobody has really specific training work to do,” says Craven, adding, however, that “there are so many pro cyclists here that you sometimes can’t walk around town without bumping into someone.”
Craven sees the town as more than a training base, so has made the effort to blend in to the rich catalan culture. Amongst his local friends is the owner of the bike shop, with whom he goes mountain biking in the winter: “His English is terrible and my Spanish is worse, but it doesn’t matter!” The language of cycling is international, particularly in this capital city for racers.
Disconnect from the worries of everyday life for a few days at Rapha’s newest Retreats in Girona. Aside from riding the region’s incredible mountains and coastlines, you’ll enjoy the cuisine that Catalonia is famous for, based at a special luxury accommodation.
Girona is like a good wine, it gets better the longer you have it. Tasked with the unfair job of putting together the perfect day - but only one day - as a cyclist visiting the city, I've laid out a jam-packed itinerary of my favourite things to do. But don’t worry, it includes a siesta, because obviously, we're in Spain. Or more to the point, Catalonia.
Quiet and almost deserted in the early morning, the old town Barri Vell feels completely magical. Get out for a stroll around the old town before heading towards the city wall. Start by the children's playground in the south of the old town, from Carrer General Marvà climb the stairs up onto the wall and walk around the old fortifications, eventually looping out either on top of the hill near the university or all the way down near the cathedral.
Watching the city wake up as the sun starts to rise is a real treat and you can make it even better by popping into Espresso Mafia (they open at 8) for the best takeaway coffee in town, roasted on location. Say hi to Levi from me while you're at it! Now that you've climbed some steps, thereby activating your glutes and core a bit, hop on your bike and cycle over to La Fabrica for 9am when they open. Remember, we are on a schedule! La Fabrica does the best breakfast, my favourite being the vegetarian bowl with added bacon. Coffee number two. Obviously.Continue Reading »
Time to ride
With fuel in the tank, now you can head out on a ride. Being more mountain man than beach boy, my go-to medium/big loop takes you up the Llora valley, past Sant Gregori, over the top to Les Planes d’Hostoles, over the top of another valley towards Olot, looping back towards Girona via Banyoles. Be aware though, there are at least five spots where I always turn off the obvious roads onto quieter, more exciting roads, so you might want to trawl my Strava to find those. I say quieter roads, but don't let that put you off: the drivers around Girona are the most courteous I have ever come across. Tourists on the coast roads are the exception that prove the rule! This ride takes me just over four hours but you'll want to stop along the way for bottle refills and to enjoy the views so bargain with more.
A spot of lunch
Keep an eye on the time as most of my favourite lunch places stop serving at 3pm. My favourite is the Mexican restaurant back in town, called Maguey. I know you don't come to Catalonia to have Mexican - but trust me on this one. Lunch menus are a big thing in these parts too, with two or three courses from a set menu making for really good value for money, especially as a glass of vino is usually included. Abril's is always a good bet.
Belly full, it's straight to bed for that promised siesta - unless of course your bike needs a wash, in which case pop into Bike Breaks and enquire about their awesome bike wash setup. After that though, seriously, siesta time!
An evening explore
Feeling like a proper local with some shuteye under your belt, it's time to explore the old town some more. Even after living in Girona for a while, this really never gets old. Peckish after your ride? Be warned, dinner service only starts at around 8.30pm in this part of the world so you might want a gelato to keep yourself going. In the corner of Placa Independencia you'll find La Bombonera which is my favourite. If you’re after a little something to whet the appetite pre-dinner, how about a glass of vermouth at El Vermutet, or just around the corner you'll find Zanpanzar which has one of the bigger pinchos and tapes [‘tapas’ in catalan] selections in Barri Vell.
Now you have a really hard choice to make: where to go for dinner? Placa del Vi 7, Llevataps and Brots de Vi are all excellent, but my main suggestion would be Arròs i Peix, where you are greeted with a glass of bubbly. You stand in front of an ice-filled table to select from an amazing array of seafood for your meal. Listen to the charming, knowledgeable head chef, order, sit down and await a feast!
To bed, or to paint the town red?
As mentioned previously, dinner is a decidedly late affair so considering the early morning I'll let you off easily and send you straight to bed. Just keep in mind that you are in Girona - you'll probably stroll into some festival, procession or cultural event on the way and get swept up in the joy. Dancing on the street is not an uncommon occurrence here...
Welcome to my Girona.