We all know that Ibiza, Gran Canaria and Sitges are the holy trinity of Spain’s LGBTI holiday destinations.
Look at what most gay tour operators offer and you’d be forgiven for thinking this was all Spain consisted of. Bustling beaches, a club on every corner and mornings spent nursing a hangover. And then there’s Barcelona…
We’ve all been there…and loved every minute. But what if you want a break from the bars – a real getaway? Is there an alternative? We packed our bags and cycled across Spain to find out.
Now, we’ve been privy to a dirt track or two, but this was a foreign land and we’d be venturing off the Google grid so we thought it best to hook up with a pro.
In this case it was Headwater Holidays. They operate activity holidays around the world, from cycling in Spain [pictured above is the rugged Via Verda Terra Alta] to walking among the Costa Rican wildlife to cross country skiing in Kandersteg, Switzerland.
When it came to cycling in Spain, the team’s already done the hard part in figuring out the routes. You just need to decide how long you want to disappear for. They provide the bike, the map, the route, the accommodation and even transport your luggage to each hotel along the way. All you need to bring is water, a bike helmet and the all important factor fifty.
Putting Barcelona, the regional capital, firmly to one side, we opted for the Undiscovered Southern Catalonia (or ‘Catalunya’) package and began our eight-day route in the seaside town of L’Ampolla [above], near Spain’s famous Ebro Delta.
The Delta is hugely important to Spain. Not only is it the country’s second biggest rice provider but it also hosts over half of Europe’s bird species throughout the year from sparrows to flamingos.
In L’Ampolla we were given our bikes and kit to prepare for our initial 34km trek to Tortosa – or 52km trek, depending on how fit you’re feeling.
We opted for the former and stopped off first at Mirador De La Badia [above] to sample their famous oysters and mussels, fresh from the sea.
Our handsome fisherman, one of many we met on this trip, showed us where they grew the shellfish before taking us to Musclarium, a restaurant on stilts in the sea, whose menu was predominantly mussels, oysters, Cava and cervezas.
We had time for a quick dip in the sea post-lunch before boarding the boat back to our bikes and continuing the day’s journey.
Not long after we arrived in the 2000-year-old Tortosa [above], where we stayed in The Parador de Tortosa, a 4* star hotel in a 10th Century castle overlooking the city.
We spent the next day seeing what sights the city had to offer, including its famous Gothic cathedral, great Catalan food and incredible views.
After two nights in The Parador we picked up our cycle path along the Via Verde, a famous disused train line, and cycled the 49km to the village of Horta de Sant Joan [below].
Hotel Les Capçades, our hotel at Horta, blew our minds and was just what we needed after a long day’s cycling, with hot tubs in every room, views of the stunning valley, waking up to the rustic sounds of cowbells and the most delicious food, all farmed locally.
So far, so straight. We were loving our cycling in Spain extravaganza, but we’d yet to experience anything technically ‘LGBTI’.
Then, on our sixth day, we arrived in Miravet, home to the stunning Miravet Castle [below]. Tucked away in the mountains, on the banks of the Ebro river, lies the small village, founded in the 7th Century by the Moors before being rebuilt in the 1100s by The Knights Templar.
But perhaps the most surprising thing about Miravet is that is has become a bustling community for bohemian, artistic members of the LGBTI crowd.
The town has just over 700 inhabitants and yet proportionally there are more LGBTI people here than Sitges. We spoke to Aurelio Monge, a local photographer and our tour guide, who says, ‘Our community is not so interested in beaches and parties, we prefer a slower-paced lifestyle.’
He adds: ‘We love the quiet lifestyle, appreciating nature and history. Many of us are artists.’
The community is so prominent here in this tiny village they even have their own Pride festival – although here that tends to be a dinner party as opposed to floats filling the street.
‘We have several LGBTI events throughout the year,’ Aurelio explains. ‘There’s nude canoeing, tours specialising in The Knights Templar and their gay affairs and this year we even had a literary presentation about The Inquisition and the history of homosexuals in these lands.’
But that’s not all as Aurelio, his long-term partner, Jaoquim, and Jaoquim’s son all run El Balco De Miravet, a B&B [below] inspired by the works of Jaoquim Mir, a famous Catalan artist, who often painted the landscape of Miravet.
You’re welcome to come stay in their stunning house, and if you are artistically inclined, reach out to Aurelio as they encourage writers, painters, performers, and everyone in between to come, stay and create something inspired by Miravet. He may even let you stay free in exchange!
Miravet was unlike anywhere we had been before. A small town, with a large percentage of queer people, with relatively few bars and zero clubs or gyms. Instead they are focused on the world around them, which inspires them to create art.
Miravet certainly had a slower-paced way of LGBTI life compared to London, Berlin, San Francisco and Barcelona.
Being able to switch off from the clubbing scene but still keep in with the community was exactly what we’d needed without even knowing it. We spent two nights with Aurelio, Jaoquim and their cat before taking off again and cycling the 38km back to our starting point in L’Ampolla.
During our eight nights away we managed to experience so much – from eating fresh oysters straight out of the sea in the Ebro Delta, to cycling up disused railway tracks way into the mountains and sitting out under the moon as we discussed Spain and Catalunya’s rich queer history with Aurelio and Jaoquim.
It’s easy to book a trip to somewhere you know you’ll have a great time, but sometimes it’s even better to try something new. And who knows, you might just prefer it…
Gay Star News took the Undiscovered Southern Catalunya Cycling Tour from Headwater Holidays.
Words: Michael Turnbull