Cycling in the Natural Park of Garraf

When asked about the geographical features of Vilanova i la Geltrù and its surroundings, I usually say that the town has the immense advantage of enjoying the best of two worlds. Indeed, besides being placed on the sea, the verdant hills characterizing the Catalan shores are just a few kilometres far. The best way to appreciate this rich variety of natural spaces is exploring the three natural parks which are found within 20 kilometres from Vilanova i la Geltrù. Due to my situation and my personal tastes, I made of the bicycle my means of transport of election.


The first of them I will deal with is the Parc Natural del Garraf, including the homonymous hill system, from which comes the name of local district (comarca del Garraf, whose administrative centre is precisely Vilanova i la Geltrù). Planning to make a complete tour for the park, I did not choose the shortest way to reach it from Vilanova (which would be through the small village of Olivella), heading instead for Sitges. Once in the famous seaside resort, I made my way towards Barcelona along a spectacular stretch of road called curvas del Garraf (the Garraf bends).


It consists in a narrow coastal road, characterised by a series of sharp bends and fabulous views on the sea. Laboriously carved onto the cliffs, the way seems sometimes to be clutching at the rocks to avoid falling into the underlying sea. However, the panorama is really breath-taking, not only due to the frightening bends which sometimes seem to make you plummet into the sea. Besides, as it is common for coastal roads, the way is not smooth at all, but rather characterized by a series of ups and downs.


Going past the small village of Garraf, I could admire on my right a fine piece of architecture, the Celler Gaudì. Another creation of the great Catalan genius, it was originally designed as a cave, though it now houses a restaurant. A few more kilometres of magnificent views finally brought me to a low knoll, overlooking Castelldefels and its gracious port. Leaving the main road after a short descent, I turned left towards the tiny village called Rat Penat, beginning the hardest part of the itinerary. As for the coastal stretch I have just described, I would recommend going through it early in the morning on Saturdays on Sundays, so as to avoid the dangers of traffic.


As I was saying, the impending stretch is really tough, as a 5-kilometres climb will lead you to the top of the Rat Penat hill, almost 500 metres above sea level. And yet, you start rising very near to the sea, so you will guess that the ascent is a really hard one. Several traits with an inclination exceeding 10% (in one occasion it even reaches 22%) make it advisable only to expert (and well trained) cyclists. As a partial compensation, the climb allows marvelous sights on the coast, even more incredible than the ones offered by the Curvas del Garraf road. Once passed the building housing the administration centre of the park, the ascent becomes slightly less difficult, though still demanding. Personally, I reached the top in a miserable condition (I was so exhausted I found it difficult even to take photographs! ), but the amazing panorama and the pride for such an accomplishment made me forget the tiredness.


Then a vertiginous descent begins, interrupted by several short but really steep slopes, leading in the core of the natural park. The narrow winding road can be seen at distance slicing the side of the hills, making its way between the dark green hue of the bushes and Mediterranean scrub. Now the sea is no more in sight, having being replaced by the rounded profiles of the Massif del Garraf, a mountainous system consisting mainly in calcareous hills. A steep stretch of descent led me to the few houses of La Plana Novella, where I turned right following the road signs for Olivella and ignoring the ones for Sitges. The road became even narrower, making me doubtful about the direction taken. However, after another tough, though fortunately brief, climb leading to the locality named Can Grau, I finally reached Olivella after another few kilometres of descent.


A 15-kilometres ride brought me back to Vilanova i la Geltrù, after an unforgettable tour for the Garraf Natural Park. Though quite complicated due to the climbs and the scarcity of road signs (be sure you have memorised the route and carry a map if you are planning to go), this 60-kilometres itineraries gave me unique sensations and allowed me to appreciate fabulous landscapes.

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