Fancy a Frenchman telling you that there’s a great adventure to be had in Spain, and he knows just where it is. Stranger things have happened, but thank goodness for local knowledge.
Rodolfo, a very accomplished cyclist who resides in one of the most delightful of places in France for outdoor activities, was to be my local source.
Local knowledge, so often transmitted to us via a guidebook or internet portal these days, is probably the most valuable of intellectual capital on the planet.
But what if the print and digitised media hadn’t caught up with a particular little morsel of cake sitting proudly on the counter of a tiny boulangerie in a little town between here and there?
I think we all need a Rodolfo to share a coffee with.
I’m going to call it The Dali Loop.
The border of France and Spain on the Mediterranean has a rich history across many channels, but the more recent books revolve around an artist that really did not know any bounds, Salvadore Dali.
After a couple of spins on the bike with Rodolfo grovelling my way around the foothills of the Cote Vermeille, he could see my evident lack of desire for grovelling was tiring. Mentioning Dali to him one day opened a can of exuberant local lingo that resulted in a rapid exchange of coordinates, town names, brief directions and a “you’ll love it” glint in the eye.
It was Rodolfo’s subtle way of injecting some enthusiasm back into my legs. He knew the roads I’d be tackling would be harder, longer and more engaging than the already gorgeous countryside we’d been pedalling up and down for weeks.
The key phrase that struck me was this: “the road isn’t on Google Maps”.
A few days later I received a GPS file and what I’d refer to as a plan rather than a map.
The Dali Loop
Let the Dali Loop begin.
Collioure (FR) – Figueres (SP)– Vilajuiga (SP)– Llanca (SP)– Colera (SP)– Cerbere (FR)– Collioure (FR)
Kicking off in Collioure, the loop took me south along the coast for a short while throwing views of the Med, historical chateaus and forts, copious amounts of vineyards and one of the busiest ports in the region.
Meandering out the back of one of the towns, the search was on for a little known road that would take me up to the Spanish border on a series of escalators and what could only be described as a funicular assault up the last kilometre.
That border point has seen history that is hard to fathom when you’re bathed in sunshine, your chest is heaving and you’re delighting in views of the valley, Tour Madeloc and the Mediterranean. More so when flotillas of cyclists keep popping up and over the Spanish side of the border with the chatter akin to a Tapas bar.
Not even 30 kilometres into a predicted 120km loop, the rewards were so high it would have been enough to turn back to France and stuff down a crepe and a café noisette at the nearest seaside town.
Descending at warp speed on the grand prix class of road that eclipses the patchwork quilt that France puts together in full artisanal spirit, a flash of a sign in the corner of the eye with the picture of a cow made me realise that a 1 metre wide cattle grid across the road was approaching in about 1.2 seconds.
Jump. Land. Continue. Look out for more.
Continuing by pretty fields and rolling hills eventually visions of the snow-capped Pyrenees materialised. Along with small roadside forests where locals were picking mushrooms and running back to the car that had been dumped hastily at the side of the road.
Tucking in behind the draft of pairs and trios of roadies that seemed to come from everywhere on the Spanish side of the mountains, the air was peppered with “Hola’s”.
Figueres was firmly in mind now, the furthest point on the schedule for today. The Dali museum was there somewhere and it was going to be the slab of frosting on the cupcake for the day.
Arriving in Figueres after a slight descent for most of the way, a tour de ville eked out the museum and the television that is apparently in my head turned on.
Baguettes were on my mind too, but stuffing down another food bar it was time to continue the second half of the Dali loop, towards the Cap de Creus and the coastal route.
Surrounded by views of the mountains, fields of agriculture and passing through towns every five kilometres or so the time passed really quickly.
Vilajuiga threw a historic building into the mix to distract me from another climb under the cloud-free sky. The climb held a secret over the other side that would accompany me on the descent all the way to Llanca.
As I sauntered along the road I was thankful for Rodolfo’s introduction to a slice of Spanish adventure. Sure the route to Figueres and the museum could be found on pretty much any website but the backroads and the subtlety of the details, the reason why you’d choose one way over the other was only becoming clear now as I lived it.
Descending quickly I noticed that the flotilla of pals from the border crossing some 50 kilometres and many hours earlier were climbing up towards me. More “Hola’s” and waves in recognition of the earlier acknowledgements.
Arriving at the coast, the cool breeze soothed tiring legs and mind. The lumpy road back to Collioure would take in almost continuing views of the Mediterranean and small seaside towns every 5-10 kilometres and chances to fuel up.
A pause in Colera for water provided a feast for the visual senses. The large water drains all over the area offer a very long and accessible canvas for local artists to refine their art. Colera seemed to herald somewhat of a centre of excellence, the art tour far from over it would seem, minus the Dali.
PortBou signalled the final Spanish town before climbing up and over past the “Kilometre #1” sign and toward the now long abandoned French border crossing.
Back into France and any hint of cyclists evaporated. The camper vans and a few motor bikes interrupted the silence as the roll over the lumps to Collioure continued. The return of vineyards, seaside holiday homes, towns offering al fresco dining and a range of pebble and sand beaches brought the coffee even closer.
Chomping down an omelette and peering out at the sailing boats, fishing vessels and container ships bobbing around Port Vendres, I reflected on the path that brought me the GPS file and the opportunity to start the Dali Loop.
Rodolfo and I must have another chat over a coffee.