I stopped at a pub during the typical hour of tapas to ask for directions, and although I had spent six years acclimatizing myself to Spanish, perched with one elbow on the bar I found myself floundering like a beginner while the locals debated my predicament—in Catalan.
The first language of Catalonians, Catalan is similar to Spanish, but also dabbles in French and Italian, with a toe dipped in Portuguese just for good measure. Despite civil war, dictatorship and globalization, this ancient Latin-rooted tongue remains reflective of the people who live in this semi-autonomous region of Spain: unwavering and passionate.
Catalonia’s ever-changing landscapes are, like its inhabitants, both enduring and endearing. The scattered peaks of the Pyrénées guard lush valleys that curl down to the Costa Brava, a coastline of sea-smashed cliffs. In the villages, enchantment spills into the streets from doors and windows. Flower pots proudly occupy windowsills, fighting the fresh linen for the attention of a Mediterranean sun, and in the cafés, you’re never short for company and conversation—if you can understand it.
See for Yourself
Click below to download our Costa Brava Biking itinerary and get up close and in deep in a land whose ever-changing landscapes are, like its inhabitants, both enduring and endearing.
But back to my predicament in the pub. I was searching for the village of Santa Pau, nestled in the lush hills of the Garrotxa region. I had been told that there, existed a place called Cal Sastre—the perfect place to start our journey through Catalonia, not to mention the perfect spot in which to store our bicycles before the start of a trip! Thanking the crowd for their help and for switching languages to do so, I continued on with a clearer image of where I was headed.
But as I navigated a tiny mountain road, the sun dipped below the horizon, exiting a crimson sky. The sight was unlike anything I could have imagined. I found Can Borrell and met the wonderful characters who own it; we sat down to have a chat in front of the fire place as the sunset played out the day’s finale. Had I not gotten lost, I would probably have been back at my hotel, eyes glued to my laptop instead of that incredible sunset.
Perhaps you too will take a detour in search of a mid-ride ice cream or cerveza. You may find yourself in a labyrinth of cobblestone corridors, your index finger pointing to route note #34 and asking the locals (in your very best Spanglish), “Donde esta… uhhh, here?”
Just remember that getting lost is an art: it requires grace and creativity to find your way out of such moments, but it’s all worth it when you get to where you never realized you were going.
About the Author
Veteran B&R Guide turned Trip Planner Nancy Towns‘ love of all things Spanish has taken her from the cloud forests of Argentina to the peaks of the Pyrénées in Catalonia. While her Spanish is excellent, she’ll be the first to admit that her Catalan could use a little work.