Good morning campers! Fresh from a wonderful night’s sleep at our accommodation in Girona, it was time to properly begin our sporting adventure in the Costa Brava. Today, we were being whisked just under 30 kilometres north of home base, to the famous lakeside town of Banyoles. There we would dip our collective toes into our first energetic tourism experience in this series, exploring the area via two relatively serene modes of transport – kayaking and cycling.
Of course, this was the calm before the storm of rock climbing and skydiving to come (which we “weren’t” at all nervous for) and it was a relaxed, peaceful introduction to our otherwise (potentially nail-biting) week-long Catalonian experience. But before we don helmets and life jackets, first a brief word about where we actually are in the world.
Those of you old enough to remember the 1992 Barcelona Olympic games may well have heard the name before. Catalonia’s largest natural lake at Banyoles served as the location for the rowing events, due to its pristine conditions for the sport. It’s also set in a region of outstanding natural beauty, which makes it a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts. Just like us!
Banyoles itself is also worth a visit if you’re into history and culture, with charming cobblestone streets and squares, the ancient St Stephen’s monastery and some interesting museums. There’s also an abundance of cyclists, so it looks like we’re in the right place!
Guides and Companions
Our good friend and fellow travel addict Lydia was once again joining us for the duration of this trip and she was raring to go. The three of us were in the very hospitable and capable hands of Atilio, a South American who runs Caiac i Natura, a sports tourism company specialising in kayaking and mountain biking. Atilio was a very interesting host, originally hailing from Argentina, but having settled in Catalonia for 27 years.
Throughout the day, we very much enjoyed his worldly experiences and travel stories, as well as his expert knowledge on how to kayak like a pro. This information was to prove particularly useful during our time on the waters of “Estany de Banyoles!”
Just Like Riding a Kayak!
Now, we’ve all been kayaking in the past, but in all honesty, we’ve never really enjoyed it. That is until today, which is largely thanks to Atilio’s expertise. He devoted plenty of time before we even boarded our craft to ensure we knew how to kayak properly. As it turns out, it makes all the difference when it comes to actually enjoying the activity in the first place! My less than comfortable experience kayaking in the Ardennes or Vietnam was soon forgotten as we took to the water on a beautiful sunny morning.
To begin with, we stayed together in a group, with Cez and Lydia trying their hands at the two-person kayak, while Atilio and myself had the freedom of the single versions. Kayaking together might be a wonderfully romantic experience, but if you’re not on the same page it has the potential to spell disaster! It’s lucky then that they both get on very well!
Atilio’s instruction really did make a difference and learning how to hold the paddle correctly helped immensely when it came to propelling and steering the kayak. And here’s an interesting factoid for you – one of the main differences between an oar and a paddle is to do with the direction of travel. With an oar, you face backwards, but with a paddle, you face forwards! You learn something new every day!
Let off the reigns and free to blaze a trail wherever we saw fit, we kayaked around the lake until our hearts were content. Even spending a small amount of time in the area you can tell why it’s so popular with the outdoor crowd, and given its proximity to Girona, it’s easy to imagine how perfect it is for weekend getaways.
This was as delicious as it looks! The lush green scenery against the blueness of the lake was a stunning backdrop for our excursion, and in exploring our vibrant surroundings, it wasn’t hard to work up an appetite for lunch!
From Paddle to Saddle
As that great energy ball in the sky moved passed its peak, we left the water for wheels in the afternoon, boosted by a fresh coffee intake. As mentioned, the region is extremely popular with cyclists with plenty of trails to explore, and Atilio was once again our guide as we sped down dirt tracks, through golden rapeseed fields and sun-beamed woods, cycling around the far side of the lake. We stopped regularly to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and take silly photos!
Our steeds were of sturdy quality (as too often on such experiences the bikes have been ridden into the ground) but this wasn’t a strenuous trek anyway, and even those with limited mountain biking experience would enjoy the trip. The only downside was that it was over far too soon!
Return to Base
After spending two hours kayaking and two hours mountain biking, it was time to say a reluctant farewell to our wonderful guide Atilio, before returning to Girona in the early evening. It was a relaxed, fun and memorable day, one that we would highly recommend if you ever happen to be in the neighbourhood. It was the perfect way for us to soak in Banyoles’ beautiful nature while trying not to think about what’s in store. Racing hearts, nervous glances and sweaty palms were still to come!
Tell us your experiences – where are your favourite places for kayaking or mountain biking?