The week we Via-ed Verde-ishly

Warning: for some inexplicable reason, this post contains an alarming amount of alliterations.

Yesterday we bundled our bikes into the bottom of a bus and headed off to explore the mountains that surround Tortosa. We ventured with verve to velocipede on the Via Verde.

Via Verdes (or Greenway) are old train lines that have been converted into cycling and walking paths over the past 20 years. Apparently most of the original train routes were never used or even completed, an ambitious infrastructure plan that was, for lack of a better word, derailed by the Spanish Civil War.

There are more than 90 Via Verdes across Spain (more than 7,500 km of path), and because trains can only go so fast up a hill, all of the trails are gloriously flat. The route that ends in Tortosa combines Via Verdes of two regions and starts in Arnes on the southern Catalonian border. However, due to the wonderful weekend bus timetable not including a bus to that particular village, we started our adventure in Gandesa in Terra Alta, around 40km north of Tortosa.

We hopped off the bus at about 9:30, ready for a superb day of self-propelled splendour. Gandesa’s main attraction, the region’s wine cellar was not open yet (probably for the best), so we pedalled off towards the south.

Terra Alta, the region adjacent to Tortosa’s Baix Ebre province, fortunately contains many walking/cycling routes that are well marked and provided amazing views of vineyards, orchards, and geologically-impressive mountains.

Unfortunately, only one of these trails is a Via Verde. The others are steep and scree-ish. So the first 9km of our journey was over hill and under dale along a dirt rode to get to the start of the official Via Verde track. Beautiful views but I was too busy watching the loose gravel on my timid treddly.

Gandesa_to_bot
Me trying to look like I’m having fun among the vineyards while the loose gravel mocks me.

We hit the straight and narrow in Bot, a gorgeous sandstone village with delicious chocolate croissants. As we started along the Verde’s wide, paved and city-bike friendly path, we realised what a genius idea it had been to start in Gandesa and ride back towards Tortosa, or towards the sea. We were going down hill the whole way!

Tunnel_bridge
Bridges and tunnels, and all on a slight decline.

And so we coasted. We coasted through old train tunnels that were lit with solar-powered lights, lit by our cleverly packed head-torches and even one tunnel that was lit by the headlights of a friendly policeman. We coasted past stunning swimming spots, charismatic cliffs, bold bridges and stately old train stations. Apart from the occasional sod struggling up the slight incline, we were on our own too (thank you winter!).

Lunch No. 1 was consumed at Fontcalda, a popular swimming hole with a natural warm spring. Lunch No 2. was devoured in Xerta, near where the Terra Alta Via Verde joins the Baix Ebre leg of the trail. We followed the huge Ebre river back to Tortosa, dragging our bruised buttocks home by about 4pm. An amazing 40km adventure to amplify our attraction to the alluring (Terra) Alta.

Fontcalda
A geologist’s delight! This will be the most lovely place for a swim come summer time.
Ebro_river
The mighty River Ebre (Ebro in Castellano)

For more information:

The Via Verde website (In English): http://www.viasverdes.com/en

Gandesa to Tortosa tour notes: http://www.hife.es/es/servicios-hife/bus-bici-via-verde/

A map that I blatantly stole from the Tortosa Via Verde information sign:

Via_Verde_map
The Via Verdes in Terra Alta and Baix Ebre, as well as another path (in red) that goes down to the sea. Save that one for next time…

The week of our first visitor

Last week we welcomed our first guest to Tortosa, a dear friend who had trekked all the way to Europe from Australia just to see us! And go snowboarding in Andorra.

It was strange to have a visitor in our town when it doesn’t feel like our town yet. Where to go? What to do? It was even stranger when our guest had a better grasp of the Spanish language than we do, meaning that he was our guide as much as we were his!

We had a great time. Despite Tortosa being much smaller than Barcelona, we filled his few days here with what I hope was delicious and fun adventures. If you have found this blog by Googling ‘things to do in Tortosa’, or ‘cheap stuff to do in Tortosa’ here is the first in what I hope will be many lists of activities. As we learn more, we’ll add more!

  • Visit the cathedral. I missed this excursion, but apparently it was big, old, echoey, and cheap at only 3. Other information I’ve learned about the massive building in the middle of town with a slightly spasmodic bell is that it has Baroque and Gothic components, is on the site of an old roman forum, and was built between 1347 and the 1700s.
Calçots
Calçots. A plate of onions might not sound delicious, but they were sweet and excellent sauce vessels.
  • Eat some local food! For us that meant a delicious lunch at Paiolet, a restaurant near our flat. I tried calçots, a seasonal onion that is barbecued and served with the most delicious romesco sauce. Our friend tried the menjar blanc (white food), a local rice milk and cinnamon dessert that doesn’t photograph well. We ate three courses each, shared a bottle of wine and had coffee for under 40.
  • Hire a bike. As I have bragged previously, I now own my own wheels, but the boys had to hire theirs. And why have two bicycles when you can have one? For 25 from the nearest bike hire store, we secured an incredible TANDEM MOUNTAIN BIKE for the day, giving us the freedom to have Goodies-style montages all over town. We rode along part of the Via Verde, one of Spain’s many bike paths built on old train routes. We did not really get far enough to see much verde, but enjoyed the good path and rode through a couple of towns to the west of Tortosa.
Tandem bike
That look on my face is definitely joy. Not terror. Promise.
  • Explore the fortifications. The hills behind Tortosa are topped with (I think) medieval ruins, halting structures that remind you how young European settlement in Australia really is. One of the forts, behind the Parador, is signposted and maintained, while the others are more like secret garden ruins. You can meander for hours. All have great views. And all are gloriously free.