• Goolden rode along the longest cycle-touring route in southern Europe
  • She passed vineyards, visited cellars and tasted ‘exceptional wines’ 
  • The Pirinexus route weaves through the national parks in the region

Jilly Goolden For The Mail On Sunday

If there is an area of Spain that harbours a land blessed with vineyards and fantastic restaurants, then I was certain I would know about it. How wrong I was.

And it seems that I’m not the only wine fan who, remarkably, has failed to appreciate the magical delights of Emporda, a dramatic part of the Costa Brava just 60 miles south of the Pyrenees.

I only discovered this secret gem on an escorted bike tour. Long ago, the sculpted hills and outcrops, and the enormous plains and valleys that make up the wilds of Emporda, were one of Europe’s – and the world’s – biggest vineyards.

Wheels of fortune: Jilly Goolden rests beside a vineyard during her escorted bike tour in Costa Brava

You can still find the skeletons of some stone-terraced vineyards, but now only the best sites are being cultivated again.

Big investment and unbridled enthusiasm have created a brave new industry. Not only did I pedal past some vineyards, but I visited their cellars and got to taste some exceptional bottles.

While wine is definitely my thing, I’m afraid I’m a bit of an amateur on a bike. However, I needn’t have worried.

The Pirinexus, the longest cycle-touring route in southern Europe, takes you through the national parks of this region, weaving through cork forests on deserted tracks, and occasionally steering you along empty roads.

Inevitably, there are some tough uphill sections to encounter, but the good news is there are support vehicles for those who want to take it easy. And for more experienced riders, there are plenty of challenging routes to be found.

My first night was spent in a modern hotel, Can Xiquet, in Alt Emporda – the region is split into two, with Baix Emporda to the south.

The hotel was brilliantly designed to take advantage of the impressive views. After breakfast, I climbed aboard my bike for the first time and set off.

Never before has exercise been such a joy, interrupted by a little wine-tasting in the morning, and then a leisurely lunch by the sea in El Port de la Selva.

An enormous church sits perched above the endless fields of Baix Emporda in Catalonia, Spain

An enormous church sits perched above the endless fields of Baix Emporda in Catalonia, Spain

Afterwards, there was an easy cycle through the valley to Mas Estela, where the land has been rejuvenated by a Catalan/French couple who make wines as naturally as God intended – all biodynamic and raw, and admittedly a little bit wacky.

The fitter members of our group cycled over the escarpment and down to Dali’s perfect seaside village, Port Lligat, and adjacent Cadaques (on this occasion I took in some of the masterly views from the support vehicle).

There was a lot to marvel at, but without exaggeration the greatest miracle was finding a new restaurant, Compartir, backed by the former owners of the world-renowned El Bulli; the tasting menu was quite simply the most spectacular and delicious meal I have ever enjoyed.

The next day we were driven south to Baix Emporda and set off on a bucolic cycle track through woods scented with wild fennel, flowers and myrtle.

Then we plunged down into the movie set that is Finca Bell-Lloc, a beautifully restored old farmhouse with stunning rooms and the most daring wine cellar ever. The cellar was created from the rusted hull of an old ship; a modern art installation meets James Bond.

And there we tasted wines – unlabelled except for a band of steel around the bottle’s neck – that catapult this almost forgotten wine utopia to the top table.

Every one of my senses became finely tuned in Emporda.

TRAVEL FACTS

Bacchus On Bikes (bacchusonbikes.com) offers three-night trips from £850pp including B&B accommodation, bike hire, support team and wine-tastings. It can also arrange airport transfers. Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies to Girona, the nearest airport to Emporda. Monarch (monarch.co.uk), easyJet (easyjet.com) and British Airways (ba.com) all fly to Barcelona. 

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