Four Perfect Days Running Costa BravaA trail-running tour of Spain's Costa Brava region yields an unexpected immersion in Catolonian gastronomy, culture and history.
Photo by Chris Hunter
Our guide from Running Costa Brava Tours, Pablo Rodriguez, is easily recognizable in the Girona’s bustling train terminal. Not because I’ve met him before or seen his photo; rather, I recognize him in the way a runner recognizes another runner.
Pablo is wearing a crimson hydration vest over a well-worn, sweat-stained technical T-shirt with grey shorts, his sockless feet in pancake-flat yellow running shoes that scream running geek. His bald head shines as brightly as his eyes when we make visual contact. He bounds towards me, deer-like, with a light and springy gait. “Welcome to Catalunya!” he says.
Photographer Chris Hunter and I are spending the next four days with Pablo for a fully supported Catalonia trail-running tour of Costa Brava’s ancient villages, spas and wineries between Girona and the French boarder at the Pyrenees. We’d spent the previous day in Barcelona, exploring the famous city’s La Rambla tourist district and famous Goudi landmarks. After a night in the city, we hopped an early morning train northeast to Girona, where our tour would begin.
During the hour-long drive to the trailhead the conversation gravitates to running. “Running is not just a sport; it’s as natural as breathing,” says Pablo, who gave up shoes and began running in Tarahumara-inspired Luna sandals after reading the bestselling book Born to Run. “Humans don’t really need anything between their feet and the ground. Running without shoes is a matter of softness.”
Then he asks if we’ve heard of Kilian Jornet, arguably the most talented young trail runner on the planet.
“He’s Catalonian, you know,” Pablo says proudly.
While Catalonia (Catalunya in Catalan) is under Spanish rule, Pablo explains that it is an autonomous region with a proudly distinct culture, defined largely by its cuisine and language. All locals speak Catalan, which was banned until just 37 years ago but now appears on all the region’s road signs.
“How long has it been since Catalonia was a country?” I ask.
“Not long, about 300 years,” says Pablo. I snicker, then realize that, to Catalonians, 300 years isn’t a long time. “Someday we will again be our own nation.”
Pablo turns off the highway onto a country road that winds through green pastures and vast sunflower fields. Then we turn onto a barely passable, rocky dirt road that weaves uphill through forests of cork trees from which the bark has been stripped to make bottle corks.
As we near the trailhead, I ask Pablo who maintains the trail system. “Some I made myself using the paths forged by wild boars, but they are low to the ground so I must clear the way for people using my machete,” he says.
“I gotta see that,” chirps Chris from the back seat.
“Wild boars?” I quiver.
“Yes, but not to worry,” assures Pablo. “They are harmless.”