Every February, in deepest, darkest Winter, restaurants all over the Catalan countryside load up their grills with a rather unusual vegetable and churn up huge bowls of rich, Romesco sauce, to host a fun food fiesta known as the Calçotada.
Calçots are not unlike a large, fat spring onion, which when grilled over hot coals soften and become sweet and sticky. The centre of the onion slipping easily from its blackened outer layers is then dunked in garlicky romesco sauce before being dropped vertically into the mouth for a fun and tasty food tradition enjoyed by Catalan families and visitors alike, every winter.
It is quite the sight. Salsa Romesco, is a special sauce made from dried red peppers, nuts (usually hazelnuts and almonds), garlic, vinegar and olive oil that is typical of Tarragona, the region where this tradition started.
At a real Calçotada, a 3-4 course menu is usually served, looking something like: a cream of artichoke soup or pan con tomate (coca bread rubbed with garlic and tomato), Butifarra (Catalan sausage) and Crema Catalana (the Catalan's version of Creme Brulée), with a pile of Calçots as the main event.
It is simple fare but is generally an excuse to gather with friends and family on a Sunday, drive out to a country restaurant, eat a lot and laugh as you get covered in charcoal, and start to smell like fire and onions.
Recently passing through Tarragona on our way south from Barcelona we stopped off for a Calçotada before we left the Catalan region. As plant based eaters we opted for a 'Teja' (roof tile) which is a piping hot pile of calçots served on a hot terracotta roof tile to maintain heat as you work your way through the lot.
You are provided with a Calçotada kit when you order, containing a bib, plastic gloves and extra napkins – all of which you look at wondering how on earth you could need so much stuff for a few grilled onions, but need them you will.
It is messy, hilarious fun with the added game of seeing who can eat the most calçots. Siestas afterward are unavoidable and you will potentially not eat for 24 hours following your Calçotada, so they are quite the memorable experience if you find yourself in Catalonia in Winter. And we highly recommend that you do.
The Most Famous Calçotadas in Catalonia
Address: Carrer de la Font F, 14, 43813 Masmolets
Telephone: 977 60 59 60
Restaurante El Rodavi
Address: Av. Can Nicolau, 47, 43881 Cunit, Tarragona
Telephone: 977 94 39 54
Hours:1-4pm; closed Monday
Hostal Restaurant Grau
Address: Pere el Gran 3, Santes Creus, Tarragona
Telephone: +34 977 638 311
Hours: 1-4pm; closed Monday
Font Les Planes
Address: Carrer Vallvidrera a Sant Cugat, 08017 Barcelona
Telephone: 932 80 59 49
Hours: 9am – 7pmSunday to Thursday; 9am-11:30pm Friday & Saturday; closed Tuesday
Address: Carrer Gran de Gràcia 57, Gràcia
Telephone: +34 932 187 370
Hours: 1-4:15 & 8:30-11:45pm; closed Sunday & Mon. evening
Make your own Calçotada at home!
Want to try calçots but can’t make it over to Spain before the season ends? Try this pasta sauce to get the flavour of a Romesco sauce (the best part of the Calçotada is the sauce!) and taste a little bit of Catalonia right in your own kitchen!
Cycling Rentals Smoky Romesco Pasta Sauce
Serve with your favourite pasta shape or some zucchini noodles for a low-carb option.
-Vegan, Gluten Free.
Written by Vanya Maplestone
Vanya and her husband Enrique are part time cycling tour guides, and full time eaters. They take photos of food, their bikes and pretty places. See their plant based recipes at www.wonderlandfood.online and follow them on Instagram: @Wonderland_Food & @Wonderland_Locations
Written by Viv Stuart
Viv is a keen and knowledgeable cyclist who has been bringing groups of friends to the Algarve in Southern Portugal for the sun, fun and great riding
For 5 years now I have organised a cycling week in the Western Algarve for me and some of my lady friends. The first trip in 2013 there was just 5 of us, the numbers have increased year on year and last trip there was 12 - yes TWELVE!!!
We always base ourselves in the gorgeous village of Burgau just west of Lagos. We self cater in a couple of 3 bedroom villas and every year Cycling Rentals have provided our road bikes. They have been a major key player in the success of our trips and I cannot thank them enough for their support.
We usually ride 6 of our 7 days and average 80 kilometres a day. I plan the routes in advance and cycling in any direction from Burgau is just fantastic!
We have taken our bikes on the train from Lagos to the lovely town of Silves and then cycled back. A large percentage of our groups have also ridden to the Foia the highest point in the Algarve. There are enough restaurants in Burgau for us to eat somewhere different every evening. We have memorable lunch stops at some amazing beaches and also inland destinations,
On our day off we usually go kayaking from Lagos, another amazing day! We always have an on-line food delivery on our arrival with just about every essential item that 12 ladies could need.
We are not "Spring Chickens" either! our ages range from 40-69 and we have a fabulous time, roll on our next trip in September 2018. Give us a wave if you see a "peloton" of 12 ladies whizzing by!!!
Cycling abroad makes for an exciting holiday, nice and challenging. Four friends have made successful journeys in 14 different countries over the last 17 years. Although they have experienced some uncommon challenges (including brain & heart infarction),they have kept their fitness and are still cycling!
Written by Sigurd Solberg
Norwegian world cyclist, still going strong at 72!
We were 49-56 years when we started along Donau and have since cycled within the borders of Ireland (W), Poland (N), Croatia (E) and Spain(S). Although we have experienced some common challenges (brain/heart infarctions), we have kept fitnes and are still cycling. We are following the same kind of planning, adapted to age, conditions and experiences.
Our advice is: Do not go more than 4 persons together, carry your own luggage, spend the nights at hotels, perhaps bed&breakfast. We have learned that four people are convenient, 2 double rooms, you can eat together, you can split up easily for one night – if you feel its necessary, its easy to arrange. To carry the luggage is something to learn.
You do not need much clothing. Wool is essential (also in summer), also daily washing (of something). One pair of shoes is maybe sufficient. We use always watertight bags. Regularly you need only one bag for a 1 week trip (2 bags for 2-3 weeks). We often like to go down along rivers, it is a guaranty for nice travel.
How do we decide where to go? Desires and initiative counts. Often we want to visit people we have met at cycling-journeys before or who have visited us in Norway - sometimes we end or start the journey there.
Commonly we buy the air transport and two nights- the first and the last- in advance. The other lodging we arrange during the journey (if advice does not tell us that this will not be possible).
We have never lacked accommodation – from 87 spontaneously arranged lodging – every time, although difficult, was arranged. Sometimes, these stories have become our most beloved moments: once a closed hotel was opened by help from the neighbors, another time we were handed over the hotel keys and locked the hotel in the morning - because the owners went on holidays.
In our last journey, in northern Portugal the first week of November, we happened to use the firm Cycling Rentals and their services. It was an unambiguously positive experience, the most reliable bicycles we ever experienced, reasonable priced and very practically arranged (hotels, transport). Thank you!
Although it's always been politically charged, the northeastern region of Catalonia is arguably Spain's finest cycling destination - and arguably not Spanish!
Written by Martin Thompson
With a language that long predates Castilian Spanish and a rich heritage of cultural and political power through the ages, the Catalan region in the north east of the Iberian Peninsula has plenty to offer to cycle travelers, beyond the upheaval of recent events.
From the snow capped peaks and foothills of the Pyrenees to the pine clad shores of the Mediterranean sea, Catalonia boasts a stunning range of idyllic scenery and superb riding conditions. The numerous secondary roads and exquisite cycling trails make exploring the region by bicycle immensely enjoyable and rewarding.
With sufficient variety of terrain to suit every type of cyclist, the only real difficulty is choosing the best route for your limited travel time and that is why we have worked so hard to put together a bike tour of our very favourite province in Catalonia: Girona. Home to dozens of professional cyclists and racing teams, the Girona province has all of the finest Catalan attributes - great scenery and route options, through ancient villages and monumental landscapes from the ocean to the mountains. Could a cyclist dream of any more??
Aside from the phenomenal cycling conditions, aprés riding activities are just as delightful, as Catalonia offers some of the very best cuisine in the western Europe - yes, I would say they even give the Italians a run for their money! World class wines and superior accommodation put the finishing touches on this remarkable part of Spain and will have you not wanting to leave. But when you do, you will no doubt come back for another ride!
Andrew Leach and friends recently cycled the Camino, starting their adventure in Pamplona on a gruelling schedule to Santiago using our Camino Rental Pack. Here is his own account of his journey and experience riding across Spain.
Written by Andrew Leach
I first heard of the Camino de Santiago when I was walking the Pyrenees about 10 years ago. I thought at the time it would be interesting one day perhaps to continue my journey on to Santiago de Compostela and so complete my journey from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.
Last year a French acquaintance named Paul had just returned from his 'Camino' and we spoke of travel, walking, food and many things. Although he never entered my house as he was delivering logs, there was an empathy between us. I brought him back some special Abondance cheese from France which he likes, as a thank you for the wood. He inspired me to cycle the Camino.
The History / Legend of St James is much a character of Legend in Spain as St George is in England. Facts about his life are hard to come by, although it is certain that he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem in 44 AD... the rest is however hypothesis. His body and head are said to have been taken by his followers Athanasius and Theodoro to Jaffa where a stone boat was commissioned and within a week this boat and precious cargo were washed up at modern day Padron only 20k from modern day Santiago de Compostela where he was buried.
For 800 years he appears to have lain undisturbed and forgotten until a hermit called Pelagius had a vision of a star shining on a field (Compo - Field; Stela - Star) and his tomb was discovered. Some time later king Alfonso II declared St James patron of Spain. He was often reported to be seen in battle against the Moors on a white charger. A Church was built over his tomb and so the modern history of Santiago de Compostela began.
This summer Gerard, Michael, Neil and I set off for Bilbao to cycle the Camino. We carried just the very bare essentials... it was going to be hot.
We planned to cycle about 100k every day, over some beautiful landscapes to parts of Spain which we had never heard or imagined of .. look up Burgos, Leon, Logroño.. to name but a few of our stops, these places were a revelation to us.
The people we met along the way came from all points of the compass; Levenshulme to Christchurch NZ and everywhere in between.
Everyone we met had a different story and reasons for their journey.. too many to tell here, although one chap we saw in Santiago dressed as an old fashioned Pilgrim had been walking for years and has lived off the land without money or any modern day accouterments. Others had walked the last 100k to receive their certificate. Some people had walked/cycled from Poland, Austria or Italy, you name it and here were to be found pilgrims. One German boy I spoke with had walked into Santiago in bare feet.
The reasons for their journeys? As numerous as their origins, spiritual, penance, in memory of loved ones, a challenge? Others because it was just there to do.
The food along the way was in most places wonderful (pilgrims fare on average for 3 course was on average €15 inc of wine, coffee & water) Accommodation was excellent and inexpensive, we stayed in small hostels or converted Monasteries, which offered good value. We could have stayed in an Albergue for about €5-€10 per night but the thought of a large dormitory for the night wasn't for us.
At every stage along the way you received a Stamp to prove the distance you have travelled and at the end you receive a certificate once your credentials are produced .
We travelled through the Navarra region and on to the Castilian flatlands at between 800 and 900 meter for two days in the searing heat with little or no shade and arrived in Galicia with it's green mountainous landscape. I hope to return in the future to explore and experience some more of this beautiful part of Spain with it's friendly people and interesting culture. It is really a hidden part of Spain which I would imagine few British people have visited.
On our penultimate day we stopped in a small town called Sarria and visited a small church, we sat outside had a sandwich and drink and set off again. We all said we needed more food and a coffee and decided we would stop somewhere soon. We must have passed a few dozen places selling coffee and were leaving town up a steep hill when Neil's foot slipped off a pedal, we all stopped to see if he was ok when a voice from behind me said "Hello Mr Andrew Leach, how are you". At first I didn't recognize the face with the goatee beard and black shirt and I was trying to figure out who it was; then I realised it was Paul... the Guy who had inspired me to do the Camino. Was this Divine intervention, purely coincidence or just chance? He was working at a restaurant and served us some excellent fare and we talked for a while said our goodbyes and cycled on.
Arriving in Santiago was something of an anticlimax, with it's busy streets and pilgrims everywhere and we were tired after another long hot day in the saddle.
Did we have a religious experience? what had the journey taught us, we spent some hours discussing this over dinner that night.
It was a great journey on a terrific landscape, meeting interesting people... And you find out things about yourself and what your body is capable of. I cycled for 5 days with a badly sprained ankle, most people we met had blisters and bandages here and there.
Everyone was in agreement that it was a real sense of achievement, one we're unlikely to forget in a hurry.
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