When people hear that you live in Girona they say: “Oh, that’s where Lance Armstrong lived.” Yeah! So what? He wasn’t the first pro-cyclist to move here. You can come here and avoid the herd, if you want, but the herd is here for good reasons: the climate, the routes, the training. And having them here means that when you arrive you can ask: “What do I need to do to settle in?” And they can help.
It’s hard to pick the best ride around Girona – there are so many. But my favourite one heads west out of town towards Sant Gregori and then further out to the Vall de Llémena in the Pyrenees. If you’re up for a long ride, do a loop through Olot and Banyoles and then back to Girona. In the colder months, before tourists flock in, the coast roads are a must. It’s an amazing coastline, with a lovely undulating road. I’d advise checking out my Girona rides on Strava (strava.com), which is a website and app that allows athletes to track their rides and runs. This will help you to find the smaller hidden roads I use; the big roads are beautiful but it’s the small roads that take it to another level.
It’s so vibrant here. There is always something happening and it’s usually communal. There’s the St Narcissus’ fair and festival in October, Mardi Gras in February and a film festival in September. I immediately felt that spirit and sense of community that seems lacking in many other places.
There is a lovely winding road that takes you up to the hilltop Santuari dels Angels, the chapel where Salvador Dali got married. It’s about 15km east of Girona. The views are fantastic and, at the top of the hill, you’re rewarded with a great little cafe, too.
The building I live in feels like a castle. My home is near the Plaça del Vi in the old town (Barri Vell), so my front door is a massive, thick wooden thing. Girona has city walls, narrow alleyways, and cobblestones. For me, coming from Namibia where there are no castles, it’s amazing.
The coffee at La Fabrica Girona is expensive but it’s so good that once you’ve had it all other coffees are ruined for you. The shop was set up by cyclist Christian Meier, who rides for the Orica-GreenEDGE team. If you’re into cycling and you’re heading to Girona, you go to La Fabrica – that’s where you’re going to get the best route advice – and you’re also likely to meet people going for a ride. I love the place, it’s still young and new but because a Catalan food critic wrote a great review of it, it’s also become popular with locals and food fans.
Girona has so many stunning restaurants and every night you seem to find yet another amazing one, but a definite standout is Draps. All its dishes are sharing plates, the best one being a big bowl called la paperina (€15). It’s made of filo pastry filled with foie gras, lettuce and a mixture of fruits.
I had tapas for the first time at a place called Zanpanzar (Carrer de Cort-Reial 12) in the middle of the old town. Having lived in Bellinzona, in Switzerland, I knew about the Italian aperitivo but tapas were completely new to me. A glass of red wine and tapas is great if you’ve been walking around the city all day. Actually, even better than a glass of red … go for a vermouth at a spot called El Vermutet Can Gombau. To me, that feels local.
A great thing to do is just walk into the old town and get yourself lost. It’s a warren of steps and little roads. It’s big enough that you can become disoriented but small enough that you don’t have to worry about it. On one side of the old town is the Onyar river. A walk across the Pont de Pedra can take ages because you get stuck staring down into the river. There are two churches that can act as reference points, if you need them: the Basilica of Sant Felix is the city’s cathedral, while the Sant Pere de Galligants is an abbey that also houses the Catalonia archaeological museum.
There’s an expression my friends use that I love: “You’ve been Spained!” Partly it’s a way of describing the relaxed lifestyle, but it’s also about how sometimes if you want something and it’s not how they do it here, it just won’t happen. Administration works at its own speed, people like their siestas, the shops close. Then the restaurants don’t open until 8pm. It’s just the way things are. You’re away from the hustle and bustle here. Accept it.
• Dan Craven is the Namibian road cycling champion, and rides for Team Europcar, which is competing in the Vuelta a España race from 22 August. Follow him on Twitter at @DanFromNam