Next morning we rise in the pre-dawn cold to cycle to Cap de Creus, pedalling hard to unstiffen our legs and heads. It’s the long road-biking day I have been waiting for, around 140km, and the tramuntana has just started to blow. At the lighthouse we ambitiously attempt an Iberian breakfast picnic of squidgy tomatoes and garlic on hunks of fresh bread, with Spanish coffee from a flask, though we are wildly grabbing anything that might blow away. And indeed, it feels like a morning for the slightly absurd and surreal as the wind nearly knocks us off our bikes several times, and later we tour Dalí’s refracted curio of a house, now open as a museum, in our tight Lycra and helmets, cleats clanking on floors.
We cycle on to Celler Martín Faixó, an ambitious family project to reclaim the vines in the Cap de Creus Natural Park. “The Greeks brought vines here in 3,000BC, because they realised they could grow lighter, fruitier grapes in the tramuntana,” Faixó explains. “The first vines were planted here, and stretched all the way to Bordeaux.” In 1870, an infestation of phylloxera decimated them, however, and with very little work available the local population was reduced from 7,000 to 500 as they sought jobs elsewhere. But now that disease-resistant vines from America have been planted, truly high-quality wines are produced in the Cap’s slate-y soil. “We’re awakening a sleeping giant,” says Faixó.
From here we head down the mountain to El Port de la Selva for a light lunch, over which we contemplate our next leg-burning climb. Hours later, we’re on it – up the 8km Serra de Rodes, just over 500m of ascent. There’s a steep early ramp, reminiscent of Alpe d’Huez, then meandering hairpins, where I quickly find a rhythm. On every cresting turn the staggering views of Alt Empordà distract me from the lactic acid searing through my legs. When my chain comes off, the support vehicle is immediately on hand; Josep María leaping out to get me back on my way for the last long, glorious switchbacks. He pops up again at the summit, next to the Sant Pere de Rodes monastery, a treasure trove of Catalan Romanesque art, to hand me a glass of Crémant. We descend through the Espelt vineyards to the village of Sant Martí d’Empúries on the coast. Ancient Greco-Roman ruins and a long sandy beach form the backdrop to Hotel Empúries, in whose Villa Teresita restaurant, manned by renowned chef Rafa Peña, we enjoy mackerel, crayfish and prawns.