Residing a dragon’s breath away from what cyclists call a cycling paradise, in an area where pro-cyclists live and train off-season, a couple of us choose to have an idyll day of cycling through the local medieval villages. Today will be leisurely; no climb up the Angels where motorcyclists rate the curves a five. Always food-centric our goal is a beautiful medieval village patio lunch.
Confidently familiar enough with local village roads, we’ve driven around the villages but haven’t explored them; we pack water and leave cell phones at home. We meander through soft elevations of harlequin ochre and green countryside softened by lavender colours dazzling in the sun. Carless roads exhilarate us. Our first medieval village is to the right perched on a hilltop. Madremanya, all luminous stone, the narrow roads winding to its peak cut into the hillside, bleached by the Mediterranean sun. The sounds of the church bells are familiar. The local garden restaurant is closed for lunch today but that’s okay, too close to home we push on to the next village. On the right, hidden in a copse of silver firs we spot a dirt road with car tracks winding through an alley of plane trees. Promising adventure we steer our bikes down the track through twenty minutes of bucolic countryside. The dirt track ends on the steps of an abandoned, salmon coloured Spanish stone hacienda style farmhouse. Serenely beautiful, it is one with the landscape. Massive terra cotta pots lay strewn around the grounds. Wild rose covered trellises drape over the back patio, a patio large enough to host fifty for barbecues and dancing. Wide white mullioned doors line the patio. We imagine them thrown open, residents and guests dressed in summer flowing onto the patio, joyous, laughing, mingling sunlit then dancing in moonlight. The aroma from piri piri chicken and vegetable skewers and images of flutes of Prosecco in talking hands tantalize us. We easily share daydreams of purchasing the farmhouse and restoring it to its charming self.
Monells St.Genis Church, first cited in 1019, beckons below us. Classical pediments surround a polygonal roof gable and tower. This beautiful gold-stoned medieval village was built around a castle and crossed by the river Rissec. Pedalling the outer perimeter we cross the bridge over the river to explore a length of connected charming stone houses with river views. Colourful doors and eclectic floral and lace porch fronts announce their presence. This terrace of houses was purposely built to act as a defensive wall that encloses the inner village. Circling back over the bridge we cycle through outer wall stone archway entrances into the heart of the village, golden-hued, untouched by time. Stone alleyways are smooth from centuries of locals walking to the central market hosted by Placa Jaume 1. This is a very large square for a small medieval village. Magnificent stone arches form colonnades around the placa. Shaded tables for ten awaiting guests are underneath. Every angle offers a spectacular view. No wonder Spanish movies and commercials are shot here. From lace covered open windows above we hear opera, Spanish pop, conversations and smell lunch. The placa is eerily empty. There are no pedestrians to honk at, no other cyclists, little outdoor restaurant seating under the colonnades, none on the placa - no restaurant doors open - no lunch. Having cycled for two hours we’re famished. Without GPS, we’re convinced our ride home will be an hour or more. We hop back on our bikes and cycle through the winding corridors of the village in search of an open doorway - in search of lunch. The fragrances of frittata, basil, oregano and thyme waft across our path. A turquoise blue door is open! Sounds of furniture moving and pans sizzling entice us to enter. The vista ahead is a mirage - a lovely bistro sized garden patio, tables suited in purple, yellow and blue floral tablecloths. A lion’s head spouts water from a wall into a fountain. So charming! Para dos por favor! Dressed in chef whites, kneading dough for Bunuelos de Viento - Wind Fritters or Nun’s Farts as they are also called, she nods her head no. We don’t understand her lilting Spanish. A beaming countenance of a gentleman, mid ‘40s, Mediterranean handsome appears. His English is superb.
“It’s Dia de la Brujas today. Day of the Witches - it’s the first day of El Dia delos Muertos. Tomorrow is Dias de Todos - All Saints Day; the day after Dia de los Muertos. Most restaurants will only be open for dinner these days, including our restaurants in the placa. Tonight there will be a costume parade and party in the placa. You can come see it. Townspeople are preparing their costumes and special feasts”, he explains. Excited to learn of the parade this evening we plan to make dinner reservations for one of the restaurants when we arrive home. Do you know where, we enquire, we can have lunch today? Hilarious to us, he directs us back to our town, to our local bar café. It is the only restaurant open for all three villages. It services local workers so it is always open, he tells us. Aghast at the thought of another hour ride without sustenance, more specifically wine, and without our GPS, we ask him for the quickest directions home. Si, he points - go straight up the hill, turn left at the fork in the road then go straight until you pass Madremanya. It’s only two kilometres away. We laugh out loud and gurgle thank-you. Only two kilometres - we’ll be home in ten minutes. Who knew…
The ride home is joyous, full of laughter. If we’d brought our phones, we would not have discovered our future hacienda enterprise, experienced the rich, fertile and bucolic countryside and discovered some of the secrets of Monells. Our haven fridge is full. A sensuous lunch of charcuterie, olives, black truffle foi gras, mushrooms, bread, prosecco and wine on the terrace looking out over the rolling countryside of our day’s cycling adventure, discoveries and daydreams await.
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