A journey through the Alta Garrotxa
Today, we want to perambulate the Garrotxa’s most beautiful canyon, walking along the Riera de Sant Aniol. It is a paradise of natural pools filled with clear, fresh water. In times now long gone by, the Garrotxa used to be a stronghold for the infamous trabucaires, a band of robbers that was well known for their raids in the 19th century. In the beginning, their members fought for God, traditions and Catalan privileges. After their defeat, however, they found shelter in the mountains and resorted to robbery and abductions. They were quite successful at presenting themselves as Catalan Robin Hoods, demonstratively mobbing Madrid’s governors and factory owners. Their former shelter is now a popular place among hikers and those interested in free-climbing. A couple of Roman chapels have been preserved through the times. One of them, the pilgrimage church of Sant Aniol d’Aguja is the goal of today’s journey.
In the 9th century, a cloister was situated here. It was later inhabited by the band of robbers. Then, there were opponents of Franco’s regime, who gathered here to sing in protest. Today, this place is where Catalans gather when they come from both sides of the Spanish-French border, in order to celebrate a summer festival with traditional dance and a mass. The bizarre landscape is a paradise for both mountaineers and nature lovers – wild waterfalls, steep rock faces, canyons with crystal clear water sputter in the depths.
We take the N 260 (Figueres-Olot) until we reach Besalú, and then we follow the signs for Montagut, heading in the direction of Sadernes. We end up on a parking lot with a tourist information just behind the chapel of Santa Cecilia de Sadernes. Here, the path to the spring of Sant Aniol begins. It is broad at first, a good road to drive on. Off season, it is possible to drive down the road and into the valley, thus shorting the walking time, which is usually five hours. Unfortunately, we have to walk all the way today. Swiftly, we walk down the road, passing rocks, abysses, meadows, mountain goats, mountaineers and welcoming bathing areas. It takes us two and a half hours to reach the pilgrimage church of Sant Aniol d’Aguja, the cloister and the spring. We refill our water bottles at the spring, before setting off again. Another 15 minutes pass until we reach the waterfall Salt de Brull. Swooshing and foaming, cold spring water plunges down, deep down into a rock basin. It is a most excellent place for taking a bath. Jumping into the icy cold water does cost a bit of an effort though. But the effort is forgotten quickly, and soon we feel relaxed and ready to spend the rest of the day here. But the sun has already passed the zenith and we still want to take a late lunch in the Hostal Masia de Sadernes.
This means that we have to go back down into the valley. Now that we are refreshed, the way seems to be less strenuous. Still, near the end of our journey, we feel our feet growing heavy. We have no water left. Eventually, we can see the small church Santa Cecilia de Sadernes in the distance; beside it, the Hostal in the Masia. It is 4pm by now and we are lucky to be served a late lunch. There are tasty salads, fresh from the garden, goat cheese and crunchy trout, caught freshly in the river Sant Aniol. For those who would prefer not to eat fish, there is grilled lamb or cold cuts. The hot chips are home-made and the ice cold, sparkling Rosé is the best thirst quencher there is, especially after a day as adventurous as ours. The Hostal is open daily from June 15th to September 15th ; off season, it is only open on weekends. Exhausted, but satisfied and very happy, we return to the coast at sunset. We will return to the wild and beautiful solitude of the Garrotxa soon; we are sure about this.
The journey is definitely demanding: Allow for at least five hours of walking. Bring good tracking boots, enough water and something to eat; do not forget bathing things and make sure you are fit when setting off. www.altagarrotxa.org
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