Vall de Camprodon
As new streets have been built, the Vall de Camprodon is isolated from the Costa Brava no more. All it takes is an hour’s drive, and one has made it all the way from the coast to the middle of the Pyrenees. Time passes slowly here. This time, we do not stop at the picturesque village of Camprodon but continue up the mountains and towards the French border.
First stop Molló. 1182 meters above sea level, this scenic town is in the middle of a street festival today, all houses adorned with flowers and cloth. The church Santa Cecilia is prominent amidst the other buildings, the tower having five landings, and dates back to Roman times (936). The impressive gates are open and upon entering we feel the soothing silence of the old building. We admire the simple beauty in silent awe and then leave in order to explore the village’s winding alleys. The locals greet us with a smile.The town seems to have sprung from a fairy tale, old stone houses overgrown by flowers. The local shops are small and the friendly owners sell fresh regional products, such as savoury goat cheese in oil or dried, fragrant honey and tasty homemade sausages. We cannot resist these delicacies and buy plenty before heading for the next village, which also is the last before the French before. The scenery is breathtaking; the mountain’s meadows are in full bloom.
In Espinavell, 1260 meters above sea level, time has come to a stop. The village huddles against the rocks – the perfect backdrop for a movie. The villagers are talkative and friendly and always happy to share stories and valuable information. We learn, for example, that the steep alleys are accessible by Jeep during summer only. As soon as winter sets in, and the snow piles up to more than 1 meter, this is no longer possible. It is therefore recommended to start stacking up on staple foods early on in autumn. Even now, mushrooms and berries are left outside to dry, and the wood has already been chopped packed. Each year, on October 13th, the village is home to a special event: getting the horses of the Pyrenees from the mountains and into the stables. This event is known as “la Tria de Mulats d’Espinavelli”. It starts at 11am and is frequently visited by thousands of horse traders and curious onlookers. A restaurant that also has rooms to rent is located just outside of the village. Since it is well past lunchtime and the sky is slightly overcast, we decide to take a break there and get a taste of real mountain cuisine. The “les planes” restaurant is well visited indeed. Luckily, we still find a silent corner, where we order an appel and Foie gras salad, duck on pear, fresh trout and a huge entrecote. The food is simple but tastes fantastic and is not expensive. The only thing we do not recommend is the white wine. You better stick to the red around here.
The mountain road to Setcases begins just behind the restaurant. According to a sign near the road, the 19 kilometres worth of gravel can be travelled in a normal car. The street was repaved in 2008 for a million Euros. The street itself is a bit of a spectacle itself, and surely unique amongst other mountain roads. Usually, a street this high above sea level is only accessible by food or Jeep. This street, of course, can also be travelled on by mountain bike, motorbike or simply by hiking. We drive up the valley, along the river, pausing every now and then to gather mushrooms, strawberries and the year’s first blueberries. The blossoming world of the mountains feels like a sanctuary, a paradise. There has been a lot of rain in June and the meadows have grown accordingly. As we gain in altitude, the forest grows thinner and is replaced by grassland. Here, we spot a couple of very happy cows and their calves, big horses and many bleating sheep. There are barely any fences – thus, we encounter the occasional cow on the road. We approach with care and our cameras. The cow blinks into the camera with almost palpable disdain. It clearly is not very amused. At 1900 meters above sea level, at the highest point of the passage, we are above the clouds and the sun is shining brightly. One with the mountains, we are enjoying the picturesque landscape royally. High above, there is an eagle roaming the skies. On a clear day, the climb up to the Costabona (2464) is highly recommended for those in possession of good hiking boots. It is a one hour’s climb – and the reward is the widest view, onto the Canigó mountains and almost down to the sea.
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