All posts filed under: Pyrenees

Beautful town Llivia

Llívia – A historical village

Half French, half Spanish

„Meitat de França, meitat d’Espanya, no hi ha altra terra com la Cerdanya ” – these are the first lines of the hymn of Cerdanya – Cerdagne, in French – and they perfectly apply to the winter sports village of Llívia.
Llívia is a Catalan village which forms part of Spain, but is located in the French Pyrenees. The Spanish enclave in the French Département Pyrénées-Orientales – depending on the legend you hear, it was founded by Hercules or Julius Caesar – originally had been the capital – under the name of Livia – of the Romans’ province Ceretania.  In 8th century, Llívia became the capital of the county Cerdanya, until in 1177 Puigcerdà was founded as the new capital only five kilometres west from it. In 1528, Llívia was conferred town privileges by the emperor Charles V. In 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenees ceded 33 villages to the French crown, including Llívia. The llivians, however, referred to their town privileges and achieved to stay under Spanish rule. The new Spanish enclave was connected to the Catalan village Puigcerdà by a 5 kilometres long and “neutral“ road.

Lovely landscape

The historical centre of Llívia is part of the Spanish heritage conservation programme. Medieval houses with slate roofs and wooden balconies and shutters line the narrow, coblestone-covered streets, towered above by the well-fortified church of Nostra Senyora dels Àngels. Next to it, is located Bernat de So tower from 12th century.
Llívia houses the oldest pharmacy in Europe. The “Farmàcia Esteva“ – founded in 1415 by Jautne Esteva – was run by the family Esteva until 1942 and has then been converted into a museum. Above the city flies the Catalan flag and marks the ruins of the old castle.
An excursion to Llívia is especially worth it on clear days. Lovely town LlíviaBetween green meadows in summer or white summits in winter, the panorama of the mountains and the fresh air is always inspiring. Off season the village is caracterized by calmness and tranquility.
In the small restaurants of the centre one can enjoy the delicacies of the regional cuisine; in autumn, mushroom dishes are especially recommendable. Moreover, a visit to Llívia can be perfectly combined with a shopping tour in Andorra, which is nearby.
Cabriolet and motorbike drivers will love the curvaceous road from Olot over the mountains to Puigcerdà and Llívia. For the way back, one might take the route through France to Perpignan, passing the Canigou massif. If you have some time left, make a stop at Vilefranche-de-Conflent. Thick walls surround this picturesque and historically preserved village, which might at best be visited out of season.

Once more this excursion has shown us the singularity of this region between mountains and Mediterranean, with its numerous architectural and cultural highlights on both sides of the Pyrenees.

The valley of dreams

Vall de Núria – Valley of Dreams

Valley of Dreams

Vall de Nuria is known as the last real high mountain valley of the Eastern Pyrenees. No cars are allowed in Núria – visitors and locals have to take the rack and pinion railway “la Cremallera” to get there. Of course, there are a few ski-lifts scattered about the landscape, but still the valley is a natural paradise between high and impressing mountains. On a national holiday in August, we decided to look and see. We left early, heading for the Pyrenees, eager to explore the Vall de Nuria.


At 5.45 am we had settled down in the car already. We took off in the direction of Besalú, Olot and then to Ripoll and Ribes de Freser. The new road between Besalú and has just been finished; we are alone on the 4-lane motorway. By and by, the sun rises, casting a hue of red light onto the morning sky. Behind Olot, we take the old national street N 260 up into the mountains. We are surrounded by solitude and romantic villages. Slowly, the sun leaves the sea, but has yet to reach the mountains’ peaks. We reach Ripoll and are greeted by empty roads – it is a holiday after all, and days start late then.

Lovely landscape at the Costa BravaIn the tiny Pyrenean town Ribes de Freser, we find the rack and pinion railway “la Cremallera”. Still, we drive on to the next village, Queralbs, which is located at 1220 metres height above sea level. Here, the road ends. It is the last opportunity to take a seat la Cremallera. Thus, we park the car in front of the station. It is now about 7.45 am. A few wanderers are already waiting for the day’s first train, which leaves Ribes de Freser at 7.42 am and arrived at Queralbs five minutes later. We buy a ticket and are handed some additional information. As our guide promises great views and spectacular landscapes, we decide to master the return journey by foot. A ride on la Cremallera, however, has its very own charm too. Slowly, the train follows the winding rails, through tunnels, close to steep abysses and then up the
mountain it goes…beneath us, the wild waters of Rio Nuria hiss and whisper. We pass an impressing waterfall, which is called Salt de Cua de cavall (horse’s tail). Everywhere along the rover, wild lupines and thistles stand abloom. Two chamois, disturbed by the train, jump up from the thicket and vanish out of sight.

Hiking through the valley of dreams

Currently, a new tunnel for the railroad is under constructions, as a part of the old railroad is often affected by falling rocks. It takes about 20 minutes to reach Vall der Núria by railroad. Then, at 1967 metres above sea level, there is a huge building from the 19th century, including a hotel, a restaurant and a place of pilgrimage. From the outside, it is not precisely beautiful, but still this religious place if a well-known place of excursions for Catalans. Part if is being restored now. Nothing compares to the landscape. Cradled by high mountains, a storage lake lies in silence – and shadows, so early in the morning. The mountains shine resplendent in the morning sun; horses and cows graze on the meadows. It is possible to book horse back riding tours. The grass has never been this green.

Hike through the valley of dreamsLeniently, we ignore the ski lifts. Behind the hotel, we are greeted by a donkey. Ducks and geese live here as well, and we also meet a family of rabbits. Boats can be booked for a journey on the storage lake. There are many hiking trails – up to the crests or around the lake. For a moment or two, we are tempted to take one of them instead of daring the steep way down. We keep to our plan – later, this gets back on our muscles. Nuria’s most frequently visited place is undoubtedly the pilgrimage church of Nuria’s Mother of God, guardian and protector of the mountain’s sheepherders. Legend has it, that she also helps those wishing for children. It takes us 3,5 hours to walk down into the valley. It is a difficult, stony route, and we try to be very careful, pausing to marvel at wild raspberries, blossoming meadows and picturesque views. The closer we get to the valley, the more often we meet other travelers – on their way up! We are utterly out of shape and slightly green with envy. Our path ends in Queralbs. The medieval town is very inviting with its typical stone houses, cozy restaurants and hefty cuisine.

We soon learn that it would have been clever to book a table in advance. Exhausted, we finally find a place in a bar behind the town hall and enjoy ice-cooled water and coke. In a small shop we buy an excellent pick-nick: fresh feta cheese and goat cheese, tasty regional sausages, crunchy stone baked bread and fresh tomatoes. Thus equipped, we begin the retour journey towards to sea.

We hope to come back soon. Even during the summer months, the temperature in the mountains remains moderate and is ideal for taking long walks – provided that you are a morning person.

Beautiful sights

A hike through the Alta Garrotxa: Sadernes – Sant Aniol d’Aguja

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.Great landscape

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.

Journey at the Costa BravaThis 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

Film set for the movie "Perfume"

Castell de Requesens

Captured on canvas

Parts of the major motion picture “Perfume” were shot in Catalonia. One of the places chosen as scenic backdrops was Castell de Requesens. The castle’s majestic ruin is situated in the Serra de l’Albera region, close to the French-Spanish border. The region is unique in its wild beauty, hosting stone- and cork oaks, pines, chestnut trees, and elms, as well as Mediterranean meadows and bushes, the latter being home to an impressing display of wildlife: boars, deer, wildcats, eagles, hawks, lizards and snakes.

A number of walking tracks leads through those mountains. One of them also leads around the castle of Requesens, which matches our plans very well indeed as this is where we are heading today.

Approach description

In La Jonquera, we leave the NII and continue in the direction of Cantallops on a small road winding up the hill. Once in Cantallops, finding the castle is a piece of cake; it is well signed. The street however, is made from tarmac up to Cantallops only. It then continues as a gravel path which is not altogether suited for lowered cars. There also is a cattle gate in the middle of the road – which should not be taken as an indication for “no traffic“.Just open the gate, do not forget to close it behind you, and carry on. Mind the cows! They live in the forests and might cross the road. The gate is supposed to keep them from getting lost in the valley. The cows are wearing bells; a dull, soft sound announces their arrival. Albera cows are small as compared to other species. They are quite rare and roam freely through the Albera region.

Trip to the Castell de RequesensHistory of the Castell de Requesens

A long time ago, Requesens castle was in charge of the surrounding area. Situated on a hill, it seems to dominate the region even today. Apart from that, it also serves as a starting point for several hiking tracks through the Albera mountains.
We cross Rio Anyet and follow the steep path to our left, up to the hill. The view of the snow-covered Pyrenees is fantastic, especially on a clear day.
Requesens Castle was built in the 11th century. Constructed by the dukes of Rousillon, it was first meant to be a stronghold for protection of the boarders. As the centuries went by, it changed hands frequently, slowly decaying to ruin in the process. In the 19th century, however, Tomas Rocaberti de Damento, duke of Peralada, ordered that Requesens be reconstructed. De Damento was known for having a soft spot for everything romantic – and he was very generous in adding many amorous details. Enchanted, with winding floors and ornate crenellates and small towers – Requesens castle became what one might expect to find in a fairy tale. But all glamour was lost during the regime of Franco. And once the armed forces had left, pillaging started. Anything that was not nailed down disappeared forever. In the 60ies, the castle became a retreat for Hippies. Later on, Salvador Dali briefly considered buying and restoring the castle, but in the end he decided for Pubol castle, which turned out to be a present for his muse, Gala. Castell de Requesens has since been used as a backdrop for movies, such as “El Caballero del Dragon” and “Perfume”.
These days, the keys to the old building are only handed out on request. We recommend you ask for more detailed information in the old Masia close to the castle. They also serve delicious hot lunch there. Nuri, new chef “La Cantina”, prepares the meals using all the healthy ingredients found in her garden. We had crunchy fresh salad, grilled lamb and “pan con tomate“. The atmosphere is warm and friendly, almost homely, and the other guests as well as the chef are always willing to chat. If arriving with a bigger group we suggest you speak to Nuri first: you might have to book tables. Tel.: 972193081.

Maps for all the major hiking routes are available in the tourist office La Jonquera – Tel. 972 55 40 05, www.lajonquera.net.

Panoramic view from the castle

Hiking tracks in the Pyrenees

Beautiful landscape at the sea

Trip to Sant Pere de Rodes

Vilajuïga -> Sant Pere de Rodes -> Port de la Selva

On a day with light Tramuntana we drove in the direction of Vilajuïga. There a small signposted road leads through the town towards the mountains. Just behind the village the landscape changes and gets mountain character: rocky green mountain meadows, gnarled holm and cork oak groves, in between a flock of sheep, birds chirping. The narrow road winds its way up the mountains. We enjoy the solitude.
Then the tremendous former Benedictine monastery Sant Pere de Rodes comes into sight. First mentioned in 902, the first decades of the 10th century were marked by a spiritual and material prosperity.
Monument on the edge of the Pyrenees with buried treasuresUntil today the monument on the edge of the Pyrenees is shrouded in numerous legends. They talk of buried treasures – an iron chain in which the Apostle Peter was allegedly tied up – a rain cape of St. Thomas Becket, that is expected to increase fertility – a holy cross, after which the Cap de Creus was named – and the dissolute life of some monks. Other legends tell that before the monastery was erected there had been the temple of the «Aphrodite of the Pyrenees» and that the remains of the Apostle Peter are buried there.

During its heyday in the 11th Century, Sant Pere de Rodes and its famous writing school were a spiritual center. Precious manuscripts of illumination were created then. One example is the «Bible of Rodes», which is now kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.
The former Benedictine monastery is one of the most important romanesque buildings of the Costa Brava. It towers 500 meters above sea level and offers spectacular views. It owes its dominant position to the Pirates, who destabilised the coasts at the founding time of the monastery.
The whole complex impresses with architectural monumentality in a spectacular landscape. In summer, piano concerts are held in one part of the monastery. A restaurant offers a great view of the mountains and the sea and invites hungry hikers for a lunch menu.
Accessible only by foot is the higher grounded Castell de Salvador, from which one enjoys a magnificent view of the monastery and the sea. Every day the first sunbeam of Catalonia falls on the Castle of San Salvador de Verdera.

Famous building in the town

Castle of San Salvador de Verdera

View from the dam wall

Darnius – Maçanet de Cabrenys – la Vajol

Mountains and more

Here on the coast in June it already feels like summer. Just the right time for an excursion to the dammed lake of Boadella and farther along the mountains to the small villages on the edge of the Pyrenees. We take our camera equipment and sufficient drinking water and drive off towards La Jonquera. At the branch Darnius, Maçanet de Cabrenys and Costoja we leave the NII and turn into the mountains.

Trip to the reservoir of BoadellaThe road leads through sun-flooded cork oak forests. The dark, gnarled limbs of the trees resemble bizarre characters drawn into the blue sky. Single straw bales are rolled up yellow in the landscape. Darnius lies ahead us in matutinal silence. Ancient trees shade an avenue. On the left a road branches off to the reservoir.The landscape at the dam differs significantly from the coastline, which is just a few miles away. Boulders form towers in the water. The jay loudly announces any intruder. Between the pines and oaks, you find many different medicinal plants and herbs. In the mountains there are wild boars, wild chickens, squirrels, hedgehogs, rabbits, hares, and badgers. Numerous species of birds inhabit the area: the kingfisher, woodpeckers, dippers and many wild ducks amuse themselves on the shore or in the waters of the dammed Muga. The Hotel Central at the end of the paved road at the barrier lake is a good place for lunch. It is also a perfect starting point for hiking. We relax on the shady terrace.

The road back to Darnius continues to Maçanet de Cabrenys. On the way there, we stop over at the Ermita “Sant Esteve del Llop”, on the left in the forest. A paradise of silence, also enjoyed by the owners of the romantic Masia located next to the church. A while after we reach Maçanet de Cabrenys. To enter the village we pass a green tunnel of plane trees. We stroll through the streets and enjoy the cool mountain air. The small town is surrounded by mountains (“Roc de Campana”: 1.438 m, “Roc de Frausa”: 1.443 m and “Puig de les Pedrisses”: 1.333 m) and nature. The old houses in the center crowd around the church St.Marti. Next to the river there are the vegetable gardens of the residents. In the restaurants fresh products of the region are served: mushrooms, trout, wild boar, and wild rabbits.

Cork oak forests and pine trees in Darnius

Vajol

After some time, we finally reach La Vajol. The village lies in a sleepy forenoon silence. We park the car outside of the village and take a walk through some of the alleys, passing perfectly restored stone houses until we reach the market square and its church. This Roman church is called Església parroquial de Sant Martí and has been originally built during the 7th century. The houses surrounding the plaza have been adorned with flowers. Only a few locals are still living here. Most of the houses are mere holiday or weekend homes. A long time ago, the locals used to work in the mines of Can Canta, mining granite. The mine, however, is no longer active today. Impressive granite rocks are silent remainders of the village’s former source of income. Today, the locals make their living selling wood, operating restaurants, gathering fruits of the forests or hunting wild boars. La Vajol was the Republican government’s last place of refuge during the Spanish Civil War. In Febraury 1939, 250 refugees crossed the boarders close to la Vajol; among them were the president of the Spanish republic, Manuel Azaña, as well as the presidents of Catalonia and the Basque country, Lluís Companys and José A. Aguirre. In 1981, a memorial place was raised close tot he coll de la Manrella in their honour. During those times, the mines of Can Canta were used to hide important pieces of art, which had been brought there from the Prado in Madrid. Nice landscape in the hinterland of the Costa BravaIt is said that the republics vault, known as the «Tresor d’en Negrin» was hidden there as well. We take a chair in front of the small restaurant “Ca la Conxita”. A blackboard tells us that a breakfast including farmhouse bread and fresh sausages is available here. We are served big slices of “pan con tomate” and a platter of very tasty cold cuts. At sunset we return to the coast.

Winter sport areas in the Pyrenees

Winter sport in the Pyrenees

Girona and Barcelona have become more and more accessible by airplane. As flights are cheap, fast and convenient, the winter sport areas in the Pyrenees are becoming more popular with tourists from all over Europe. The Pyrenees offer picturesque winter wonder lands, medieval towns, authentic restaurants as well cosy mountain hotels and modern spas. Activities are numerous and range from sliding, hiking and skiing to lusting after the skiing instructor and learning how to snow board. Best of all, the weather is usually splendid that time of the year, with loads of glorious sunshine.

An hour’s drive from the Costa Brava

The Winter in the PyreneesThe outer borders of the white paradise can be found just about an hour’s drive from the Costa Brava, at Valter 2000. Spain’s biggest skiing area, Alp 2500, is located a little bit further on towards Andorra. Alp 2500 consists of two big winter sport centres, La Molina and Masella. This winter, the skiing season in Masella was opened as early as November 14th.  Alp is a small, picturesquely situated village. 1159 metres above sea level, it has been able to maintain its old core of narrow alleys and old stone houses.La Molina skiing station is surrounded by summits higher than 2500 metres. It has been a favourite with the skiers ever since 1908.

Alp 2500

View from Valter 2000In 1967, the skiing station Masella was opened and fused with La Molina a little bit later, thereby creating Alp 2500. All-inclusive offers are usually valid for both areas – skiers can thus enjoy the bliss of more than 118km slopes of varying difficulty, 29 ski lifts and more than 680 snow guns. Tourists will find similar scenarios all over the Pyrenees: humming ski lifts right up to the very tops of the mountains, snow cannons blasting away in ignorance of climate change and global warming. On the one hand, tourism is important to keep economy in the Pyrenees at a good level, especially throughout the winter months. On the other hand, it is important to keep an eye on nature and protection of the environment.

Unfortunately, there are plans for building yet more ski areas already and it stands to reason that this will only emphasise the vicious circle. Furthermore, snow guns have high energy and water demands. In order to cover 30cm2 of slope with a thick layer of artificial snow, the machines require as much as 1000 000 litres of water. Sustainable solutions will have to be found here.

Vallter 2000

Girona 90 km, Barcelona 150 km

Height: 2000-2650 m.

Snow covered area: 50 km².

  • Dayticket (ski lifts): 31 Euro,
  • from 13:00 26 Euro,
  • 5-day-ticket 125 Euro

www.vallter2000.com

Vall de Núria

Girona 110 km, Barcelona 135 km. Height: 1960-2920 m.

Snow covered area: 79 km².

  • 5-day-ticket 112,50 Euro

www.valldenuria.com

La Molina

Girona 140 km, Barcelona 160 km. Height: 1436-2540 m.

Snow covered: 70 km².

www.lamolina.com

Masella

Girona 160 km, Barcelona 175 km. Height: 1600-2530 m.

Snow covered area: 43 km².

  • Day ticket: 38,50 Euro,
  • from 14:00 28 Euro,
  • 5-day-ticket 150 Euro

www.masella.com

National Park “Aigüestortes”

With Jeep cabs to the National Park

At 8 am, the sleepy little village named Boí, part of the Alta Ribagorca and tucked away in the mountains, awakens to the sounds of Jeep cabs heading for the Aigüestortes National Park. We got up accordingly early and left the village on one of the first Defenders. Today, the narrow road is all ours, closed for public transport. We pass rivers, lakes and waterfalls, and forests vividly green with conifers, silver firs, Scotch pines, birch trees and European beeches. The Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Mautici National Park was founded in 1955 and covers an area of 14.119 hectares. The park is a well functioning ecosystem in the Pyrenees, including at least 200 lakes and some impressive rock faces – such as Els Encantats. The Catalan name Aigüestortes, literally translating to “winding waters” – derives from the many meandering waters winding their way through the park. Most of the reservoir is located above 1000 meters above sea level, with some of the surrounding summits being as high as 3000 meters – just shy of three miles. This is where the observant visitor can still spot the endangered bearded vulture, Gypaetus barbatus. Occasionally, these majestic birds circle the skies, far above the park’s grounds.

Sant Nicolau

A tree in a river at the Aigüestortes National ParcThe first meanders come into view, and we reach the flats of Aigüestortes. The journey by Jeep ends right here. The village of Sant Nicolau, riddled with meadows and meanders, is featuring a broad, ascending hiking path up to the Estany Llong. The hike will take about one and a half hours, and is suitable even for those with little to no experience in hiking. Good walking boots are a necessity though.

Soft as a luxuriously thick carpet, and permeated by the Sant Nicolau brook, the mountains’ green meadows are enchanting. Everywhere, pines and roots have succumbed to the waters and turned into picturesque objects much beloved by all those interested in landscape photography.

Stay for picnic

Sea for a picnicAs the brook broadens into a small river, big rocks to both sides of the banks invite the pilgrims to stay for picnic. For many families, this is the main purpose to take the hike. Now they sit in the shadow of old trees, clearly enjoying the day and the vicinity of the whispering water. We keep on walking up to the lake. A group of hikers and a group of cows got there well before we arrived, both seizing the opportunity to take a soothing bath in the cold lake. While our water bottles are cooling down in the lake, we unpack our own picnic and get ready for a Siesta in the shadows of the trees. This is exactly the right thing to do before heading back home. For advanced hikers, there also is the opportunity to carry on up to the summits. Most people, however, lack the required fitness and prepare to stay near the lake, drinking in the scenic surroundings before taking a leisurely stroll back to the information point at the end of the Sant Nicolau valley. From there, a taxi service back to Boí is available. The Aigüestortes National Park has its very own charms of lush vegetation and extraordinarily scenic views. It is a small green paradise of blossoming landscapes, even in summer, due to the many rivers and brooks. Highly recommended!

Vall de Boí – Aigüestortes at the Pyrenees

The cradle of Catalan Romantic

Vall de Boí is also known as the cradle of Catalan Romantic. More than a thousand years ago, eight small villages and nine churches were built in this valley. With the valley being detached from the bigger cities’ hustle and bustle, much of their original charm has been preserved and some of the churches still look the way they did centuries ago. Ever since 2000, they are UNESCO approved world culture heritage and hence known all around the world.

Sort – Luck

We leave La Seu d’Urgell on the N260, headed for Sort. Sort is Catalan and translates to Luck. This is why they sell all the Spanish Christmas Lottery’s tickets right there. We do not stop, but carry on towards el Pont de Suert. The N260 is growing smaller and becomes increasingly windy, up the mountains and then down into the abyss. Luckily, there is barely any oncoming traffic.The valley, Vall de Boí, is located just behind el Pont de Suert. We drive up to a village named Taüll, where we search for accommodation. We have been advised to stay at the Santa Maria, but unfortunately they are fully booked already. We find a place to stay next door.

La Iglesia Coll2 churches for 6 persons

Taüll has two Roman pearls to shine with. The Old Church is one day older than the other church – this much we learn from the landlord. Back then, he continues, Taüll consisted of six inhabitants only. He does not know what they meant to do with two churches. It is a well kept secret, even today. Nobody knows why this narrow valley, far away from all routes of trade, became home to a competition

La segunda Iglesia de Taüll

in church building throughout the 11th and 12th century. Who were they, those builders, lords and artists, who were in charge of erecting the churches, and why were they doing it in the first place? The churches St Joan de Boí and Sant Climent de Taüll are adorned with wonderful frescos. Saints and mythical creatures are caught in a perpetual round dance of silence: A lifan, sporting an elephant’s tusks, a camel lost in the mountains of the Pyrenees….Mythology has come to life here, told in brilliant colours and exciting shapes.

Valle de Boí

Iglesia por dentroIn the valley of Boí, the villages Barruera, Boí, Cardet, Coll, Durro, Erill la Vall, Sarais and Taül lie right next to each other, like pearls on a string. Elements of Medieval architecture have been preserved. The churches, for example, are known for their noticeably voluminous head pieces and their carefully decorated bell towers. The frescos of Sant Climent de Taüll illustrate life in hell and the Last Judgment. The original pictures can be viewed in the Catalan national museum of arts (MNAC). We buy a ticket that is valid for all churches and keep admiring the sacral Roman buildings, climb up the highest bell towers, marvel at the mystical frescos and are delighted by carved figurines of Santa Eulàlia d’Erill la Vall.

The water reservoir Embassament de Cavallers – Aigüestortes

Embalse de Cavallers - Aigüestortes

In the late afternoon we set off for a stroll to the water reservoir Embassament de Cavallers, which is situated at the boarders of the Aigüestortes national park. In a mirror of deep blue, we see the mountains and the sky above. Climbers are struggling up a rock face; pale roots reach up from the deep. Scenery enchanted and enchanting as if taken directly from a fairy tale. A little bit further on, below the water reservoir, one can swim in the river. The cold water is revitalizing indeed. Thus refreshed we head back to Taüll – and to a cold beer best enjoyed in the shadow of the rowan berry trees next to the church, Sant Climent de Taüll. Although the innkeeper has many stories to tell about how much he is in love with the change of seasons here in the valley, he cannot decide on a favourite season. June, maybe, when the summits are still covered by snow and the meadows are in full bloom… or maybe autumn with its hues of gold? Little does it matter – each season has its very own charm. In the evening, we visit the town’s pub, Sedona, and enjoy a simple but perfect meal made from fresh regional products. We want to leave for the Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes early the next morning. Therefore, we only take one more night time picture of Sant Climent de Taüll and then call it a day. And what a lovely, eventful day in the romantic valley it has been! To be continued.

La Fageda d’en Jordà – The magic of the forest

The legendary forest

Fageda d’en Jordà – this is not only the name of a poem of the famous Catalan poet Joan Maragall, but also of a legendary beech grove near Olot. Beeches? Indeed, this tree is seldom found in this part of the Iberian Peninsula. It is the Garrotxa’s singular geological characteristics that have made possible that an entire beech grove has grown here. Several dozens of volcanoes left behind a fertile soil, which do not only beeches like: hardly elsewhere in the country, flora and fauna are that varied. However, nowadays nobody has to be afraid of hot lava flows or showers of ash any more: the last eruptions took place 10,000 years ago and the last seismic activities 500 years ago. To get to the grove, from Olot we take GI-524 in direction Santa Pau, to get after four kilometres to the service area Can Serra.

Light and shadowAn information point and a huge parking area make it the perfect starting point for a tour through La Fageda. Next to a memorial for Joan Maragall we leave the service area in southward direction, passing a tunnel underneath the road.

Joan Maragall

Maragall (1860 – 1911), one of the most important promoters of the renewal of Catalan culture at the end of 19th century, was fascinated by the singularity of the beech grove.In his poem “La Fageda d’en Jordà“ he praises the calmness and beauty, which any visitor falls for. The lonesome walker that unconsciously starts to count and slows down his steps, sinking into the luscious green and abandoning himself to the sweet oblivion of the world; finally, becoming a prisoner of the grove…

TreeWe get into the adventure and, after a few steps, we find ourselves already in the middle of the forest. A fabulous canopy of leaves above our heads. The dark trunks structure the green. Sun reflexes dance around. Grouchy boulders are scattered on the lava ground, littered with leaves. Is it behind these stones where the goblins hide themselves, protagonists of numerous legends? We prefer not to leave the red marked pathway number 1 to find out more; more than one got lost in labyrinth of trees.

Cooperativa de La Fageda

Apart from such mythical creatures, very profane animals inhabit the grove: in the middle of La Fageda d’en Jordà is situated the well-known Cooperativa de la Fageda, whose milk products and delicious natural yogurts are to be found in any Catalan supermarket. The farm is run by about 200 mentally handicapped persons, who thereby have the chance to live a dignified and worthy life.

Vulkans El Croscat

Tree in the Fageda de Jorda550 metres above sea level, we wander along the hillside of volcano El Croscat, across which the beech grove stretches. The air is pleasantly fresh and calm, even at high summer temperatures it is a wonderful place to enjoy nature. Haven’t we just listened, unconsciously, to the rhythm of our steps? Haven’t we looked up to the green tree tops for too long now? The magic of this place is undeniable. It is not surprising that this singular forest has not only inspired poets but also painters, for example Olot’s famous school of country painters. In less than an hour we perambulated the marked walking trail and, full with new impressions, get back to the car. This time, La Fageda has released us.

In La Garrotxa you can find plenty of restaurants with good regional cuisine, for example in the picturesque medieval village of Santa Pau.

Saps on és la fageda d’en Jordà ?

Si vas pels volts d’Olot, amunt del pla,

trobaràs un indret verd i pregon

com mai més n’hagis trobat al món:

un verd com d’aigua endins, pregon i clar;

el verd de la fageda d’en Jordà.

El caminant, quan entra en aquest lloc,

comença a caminar-hi poc a poc;

compta els seus passos en la gran quietud

s’atura, i no sent res, i està perdut.

Li agafa un dolç oblit de tot el món

en el silenci d’aquell lloc pregon,

i no pensa en sortir o hi pensa en va:

és pres de la fageda d’en Jordà,

presoner del silenci i la verdor.

Oh companyia! Oh deslliurant presó!

Maragall (1860 – 1911)