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Olot - capital of Garrotxa

Olot rambla Heading towards the mountains from the coast past Banyoles and then Besalu, the first major town is that of Olot located on a plain surrounded by extinct volcanoes and home of the recent winners of the Pritzer Architecture prize, so a place recently in the international press. We've passed by many times on the way to Vall d'En Bas, Rupit or Campodron but as is normal with Catalan towns and villages, it is very easy to drive past on the way to somewhere else without actually seeing anything of the town itself. So to make up, we took a day walking in and around the town to try to get to know it better.

Olot church of Sant Pere The first thing to note is that the Garrotxa is a rich and fertile area, so it's quite green and verdent. We were visiting at the end of Spring and in the background behind the volcanic hills, we kept catching glimpses of the snow on the Pyrenees in the near distance.

We parked nearish to the centre, but were immediately struck by the hills and the temptation to head high to get a panorama was too tempting, so rather than head straight to the centre, we took a footpath up towards the remarkable church tower of Sant Pere Martir which stands on Montolivet in among an estate of houses with an enormous sculpture of a head embedded on the tower looking down at the town.

Olot statue in front of French style house We hoped to be able to follow a walk from the church around the woods and so to follow the outskirts of the town, but after tracking a few footpaths, we decided the only route was to head in towards town. But wanting to leave the town centre to last, we turned out towards Vall d'En Bas and were amazed to see what looked like French architecture at Placa Manuel Malagrida. Now obviously Catalonia neighbours on France and, at various points in its history was assimilated into France in one way or another, but in general there are relatively few buildings in a grand French style.

Olot Museu del Volcans Our next surprise was that behind the pavillion the streets led into an area of 1920 villas arranged as part of a garden city. The estate is laid out like two spoked wheels with vistas and ramblas along the diagonals and one long passeo that joins the middles and heads out to the park (Parc Nou) and the Museu dels Volcans. The museum is in one of the villas (Torre Castanys) in the centre of the Parc's landscaped gardens. We didn't visit the museum itself, but just looked around the park.

Olot hobbit house From here we followed our nose on the outskirts. We were actually looking for an unusual 'hobbit' style house that was being built on the road towards Santa Pau, and to see if we could see any of the architecture which won the prize.

Our route was a little haphazard as we passed the main bypass road and a large blue sculpture like a picture frame, and then across the fields towards the area of Sant Cristofol de les Fonts, past a memorial to Francoists shot during the early part of the Spanish Civil War.

Olot old town by church The hobbit house was in development and looked to be private, but consisted of a very organic piece of architecture of curves like a rabbit warren. When it is finished, it's quite possible it won't be as easy to see from the road, and there was no way of visiting to see more. From the house we could look back to the city and see the snowy mountains behind the town.

But we decided that it was time to head back to the centre to see what Olot really has to offer in the centre.

Olot Modernista building The town itself is a traditional mix of squares and old high narrow terrace streets of shops. Being a Sunday it was quiet as the shops were closed, but the amount of commerce suggests that it gets busy when everything is open.

By the main church a wide rambla heads away from the centre and on the rambla is a delightful modernista house. Continuing on, we pass the slightly daunting very modern architecture rust-steel covered building of Sala El Torin.

In the end we didn't quite see the architecture of RCR Arquitectes, the prize winners - though we have seen their buildings in Besalu and Ripoll, but all in all a very interesting town to see. And as we got back in the car, we noticed one of the restaurants offering Olot Potatoes - a speciality of the town with potatoes stuffed with meat and fried. Next time...

Nearby: Mollo (Camprodon) - Pyrenees to France - Sadernes and river pools of St Aniol d'Aguja - Sant Esteve d'En Bas (Olot) - Rupit - Serinya and Illa del Fluvia - Ribes de Freser and skiing at Vall de Nuria - Banyoles lakeside walk

Olot Frame Sculpture on outskirts

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