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Costa Brava Living - blog area

Walks and other things

Walks on the Costa Brava - click for a larger version One of the joys of the Costa Brava is the variety of landscapes and we like to visit places and walk (a lot), particularly into and around the Gavarres. Sometimes we travel around on bike. In the summer, we swim and canoe.

These then are write ups of walks, hikes and activities that we've done since November 2012, with photos straight from the original walk or activity.

We like to make circular walks and our walks range in length from about 4km (an hour) to around 16km (four hours) - but probably about 2 1/2 hours on average - though if you want to reduce the length, there are usually shortcuts.

To find walks by location, click on the map, which goes to a full sized map with links to individual walks and visits. To our surprise, we were listed in the Sunday Times' Essential Costa Brava (Feb 2017).

The most visited walks are:

Torroella de Montgri to Gola de Ter
10 Nov 2013

River Ter close to Torroella de Montgri Costa Brava The river Ter is one of the major rivers for Baix Emporda and a defining feature of the Costa Brava geography. The river rises in the Pyrenees at Valter 2000 - the closest ski-resort runs down through the Plana de Vic, past Girona and then out to the sea at L'Estartit just past Torroella de Montgri.

Gola de Ter at Pals Beach Costa Brava In the early middle ages, Torroella de Montgri was one of the main towns of Emporda and a royal port by virtue of the River Ter. Over time the port at Torroella silted up (and possibly sea levels dropped) restricting sea access from the town to L'Estartit and so in medieval times, the main royal port of the Costa Brava moved south to Palamos. However Torroella remains in many ways a medieval town with narrow streets and the vesitages of its castle, church and town walls. As with many older Catalan towns, the inner streets are too narrow for vehicles, so it is easy to drive past without appreciating the town inside, though it isn't a pretty-pretty town as such.

Isles Medes from the Gola de Ter For the walk we parked outside the main auditori (Espai Ter) in Torroella and walked down to the river by Carrefour. The bank is quite high above the river, reflecting the potential for the Ter to flood - though flooding is much more controlled now with the dams in the higher reaches. The river is broad and natural with willows at the river level and the occasional heron on the bank. Up on the path we're flanked on one side by fruit orchards and then occassional groves of wild bamboo that block the view to the river. The path is a broad gravel track and we pass the odd car parked by one of the small horta (allotments) that sit between the fruit trees.

Aiguamolls de Baix Ter Costa Brava The walk is otherwise unremarkable, though it's good to walk by a river in contrast to the coast or in among the woods. Ahead of us we can see the islands of the Islas Medes which, because we can't yet see the sea, look like odd shaped mountains rising above the land level.

Masia close to Torroella de Montgri After a while the river passes an island then continues to widen almost looking like a small lake as we approach the Gola or mouth of the river. The river itself is big enough to cut through the beach all year around so it's not possible to cross to the beach on the other side without swimming and the natural flow of the river and action of the waves where the river meets the sea at the beach of Platja de Pals leaves sandbanks on the beach that change shape from one visit to the next. The fresh water of the river-lake is also a huge attraction for our dog who just loves jumping in the water then sprinting around on the sand. The light here for photography is often superb with the castle at Montgri, reeds, birds the sea and the islands as a backdrop.

Centre of Torroella de Montgri Costa Brava As we're on the north side of the Gola de Ter, we head along the beach towards L'Estartit but only for a short while. After a couple of hundred metres we turn across the sands and into the Aiguamolls de Baix Ter - sea marshes in among the dunes - a different type of landscape, though a little rough and ragged. We continue back out into the fields and farms that are spread across the area towards Torroella, picking out a route past the fruit trees - most of which have been harvested by now.

Our route takes us past one of the Torres (Towered old Masias) and then back into Torroella past one of the industrial estates. We explore the town briefly as most of the shops are shut for lunch. Torroella has grand hotel in the former castle just next to the church with jazz playing in the garden. The streets themselves are on a grid system and quite narrow and slightly claustrophic, but with the odd square with arcades in the centre. Torroella is also the site of the Museu del Mediterrani - another attraction to visit another day.

Neighbouring walks: L'Estartit to Cala Pedrosa and Cala Ferriol - Torroella de Montgri castle - Gualta, Llabia, Fontanilles and the lake of Ullastret - Pals beach to Gola de Ter

Swimming at Gola del Ter (Pals/L'Estartit) or L'Estartit

Walking route Torroella de Montgri to Gola de Ter close to lEstartit

Arbucies autumn walk
04 Nov 2013

Arbucies church Tardor (Autumn in Catalan) and Montseny beckons. The leaves are just turning colour, there are chestnuts to be collected and the days are bright and clear. Montseny is the grand mountain that sits between Barcelona and Girona, rising to 1700m it's tall enough to see snow during winter, but its great defining quality for us, is that it is full of paths, streams and deciduous woods - sycamore, beech, oak. The ideal place to stomp through fallen leaves. It's about sixty minutes drive from the Costa Brava so really quite close, but it's a different landscape and almost feels like a different climate.

Selling drums and flabiol pipes in Arbucies We're walking on spec plucking Arbucies out of the air as we've never visited before. In other years we'd visit Sant Hilari de Secalm or Sant Coloma de Farners. We don't have a planned route as such and our ICC maps at 50,000:1 aren't particularly good for walking so we're hoping to find some paths and signposts to begin with.

For the drive we travel up from Hostalric - a walled town with a castle that is easily overlooked but woth visiting. The route takes us past the castle at Castell de Montsoriu which we've visited before and is definitely recommended. It's a castle which stands at 600m high on an isolated hilltop and easily seen from the AP7 if you're driving from Barcelona to Girona. It has fabulous views from the top and a good collection of legends and stories associated with it.

As we arrive in Arbucies the giants are out - it's the Festa de Flabiol - a small Catalan wind instrument - and market day meaning the car parks are full. We part close to the Aigua Aguda bottling factory - people are collecting water from the public spring on the other side of the road - something quite common where the water has a good reputation.

Montseny woods near Arbucies As we walk past the spring we notice steps up the hillside and take the path up. The area looks like it was once a park, but water erosion has washed out many lights and path barriers, but it's a fun diversion into the woods. Back on the road we head into the centre past the craft market stalls and into the centre where there's a stall selling drums and pipes. The town has gathered in the main square underneath and independence flag and an orchestra of pipers with drums wearing Barratines, the long red catalan cap starts to play. They're playing the Flabiol with one hand and the drum, slung from their shoulders, with the other and it's extremely good for two one-handed instruments.

Stream in Montseny woods near Arbucies After the music finishes we continue through the town, a mix of older buildings almost suggesting a grander history and typical Spanish apartment blocks. We walk out along the direction of the river. As we're following the road we notice a park below the road to the right and head down into the fallen leaves, following a canalised small feeder stream above the height of the main river below. As we continue the feeder stream meets the lower river and we have to jump across rocks to cross the river to a park on the other hand. Three out of the five of us got wet feet (four out of six if you count our dog).

The river runs through the valley with a children's play ground on one side and there are lots of families out walking with young children. It's probably because it's that type of day, the autumn sun is scattering through the leaves of the trees and sparkling on the river water flowing in the valley. Underfoot is dry and scrunchy and the woods feel like they are just enjoying the day.

Log bridge over stream in woods near Arbucies We follow the river crossing once and then twice on small bridges, throwing stones into a mill pool by a tumbledown factory mill, its walls down to about a quarter of their original height. As we follow the river we disturb a grass snake sunbathing on the path. It seems to wake up and slides quickly away into the undergrowth.

The path crosses a tributary and to get to the other side of the river we have to take a makeshift bridge that has been made from a log supported by two trees with a handrail nailed above it.  Eventually we start to worry we're heading too far out. The next crossing is a road bridge - little more than a gravel track above some concrete pipes. There are signposts and we turn up the hill and away from the river.

Autumn view of woods and hills near Arbucies At the top of the path we come to a masia with wide eaves - almost in a Swiss way where the eaves would be used to keep the snow off the path.  We follow their track out only to find a cami particular sign at the end - it wasn't marked that way from the bottom.

At this point we have an option straight on into the woods, or left and back to Arbucies. We take a chance and head upwards into the woods, and keep going on and on and on. After a while we realise that we're not getting over the hill and we seem to be getting more and more into the woods. Unfortunately on the map we have it's not clear enough to see exactly where we are. We decide to go down to the previous junction, and then continue down and into the town.  It's lunchtime now and the town is empty apart from the craft market stalls. The man selling fuet and salamis has his eyes closed and is sleeping at the stall. A little further down, children are doing handstands in the middle of the road. We continue back thoroughly refreshed for the evening.

Nearby: Palafolls castle - Hostalric stroll - Lake at Sils - Castell de Montsoriu - Santa Coloma de Farners - Brunyola - Visit to Roda de Ter and Espinelves - Bonmati and Anglès

Walking route for Arbucies and woods close to Montseny

Colomers and Jafre
28 Oct 2013

Colomers view from walk Colomers and Jafre are small villages that sit along the river Ter just to the west of Verges, so a little off the beaten track. The main reason you might visit Colomers is to hire a kayak from the canoe centre and gently paddle along the languid undeveloped Ter to Verges where the canoe centre will pick you up - a great alternative day out to the seaside. Alternatively you might come to Colomers for the ballooning centre next door.

We're here to see the villages. We've had fun with the canoeing in the past, but didn't stop to look at the village so this time we park at the field by the double-decker London bus that houses the canoeing centre and walk into town. Colomers itself is a typical Empordan walled village rising from a height above the river (in the past the Ter would have flooded badly) to a church, a tower and then into the hills. The houses are generally being renovated, but there are still a few as yet untouched with the charm of grass growing on the roof and flowers growing out of the walls.

River Ter near Colomers Canoe Centre After a brief tour of the village we follow a pebbled path up the outside of the what would have been the old walls to the top of the village and then cut onto a track that takes us into the woods beyond. It's a pine wood with sandy ground under foot and very open and spacious. For October, the day is surprisingly warm - into the upper 20s and the shade from the trees is welcome. A little way of the village a red squirrel scampers up one of the pines with our dog barking at it loudy from the bottom of the tree.

The path through the woods is one of those walks you like to take without necessarily having any highlights. Just an enjoyable hike surrounded by nature with no-one else about. We pass the top of a field and then come to a crossroads. The one problem with the woods, is that it's not quite clear which path is which, so we just follow our nose straight on, not particularly worrying if we get slightly lost. However, we're about right and we wind our way into the woods. At the next junction a little further on, the tracks are bigger to give access to timber lorries and there are signs of wood clearing all around. In these sorts of woods, during summer fire is a continual risk, so the woods need a level of management to reduce the fire-risk. However, the lumbar tracks don't help with directions so we continue, just about making our way to a path that runs along the top of a wooded hill turning south towards Jafre.

View over Jafre from the walk The path emerges into fields and a pig farm. Across the fields are buildings - these were going to be a thermal spa. Apparently at one point they were doing test drilling for oil, but they didn't find it. Instead they discovered hot water. So the intention was to build a baleanari fed by the hot water. At least that was the plan until the money ran out.

We walk into Jafre along the upper road. From the geography it seems that this might have been on the upper bank of an ancient lake from millions of years ago. Maybe the Ter or the sea were much much higher then. But enough speculating, we enter what is a relatively linear village and walk to the church, with the old castle building attached. Jafre is more work-a-day than Colomers but retains it's older buildings.

Hot from the sun we rest on a bench next to the church, before walking down the hill and out to the flat of the Ter's floodplain. The path doesn't connect us to the river though and we walk through fields recently stripped of maize across to Colomers, stopping to visit the bird hide that looks out over the river and weir.

Neighbouring walks: Vilopriu and Valldavia - Rupia and Foixa - Verges, Tallada d'Emporda and Maranya - Sant Jordi Desvalls, Colomers and Sant Llorenç de les Arenes

Size = 424 x 701

Girona - Festa Major of Sant Narcis
28 Oct 2013

Girona Barri Vell across the Onyar river Girona is the closest city for the Costa Brava and capital of the comarca of Girones which takes in the whole of the north eastern corner of Catalonia.  It's about 40-50km from the coast and so an easy day-trip for shopping or visiting. The city itself is famous for its old quarter - a collection of unspoilt streets with old arched arcades and trendy shops that sit above the Onyar river and climb up the Capuchins hill. This old quarter contains the Cathedral, to the massive old city walls, a number of other churches and former monestaries and leads to gardens around the newer medieval walls.

Girona has a long and hard-fought history. The city sits at the edge of the Gavarres hills, which rise up behind the city, on the confluence of the river Ter (from the Pyreneeds) and Onyar (from Montseny). It is therefore historically and strategically on an important gateway into the Iberian Peninsula. Over the years, Girona is a city which has been besieged about 26 times with the ebb and flow of Spanish and French influence on the area and in the Napoleonic wars was briefly the capital of the French department of Ter.

Streets of Girona Barri Vell We're visiting at the festival of Sant Narcis, the patron saint of the city in what is Girona's Festa Major. Legend has it when Girona was occuped or beseiged by the French, huge flies emerged from the sacred remains of Sant Narcis and attacked the french soldiers and horses causing many deaths. As a result, across the streets and on the floor are banners with flies - the city's symbol.

Girona city gate with huge city walls It's useful to understand the geography of Girona as it helps explain where the key parts of the city are. Girona has Iber origins, but the start of the city of today came with the Romans who created the first town (Gerunda) in a triangle formed by the Onyar, the stream of Sant Daniel, and then up into the hill of the Capuchins. This is a relatively small area and the current situation of the Cathedral and Casa del Alemanys. Over time the city grew to the South along the river Onyar in what has become the Barri Vell old quarter. It was also heavily fortified, but in the 19th century the fortifications were removed and the city grew on the opposite side of the river. As a result the train station side of the town is quite modern and a contrast to the old original city areas.

Girona Arab Baths or Banys Arabes Girona's location as a gateway to Spain and a key route for invaders from France, is combined with the importance of Girona as a religious centre meaning a large number of historic buildings, fortifications and churches in a relatively small area.

We're broadly ambling through the city looking for nooks and crannies so pretty much like tourists starting from the batch of Cortes Ingles buildings just south of the train station. Cortes Ingles is the main Spanish department store, comparatively expensive but with relatively high quality products - sort of like a House of Fraser or John Lewis.

Girona view to church of Sant Pere de Galligants We walk up to the station to see a bricklaying competition which is part of the Festa Major. Teams of bricklayers are making copies of a complex chimney structure. All the teams are making the same structure from the same plans and it includes slopes and diagonals and by no means easy to construct. Each one is freestanding with verticals and angles carefully marked out with wooden splints so as to get the lines correct, and the teams sweating to build the structures as quickly as possible.

From the station we zigzag through the new part of the city. The modern area has the main shopping chains and standard clothes shops. As a result, the first impressions that most people get of Girona from the station are of a work-a-day city. It's not until we get to the Onyar and cross the bridge that we get to the classic Girona view of tall terraced houses standing over the river with the cathedral dominating in the background.

Girona Cathedral above the valley of Sant Daniel We cross the river at the stone road bridge, browsing at the craft market stalls on the bridge for the festivities. Immediately on the other side of the river we have the older part of the city. Deep arcades provide shade from the hot sun and restaurants have tables out on the pavements. The Barri Vell is practically car free except for the odd intrepid local resident. The streets run in three parallel routes towards the Cathedral area with lanes and arched link paths connecting the roads and steps and climbs on the leftmost street linking to the higher parts of the old town. The shopping is ecletic with many small boutiques and specialist shops mixed in with bars and restaurants. We weave through the alleys and streets festooned with colourful banners marked with a housefly graphic, gradually making our way towards the Cathedral area at the end. The past the Cathedral and out through the enormous old wall and main city gate. Parts of the wall here are roman and the wall itself is both extremely thick and high.

Girona eating at the steps on the Capuchins hill We turn back towards the Cathedral, drawn towards the church of Sant Pere de Galligants with its romanic tower just at the end of the Sant Daniel valley. The area is quiet with gardens at the back of the Cathedral and we realise we're standing close to the Arab Baths. The baths are part of Girona's medieval heritage built to imitate muslim style baths.  The baths now are a series of rooms lit by open geometrical skylights that bring light flooding into the space and a pool of water under columns that reach to a skylight. Unlike the rest of Spain, Catalonia was only under Moorish control for about 80 years (718 to 801), however, Girona cathedral sits on the site of a mosque from that period. Girona also has vesitages of its Jewish inhabitants in the Call Jeue.

(In 1492, the same year that Christopher Columbus discovered America, Spain also expelled non-Christians from its lands with Muslims and Jews being forced to leave or convert. The process of investigating 'converts' was the role of the Spanish Inquisition. Many muslims left to North Africa only to come back to raid the Spanish coast as Barbary Corsairs.)

From the Arab baths we wander out to Sant Pere. A guitarist is playing classical guitar in the courtyard just outside the church. The lane behind the church links up to Sant Daniel path and up into the Gavarres. Though we are in the heart of the city at this point it's almost like a finger of the countryside is touching the ancient heart. The gardens at the back link up to the Cathedral now dominating above us on the hillside.

We climb through the steps in the gardens to reach the Casa del Alemanys, then follow the paths back down into towards the city seeming to pass church then monestary then church. The area now houses the University of Girona but previously there were seminaries for priests. The monastic buildings were also used as makeshift jails during Franco's time.

The paths and steps down run back into the Barri Vell and, as it's lunch time, everyone seems to be eating outside. For October it's unseasonally warm. As with most of Catalonia, when lunch comes everything bar the restaurants shut down. We leave Barri Vell by the metal bridge into the main square where stalls are selling meats and cheeses. A man with a clowns nose is playing trumpets and drums as a very tuneful and fun one man band with a handful of children dancing to his song.

We cross over the road to the Devesa Park hoping to see something on the stage, but being lunchtime it's closed - only a few stalls selling roast chestnuts are open. Further down into the park are the fairgrounds but we give those a miss and gently wend our way back.

Girona walks: Girona valley of Sant Daniel - Gavarres Montnegre and Montigalar - Ruta del Carrilet - Girona cyclepath to the coast - Bescano, River Ter and free-style kayaking - Girona and Castell de St Miquel - Roman fort at St Julia de Ramis (Girona) - Girona - Festa Major of Sant Narcis - Girona Temps de Flors

Nearby: Figueres and Castell de Sant Ferran - Olot - capital of Garrotxa - Banyoles lakeside walk - Visit to Besalu and Banyoles

Visit to Roda de Ter and Espinelves
14 Oct 2013

lEsquerda archeological site Roda de Ter One of the great delights of Catalonia is how quickly the terrain and countryside changes from one location or one area to the next. It means that you don't have to travel very far to get a completely different landscape. And in particular we can choose where to go for each particular season. So in summer we have the beaches, in winter the snow on the Pyrenees and in the autumn we have Montseny.

Montseny is the mountain situated between Barcelona and Girona rising to about 1700m. In contrast to the more famous arid rocky fingers of the mountain of Montserrat, or the higher mountains of the Pyrenees, Montseny is a more gentle giant - softer and more deciduous, so when autumn comes it's the mountain to visit for mushrooms, chestnuts and to see the changing colour of the leaves.

Roda de Ter In the past year they've completed the C25 dual carriageway link that connects Girona to Vic and on to Lleida so the initial aim of our visit was really Roda de Ter, a town that sits above an oxbow of the river Ter close to the town of Vic. The road climbs up through the side of Montseny over the col and down to the Plain of Vic and as drives go it's very pretty through wooded hillsides and then with a grand vista across Vic and to the Pyrenees. The Plain of Vic is a great contrast to the relatively cultured Emporda landscape - much rougher in appearance with small round dry hills and views to cliff-y rockfaces (cingles) with houses almost tumbled on top of each other in an area that looks much drier than the fields of the Costa Brava.

View over the river Ter at Roda de Ter The reason for visiting Roda de Ter is that above the oxbox is the ruins of an village established by the Ibers that existed until medieval times at L'Esquerda which, from photographs and maps looked like it would be somewhere to explore as the river Ter at Roda is already a broad river even though the town is quite inland. The next stretch of the river would pass through a number of dams and at Roda it is starting to snake its course through the hills before emerging on the other side near Girona.

Roda itself feels like a small town. The church is the most prominent building and there are two bridges over the river. There is an older heart and then newer houses around the outside. We navigated our way to the L'Esquerda prow where there is a small museum and some information signs around the ruins. The promentary is high-ish up with cliffs down to the river on two sides which means we couldn't explore down to river level. Most of the ruins are low stone walls with the exception of one larger standing wall from the old church. It would be fair to say that we were a little disappointed. We were expecting something with more of a visitor focus that made more of what could be seen and the dramatic bow the river makes and with easier access to the river level.

Espinelves The town itself is quite small and sits high above the river. The old bridge has a double row of arches - as if they built a new bridge on top of the older bridges foundations. The one remarkable thing we did find was a high water marker from 1940. We had to look up to see it - it was about 3m above us. Where we were standing to see the sign was already about 4m above the normal river level. So at some point the water must have been about 10-12m higher. There are walks along the Ter - there is a route that links the source in the Pyrenees to Torroella - and we could have explored a little more, but with no map we weren't sure of round trips.

So having run out of things to see we headed back on the C25, but took a brief diversion to Espinelves which we had seen from the road on the way out. Espinelves is a small village in among the hills of Montseny but extremely well preserved and cared for. Each house had flowers in their gardens or on their windows and the old stone houses had almost all been renovated without changing their original style. Even the modern houses were in keeping with the older ethos and it almost felt like a little Swiss village with views of Montseny peaks in the background. There were several restaurants and walkers about and a delicious golden hue to the light through the trees.

Nearby: Castell de Montsoriu - Santa Coloma de Farners - Brunyola - Arbucies autumn walk - Visit to Roda de Ter and Espinelves - Rupit - Ribes de Freser and skiing at Vall de Nuria

Romanya de la Selva to Puig d'Arques
08 Oct 2013

Romanya de la Selva views from the first signpost The highest point on the Gavarres hills is at Puig d'Arques (535m) marked by a tower with a large white dome on top. The dome is visible from miles away and we always thought it was an observatory from a distance. The peak itself sits in the very heart of the Gavarres and is quite remote from other towns or villages. This means there are a variety of places we could start the walk - Calonge, La Bisbal or, as we chose Romanya de la Selva - it's about 7-8km from Romanya.

Because of the relatively remoteness and because other places on top of the Gavarres are only accessible on gravel tracks we didn't want to try to get closer without knowing what the roads would be like. As it happens, there is a tarmacked road to Puig d'Arques which we took as our route back, but we didn't know this beforehand and experience of roads in remote areas disappearing into a pitted track meant we didn't want to take the risk.

So starting at Romanya, rather than trying to get closer seems a good bet. The disadvantage was not so much the distance but we couldn't tell how easy it would be to make a round trip. In the end we took the marked GR92.1 (one of the extensions off the coastal GR92) out and the road back, but there is a path on the maps which descends into Vall Repos as a possible alternative route back. Again, not knowing the area so well we were a little cautious and stuck to an easy route.

Puig dArques tower which looks like an observatory from a long way off We've covered Romanya de la Selva. This time we didn't visit the village itself but headed straight out. The GR92 starts past the cross and then follows the road to Calonge for a little way, on past the roadway to Puig d'Arques, past the cemetary and close to the Cova de Daina - a small neolithic burial chamber - turning to the left and following a track into the woods.

As we entered, there were signs up warning of hunters looking to shoot wild boar in among the woods. Often the hunters bring dogs too, mainly two or three for tracking, and occasionally you will hear the whistles and barking in amongst the trees. The hunters weren't the only people out. October is the start of mushroom season and mushroom hunting is a very popular weekend activity in the hills of Catalonia. We also passed a number of chestnut trees (Castanyas) and they're also nearly ready for collecting - a treat for halloween and the end of October.

The path runs through the woods with a deep valley (Vall Repos) to the right and the occasional view of the sea. It's a gentle upwards climb, but not particularly steeps and down in the valley we can see scattered isolated masias in among the trees. The path continues for a while. It's clear blue sky, but fresh enough to walk, though just in a t-shirt with a definite coolness as we curl around the shadier side of the hill. The track's wide enough for 3 or 4 people side by side, but no more, so we're a little surprised to see car tracks and cars parked in the woods as the mushroom hunters scurry around under the trees.

Puig dArques view across the plains of Emporda Eventually the path curls around to meet the roadway up to Puig d'Arques. As mentioned, we weren't sure what quality of road this was, but it turns out that  though narrow and quiet, it looks relatively recently updated and in good condition. The road itself runs along the first of the hill ridges giving views down the valley to the sea, or on the otherside out across the hills towards Cassa de la Selva and Montseny in the distance. On the ridge itself is a farmhouse in the process of renovation and fields of sunflowers past their best.

We're also not the only ones visiting and we see other walkers, cyclists and the odd car heading to or from Puig d'Arques. Eventually we reach a crossroads. The road itself curls up to the right while we take the left hand path to Col de la Moixa, back into the woods again. This path climbs more vigorously with views out towards the Pyrenees through the trees. We're surprised to pass an inhabited house just off the path - it looks like the track we're on would be their access road but it barely seems wide-enough through the trees.

View over Romanya de la Selva Another junction and we continue to follow the signpost to Puig d'Arques passing under the occasional chestnut tree with the first prickly castanya shells on the floor, but looking like boars might have taken the contents. Onwards and upwards and we get to a choice - Puig de Gavarres, or Puig d'Arques. The sign post says Puig de Gavarres is just a little higher than Puig d'Arques, but we continue to the tower at Puig d'Arques where it says the reverse.

The tower with the dome on top looks more like an observation post - it doesn't look like an observatory from close up, and the tower itself is closed, but next door is a viewing platform and the views are immense - almost a 270 degree panaroma across the Emporda region - and we wish we'd taken binoculars up.

For the return journey we head down and find the road. There's the option of going down to Vall Repos, but we've already done 7km and the children don't want to have a diversionary explore into Vall Repos, so instead we take the easy way down and follow the tarmacked road still remarking at how deep the valley seems to our left.

At the lower point we could go back on the GR92 track, but we stay on the road and get the treat of views across Sant Miquel d'Aro and across the valley to Romanya de la Selva. Otherwise it's straightforward and we get back, past the cross that we started at.

Neightbouring walks: Romanya de la Selva - Via Ferrata at the Gorges de Salenys - Calonge (Cami de Molins and over Cabanyes) - Castell d'Aro and estate of Mas Nou - St Pol de Bisbal and Santa Lucia

Walking route from Romanya de la Selva to Puig dArques highest point on the Gavarres

Swimming and wild beaches of Castell-Cap Roig
24 Sep 2013

Mont-ras El Crit beach between Cap Roig and Plajta Castell Costa Brava Between Cap Roig, just south of Calella de Palafrugell and the beach at Platja de Castell, are a series of wild natural beaches and coves that start from El Crit (Mont-ras) and then run into Cala Estreta and around to Cala Senia.

The beaches themselves are mostly sandy in little coves, but with rocky bays and a mass of small islets. It is easiest to envisage as a series of six or eight small beaches or bays connected by footpaths over the headlands. This is very much a natural area, though there is the odd fisherman's building on each beach. As a result the beaches are very popular with naturists/nudists almost all year round (there is a naturist campsite Relax Natur between Cap Roig and Mont-ras)

Although it is possible to drive and park above the beaches out-of-season, during the peak summer months access is only available to walkers and bikers from the path that runs across the top from just outside Cap Roig connected to Platja de Castell. Paths drop off the upper route down the hillside to the beaches below.

The isolated nature of the beaches, and the ease of reaching them by canoe from Calella de Palafrugell or Castell mean that they are popular destinations for canoeists, while the rocky bay makes them popular with snorkellers, though the bays can be a little difficult to get into because of the rocks underfoot.

Facilities at the beaches

There are no facilities at the beach and no lifeguards. These are left wild and open deliberately. Each of the beaches has a fisherman's hut and sometimes one or other of these building is open. The only concession is that the swimming area is marked by buoys out into the bay. The beaches typically sit under cliffs (take care for falling rocks) and visitors to the beach might make fires for barbecues and occasionally you see a tent with people wild camping, but it's not encouraged.

Northern Cala Estreta beaches between Cap Roig and Castell

Sand quality

The sand quality varies according to the beach. From Cala Estreta around, the beaches are mainly of a fine to slightly yellow coarse sand which is fine for sunbathing. El Crit, the beach closest to Cap Roig, has one half of the beach that is coarse sand, and a second half, through the hole in the rocks, that is pebbly. The main problem for swimmers or paddlers, is that the bays themselves are rocky underfoot almost immediately, making entry and exit from the water hard under foot.


The small bays are relatively shallow with lots of rocks at the bottom and clear water. This means the water can be warm even into September, but the rocks at the bottom mean you do need to watch for the depth of water - in some places rocks get close to the surface and in other places a shallow rocky bottom can sudden drop into a deeper hole. It's advisable to wear goggles and to look how far the sea bed is beneath you when swimming - it's very easy to start to treadwater only to find yourself kicking a boulder.

The main problem for swimming is normally picking a path among the rocks when getting in and out. In El Crit, and some other places, it's easier to get in from the rocks at the side of the bay than to get in from the beach itself, but again be careful with water depth - the unevenness of the bottom, means it's not suitable for diving from the rocks into the water.

South beaches of Cala Estreta between Cap Roig and Castell The open and wild nature of the bays mean there are lots of fish, sea plants and wildlife in the water (potentially including the odd jellyfish). Out towards the islands and rocks away from the shore, the sea can become choppy so some care is needed when there is a swell on the sea. The shorter nature of the bays and the risk of hitting rocks mean it can be difficult for long distance swimming, but make it perfect for snorkels and exploring.


Lots of people access the beaches by canoe, or use canoes to explore the rocky headlands or to navigate among the islands. Canoe hire can be made at Platja de Castell. It's easy to pick routes between the islands and the sandy beach makes it safe to take the canoes out of the water. Again, when coming close to the beaches, do watch for rocks. Being relatively open getting out of the bays and around the headlands, the water is more exposed and can be choppy on windy days.


Outside the main high season, when the access road at the top is open there is parking above Cala Senia and a little above Cala Estreta, but the road is a gravel track and driving can be difficult. We would park and walk from Cap Roig to reach the beaches (about 10-15 minutes). The alternative is to park at Cap Roig, but the walk is a little longer.


The path along the beaches was included in the Calella de Palafrugell/Cap Roig to Castell - classic wild Costa Brava walk. The Ruta del Tren Petit path has access points to the beaches if you are coming from Palamos, Vall-llobrega or Mont-ras.

Next beaches

South to Platja de Castell - North to Calella de Palafrugell

Cala Senia view close to the car park area not open in high season

Mont-ras to Fitor and on to Fonteta and Vulpellac
24 Sep 2013

Fitor church on the Gavarres Costa Brava The Gavarres hills are the major inland geographical feature of the Costa Brava. These are hills that rise to about 500m at the extremes and stretch from just behind Girona to the hills at Mont-ras, just behind Palafrugell.

The hills are a protected natural area with a great number of tracks and paths, almost totally accessible to the public.

The terrain is mostly wooded with cork and alzina oak trees, but with lots of hidden valleys and streams with occasional ancient masia farmhouses.

As a natural space, the Gavarres are wonderful for walking and exploring with views to the coast from all directions yet feeling almost completely separate from civilisation as the hills are only crossed by road in three places - at Els Angels, between Sant Sandurni and Cassa de la Selva and between La Bisbal and Calonge.

There are other gravel tracks and forestry routes into the hills but these are only really suitable for 4x4s with good ground clearance. As a result it's a fabulous area for walkers and particularly mountain bikers.

In the hills directly above Mont-ras/Palafrugell is a small isolated church at Fitor from the 10th Century. As you skirt the hills from below, you'll often find a Cami de Fitor referring to a path that climbs into the woods and take you to the church.

For many people here, walking to Fitor is something of an annual pilgrimage to reconnect with the Gavarres and local history.

Gavarres view over the woods to the sea We've walked up three or four times. The first time we did it was pretty much straight up and down, but as it's a relatively long way up to Fitor (about 6-7km) and because from Fitor you can walk down in any direction, now we tend to walk to the church, then down to one of the other towns in a different direction. This means it's a linear walk so we have to arrange transport back.

This time we're just in the middle of September and it's time for our annual visit. Temperatures are still warm but there is a freshness returning and the air is becoming clearer so the views to the distance are returning.

We're starting in Mont-ras with an aim of walking over the top to Fonteta just outside La Bisbal. There are a myriad of routes up into the hills and even though there is good signposting, it's very easy to get waylaid without a map - Google just doesn't show enough routes.

Fitor farmhouse of Cal Carrony We start at Mont-ras church and walk up into the hills along the track with the misnomer of Carrer Major. We walk this area a great deal and there are numerous routes up to the top at Col de Boquera - including the route take on the Mont-ras Fountain walk.

We take one of the easier paths that winds its way up the side of the hill. At Col de Boquera, we're on the 'road' - a wide gravel track that is suitable for vehicles and is used as an access to the farms on the top of the hill.

The road is always a little too broad and a little too dusty so we don't take it too often, but its the main connecting route to Fitor. It runs along a saddlepoint. and through the trees on one side you can look out to the coast at Pals, and then a few minutes later on the other side you can see the sea in the direction of La Fosca with the valley of the 'Mont-ras boar walk' down below.

Fitor farmhouse at Mas Plaja The road runs all the way up to the farm-houses on the top, which is where we're aiming to reach, but we prefer smaller tracks, and half way along the part of the road with views to La Fosca, there's a track that runs up the side of the hill to the right.

This is a narrower path only suitable for walking or biking (it has lots of bike tracks in the dirt). This path climbs around the hill in amongst the woods and trees and we just have to remember to take the left hand fork at the only point the path splits.

Eventually (15-20 minutes) it reaches the top road signposted to Llofriu down, or to the left around the top to Fitor.

We head towards Fitor and can see Mas Torroella on the other side of the hill - the road passes what is a very sturdy looking masia, but we won't reach that far.

Following the road, we pass Can Carrony - a large orange painted masia that stands on the crest with views out across Begur and Calella to the sea. The farmhouse is quiet, but we've passed when there have been great gatherings of visitors taking lunch outside.

The farmhouse also sits in a flat area of fields. It always seems a little surprising that coming out of the dense woods below, at the top it's open with fields. Historically though, this is an area that has been farmed for centuries and for the group of farms on the top, Fitor was their church.

Fitor just in view in the Gavarres We take the road between the fields, still in the direction of Fitor and come to a crossroads. A motorcyclists on a track bike is buzzing across the road - the area is also popular for off-road moto too.

At the crossroads the main signs point to the left along the road to Fitor, but look out for a darker green pedestrian sign which indicates straight-on. The left hand road is broad and runs along the top, but is a longer route to Fitor. The footpath is shorter and prettier so we head straight on looking out for yellow-white flashes, which aren't always that easy to see.

The path runs into the woods and then through to more fields. We're heading to Mas Plaja, but an arrow to the left points to Fitor Viens (Fitor neighbourhood). It takes a while, but we find the yellow-flashes on the right hand path and continue down to Mas Plaja, an old masia festooned with flowers.

Again we lose the yellow-white flashes and have to check on the map. At Mas Plaja we have to take a left along a track that seems to run past their horta (vegetable garden). It's then across a stream - there's water up on the Gavarres even at this time of year - and up to Fitor.

You can see the church at Fitor standing isolated in among the fields from the track as you get closer. It's been renovated in the last two or three years, but it retains a charm and character, not least because the small tower isn't quite vertical.

The church sits next to a small old house which is used as an occasional shop for refreshments, but then that is it - no other village or buildings nearby at all.

Gavarres stream bed As we come to the church we pass a car parking area, so it is possible to drive up the tracks if the walk seems too much.

Normally, we would also see mountain bikers at Fitor, taking a break on the picnic tables, but this time there is no-one about. From the church itself a number of different tracks and paths run off in different directions - to Calonge, or to Palamos or down to Vall.llobrega and Bell.lloc castle.

We keep on the yellow-white route in the direction of Fonteta and just as we leave Fitor we meet another person coming up the other way. The track runs downhill and then splits at Can Cals.

We take the left fork and then take the next track to the left down and across the valley, but it seems that the paths would have converged. Around Can Cals, a small stream is still within the rocks, but still has water it and over the next little while the path follows the stream down until we reach another set of rock-pools underneath a small rocky outcrop.

As an explore we walk along the rocks of the stream, disturbing lots of small frogs who jump back into the water as we pass. In winter with full rain, it looks like the stream could easily be a torrent through here.

Back on the path and we get the first sight of Mas Anguila a very large impressive masia sitting on top of an isolated hill above the valley in the process of being renovated.

The path takes us in a semi-circle around the Mas so we keep catching glimpses of it as we walk. The path continues over the Pujada Rossa and to La Creu dels Frares. At La Creu, we can look out across the Empordan plain out to Torroella and the Isles Medes in the distance.

It's not long now, and we come down the hill emerging past a riding school before finally getting onto tarmac and into Fonteta. We walk through the centre, then out to Vulpellac for our lift home.

Neighbouring walks: La Bisbal, Vulpellac, Castell d'Emporda, FontetaMont-ras Fountain walkMont-ras 'boar' walk -
Calonge into the Gavarres - Bell-lloc and Castell de Vila-Roma (Palamos) - St Pol de Bisbal and Santa Lucia - Santa Susanna de Peralta and Sant Climent de Peralta - Romanya de la Selva to Puig d'Arques

Walking route Mont-ras to Fitor and Fonteta over the Gavarres

L'Estartit to Cala Pedrosa and Cala Ferriol
15 Sep 2013

Estartit from the beach Costa Brava Although originally L'Estartit was a fishing village it has become more of a resort catering to holidaymakers and second-home owners including a reasonable community of British ex-pats. It's also the connection route to the diving mecca of the Isles Medes, which according to diving friends, is one of the best locations on the Mediterranean.

The town of L'Estartit always feels like going to a different country. The town is slightly isolated as access is only possible from Torroella de Montgri with the river Ter to the south, and the Montgri hills to the back preventing any other access. Consequently, the town is almost entirely geared to holidaymakers as it is not really well enough connected for local inhabitants. Having said it's mainly for holidaymakers, this is not in a large or overgrown way, but it does have some well-design holiday hotels and apartment blocks and the main strip in the town is almost entirely shops focused on the tourist trade (and dead quiet in winter).

Cala Pedrosa very narrow bay near Estartit The town's strong point for locals is that it is the main access point for the Isles Medes, two islands off the coast sufficiently large to have a lighthouse, that are the centre of a sea-based nature park famed for the quality of the diving. If you're visitng L'Estartit, then taking one of the many glass-bottomed boats to the Islands is recommended. If you're a diver (we're not), friends really recommend the Isles Medes.

Behind the town is the Muntanya Gran of the Montgri mountains a large and very natural set of hills, cliffs and shrub that separates L'Estartit from L'Escala. We've walked this area before but have never quite got it right. The first time we were trying to follow the coast to L'Escala but came in the wrong shoes (the hills have a seriously rough under foot terrain - anything other than good walking shoes is not recommended). There's also a good walk along the ridge top over L'Estartit. Previously we've also tried to get up in to the hills above the furthest point of the port, and now we've discovered the best access point is the road up behind Camping Estartit which makes the start of the journey much easier. Google Maps doesn't show the paths very well, but they are clearly marked with signposts and green-white flashes and easy to follow on L'Emporda en Detall walking maps.

Cala Foradada or Cap del Castell near Estartit with sea caves We normally park near the photographers' shop who always has a great set of local pictures, then walk down to the beach. The beach has a fine sand  and is gently sloping, but at the back are large areas used for parking. It rained overnight, so there are a few puddles, but out to sea the Isles Medes are the dominant feature. We explore the town a little - it's not somewhere we come to very often, and even at this late stage in the season there are still visitors from the UK and Netherlands about. After a skirt through the town we head out and follow the road in the direction of Camping Estartit and get the first of the walking signs. The route we're following connects to L'Escala/Montgo as well as the hidden Calas.

Beach at Cala Ferriol near Estartit Costa Brava The road runs past the campsite and continues up. To the right, above the campsite are some non-sea cliffs with a path running across the top through the woods (a good local route if you don't want to go fully onto the Montgri hills). Instead we continue with the road and it turns into a track with white painted rocks on either side - part of the access to Torre Ponsa. Our route then splits to the right rising steeply and we can see the grand Torre Ponsa buildings with Montgri Castle behind it. At the head of the road the terrain changes to the more typical Montgri terrain of rough stone underfoot and small shrubs dotted with alzines. At the crossroad, the paths are clearly marked with good signs and we take the route to Cala Pedrosa and Cala Ferriol along a stony track.

The path is clear and easy to follow (we pass a couple of mountain bikers coming the other way), then the path to Cala Pedrosa turns off to the left and becomes a little narrower with more stone. The terrain of the Montgri hills has a tendency to get harsh underfoot. It's a bit like walking over the remnants of a collapsed dry stone wall all the time with stones and rocks pointing up at odd angles making the path very uneven. Our path runs down through the woods and then along a dry river bed and we reach Cala Pedrosa (the stony bay). It's a pebble beach, with access to a channel of sea water. The whole beach/channel is about 10m wide at the widest  Very natural, very stony and fine for skimming stones across the water, but not much else.

View to Montgri hills from GR92 near Estartit The path now climbs out of the bay and up to the top. After an easy climb we reach a viewing point and can look back towards Cala Pedrosa and the Island of Pedrosa (also very stony), and in front of us we can see the remarkable cliffs and headland of Roca Foradada/Cap del Castell which juts out into the sea with sea cave and sea tunnels at the bottom and behind in the distance we can see Roses and Cap de Creus. The cliffs along the coast are high and vertical, and thankfully the path steers around the back.

Now as we're walking we run into a couple of other families with children younger than ours, properly shoe'd up for the rough ground. It feels like we're in the middle of nowhere surrounded by low shrub with no buildings or other access around so it comes as a slight surprise.

View over Estartit and down to Pals and Begur We reach the top of the hill and our children cop out of the next stretch down to Cala Ferriol to avoid another climb out of a bay. We continue though and walk down along a broad but stonily-uneven track to get to Cala Ferriol another pebble beach but broader that Cala Pedrosa. There are a couple of small islets in the bay and a huge cliff above. Among the natural scenery, it looks like humans have created a space for fires in among the rocks.

On the map there's a second path out of the bay and back to the top, but we have to go back the same way we came. We walk past the families we saw earlier coming down. At the top we follow the flattish path in the direction of L'Escala (still well signposted), and then follow a flat track GR92 back towards Torroella and L'Estartit. We can't see the sea, but to the right as we go south are views towards Montgri and out to Bellecaire d'Emporda and the Pyrenees beyond. The GR92 bears off to the right, but we continue straight on the path to the crossroads where we took the route to Cala Pedrosa. We carry straight on and get to the heights above L'Escala, continuing along the top until we find a route down and back into town.

Neighbouring walks: Torroella de Montgri to Gola de Ter - Sobrestany, Montgri and Bellcaire d'Emporda - Torroella de Montgri castle - L'Escala Riells to sea cliffs and viewpoint of Montgo - Montgri Massif from Les Dunes L'Estartit

Swimming at: L'Estartit

Walking route from Estartit to Cala Pedrosa and Cala Ferriol on the Costa Brava

Swimming and beach at Sa Riera (Begur)
15 Sep 2013

Beach at Sa Riera Begur Costa Brava Sa Riera is the largest of the three Begur beaches (Sa Tuna and Fornells/Platja Fondo/Aiguablava being the others) and the closest directly to the Begur town itself, though it is still 2-3km downhill.

The beach is situated in a small older village directly around the beach surrounded by hills with select luxury villas.

The village area has a handful of restaurants, a couple of shops and a small supermarket all of which are open during summer, but normally closed out of season. It's picturesque with views, but feels a little more touristy than Sa Tuna or Aiguablava.

The beach is large and sandy at the base of the stream that runs down from Begur, with space for fishing boats to the right-hand side with boats on the beach and in the water.

It is framed by rocky cliffs to the left looking out to sea with a path that runs over the top to Platja de la Isla Roja and Platja de Pals. On the right is a smaller second beach and a small rocky headland with a villa on it.

The beach is north facing and looks directly towards the Isles Medes. If there is a south wind blowing, Sa Riera is protected and remains perfectly calm for swimming.

At the back the road comes down from Begur on a windy road that becomes a relatively narrow valley with low-rise holiday apartment blocks as you come into the main Sa Riera village and the number of villas mean the area is very popular for villa and apartment rentals, but it is typically closed up during the winter.

Facilities at the beaches

Being relatively large and popular there is canoe hire, lifeguards and a diving school at the beach. As mentioned, in the village area are a few seasonal restaurants.

The swimming area is marked off by buoys far into the bay and in fact the buoys are situated so that the swimming area extends right around the cliffs to the beaches of Platja de la Isla Rojo and Platja de Pals.

Sand quality

The sand is coarse to grainy and a little grey and dusty and not really good for sandcastles. it's also a big beach so there is a lot of sand to cross in order to get to the water.

Boats on the sand at Sa Riera Begur Swimming

Swimming is best towards the left hand rocks. The main bay area is mostly a sandy bottom with little to see, though with the buoy positions, it's possible to swim out a long way.

The rockier left hand side and more of interest in the water and for long distance swimmers it's relatively easy to swim around the cusp of the bay into the next beach and beyond.


Parking is mostly along the entrance and exits roads with a charge in season for the parking closest to the beach. We were swimming just out of season (mid-September) and there were no problems parking. In season, it will be busy which will mean parking a little further away and walking down to the beach.


The path over the cliffs connects to Platja de Pals and there is a route up along the stream back to Begur. See Masos de Pals, Begur, Sa Riera and Platja de Pals

Next beaches

South to Sa Tuna (Begur) - North to Platja de Pals/ Isla Roja

Via Catalan and the Diada
12 Sep 2013

Estrellada Catalan Independence flag at Fornells near Girona for the Diada September 11th is the Catalan National day known as the Diada. Though a national day, it is more a day of commemoration, rememberance and politics than a day of celebration. The date is the anniversary of the fall of Barcelona, and so Catalonia, to the Bourbon Spanish in 1714 at the end of the War of Spanish Succession. Next year will be the 300th anniversay and in recent times the day has been marked by a great outpouring of hope and wishes for Catalan independence. Last year more than a million people were out on the streets of Barcelona. This year was marked by a linking of hand in a human chain that stretched 400km from Le Perthus in the north to the southern border with Communitat de Valencia in the South. (The photos are from the Via Catalan at Fornells, just south of Girona).

As with most people arriving in Spain, when we arrived  several years ago, we weren't particularly aware of Catalan nationalism. We would have known more about the demands for Basque Country independence. If you don't know the history it can seem strange that the national day commemorates the takeover of Catalonia by Spain. Surely Catalonia was always Spanish?

The history of Catalonia is long, confusing and vanishes in parts. In many ways it is like a romantic tragedy with a people yearning for self-determination only to see it snatched away at the last instant each time. The history is also confusing, because Catalonia hasn't really been independent in its history. It has always been intertwined with Spain in one way or another.

The modern independence movement and Catalan history as taught in schools idealises the great flowering of Catalonia between its formation in around 700 as a march (a semi-autonomous border territory) between the Franks and Moors of Spain, and its high point in the middle of the fourteenth century when Catalans controlled territories across the Mediterranean all the way to Athens.

Diada 2013 long human chain along the closed N II road calling for Catalan Independence However, as modern Spain grew out of the amalgamation of the Spanish kingdoms and principalities via the unions by marriage of the various kings and queens, Catalonia slowly became marginalised, though it maintained its own governance and laws as the kingdoms within Spain kept to a loose federal structure. For instance, Catalonia had its own parliament from 1057 - the oldest in Europe and 200 years early than England and kings had to present themselves to the Catalans to be legitimised.

As the kingdoms coallesced in the thirteenth and fourteenth century's, Catalonia's rulling family married into the kingdom of Aragon and became the kings of a united Aragon (Aragon was a kingdom, with Catalonia was a collection of Duchy's and the principality of Girona). The empire claimed for Catalonia is more properly the Aragon empire. Around the end of the fourteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth century, Catalonia started to struggle and began to lose influence. The black death decimated the population and the crown and court started to become entwined with the larger neighbouring kingdom of Castille. Catalonia went through an economic crisis followed by a civil war (1462-1472) which vastly diminished Catalonia's political power and allowed the burgeoning French kingdom to interfere both wooing and betraying different Catalan interests.

The result was that though Spain discovered America in 1492 with the consequent riches the Spanish empire brought, the rights to trade in America were restricted to the Castillans who only licensed trade ships from Cadiz and the ports in the north. Spain was growing rich, but for Catalonia it was a time of hardship and kowtowing to the dominant Castillans  (known as La Decadencia and skipped over in much of Catalan history). And while Spanish Galleons were reaping their bounty in the Americas, the Catalan coast was being raided by Barbary Pirates - more strictly Corsairs agents of and supported by the Ottoman empire out of Constantinople the dominant force in the Mediterranean.

The Spanish empire continued to flourish through marriage leading to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V becoming Carles I of Spain (1516) bringing his northern European dominions in the Low Countries into the Spanish fold so countries like the Netherlands became a Spanish territory for instance. Spain was the first worldwide empire on which the 'sun never sets', but Catalonia was still just a marginal outpost. And then the military expense of wars and battles to stave off revolts in this grand empire hit, and the empire started to disintegrate with revolts in the Netherlands and conflict with Britain and France..

Catalonia had only a marginal part in a Spain dominated by the Castillians and felt it was suffering indignities at the hands of the Spanish army leading to another uprising (the Reapers War or Catalan Revolt in 1640-52). This led to a self-proclaimed short-lived Catalan Republic in the year of 1641 under French protection. However, the French were playing their own game and in 1652 took Catalonia North, formally coming to an agreement with the Spanish in the Treaty of the Pyrenees of 1659.

The Spanish conflict with France re-emerged in the Netherlands and Germany leading Spain to look to strengthen its borders. But it did so imposing taxes on Catalonia for fortification and soldiers (which is why there are the great fortresses and ciutadellas on the French and Spanish side of the border) leading to the revolt of the Barretinas.

Stymied, broken and betrayed between the politics of the great powers of Spain and France, Catalonia had a chance for revenge in the Spanish War of Succession - a grand European struggle played out across the continent between the house of Bourbon (the French kings) and the house of Hapsburgs (of Austria and the Holy Roman Empire). The lack of an heir to Charles II of Spain who was also the Holy Roman Emperor meant Spain was caught between the two major families of Europe leading to a long and very complicated war that involved most of Europe. The British played for their own interests supporting the Hasburgs and taking possession of Menorca at one point, and eventually getting Gibraltar to accept the Bourbon king. Marlborough House outside Oxford is the direct result of the successes of the Duke of Marlborough in this war, though his part was played out in Spanish Netherlands and Germany.

Diada 2013 human chain to Girona At the time of the war, despite the ups and downs in Spain's fortunes, Spain remained broadly federalised as it had since the middle ages. So when the time came to choose, the Catalans remembering the way they had been used by the French and still against the Castillians, chose to side with the Hapsburgs. Much of the rest of Spain was pro-Bourbon for Philip V a grandson of Louis XIV of France. As had happened before, Catalonia was on the wrong side and was squeezed by the power politics of its grand European neighbours. In 1714 on September 11th, the Bourbon Spanish under the control of Duke of Berwick (taking French colours - his uncle the Duke of Marlborough fought for the British-supported Hapsburgs) broke the seige of Barcelona and Catalonia was taken over by the Spanish. Not in the federated way of the past, but in a crushing takeover in an imperial style like Louis XIV had done France, centralising control and stripping away local customs and laws.  Catalan institutions were closed and central Spanish control put in their place. Catalan was discouraged and Castillan Spanish promoted. Basically Catalonia was subjected to the new Spanish King's will. This is the reason for the Diada.

In the eighteenth century, across the rest of Europe great figures of the Enlightenment emerged but as with the period of La Decadencia, Catalan history disappears, subjugated by Spanish influence. Not until the 19th Century did Catalonia find its voice again during the Reneixement - a flowering of Catalan national hopes and increasing interest in the older medieval history of Catalonia.

By the start of the 20th Century Catalonia blossomed as the centre of modernism and the roots of modern art and an economic engine for Spain. And in the 1930s under the Spanish Republic, Catalans thought they could at last be independent. Hopes that were dashed by the civil war victory of Franco and his overbearing dictatorship. Catalans fled. Catalan was banned and Catalan politicians were shot. Within living memory are indviduals forced to learn in Spanish at school. And others who worked subversively to teach Catalan and keep Catalonia alive as an idea during Franco's reign.

With the return of democracy the old ideas and dreams have returned, and Catalonia seeks its chance once more. This is why 1.6m people came onto the streets to call for Catalan independence this year.

La Jonquera to Fort de Bellegarde (France)
09 Sep 2013

Walking route from La Jonquera Spain to Fort de Bellegarde France La Jonquera is a border town just below the main pass in the Pyrenees that separates France from Spain. This pass has been used for thousands of years by peoples moving between the Iberican Penisular and mainland Europe. The Roman's came this way and built the historic Via Augusta road that runs all the way through Spain down to Cadiz and links with the Via Domitia on the French side of the border.

La Jonquera historic centre

With such a long history and with such strategic importance, both sides have built castles and forts to defend the border. As you drive along the modern autoroute if you look up, you'll see Fort Bellegarde - a Vauban chateau fort built in the 1690s after France annexed Catalonia North.

The road itself was also important as it was the main route out of Spain for tens of thousands of Republican refugees fleeing Spain at the end of the Spanish Civil war. La Jonquera has the museum of exile which states that at one point La Jonquera had around 500,000 people in the town looking to flee into France.

Col de Penissars tower above El Perthus - La Jonquera

Nowadays, La Jonquera is a brash shopping area for day-trippers from France coming to stock up on perfume, wine and cigarettes at the Spanish lower tax rates, and as a truck holding stop with artic lorries from across Europe parked up to avoid the French restrictions on when truckers can be on the road. As you drive past it's not obvious that there is an older town hidden behind all the gaudy supermarkets, advertising and petrol stations.

The idea for the walk was from our children who were thrilled with the idea of walking to France (and we did take passports just in case). Despite being a Sunday, La Jonquera was busy with cross-border tourists out for a bargain and it was the Festa Major in town, so we had some difficulties parking. We eventually found space on the south side of the town, which meant we could walk through the centre to see more of the town on our way north.

Col de Penissar Roman ruins right on the border between Spain and France The Via Augusta route is one of those suggested on the website and we were looking out for yellow-blue marking. These, together with scallop shell symbols, mark the Route of Saint James (Camino de Santiago) which connects all the way to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Unfortunately where we started from we couldn't find the symbol, and the marked walking routes and maps in the town tended to be more circuitous routes into the hills longer that we planned.

So instead we followed our nose through town. The centre had decorations up for the festival and a line of ladies making lace with needles on cushions and dozens of bobbins linking threads to make the patterns. The centre is small but has older buildings and a church and is very pleasant for a stroll. We continued through the town past the numerous clothes and souvenir shops including a big pile of mexican sombreros - something which isn't really Spanish, let alone Catalan.

Eventually we started to come out of the town and it still wasn't clear where to go. Outside the customs house, the main road split to the main motorway or the N II - neither of which we wanted to walk along, and ahead of us was an large empty expanse of concrete that presumably would have been used to hold trucks before the border was opened under Schengen. We guessed and crossed the concrete and just the other side of the last town roundabout finally saw the first yellow-blue marking. The path itself didn't seem that well used with gorse and brambles growing across the track. However, after the first stretch we crossed the NII and under the motorway and started across the fields towards the hills.

Fort de Bellegarde from the outside The path now ran through fields with the motorway on one side and the new AVE high speed train line on the other. At the end of the fields the path joins a road that leads up to the service buildings for the new Pyrenees train tunnel into France. Our path continued up and over the top of the tunnel following a track that climbed steeply into the woods.

Last year (July 2012), a huge forest fire that burnt a stretch of woodland and forest nearly 40km long from the border back down almost to Figueres, and so much smoke that that it reached Barcelona. We drove past about a week after it happened and it looked like total devastation - with every tree seemingly caught by the fire and left as black leafless sticks as if nothing had survived. Now walking through the woods you see the resilience of the corks trees and the forests. The fire has cleaned out the undergrowth, but the woods are back to green as new plants have grown. And the cork-trees with their blackened bark are back in leaf. Foresters are clearing out the genuinely dead trees, but the thing with cork-bark is that it is a fire protection. Only the very outer part of the bark burns and as cork bark continues to grow from the inside out, slowly the damaged outer bark is rejuvinated by the bark underneath. It's the same principle that enables cork to be harvested by stripping the bark from the tree, without damaging the tree itself as the bark grows back.

Chapel inside Fort de Bellegarde We climb steadily past large boulders and rounded weathered rocks. Ahead of us we can see the fort, but also a strange tower-house which looks like it has a face. We carry on following the marked signs up to Col de Panissers and arrive at the ruins of the Roman fort built on the col. As we look around the fort and read the description of the ruins we're not entirely sure if we've crossed the border, but we discover that the pyramid just above the ruins marks the border so we can stand one foot in Spain and one foot in France. The sign on the ruins marks the change of road from Via Augusta into Spain to Via Dolmitia into France. To the north are great views down the Vallespir valley and onwards to the plains of Roussillon and the Corbieres mountains in the distance. Behind up we have a view that looks all the way to the Montgri hills.

Above us is the main fort that can be seen from the autoroute - Fort de Bellegarde so we walk up to the fort itself. The fort is one of the Vauban forts like that of Villefranche de Conflent and Mont-Louis further up in the Pyrenees - a large dominant fortification built after the annexation of Catalonia north in the seventeenth century with thick walls and remparts and few comforts. It stands above the main autoroute and we can look down at the crossing point with lorries passing over the now open border. The town beneath us is Le Perthus - distinguished by being half in France and half in Spain with the border running straight down the middle of the main road.

We take the chance to explore the fort a little. Many of the rooms are now used as galleries displaying paintings and sculpture but it still feels like an indomitable castle. In the tower on one corner is a deep deep well that was the main source of water. The height of the walls and the castle's position means there are fabulous views in all directions and down to the former border, but it is a harsh building with few comforts - perhaps in keeping with it's history as a prison used by the Gestapo in the Second World War.

Though we prefer circular walks, the route back to La Jonquera mostly takes us back the same route as we came up - a slight diversion around the military cemetary links to the same path down to the top of the AVE train tunnel with views along the tracks down towards Figueres. At the bottom of the path, rather than follow the overgrown route we had discovered with difficult, we take the Pyrenees 8 Bike path along the side of the railway and motorway which is more open and rural and follows a stream back under the railway and motorway and back into La Jonquera and the mad stream of cars and people bustling around the cross-border supermarkets.

Neighbouring trips: Day trip to Villefranche-de-Conflent and Mont-Louis in France - Espolla to Rabos - Perpignan  - Elne (France) - Ceret (France) - Mollo (Camprodon) Pyrenees to France - Figueres and Castell de Sant Ferran - Waterfall at Les Escaules (Boadella) - Sant Pere de Rodes - Portbou to Cerbère (France) and back - Castell de Requesens

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17 Feb 2014 19:46
What a great blog. I am planning a walking holiday in the region and wonder if you can recommend the best walking maps, like UK ordnance survey ones.

I shall be reading more of your walks over the coming days as we plan.

Many thanks
24 Feb 2014 17:25
Glad you're enjoying it. We have recommendations for maps in our 'Advice and FAQ' section
13 Jul 2017 12:46
Sorry I missed the comment, so I hope it's not too late - use the contact box if you'd like to send a message. For the coast, the GR92 is best and if you have driver you can just take it piece by piece. For hikers, around Cap de Creus is great, though it can be dry and hard walking in summer. For us, the stretch between Palamos and Palafrugell and on to Begur is the prettiest part of the whole Costa Brava and really good for walking. I'd probably also take the walk up and over Montgri, possibly starting at Pals, or L'Estartit to L'Escala. And though you said you prefer the coast, don't overlook inland routes as there are some wonderful villages and countryside out towards Girona, La Bisbal, or Olot.
Sven-Gunnar Furmark
24 May 2017 11:43

My name is Sven Furmark. I am from Sweden. I plan to go to Costa Brava with some friends (totally about 10 people) for hiking for one week (5 walking days). We are experienced hikers and we usually walk 4-6 hours per day. We prefer to walk along the coast as much as possible. We plan to rent a house and travel to each days hiking with a bus & driver which we plan to book for the whole week. Which five hikes would you recommend for us.

Warm Regards
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