La Garrotxa is a little region (“comarca”) located somewhere between the Pyrenees Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, in the province of Girona, Catalonia, Spain, Europe, planet Earth.
In the center of this region, there is a Natural Park called Garrotxa’s Volcanic Zone, which is a marvel from the geological and botanical points of view.
It is called “volcanic” because there are 40 volcanoes in it –all of them dormant- and lots of lava flows. As a matter of fact, it is one of the best-preserved volcanic zones of the continental Europe.
Taking into account that the park is big and that this post is little, I’ll cover here just a tiny fraction of the park’s extension. To be precise, we are driving the super-slow Covetotop’s car through the Gi-524 road, starting at the Romanesque church of Porqueres and finalizing at the outskirts of Olot village. That trip (roughly 30 Km or 18 miles) would take no more than 30 minutes non-stop. But we’ll stop. A lot. Romanesque churches, exuberant forests, medieval villages, monasteries lost in the mountains, dormant volcanoes … all of them deserve quite a few stops. So, my friend, don’t fly away to any other boring blog. Read this boring post just now. You won’t be disappointed.
Starting point: the Santa María de Porqueres church.
It is a Romanesque little jewel (12th century) located just in front of a lake (the Banyoles lake) in the middle of the countryside.
From the Santa María church we follow the Gi-524 road to Mieres.
This is the Gi-524 road:
This is Mieres:
When you arrive in Mieres, if you have some spare time, a strong stomach and a Hummer or any other kind of all-terrain vehicle (including mountain bikes), you can turn to the left, take an unpaved road and cross the Finestres Sierra (mountains). The Monastery (Priory) of Santa María de Finestres is perched here, in the middle of these mountains, since 947. Very deteriorated today:
At the end of this dirt road, at the other side of the Finestres Sierra, you’ll arrive to an old mini-village called Sant Aniol:
Apart from an interesting church, Sant Aniol has a forty-thousand years old spring. Sant Aniol’s mineral water emerges to the surface after a slow filtration process through volcanic rocks, which guarantees outstanding purity levels. If you have lunch at any restaurant in La Garrotxa, most probably you’ll drink this healthy water:
Ok. You don’t want to cross the Finestres Sierra just to drink a glass of volcanic water. Ok. I understand you. No problem. We are back to Mieres, driving through the beautiful Gi-524 road. Next stop: Santa Pau.
Santa Pau is a very charming medieval village surrounded by a dramatic landscape of forests, mountains and volcanoes:
Santa Pau and its surroundings are worth a relaxing walk … or a dozen …
Not far away from Santa Pau there is a very interesting volcano called “Croscat”. If you wanna visit it, we have to park the super-slow Covetotop’s car and walk for a while through this path:
In the pic below, you can see the Croscat Volcano. It is the youngest volcano of them all. Strombolian type. It suffered for years the extraction of volcanic material from its flank, which left an impressive cut:
The Croscat Volcano was restored in 1995 “with the aim of putting the deteriorated area back in order, minimizing the impact on the landscape, preventing erosion and guaranteeing public access for educational purposes” (Generalitat de Catalunya dixit):
In front of the Croscat Volcano (very roughly speaking) you´ll find the Santa Margarida Volcano. It is a mixed volcano, which had strombolian and freatomagnetic eruptive phases. After a hard and tiring hiking to the top of the volcano, there you’ll be surprised to find a medieval hermitage just at the cone’s center. The volcano is named Santa Margarida after this hermitage.
Facing both the Santa Margarida volcano and the Croscat Volcano, it is the wonderful “Fageda d’en Jordà” (a beech wood). This exceptional wood of beech trees is an exceptional wood of beech trees mainly because of the conjunction of three reasons:
– It has beech trees
– It grows on a flat terrain at a very low altitude (550 m)
– It grows on a lava flow, which was emitted by the Croscat Volcano
It is also very poetic. I dedicated to it a whole post and a half poem (see Covetotop’s evocative “The Fageda d’en Jordà”)
The amazing volcanoes of La Garrotxa not only expel lava. They expel creativity too, in the form of the so-called “Volcanic Cuisine”.
This is a rich and fertile soil, and local chefs are just as crazy and talented as chefs in the rest of the Girona province (More info about “volcanic cuisine” in their web page: www.cuinavolcanica.cat)
Just a word of advice: volcanic cuisine is delicious, but it is also very powerful, heavy, satiating … (for example: Santa Pau beans with botifarra, mushroom confit salad with truffle oil, shoulder of lamb with mountain herbs, duck with pears, pork feet with turnips on the beech yogurt mousse, the buckwheat porridge, buckwheat volcanet in the bowl and meat stew …)
Eat slowly, drink red wine and make a lot of exercise before and after having lunch or dinner if you do not want your stomach to undergo strombolian and freatomagnetic eruptive phases.
Sat at the table of one of my favorite restaurants in this unearthly area (“Restaurant Hostal dels Ossos”), very close to the forests and volcanoes pictured above, waiting for my scrambled Santa Pau beans, I type on my unfortunate Ipad with my dirty fingers (dirty of olive oil, fresh tomato and perhaps a little lava) the last few lines of this boring post …
La Garrotxa and its volcanic paradise are barely 50 km (31 miles) away from the Mediterranean Sea (Costa Brava). The vast majority of sun-bathing and disco-dancing tourists ignore its existence. Great.