The Garrotxa’s Volcanic Zone: Dark Ages and bright skies

Santa Pau La Garrotxa

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.

romanesque church Banyolas

It is a Romanesque little jewel (12th century) located just in front of a lake (the Banyoles lake) in the middle of the countryside.

Porqueres nave

Porqueres capital

Santa María de Porqueres 2

Santa María portal

From the Santa María church we follow the Gi-524 road to Mieres.

This is the Gi-524 road:

Gi 524 La Garrotxa

This is Mieres:

La Garrotxa village

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:

Finestres monastery

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:

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:

Sant Aniol aigua

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.

Towards Santa Pau

Santa Pau is a very charming medieval village surrounded by a dramatic landscape of forests, mountains and volcanoes:

Santa Pau, La Garrotxa

Santa Pau and its surroundings are worth a relaxing walk … or a dozen …

View from Santa Pau

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:

The way to Croscat Volcano

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:

Croscat 1

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):

Croscat 2

Croscat 3

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.

Santa Margarida Volcano

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”)

Fageda 12

The amazing volcanoes of La Garrotxa not only expel lava. They expel creativity too, in the form of the so-called “Volcanic Cuisine”.

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:

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 …

Restaurant Els Ossos 1

Els Ossos 2

Els Ossos 3

Santa Pau beans

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.


About Covetotop

A Mediterranean blogger
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22 Responses to The Garrotxa’s Volcanic Zone: Dark Ages and bright skies

  1. Trish says:

    Well, I won’t ignore its existence; I go where tourists don’t. I was amazed by two things in particular in your post: the hermitage in the volcano crater, and the art gallery in the restaurant. Or paintings on the walls that made it seem like an art gallery. Your region is rich in many ways.

    • Covetotop says:

      Thanks for your comment, Trish. I know you go where tourists don’t! The hermitage in the volcano crater is certainly a surprising place. The restaurant is old, and it has a huge collection of paintings -it is not an art gallery- Morever, there are some curious paintings/drafts by Xavier Cugat, an eccentric local (born in Girona, 1900) artist, musician, actor who worked in Hollywood with his orchestra (Esther Williams movies, etc)

  2. Stunning. Does the Camino de Santiago pass through any of those towns? I feel like I recognize some of them.

    • Covetotop says:

      Nooo! The Camino de Santiago doesn’t pass through them. I guess you are thinking about “Mieres”. There is an important village in Asturias (Northern Spain) named Mieres: this one is in the Northern Camino. The other one, the La Garrotxa’s Mieres is a very little village, far away from any Camino … Same name, different villages.

      • I was actually not thinking at all, because even Jaca is much farther west of La Garrotxa. An ignorant American mistake! I should be finishing the Camino de Santiago by the last week of October and then I have a flight from Barcelona on 9 November, so hopefully I can see some of this.

      • Covetotop says:

        No Natham, you were not “technically” wrong. There are quite a few Caminos de Santiago starting in different regions of Spain, and all of them join the main one (which you are following) in different points. I guessed you were thinking that the Catalan Mieres was the Asturian Mieres (in the Northern Camino). So, my guess about your question was wrong 😉

  3. And by that, I mean not because I walked through there, but because I saw their names on a map of the Camino.

  4. Another visual feast – excellent, relaxing travel, Covetotop!

  5. Wow, looks amazing! 🙂 Your posts a;ways really make me want to visit this region again some day.

  6. Lovely post about a lovely area.I was privilieged to visit it some years back.Must revisit!

  7. Santa María de Porqueres church is magnificent, Covetotop, thanks for the pictures. The capital is superb. Also, I am continually amazed at how well you write in English.

  8. harri8here says:

    I spent time here a couple of hundred years ago, i loved the volcanic landscape – which looks like broccoli from a hot air balloon, by the way. Stunning photographs, and that restaurant has set my tummy rumbling. Muchas Gracias 🙂

    • Covetotop says:

      🙂 Glad you visited this area in a hot air balloon a couple of hundred years ago. Basically, nothing has changed since then. The restaurant is new (it’s only thirty years old or something like that), but for some unfathomable reason, it lacks parking places for hot air balloons … (certainly this dramatic landscape attracts from time to time those flying artifacts)

      Muchas gracias a tí, intrépida Harriet! 🙂

  9. Seems it is a very interesting region. We should think about visiting it. Thank you.

  10. Lyon Leifer says:

    Dear Covetotop,

    I am savoring your wonderful blog as it seems one should: a little bit at a time. It is very rich with observation and humor but subtly brought into being, perhaps like the very intriguing volcanic cuisine you describe here. My wife and I did a very quick day out of Girona into the mountains and looking at Romanesque churches several years ago. I wish I’d known your blog by then. Oh well, I do hope to get back to Catalunya and see much more. Until then, your blog is the next best thing!

    • Covetotop says:

      Dear Mr. Leifer,

      I am flattered. Blogging is an entertaining task most of the times, but other times it can be hard for me (English is not my native language) and a little discouraging. Finding such a nice comment in my dashboard made it all worthwhile. Thank you very much. My blog will not get extinct like the volcanoes I feature on this post; at least in the near future. 🙂

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