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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:

Castell de Requesens (Cantallops)
06 Nov 2018

Requesens Castle from a distance The Castell de Requesens is an oddly remote, yet wonderful semi-preserved castle set in the hills of the Albera mountains that separate Spain and France just to the east of La Jonquera.

When I say 'oddly remote' it's because the castle itself is approximately 6km from the nearest village of Cantallops, along a dusty gravel track that wends its way through the hills and with no obvious routes or lands that such a strong castle would need to defend.

We had seen pictures and we knew of the castle because it had cropped up in some deep history of the Catalan counties, and their warring counts, so on a clear day we headed towards the French border and La Jonquera, before turning out of the large cut-price supermarkets that cater to the departing French, and up to the small village of Cantallops.

Castle of Requesens tower view Our aim had been to walk from Cantallops up as there should be a circular walk to the castle and then back down. However, though Baix Emporda was clear as a bell, as our drive crossed into Alt Emporda the wind was blowing fiercely from the direction of the newly snowcovered Pyrenees.

By the time we got to Cantallops there was a fierce crosswind channelling along the hills. Not wanting to waste the journey we decided to attempt to drive up, at least to see what the castle was like.

Requesens view across Emporda What we hadn't quite anticipated was the gravel track we'd need to take just after the exit of the village.

I'm not keen on untarmacked roads, particularly after having got stuck on Montgri a few years ago, and this was a typical one of those roads, pitted and potholed, narrowing at times and occasionally with an open drop to the side.

We didn't know it when we started, but it actually gets better further up. Our suspension got a work out as we made our way up, but we weren't the only ones on the route. This is a popular place to visit as we found when we got to the top.

The other part was that luckily we didn't meet anyone going up as we were early enough so all the traffic was in one direction.

This is a one way in and out road, so later in the day you would find vehicles coming from the other direction too.

Requesens walls from outside The road climbs for a 3-4 kilometres and then reaches a gate. The gate marks the start of the Requesens estate - a large area of hilly woodland. Just outside the gate a number of cars had parked up in the limited space available, but as we discovered, it was fine to go through the gate and to drive all the way to the top for either the castle or for the restaurant set just outside the castle.

We weren't sure if you really were permitted to drive on past the gate, and having the original plan of walking, it didn't seem too much of a hardship to walk the remaining couple of kilometres, so we parked up and walked, particularly since we were in the lee of the hills and so protected from the wind that we had seen further down.

Requesens inside the stables Our walk followed the gravel track, and we were passed by a regular drip of cars bumping along the track.

After the first corner we suddenly got the first glimpse of the castle standing on a hill surrounded by the hills. From a distance it looks like a very well-preserved large chateau-fort to use a French description of a traditional fortified castle, rather than one that is merely pretty.

As the track gets closer, there are signs of other buildings and a little bit more habitation - a monastery or convent in the mountain behind the castle, and old sawmills, and small fields nestle along a small stream at the bottom of the castle, with 10-20 of cars parked either for the castle or for the restaurant. All of which is quite a surprise for the apparent remoteness of the location.

The stream itself was another surprise - with water rushing down and a few small cascades through the rocks. For the height (the castle is at about 500m) and the comparative dryness of the area we wouldn't have expected to have such as strong water flow.

Requesens buildings The track crosses the stream and then heads up to the castle itself. As we approached the main entrance we had to pass a herd of cows scavaging what grass they could in amongst the woods - another oddity.

The castle itself has large outer walls in good repair. It was renovated or rebuilt at the end of the 19th century as a summer residence for the Counts of Peralada (the Rocaberti) before being converted into military barracks mid 20th Century. Though it is empty now and shows signs of deriliction, it is by no means a ruin.

From the gatehouse at the bottom the first impression is something of a wedding cake of buildings layered on top of each other. Each layer is linked with stairs and walk ways up to the upper tower at the top (the tower itself isn't accessible).

Much of the castle rooms are open and can be explored with the remains of kitchens and storerooms as well as living quarters with enormous views out across the Empordan plain towards the sea and the Mountains of Montgri to the south.

Requesens inner corridor And there's another surprise as water seems to flow down and through the castle - as if it's been built on an active spring, with water flowing down small channels on the walls and into holding ponds built beside the castle walls.

The cost to enter the castle is €4 per person, but it has the impression of an Enid Blyton type of castle of adventure, full of nooks and crannies and strange passageways linking rooms and courtyards in among the buildings.

The rooms themselves feel a little abandoned and times, and there are signs of the time of military occupation with a hospital's red cross above one door. However some of the interior parts are clearly still being renovated and the castle has a certain joie-de-vivre.

And we weren't the only visitors, with several families and younger children coming to explore, or taking the day out for the castle and Saturday lunch.

The walk back was a little bit one way, though we did follow the stream a little more rather than the road through the narrow meadows by the ruins of the sawmill. And we were passed by cars going down from this strangely remote yet well-visited castle.

Nearby: Lladó (between Figueres and Besalu) - Figueres and Castell de Sant Ferran - Waterfall at Les Escaules (Boadella) - Espolla to Rabos - La Jonquera to Fort de Bellegarde (France) - Sant Llorenç de la Muga - Sant Pere de Rodes Llança - Portbou to Cerbère (France)

Els Set Gorgs (Campdevanol)
27 Aug 2018

Els Set Gorgs number 1 In Catalan the word Gorg refers to a river pool, and these river pools are often found in rivers in the mountains at the base of waterwalls, or where rivers run through gorges.

Els Set Gorgs is a series of seven pools (Set = 7) with waterfalls on the Torrent de la Cabana or Torrent d'Estiula in the hills above Campdevanol, a town close to Ripoll (there are only five pictured here).

Over the last few years we've started to take a day out to the mountains to find some hikes possibly with some rivers and mountain pools where the walk can be combined with a little bit of swimming away from the tourists on the coast - such as Sadernes.

The 7 Gorgs themselves are well known in Catalan, but perhaps not so easily discovered in English (where they are sometimes called the route of the seven waterfalls), and are sufficiently popular that during the summer the local council charges €5 'ecotax' per person to access the valley, and limits the number of visitors to a maximum of 500. (If you're looking at reviews online, many of the low ratings are complaints about the fee to enter, rather than the place itself).

The thought of an entry fee did put us off at one point, as we felt it could be over commercialsed. However, in practice the valley really is natural, and like the charge to walk the Cinque Terre route in Italy, it is clearly a charge designed to protect a very beautiful area from being spoilt by too many people.

Els Set Gorgs number 2 The drive to Campdevanol and Ripoll took slightly under 2 hours drive from the coast - about 120km (75 miles).

We don't have much in the way of maps for the area and though we found Campdevanol, we didn't quite find the right turning for the road. So instead we just parked in the town and walked finding directions at the station (which added a pleasant 3.5km to the walk along a stream).

As Campdevanol does have a station, it would be possible to catch the train up from Barcelona, then walk out to the gorgs.

If you're driving and find the way, there is car parking at the bottom of the gorg valley that you pay for (some say €10, some €3).

However, the walk out from Campdevanol was very clearly marked and followed a stream with crystal clear water up a broad valley into the hills. The path tracked the road, but apart from a short stretch walking was by the river or in the trees.

At Font de Querol we passed a large barbeque area by the river which was just starting to fill up (and was full when we came back). 

After the Font de Querol, there's about another kilometre to reach the valley of the gorgs itself.

Finally, we pass by an adventure park and their very long and high zip wire across the valley, before getting up to the ticket booth and entrance.

Els Set Gorgs 3 The number of picnickers was an indication that the area is popular, and because this was the last weekend of August, and we knew there was an entrance limit of 500, we were a little concerned as to whether the park would be too busy to get in. But it wasn't a problem, though the week had had some thunderstorms which had cooled the air a little which might have reduced the number of people wanting to visit.

As I said, we weren't so sure whether to go in, but having made the effort to get there, we decided to try it out - the answer is yes, it's definitely worth it.

The gorgs stretch out over about 3-4km, so although I doubt we had 500 people in the park when we visited, the people spread out over a larger area. 

Although some of the smaller gorgs get a little crowded. (Note that you can take dogs, but they need to be on a lead and others will have dogs in and around the pools).

Inside the park, the gorgs are clearly indicated and it was just a case of following the signs. However, the paths do cross the streams and there were large patches of mud in places, most probably from wet shoes from people who had been in the water.

You can get around with dry shoes, but it's much easier with water shoes, or shoes you don't mind being wet in - though you might need a dry set too for walking back.

Secondly, though the path is marked and well used, it is a narrow track in places, and in some situations, quite a scramble.

We saw plenty of younger children, but you also need shoes you can walk in comfortably - flipflops don't make sense here.

Els Set Gorgs number 6 The first gorg, at the bottom, is the most difficult to get to. The path descends through the trees to the waterfall at the bottom, and it's relatively steep and, because of the wet feet coming back up, has a quite slippy mud surface. To help get up and down there are ropes strung up, and you definitely need them.

Our second problem was that we entered at about the same time as 3-4 other small groups, which did mean that we were all on the path to the first gorg at the same time. This is a good reason for the people limit.

Though the scramble down was slightly challenging, the waterfall and gorg at the bottom was beautiful. Immediately all doubts about coming in to the park disappeared.

The pool is relatively small - the size of a large swimming pool, with a cascade of water. Around the edge was a little crowded and there was a stream that you could cross via rocks, or just wade through the water - it's a lot easier stepping into the stream.

Naturally we wanted to get in and try the water. So we did get in but lets say the water was 'refreshing'. Despite being the last week of August the water is very cool.

We actually swam in all the gorgs, but for each it was a quick plunge in to cool down and out again. Lovely to swim under the waterfalls, but not for very long. Other visitors were also pretty much quickly in and out too.

From the first gorg, after a scramble back to the main path, we carried on up the trail to each of the next gorgs. They are all different, all very natural, some larger and some smaller than then first one.

Being natural there are stones and rocks at the bottom of the pools, and the depths can be uneven. The largest pools were towards the top and invited swimming if you could manage with the temperature.

The smaller pools at the bottom weren't quite so deep, so though it was possible to jump from rocks into the water unless you've checked the depth beforehand, it's not advised. We did see some people jumping in Gorg 3.

Els Set Gorgs number 7 Generally the path goes up, but you have to divert to reach the gorgs themselves, often along a small side track.

We missed Gorg 5 at one point and doubled back along the river close to the water, but there isn't really any way of just tracking the river itself along the stream bed, so best to stick to the paths.

Each of the gorgs has a waterfall. The smallest were Gorg 3 and 5. At Gorg 1, the cascade is pretty broad and dramatic, while some of the higher Gorgs had longer but more narrow waterfalls. Each pool therefore had its own character.

The path continues up for about 3km following the stream and though you could walk it quickly, in practice while you're getting to the gorgs themselves, enjoying the water and taking photos, it can easily take 2-3 hours to work all the way to the top. Since it is a reasonable walk, quite hot in the sun, it is necessary to have water and sunscreen with you.

At the top just above the last waterfall is a small makeshift bar area with a meadow to relax. Then there is a broad gravel mountain track that takes you back down to the start point that runs along the hillside above the valley - about 30-40 minutes back to the bottom.

See also: Sadernes and river pools of St Aniol d'Aguja - Sant Esteve d'En Bas (Olot) - Olot - capital of Garrotxa - Mollo (Camprodon) - Pyrenees to France - Puigcerda and Bourg-Madame - Ribes de Freser and skiing at Vall de Nuria - Waterfall at Les Escaules (Boadella) - Swimming and visit to Panta de Sau

Swimming at Lake Banyoles
22 Aug 2018

Banyoles swimming area The largest freshwater lake in Catalonia is at Banyoles, just north of Girona. We've visited in the past for the walk around the lake, but not actually been to to the lake for swimming. This was a chance to try the water.

Swimming in the lake is only allowed in summer months in certain areas - two are paid for lido type closer to the town - at the bar of Banys Vells, or the Club Natacio. The third area is open to the public, at Caseta de Fuster towards the north of the lake past the sport complex, which is where we visited.

Outside of swimming, the lake itself is mostly used for rowing. There is however, also a 'cruise' boat that does circuits of the lake for tourists and I believe there is also an annual open water swim organised on the lake for more competitive swimmers.

Caseta de Fuster is found just to the north of the sports complex/ prehistoric village. The sports area includes the sports hall itself, areas for walking, picnicking and flat flood meadows that are dry in summer. Lots of families had come for picnics when we visited enjoying the ambience and being close to fresh water. There were also a good mix of Catalan and non-Catalans enjoying the summer sun, with the surprise of seeing a rough game of cricket being played by some Indian families on one of the flat fields (you can find cricket in the unlikeliest of places in Catalonia - almost always played by Indian or Pakistani community - we saw it an empty supermarket car park in Badalona at one time).

There's a short stroll needed along the path to get to Caseta de Fuster along the path. It's difficult to miss because there were plenty of people with towels and inflatables going the same way.

The area itself consists of a relatively small green grass meadow/lido area, and then the swimming area marked out into the lake by a string of yellow floats. It's not a very large swimming area and the green was also pretty crowded with people and towels on the grass. For swimming, you would be able to swim lengths, but the yellow buoys don't extend very far into the lake itself with a result that the waterside area could feel a little cramped compared to say the sea, and the whole area is monitored by two lifeguards.

The water itself was fresh and relatively clear. We were able to see the lake bottom about 2-3 metres down, and it was relatively deep . However, there was little in the way of 'beach' and the water was deep quickly, stepping off rocks from the edge straight up to the middle. And in the area to the right, the water was deep enough close to the edge, that people were jumping from the side into the water.

We didn't swim too much - a length or two up and down along by the floats. It was more for splashing about than just swimming - and a little crowded closer to the water's edge itself. For a change from the sea at the Costa Brava, it was different and definitely worth doing once - particularly for the fresh water - but having swum in a few lakes outside Spain this year, it might feel a little too contained for someone looking for the joys of real wild swimming.

See also: Banyoles lakeside walk - Serinya and Illa del Fluvia - Sadernes and river pools of St Aniol d'Aguja - Platja d'Espolla to Coves de Serinya (Banyoles) - Visit to Besalu and Banyoles

Swimming and beaches at L'Escala
22 Aug 2018

L'Escala is an old fishing town, famous for its anchovies, with a modern residential area of holiday homes and villas that extends out towards the base of Montgri to the south, with a coastline that extends up to the ruins of Empuries to the north.

In the last few years, much of the sea front of the main old town has been renovated with plazas and piazzas and renewed town beaches and lots and lots of restaurants, together with increased pedestrianisation making for a very pleasant setting.

In practice there are two main beach areas for L'Escala town - those by the town which consist of 2-3 small pebble beaches (depending on how you count them) plus a grit-type sandy central beach. And secondly, the beach to Riells which is much larger with finer sand.

We've also covered the beaches just outside town, up around Empuries and Sant Marti d'Empuries, and we've also covered the beach at Cala Montgo, so this is the chance to fill the gap.

If you are on holiday here then, there are quite a number of options for different beach areas.

Escala main town beach

The town beaches

The town beaches consist of small calas.

If you're coming from the Empuries direction you'll see one or two (depending on how you count them) small undeveloped pebble beaches that sit under the cliff with fishing boats that attract a handful of snorklers, then comes the main refurbished town beach, and then, past the headland, a further small pebble beach.

The main town beach looks out to an island in the bay, which is within easy swimming distance.

We swam in the sandy town beach for this visit. As everything is relatively newly done, the sand still feels like the reclaimed sand, which then runs into the bay itself, so it doesn't feel completely natural, though further out the bay itself becomes more rocky.

The beach shelves gently, and actually the whole of the bay is relatively shallow - though still deep enough so as not to be able to touch the bottom.

Escala second town beach In summer they have a swimming platform in the bay which attracts lots of children. And in principle, with older children, it would be possible to sit in one of the very many bars and restaurants at the back of the beach, while watching your children on the beach and in the water.

Being a town beach, it does have lifeguards.

Sand quality

The sand is gritty. The pebble beaches don't have sand.


The water was very clear for our visit, but felt shallow. It's easily possible to swim along the bays, but the depth is low in places.

Alternatively to swim to the island, but for longer swims you'd probably go more to Montgo or Empuries area.

Escala pebble beach Parking

There are dedicated parking area for the town beaches as you come into town from the Empuries direction, plus some supermarkets where it might be possible to park if everything else is too busy.


Riells beach

Escala Riells beach Riells beach is the largest beach in L'Escala approximately 2km from the old town seafront on an easy stroll along the bay. Because of the fine sand, it tends to attract a lot of families and feels much more touristy.

At the back of the beach is a boardwalk/esplanade with a range of souvenir shops plus bars and restaurants, and a number of the restaurants have terraces over the beach itself.

To one end is a small amusement park. Unlike the centre of town it feels much more seasonal (and out of season, the sand drifts onto the boardwalk) and has a slightly tacky feel - though better class bars have been appearing more recently.

We haven't swum here yet, but the bay looks gently sloping, and we have seen jet-skiers coming out of the port to the right of the beach.

Walking and exploring

Empuries and Montgo have areas to explore. L'Escala itself, in the middle, is white holiday homes and residential and not particularly exciting for exploring on foot away from the old town.

Nearby walks: Escala, St Marti d'Empuries and beyond L'Escala Riells to sea cliffs and viewpoint of Montgo - Empuries Greek and Roman remains - Sant Pere Pescador river Fluvia

Next beaches: North to Sant Marti d'Empuries, South to Cala Montgo (L'Escala)


Swimming and beach at Fenals, Lloret de Mar
11 Jul 2018

Lloret de Mar Fenals Beach to South Lloret de Mar is known as the party town of the Costa Brava, and is very popular with young people looking for holidays with bars and rowdy clubs in the centre of town.

Lloret de Mar's ajuntament - town council - is trying to mollify the more anti-social elements, but for this reason, some people coming to the Costa Brava try to steer clear of Lloret.

However, as a town, though it is filled with hotels and apartment blocks with a strong tourist focus, it isn't a high rise town, and the beaches, calas and general geographic setting are very pleasant.

If you keep away from the 18-30 crowd, you'd find it is popular with families not just from northern Europe and Russia, but also with the Spanish themselves.

Lloret's main town beach is right in front of the town and is a big broad beach backed by bars and burger joints. However, we're visiting the neighbouring Fenals beach to the south, which is quieter with a better setting, as a large bay with rocks at both ends, and views down to Blanes, and backed by reasonably spaced out hotels and apartments which don't feel crowded.

The reason for the trip is a birthday treat to use some of the water sports facilities - banana boat, parasailing etc that operate from the beach, but also to enjoy the water and try out the location.

Because this is Lloret, this a beach that does get busy with a lot of visitors - it's not a secluded undiscovered bay, and it is a relatively long beach - for this visit we stayed to the lefthand half.

Despite the number of visitors on our trip the water was amazingly clear and transparent - as clean as anywhere we've visited, and out to the rocks on the left-hand side, the water attracts fish and cormorants who preen themselves on the rocks right next to sunbathing tourists.

Lloret de Mar Fenals beach to north The sand is gritty, similar to other Costa Brava main beaches such as Tossa or Platja d'Aro, though the 'sand' isn't harsh under foot.

Entering the water, the bay shelves quickly, so you're quickly out of your depth. However, as said the water was lovely on our visit and it was very satisfying to make a long swim.

Behind the beach are tourist town type facilities - shops selling beachwear and inflatables and bars and restaurants.

Unlike most other parts of the Costa Brava, Lloret is about the last town remaining where you will find British pubs and bars among the range of eateries on offer. However, it's possible to enjoy the beach without getting swept into the tourism thing.

Parking nearby is difficult - all the parking was taken in the streets closest to the beach, so we parked out a little way and walked in.

Facilities at the beach

This is a major beach with lifeguards. There are also water sports operators for motorised 'fun' sports being towed by a speed boat operating on the beach itself.

One area of the beach is used by the Dofijet boat service that connects the beaches between Tossa de Mar and Malgrat de Mar on a shuttle service - swimming is out of bounds in this area, and enforced by the lifeguards.

Behind the beach are the facilities of a tourist town, but most a little way in, so the promenade at the back of the beach retains its charm.

Sand quality

The sand is gritty but smooth, so not great for sandcastles, but not a problem underfoot.


On our visit, the water was very very clear and invited swimming. Being a big bay, long swims along the bay are possible, and because it gets deep relatively quickly, it gets more busy close to the shore, than out in the better areas for swimming.

For snorkelling, the rocks to the left had shoals of fish and areas to explore.


We found parking difficult, with spaces close to the beach and the neighbouring streets already full when we arrived.

Parking a little way off the sea is fine if you're prepared to walk.

Walking and exploring

The beach is on the GR92 (part of our Blanes to Tossa de Mar walk). The path runs around the rocky Cala Banys before getting to the main town beach to the north.

To the south, the paths head to the gardens of Coltilde, and the (naturist) beach of Boadella and down to Santa Cristina. The hills at the back of Lloret have a lot of estates will holiday houses and villas, and is an area we haven't explored much.

Next beaches

North to Lloret de Mar main beach - South to Lloret's Platja de Boadella, Platja de Santa Cristina



Festa de Sant Joan
28 Jun 2018

The Festival of Saint John (Festa de Sant Joan) is one of the major festivals of Catalonia celebrating not just the religious day, but also marking the start of summer and the end of school, as well as being close to the Summer Solstice. It is also one of the noisiest and loudest festivals because it's traditional celebrated by letting off bangers - and the louder the better. Many people head to the beach for all nighters to drink, to set off fireworks, and to wait for the sun to come up.

For us, it's too noisy. Stalls selling fireworks open up for about a week before the night and slowly, during the build up to the day itself, we get more and more bangs. Until the day and night itself, where the bangs continue through the night. We used to live in Barcelona, and it was a night that was impossible to sleep.

Now being on the Costa Brava, things are quieter comparatively - partly because the economic crisis reduced sales, but also because fireworks are banned from wooded area for the risk of fire. However, there is still enough noise to scare our dog, and so we tend to take a short break into France to get away from the bangs. Most of which is just noise, and not the colourful flash and sparkles of prettier fireworks.

For the Costa Brava, Festa de Sant Joan is also the start of the Festa Major for Palamos (Sant Joan being the saint of Palamos). Festa Majors happen up and down the coast through the summer. Though they sometimes look as if they are tourist promotions, actually they are very much local affairs for local inhabitants with long historical traditions usually including a procession of Giants or Cap Grossa (big heads) that represent the town.

During the day things are quieter, but often with events for children, or something cultural or sporting on. This year Palamos is commemorating the 475th anniversary of the 1543 attack and sacking of Palamos by the Ottoman Admiral/Pirate Barbarossa and his fleet of 20 galleys.

The main events start in the evenings and are known as 'barraques' with music from local Catalan bands and partying into the night with neighbours and friends, usually starting quite late - about 11pm and running into the night.

Palamos's festival ends with a major firework display on the main beach running up to midnight. This time proper fireworks that light up the sky and are visible from a wide area.

View from Quermany (Pals)
30 Mar 2018

We're in that lovely transition from winter to spring, with snow still on the mountains, but more sun and blue skies and everything green or in flower. This is the view from the 'mountain' of Quermany (it's only 277m high) between Regencos and Pals, a bit of a hidden surprise as to just how good the views are. Pals is in the foreground. Behind is Peratallada and in the distance are the snow capped mountains of the Pyrenees. We walked it here: Regencos to Pals via Quermany Gros and Petit

View from Quermany to Pals and Peratallada


Puigcerda and Bourg-Madame
12 Feb 2018

Puigcerda view to mountains Puigcerda is the main Catalan town in the Pyrenees, on the border with France practically joined to Bourg Madame on the French side of the border. Being February, the Pyrenees are covered with snow with conditions perfect for skiing, so we caught the train to Puigcerda from Vic, and while the children got off for the slopes of La Molina and Masella, we stayed on the train for an explore of the snowy Puigcerda.

in fact, one of the joys of the Costa Brava is the variety of landscapes and locations in such a small area and the ease of making connections. Seven days ago we were exploring a new bay at the coast in Blanes, then we went cross-country for a volcano near Girona, and then the day after we're in the snow and mountains mixing with skiers  and snowboarders.

Our journey did start early however, as we wanted to connect to the Barcelona train at Vic and to give the children a full day, so we left at 6.15 and headed past Montseny on the C21 for the train at Vic at 08.16. We took the train because our car isn't really set up for winter driving, so we didn't want to drive up into the mountains themselves for the risk of getting caught in the snow. And secondly, because there are combination train and ski tickets that include a ski-pass with the rail-ticket. And thirdly, just for the train ride into the snowy mountains.

Puigcerda centre In fact, this combination ticket (Ski-Tren) is available from all stations out of Barcelona, as the train we were catching comes from BCN Sants, through Granollers, then up to Vic, to Ribes de Freser where is connects to Val de Nuria, or on to the much larger ski area around La Molina.

In practice, our journey from the Costa Brava to Vic took around 90 minutes, so we could have left a little later - even though we didn't hurry, it's a fast route. There weren't too many people catching the train from Vic itself, and we did have other options - for instance to join it later at Manlleu or further up to Ripoll, but for the trade-off of driving over train Vic seemed a good compromise.

The train itself is slow and steady. It definitely doesn't feel express. Journey time should have taken about 90 minutes to La Molina, and then another 20 minutes on to Puigcerda, but we had a 30 minute delay in Planoles as we had to wait for another train to come down.

Puigcerda tower The delay in Planoles was fun though, as the station was full of snow (about 60-70cm) and they opened the doors so children on the train could go out to play and South American tourists went out to take selfies.

The journey does feel like it goes slowly though, but you have the joy of climbing up into the snow, so that from Ripoll we had a rough covering of the ground. Then by Ribes de Freser depths were more like 10-20cm, until La Molina where passengers were warned about the depth of the snow as there was about 60-80cm on the platform with cars with quiffs of snow on their roofs.

The reason for the slow journey is that the route is single track so the trains coming down can only pass those going up at specific stations. The single track route then passing through narrow tunnels or along narrow embankments about the valley.

Puigcerda icicles on shop Having let the children off at La Molina (they were heading back to Barcelona to stay over at the end of the day - last trains back at either 17.17, 17.57 or 19.24), we continued on to Puigcerda, the capital of Cerdanya.

The train comes out of the mountains, down past Alp, and then onto the plain. Cerdanya has a large plain that is surrounded by mountains, and in the distance Puigcerda sits on a hill that rises above the plain. The landscape was all covered snow, with horses in the fields seeking shelter in the hay stalls, or standing looking cold in the fields.

The station in Puigcerda is at the level of the plain and to get into the town means a climb. After jumping in the snow for fun, the first thing we noticed was the huge icicles on the buildings. Naturally, this is all chilly weather, so we were prepared with proper boots, gloves, scarfs and winter clothes. It would be easy to forget this is proper winter weather if you've come from a mild warm coast. However, the roads and steps up were clear of snow and it was relatively easy to walk up into town, and in places there are lifts/elevators too.

Puigcerda swan on lake The town has a criss-cross of streets with a good selection of shops as it's the main shopping centre for the area. The position on the hill gives great views and we could see the chair lifts back at the ski resorts on the mountains opposite in the distance. The main monument in the town is a church tower in one of the squares, where only the tower remains, the remaining building seems to have been destroyed. A second church also exists and stalls were out for a market with produce from the area.

We explored around the edge of the town and found the lake and park. The lake was completely frozen apart from a small patch which was full of ducks, geese and swans. The ice was covered with snow, but it was strictly no going on the ice.

From the park we headed to France. We actually tried to follow the roadsigns and found ourselves having to walk on the road as the snow was too deep on the footpath, so this wasn't too nice, but eventually we found the crossing point. You see the customs point first, then walk along the road and over the bridge and suddenly you're in France and Bourg-Madame. The language changes, the signs change and that quickly, you're in somewhere that feels like a different country, with the oddity of seeing a cafe selling huitres (oysters), a dish that is classic in Roussillion but that we never see in Spain.

Puigcerda Spanish border Bourg-Madame is not large but has a supermarket and a small collection of shops (closed on a Sunday). It also has a station for the Little Yellow Train (Train Jaune) that links down to Perpignan on the French side. In fact, the train to Puigcerda continues to La Tour Carol (La Torre de Querol in Catalan) which is also the end point for the Little Yellow Train. We went to the station, but there weren't many connections for winter - the train is quite a tourist attraction in the summer.

Bourg-Madame marie Returning to the town we took a coffee in one of the many cafes and just browsed around the shops. For those who come up for skiing, Puigcerda can be a good base as it feels quite lively. The one time we stayed in La Molina (in summer and a while ago admittedly), it felt like it lacked a few amenities that you might expect for a mountain village, though this could have improved by now.

And then the train back. We didn't wait for the ski train, but came back mid afternoon, nonetheless it still was getting quite busy.

Puigcerda view from train

See also: Ribes de Freser and skiing at Vall de Nuria - Andorra La Vella - Mollo (Camprodon) - Pyrenees to France - Visit to Setcases - Villefranche-de-Conflent and Mont-Louis (France) - Olot - capital of Garrotxa


Volca de la Crosa - Sant Dalmai (Girona Airport)
12 Feb 2018

View across the old volcano crater at Volca de la Crosa The area around Girona, particularly La Garrotxa and Olot, is famous for extinct volcanoes and these extend south from Girona too, around the airport. In fact, if you're in Girona airport and look out to the surrounding countryside, you'd easily spot the classic tall, flat-topped mountains that in former times (millions of years ago), would have been active volcanoes.

The largest extinct volcano on the Spanish mainland is the Volca de la Crosa which is just a few kilometres from the airport itself between the villages of Aiguaviva, Salitja and Sant Dalmai. However, this isn't one you'd see easily, as the walls of the old caldera are relatively low rising no more than 30-40m above the plain with woods now on the sides.

Since we currently have to make regular weekend trips to Caldes de Malavella to pick up and drop off for the train to Barcelona, we spotted the green star marking a place of special interest that we thought we'd explore. Of course Caldes de Malavella itself is town with hot springs, and former Roman baths, and it too has a hidden volcano out at the Camp del Ninots.

Sant Dalmai village church Early February is also the most likely time in the year for snow to come down to the lower hills and mountains. As the temperatures drop, the lower the snow comes. If the conditions are right it can even come down to sea level, and we've had a short flurry in the air one day this month. However, for the most part the snow stays higher than 600-800m meaning only the higher hills and mountains turn white.

Nevertheless, this is still sufficiently low for the upper parts of Montseny to have snow. In fact Montseny rises to about 1500m, and can be seen in its snowy-dress from the beach in Barcelona on a clear day, and while we're used to seeing a white Canigou on the Pyrenees in the distance, seeing Montseny with snow is quite magical because it's much closer.

So having done the train drop, we continued out past the airport and then across to Aiguaviva with a white-coated Montseny in the near distance, and down to the large parking area that sits just outside the volcano itself, with views to Brunyola and Montseny beyond. The day itself was clear, as the Tramuntana wind had blown away the dust, and with a bit of sun was still 10-11C, so perfectly good walking weather.

View to Montseny with snow

The Crosa itself has well marked tracks and lots of useful signposts to explain the history and generation of the volcano. The caldera itself is around 1250m in diameter - so more than a kilometre around, but once you add the rim and walk across the centre, and then out to the villages, our walk took more like 2 to 2.30 hours - around 8-9km.

However, since the rim is relatively low, and the centre of the old volcano is now flat meadow lands with orchards of walnut trees, it doesn't have spectacular pictures as you might expect from a volcano. Instead it makes a pleasant walk.

In practice we meandered around the paths, and this is as good a way to explore as anything, so there's no set route as such. From the parking we followed the rim to the east, before following the path into the volcano centre. From here we walked across the centre in want is now flat fields and small walnut groves, before climbing the rim almost where we started. From here we went south along the rim top through the woods, before heading to Sant Dalmai. Sant Dalmai is a small farming village with a small church, but not so much else of interest. We then linked to the next village of Salitja before turning back to the volcano at the Ermitage of the Fonts. The Ermitage has a small natural spring next to a low chapel, though the water is untreated and not for human consumption. From the chapel, we returned to the rim top of the volcano and completed the circuit via the eastern side.

Information sign at Volca de la Crosa

See also: Hostalric stroll - Lake at Sils - Castell de Montsoriu - Brunyola - Arbucies autumn walk - Visit to Roda de Ter and Espinelves - Caldes de Malavella - Llagostera to Sant Llorenç - Girona and Castell de St Miquel - Girona valley of Sant Daniel - Cassa de la Selva - Bonmati and Anglès - Santa Coloma de Farners

Cala de Sant Francesc (Blanes)
12 Feb 2018

Cala de Sant Francesc Blanes If you follow the GR92 walk from Blanes to Tossa de Mar, a fair bit of the walk is away from the coast along the hills above the sea. This is because there are two stretches of coast that can't be connected by paths directly - Santa Cristina beach, closer to Lloret, and Cala de Sant Francesc closer to Blanes (and between the two is are the Botanical Gardens of Pinya Rosa). We'd not actually visited Sant Francesc, but Blanes council said they had done up some of the GR92 walking and we had to visit Tossa de Mar, so on a wet January weekend we went to explore, partly to add it to our list of Costa Brava beaches.

As an orientation, Cala de Sant Fransesc sits below the Castell/Tower of Sant Joan that stands above Blanes and is on the other side of the hill from the town itself. Blanes has the benefit of being on the train-line to Barcelona, but to get to the bay walking from Blanes requires walking up hill out of town, and it's a good couple of kilometres from town, so realistically is more accessible by car (though I guess in summer the parking would be difficult). If you drive past you'll see one of the access roads is blocked as marking a private estate, however, there is a second road that will take you down to the bay.

Sant Francesc Cala Blanes We parked at the top and simply followed the road down from the top to the beach, explored a little, then navigated back up via the series of connecting stairways that provide short cuts up the zig-zagging roads. This is very much villa country with the hillside filled with mature and attractive coastal properties looking out to sea. These surround a private tennis and sporting facility that looks very well maintained and cared for and it feels quite luxurious, without some of the industrial feel that Blanes itself has.

At the bottom is a very pleasant beach, with gritty yellow sand of a type similar to that found in Lloret with a bar and restaurant at the back. To the left and the right are walks around the bay, and it looks as if these were the areas recently improved with new wooden rails. We did try the routes to both to the right and left. The one to the right takes you up close to a tall island that you don't realise is an island until you walk past, as the channel is so narrow. This ended in a doorway marked private in Spanish and Russian. The door was open, but we didn't go any further.

Instead, we returned to the beach and tried the lefthand walk. This again was newly done, but came to a stop at a large iron gate. The path and the same wooden rails continued on the opposite side of the gate, so it is possible that this might be open at a different time of the year. However, for us it meant that there was no way out of the bay except back up the hill.

As a beach, it's very pretty and we may return in the summer to test the water for swimming. And if you are in Blanes it would provide an alternative to the town main beach.

View from Sant Francesc bay in Blanes

Update March 18: Diari de Girona is just reporting that the stretch of path after the gate has been opened and should allow continuation towards Lloret. We'll revisit during summer to see.

See also: Blanes, Lloret de Mar, Tossa de Mar by GR92 - Lloret's Platja de Boadella, Platja de Santa Cristina - Tossa de Mar to Cala Llorell - Palafolls castle - Lloret de Mar to Sant Pere del Bosc

Calella de Palafrugell to Llafranc Marbrava Swim race
15 Oct 2017

We just headed to Llafranc for leisurely stroll and coffee, only to find the village was filled with swimmers for the Calella de Palafrugell to Llafranc 7km swim via the Isles Formigues. Out to sea there were hundreds of swimmers making their way into shore shepherded in by support boats and canoes. The Radikal Swim website who organise the event says that there are a range of swimming events taking place over this weekend (14/15 October) for all ages and abilities with the 7km event being the longest.

As we've mentioned before there are a number of long distance (2km+) swimming routes in the Costa Brava now between beaches and around headlands (Via Braves). For more sporty visitors and triathletes, this gives an additional more competitive option to enjoy the waters here. Now we have the date, I'll take a camera next year, or maybe take part, depending on how fit I feel.

For swimming nearby see our Swimming and Beach series: Swimming and beach at Llafranc - Swimming at the beaches of Calella de Palafrugell - Swimming at the beach at Tamariu - Where are the best beaches on the Costa Brava?

Catalan Referendum and Strike October 2017
04 Oct 2017

Catalan Referendum march in Palafrugell Yesterday, October 3rd 2017, was a general strike in Catalonia against violence seen during the Catalan Referendum on Sunday 1st October. As part of the general strike, towns and cities throughout Catalonia came out onto the streets to demonstrate support in the evening. We went down to attend the local march in Palafrugell and to give a sense of the demonstrations and the strong desire for political change in Catalonia.

At this point I'm going to try to give a potted history and explanation of where and why Catalonia believes it should be independent and some background to what's going on. It's fair to say that for people from outside the region, it can be difficult to understand what is going on, and why there is such a depth of feeling among the Catalans. We certainly had little understanding of the situation or very much understanding of the history of Spain much beyond the discovery of America and the Spanish Armada. However, having lived here and being extremely interested in the history and geography, I've come to realise the rich and complex tapestry of Catalonia and its relationship with Spain.

Catalan Referendum Torre Jonama Palafrugell The simple history of Spain, which is most frequently presented by Spanish nationalists, sees Catalonia as a region that becomes part of Aragon before, in 1479, being unified with Castille under the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella to create the modern Spanish nation. In this view Spain is an indivisible whole and Catalonia was never a country, and so has no legitimate claim for independence. The current claims are 19th century romanticism and a desire to pay less taxes.

To get beyond this, and really into the deep emotional feeling that lies beneath the independence push needs a more nuanced view of Spanish history, one which sees Spain as part of a unified crown, but still being a set of semi-independent territories, each with their own governance, laws, taxes and duties. The Aragonese were not allowed to trade in the Castillan West Indies for instance until the mid eighteenth century.

Catalan Referendum and general strike in Palafrugell These element of self-government and self-identity of the semi-independent territories were swept away in a wave of French-style single-nation laws and centralisation (the Nueva Planta decrees) that followed the Spanish conquest of rebellious Catalonia in 1714, and that included banning the use of Catalan in primary education and official documents. Though Spain remained relatively at ease with itself until Napoleon's invasion, reactions to the events of the start of the 18th Century continued to reverberate through Spain in the 19th and 20th centuries as it struggled under revolts, civil wars (plural), loss of overseas territories and a push-me-pull-you of politics that saw regions pull against centre, and various forms of radicalised politics emerge.

Into this melee, Catalonia rediscovered itself and developed its own idea of Catalonia as a nation, distinct from Spain. It was finally allowed to use its own language in official work in 1931 (216 years later), only to have this removed by Franco in 1936. So that within living memory are groups of citizens who were not allowed to use Catalan at school, and who were ruled by proxies of the central Spanish government, rather than through their own elected officials.

As a result, there are extremely deeply felt opinions that go far back in time with family memories of Spanish crack downs on Catalan separatist views from even the 1900s. While Spanish nationalists will point to the financial crisis as a catalyst, other forces were already at play, seeking the Catalan Statute of Autonomy for instance. Regional identity versus centralism is a topic that bubbles away through Spanish history.

An overview of the history of Spain and Catalonia

We start the story in 719. At this time, Spain had been conquered by the Moors (mainly from Morocco) who had captured the Peninsula as muslim lands. The Moors pushed into France until they were defeated at Poitiers/Tours in 732. The development of modern Spain then starts with the slow reclaiming of Spain by Christian forces.

Resistance to Moorish rule grew in the north first, from Asturies in 722 - the first of the Spanish kingdoms to emerge. The second northern kingdom was Navarre/Pamplona from 824. Then in a complex story of kingdoms and rivalries, Asturies expanded across northern Spain eventually leading to the establishment of the Kingdom of Leon (910). Leon then joining with Navarre. From these northern Spanish kingdoms, the Kingdom of Aragon emerged in 1035 and Castile finally became its own kingdom, from a county of Leon, in 1065 providing the foundation for modern Castilian Spain.

Meanwhile on the Mediterranean side, the Franks under Charles Martel ('the Hammer') pushed back the Moors, building on the victory at Tour/Poitiers 732. Between 759 to 801 when Barcelona was captured from the Moors, Frankish victories established the counties of the Spanish March (Marca Hispanica) in what is now Catalonia (and a bit beyond), as a buffer realm between France and the muslim Spain. Unlike the northern territories that (self-) declared themselves kingdoms, the lands of the Spanish March remained as counties (ruled by a count) with local rivalries.

However, over time, the Count of Barcelona came to dominate across the counties of the Marca Hispanica as a whole, subduing or forging marriage alliances with the other counts. The 'marches' tended to be remote from the main centres of royal power (in Aachen at this time) and the counts had to be self-sufficient and independent minded allowing counts to take liberties with their realms. Wilfred the Hairy, for instance ensured the title of Count of Barcelona was inherited rather than by appointment of the king, and eventually the counties became de facto independent from the central Frankish power. The earliest claim is in 985 when Borrell II failed to get support from the Franks and so curtailed his allegiences.

Both the Kingdom of Leon/Castile in the north, and the County of Barcelona (Catalonia) were growing both in prestige, and in size, through the expulsion of the muslim invaders from lands of Valencia and the Taifa of Zaragossa (the story of El Cid comes from this epoch).

Between Castile and Catalonia was the Kingdom of Aragon, which had emerged from Navarre in 1035. Through marriage, Aragon became a possession of the Counts of Barcelona in 1137 and the counts switched to take the titles of King of Aragon as their main title. However, despite being unified under the the same monarchy, Catalonia and Aragon continued to exist as separate territories each with their own system of laws and cortes including custom posts, taxes and duties, not as a simple unified state as we might consider today. The Crown of Aragon grew to include Aragon, Catalonia, Majorca and Valencia plus territories in the Mediterranean including Sicily and Sardina and at one point to Athens.

Castile and Aragon continued to develop separately, but slowly the ruling families became intertwined by marriage until the ruling crowns of Castile and Aragon united by marriage in 1469, with Isabella becoming queen of Castile in 1474, and Ferdinand (Ferran in Catalan) becoming king of Aragon in 1479. Once again, the two parts of Spain, Castile and Aragon, remained quite separate with distinct royal councils.

During the reign of the Catholic Kings, America was discovered, and the final expulsion of the Moors started with the fall of Grenada in 1492 to the Castilians. Both events reflect the complexity of the kingdoms, under a united crown. When the Americas were discovered these were established Castilian territories and Aragonese merchants did not have access, with access almost exclusively through (Castilian) Andalucia (Cadiz and Sevilla).

But even before Ferdinand had got to the Spanish throne, Catalonia had already been through a civil war (1462-1472) in the Revolt of the Remences against John II with involvement of the French and loss of Roussillon (for the first time). So by the time of Ferdinand, it was already past it's high point, and with the discovery of America, and eviction of the Moors followed by coastal attacks by the Ottomans navy/pirates, its importance in Spanish affairs diminished.

In short order, by wealth and marriage, Spain became the leading European power. Joanna, daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand married Philip the son of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and so their son, Charles V, Spain became Emperor with great lands in the Americas, joined with the European holdings of the Holy Roman Empire (that included Netherlands, Belgium, Burgundy, Savoy, Germany and Austria) - the original empire where the sun never sets.

At this time, Catalonia, and Barcelona became a gateway to the Spanish European territories, though via the sea across to Genoa (the Spanish Road) as rivalry with France prevented overland access to the Italian, German and Dutch territories. However, it wasn't all plain sailing, discontent with Charles led to a series of revolts in both Castile and Valencia and Majorca of Aragon (Revolta de les Germanies), as local needs were overlooked for issues of the greater empire.

Such large territories were also proving expensive and difficult to maintain. Over the next period, the Spanish Empire fell into wars with the Dutch, the British (Spanish Armada) and the French. An empire of such a size was proving unsustainable and expensive. The vast gold and silver wealth from the Americas brought inflation to Spain and Spain defaulted on its debts (1557, 1560, 1569, 1575, 1595), lost the Armada to England. The cost of war and rebeliousness in the Netherlands (the 80 years war) took its toll and Spain's star started to diminish. Meanwhile wars with France over Italian territories of the Holy Roman Empire and involvement with the French Wars of Religion, spread into plain old wars with France, starting with rivalry over Spanish territories in the north of France (1595-1598).

The Spanish European empire fell into a complex war with the Thirty Year's War (1618-1648) involving religion, Netherlands, Sweden and central Europe. As the conflict spilled over, Catalonia become something of a piggy-in-the-middle between Spain and France, as the Thirty Year's war developed into a Spanish-French war of 1635-1659, with the French attacking Spanish territories through Italy, and in northern and eastern France.

Spain seeking to protect the border with France, put Castilian troops into private houses in Catalonia (which included forcing peasants to provide food for the soldiers). The result was a  Catalan Revolt of 1640 - also known as the Guerra dels Segadors - when Catalonia declared itself independent under the protection of France. The song Els Segadors based on this period of history is considered the national anthem for the Catalonia.

At the time, Portugal had also revolted against Spain and the Catalans looked towards the recently liberated Dutch for inspiration. This 'Independence' lasted until 1659 when a Spanish-French peace returned Catalonia to the Spanish King, but with the final loss of Rousillon (Catalonia Nord) to the French, and a continuing bitterness towards the French.

Tensions didn't diminish though with another revolt (Barretines - named after the traditional Catalan red cap) 1687-1689 which was more of a class war, again partly because of tension between Spanish soldiers and the local population, and the Nine Year's War 1688-97 again between Spain and France.

With all this turmoil, by the outbreak of the Spanish War of Succession in 1701, Catalonia was out of sync with the rest of Spain. The war which encompassed half of Europe, was over the choice of the Spanish king from one of the two major European royal houses. The Bourbons from France, supported by most of Spain and the French, or the Hapsburgs of Austria supported by Britain who feared a French-dominated Europe. Catalonia took the side of Britain and supported Charles, the Austrian candidate for Emperor.

In theory, Britain had promised to help the Catalans and to protect the Catalan institutions under the Pact of Genoa, but as the war continued and the circumstances changed, the view in Britain shifted, eventually abandoning Catalonia to its fate as the last bastion against Bourbon king. The final chapter for Catalonia was the submission of Barcelona on the 11th September 1714 (a date commerated with the Diada - the Catalan National Day). This was written up in a couple of English pamphlets at the time denouncing the English failure to support Catalonia (The Case of the Catalans Consider'd and The deplorable history of the Catalans 1714)

With the victory of the French Bourbon king, he sought to impose a French-style centralisation on Spain. In the Nueva Planta decrees the historic institutions, governance, tax raising powers of Catalonia were removed and the Catalan language was no longer to be used in official documents. At the same time, the centralised monarchy installed vice-roys to take command of the provinces backed by Spanish troops effectively throwing out hundreds of years of autonomous rule and traditions across the Spanish provinces.

Catalonia was not the only Spanish province that felt the rules were unfair, but matters didn't come to ahead until after the Napoleonic invasion had passed (when parts of Catalonia were subsumed into France as a new French department).

These underlying tensions in the 19th Century, led to Spain being repeatedly pulled apart through a complex series of revolts and wars, including a civil war from 1833-1839, shifts from monarchy to republic and back again, and internal factionalisation as another royal succession dispute gave rise to Carlists - who were in favour of Infante Carlos V's - Don Carlos's - claim to the throne based on the French derived male succession rule, over Isabella II, his niece who became queen, based on the older Spanish rule that allowed female succession. This seemingly arcane rule created tensions and rebellions right up to the 1930s. And at the same time, Spain, like much of Europe, was developing a complex set of new political ideas including anarchism, as working classes became more powerful.

Meanwhile, industrialisation had come to Catalonia, and it began to rediscover its language and heritage (the Renaixença or rebirth) that started to emerge after the liberation of Spain from Napoleon. Through the 1830s to 1860s, this rekindled ideas of Catalonia and Catalan nationalism as Catalans reviewed and romanticised their history and their relationship to Spain. To start with this led to calls for federalism, but later to calls for full independence.

This idea of separatism got swept up with the prevailing moods of anarchism and revolt so that by the late 1800s Catalonia had a firm secessionist movement that was being prohibited by the Spanish authorities with suppression including martial law in 1900, and a short lived revolt in 1909.

This sense of nation and historical identity from the 19th century is then swept into the troubles of the 20th century. The eventual outcome was the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Franco, but before this there was another period of dictatorship and republicanism leading to Spanish Second Republic of 1931. The chaos of the pre-civil war politics even led to further declarations of Independence, but all was lost with the collapse into war between the Franco nationalists, and the Spanish Republicans. George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia gives a good flavour of complex mix of factionalism and war in Barcelona and Aragon.

Franco's victory came with the exili - a max exodus of refugees into France as can be seen on some of the walking routes or the museum at La Junquera, with camps on the French side of the border at Argeles and Elne. And under Franco, Catalan institutions and language were once again suppressed, so that even now there are old people in Catalonia who were not allowed to learn Catalan at school. Franco initially had a policy of self-sufficiency, which drove Spain into the ground. After the Second World War, more liberal policies were adopted and Spain opened up, bring tourism to the Costa Brava and industry back to Barcelona but sold as Spain, not Catalonia, with tradition Spanish totes like bull-fighting and flamenco dresses.

However, Catalan pain and pride remained undiminished. From the end of the dictatorship, the Catalan civil societies have been working to reestablish Catalan institutions, language and elements of culture with a view to gaining recognition of Catalonia's status and history.

In 2006 Catalonia agreed a new Statute of Autonomy (approved by Catalan referendum and supported by the Spanish government), however this was ruled in part to be unconstitutional in 2010 by the Spanish Constitution Court supported by PP. The rejection of the Statute of Autonomy caused many in Catalonia to demand greater autonomy and, combined with the economic crisis, led to a great renewal of independentist feeling with a major grassroots demonstration in 2012 (more than one million people out of a population of 7.5m), that effectively pushed Catalan politicians to become more focused on independence, and was then followed by huge marches and demonstrations in each of the subsequent years.

So behind the current political stand-off is a deep sense that Catalonia should be respected for its traditions, history, language and culture which are distinct and not the same as Spain. Among Catalans there is a perception that Spain imposes itself on Catalonia - it is the relationship of a dominant father who demands respect from an errant daughter, instead of being a relationship of kinship, peers and mutuality. This local view sees the unwillingness of the central Spanish government to listen or respond to the Catalan protests, which were met with practical silence and sitting on hands, as further examples of the difficult nature of the relationship.

The intransigence and inaction of the Spanish government, combined with deep seated local feelings about Catalan identity has allowed the situation to develop so that now Catalonia believes it has a mandate for independence. How this will play out will strongly depend on how the Spanish-side react and whether it seeks to find compromise. While it's not entirely clear how strongly Catalans want to be separate, or whether they just want to have a more balanced relationship with the rest of SPain, the one thing is clear is that some political movement will be necessary. For visitors, it's also worth pointing out that from the Catalan side this has been entirely peaceful with large marches and demonstrations, but in good spirits with no tolerance of trouble.

See also: Via Catalan and the Diada - Dia de Sant Jordi in Palafrugell

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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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