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Walks and other things

Walks on the Costa Brava - will be updated as more are added - click for a larger version This is our blog about living in the Costa Brava. We like to visit places. We walk (a lot) particularly into and around the Gavarres. Sometimes we travel around on bike. In the summer, we swim and canoe.
 

The walks have been walked since November 2012, and we add one or two a week(ish - though we're slowing down now). The photos are straight from the 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. The map on the right shows where the walks are and will be updated as we continue to add more.
 

The entries on swimming and beaches also start from Summer 2013. Unlike the walks which are reported as we did them (including photos), for the swimming and beach articles we're going to update them over time.
 

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One year of walks and activities
02 Dec 2013

It's now one year since we started this blog. Eighty five things later and we still have more to explore, but hopefully it provides some insight into the rich variety of things to do on the Costa Brava.

We should also note the things we didn't do, or write about - the Festa d'Indianer in Begur in September for instance (it was raining on the Saturday night when we were planning to visit), Carnesoltes/Carneval in Palamos or Platja d'Aro. The Festa de Primavera in Palafrugell - which is like Carnival but Palafrugell doesn't really celebrate the pre-lent festivals, preferring instead its own later 'spring festival'.

And then there were the Festa Majors for the local towns, the Havaneres in Calella de Palafrugell, the music festivals nearby, of which Cap Roig is the most celebrated, and the other local festivals like the circus festival in La Bisbal d'Emporda. And we didn't write up activities like visiting the waterparks or trips to Barcelona. And some weekends, it's just a joy to do nothing, just a local walk. And so on to year two...

Visit to Setcases
02 Dec 2013

Setcases village church in Spanish Pyrenees Setcases is a small town/village at the bottom of the valley that leads up to the Valter2000 ski-resort. We like to get at least one trip a year towards the Pyrenees, but it can mean a lot of driving - the actual distance to Setcases is about 120km or about 2 hours drive. But the local snow midweek combined with a need to go to Banyoles for some sports activities gave us the impetus to head towards the mountains to get some proper snow.

For skiers, the Costa Brava is relatively close to the mountains and it is feasible to have a day-trip skiing if you're not too worried about longer car journeys. Valter2000 is the closest ski area - resort would be too grand since it is more of a set of lifts and a cafe, with the main inhabited area down at Setcases - a small village a few kilometres on from Campodron.

Setcases fount in the snow The second closest would be Val de Nuria where you have to catch a train from Ribes de Freser up the mountain to the base station for skiing. Further on still are the Spanish ski resorts of Masella and La Molina, close to Puigcerda. Or you head into the high mountains of Andorra, or across the border into France.

Driving, the roads are relatively easy with dual carriageway all the way to Olot. The exception is the N260 link from Ribes de Freser to La Molina which is very windy and makes travel difficult to the bigger ski-towns near Puigcerda - these are generally easier from Barcelona northwards through the Tunel de Cadi.

Setcases, which translates as seven houses, is in fact bigger than it's name would suggest. The village is along the upper Ter valley from the larger town of Campodron. Campodron is worth visiting for it's museum of the Spanish Civil War and the stories and artifacts from Allied airmen who crashed and crossed the Pyrenees.

River Ter at Setcases with snow Setcases is then the last habitation before the ski-resort some 10km higher up the valley and sits at 1284m or so. The road up to the top of the valley is very bendy and we weren't prepared for full-on winter driving so Setcases was as a high up the valley as we wanted to go. On the drive we had snow flurries from Campodron, but it wasn't unitl just below Setcases that we reached the base of the snowline, though the road itself was clear.

So when we parked in the village, snow was turning everything white and there was sufficient on snow on the ground to make for snowball fights. The village is built in a bluff grey stone and feels like a proper mountain village with slate roofs and thick strong walls to the houses. The main village is built on the side of the hill with narrow lanes and streets connecting the terraces of houses and lots of restaurants and the odd hostal/hotel. There's a lot of walking possible in the area including walks up and over the Pyrenees into France or to the local high peaks (all at about 2200m or higher).

Our tour was more modest as we explored the streets and houses. The town has a number of village craft and produce shops selling local honey for instance. A rushing culvert runs alongside the main street and a small church hunkers down just above the rooftops of the main village. The signs suggested that the area was wealthy in older times, both for the pasture nearby, but also for local silver mines.

The snow though was the main reason for the visit. It's always surprising just how easy it is to get a complete change not just of scenery and landscape, but almost of climate just by travelling a couple of hours from the coast.

Other visits: Arbucies autumn walk - Caldes de Malavella - Visit to Roda de Ter and Espinelves - Canet d'Adri - Visit to Besalu and Banyoles

Snow on the Costa Brava
27 Nov 2013

The general perception in the UK of places in the south of Europe, like the Costa Brava is one of year-round warm temperatures and mild winters, but in reality the weather can get colder. Looking out of the window at the moment and it's snowing. OK, that's big wet soggy snowflakes that aren't settling at the moment, but it's very unusual to have snow close the coast in November.

Snow itself is rare, but not so unusual. In general most years have the possibility of a day's snow and the occasional whiteout during December to February. When we were first looking for somewhere to live here, we arrived just after a snow flurry in February and were walking around Pals with snow on the ground. Generally though the snow doesn't settle, but if you we're close enough to the Pyrenees to be able to head to the mountains for a day to get a full winter experience.

The general winter situation is that nights are cold, but days can be bright and sunny and it can be sunny enough to keep a house warm without needing heating during the daylight. As it gets colder in the evenings many people just use a simple fire for warmth, rather than turn to full heating, at least until the deeper winter. So a piece of advice for anyone visiting during the winter period eg over Christmas, is to check whether the house or villa has central heating.

Empuries Greek and Roman remains
27 Nov 2013

Empuries on Costa Brava - Greek part and museum Situated just north of L'Escala, right on the coast itself are the ancient remains of the Greek and Roman towns of Empuries, the major port of the Costa Brava coast in the Ancient world, and along with Barcelona and Tarragona, one of the main Catalan Roman cities.

We'd seen the ruins from the sea-facing side walking between L'Escala and Sant Marti d'Empuries - a very pleasant Sunday afternoon stroll. What we hadn't realised until this year was the extent of the ruins on the other side. Only when we were returning from Cinc Claus on the walk from Escala, St Marti d'Empuries and beyond did we really start to get an impression of the size of the site.

Empuries reconstructed pillars by the Roman forum The whole site has now been dedicated as an archeological site with a modern museum with entrance only €3 for adults and free for children and we were allowed to take in our dog on a lead. What's initially surprising is that Empuries actually consists of two distinct towns. Prior to visiting I was under the impression that the Greeks came first and then their village was taken over by the Romans. In fact the Roman Empuries is distinctly separate from the older Greek part.

The history of the site is that it was first created as an outpost of the Phoenician's and then became a Greek colony and port trading inland with the neighbouring Iber tribes and villages (Empuries and Emporium as a shop share the same derivation). The Greek's travelled throughout the Mediterranean and had colonies in places like Sicily (Syrakuse). The Greek ruins run up the hill and there is a temptation to imagine a white walled village like Mykanos on the side of the Catalan Coast.

Empuries gardens connecting the Greek and Roman parts of the site For this visit though, we visited the Roman part first. This is marked by a long straight wall of about 300m in length, and surprisingly the wall is hollow - there would have been enough space for someone to walk through the middle. On the outside of the wall was the ampitheatre and stadium training ground, while the remaining parts of the town stood inside the walls. The Roman town itself was built within a rectangle with straight streets in a modern block arrangement.

Entering through the gate on the main wall, you walk down what would have been a main street where there would have been shops and traders. The stone flaggons on the floor still show the ruts from carts that would have passed through. At the end of this street is the main forum - the main town square. To help visitors, part of some of the buildings have been rebuilt and stone columns re-erected to give a sense of the town. Past the forum are the remains of the ancient baths and what would have been two or three large villas. Although many of the ruins have been excavated but there is still a large area to be explored.

Empuries stormy view to lEscala We then walked down the hill to the start of the Greek village built 500 years before the Romans arrived. While the Roman part was laid out in a regular fashion, the Greek city is much more higgedly piggedly with houses and spaces seemingly on top of each other. I always find it difficult to construct an image of a town or buildings just from their foundations, but even so it's very clear how large the town would have been. The Greek part also had it's own square and temple and area dedicated as a 'health resort'. The main Greek walls are at the bottom of the hill.

The site also has a modern museum where you can see artifacts. If anything we were slightly surprised at how little there was in the museum given the size of the main site. It is possible that much of the town was plundered when it was abandoned for Sant Marti in the early post-Roman era.

The geography of the site is also interesting in that when the Greeks and Romans were living in Empuries, the sea was a lot farther inshore. The ancient port wall that can be seen on the beach below Empuries would have protected a harbour inside the wall, where the beach is now (suggesting a sea level 3-4m higher than it is at present). In fact the sea was sufficiently high that neighbouring Sant Marti was an off-shore island at the time. Changes to sea-level combined with silting and shifting of the river Fluvia essentially rendered Empuries obsolete as a port, but it is interesting that there are so many Roman ports on the Mediterranean (eg Ephesus, Portus, Carthage, Frejus) which are now dry or a long way from the sea.

Neightbouring walks: Escala, St Marti d'Empuries and beyond - L'Escala Riells to sea cliffs and viewpoint of Montgo - Aiguamolls d'Emporda (Empuriabrava)

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

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

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

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

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.

Swimming

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.

Canoeing

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.

Parking

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.

Walks

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

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Comments

adam@veggingoutwithadam.com
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
Adam
Saul
24 Feb 2014 17:25
Glad you're enjoying it. We have recommendations for maps in our 'Advice and FAQ' section
Saul
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
Hi,

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
Sven
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