March 2008 Archives
Coming from Girona or Barcelona it is an easy and fun drive to Rupit and will take about an hour. The main approach is via Santa Coloma de Farners or Anglès heading to Olot in the comarca of La Selva. At Val d'en Bas you turn towards Vic and a few kms along the main road there is a sign for Rupit. After climbing out of the valley at the top of the escarpment are signs to El Far which means lighthouse and gets it's name from the white limestone cliffs which were visible to fishermen from the distant Costa Brava. There are some nice walks along the cliffs and a restaurant serving typical local fare and busy on weekends. Continuing into Rupit itself and parking in the free car park just outside of town since the streets are too narrow for traffic there are various signs with tourist information such as walks, bike rides, hotels and restaurants in the area. Taking a walk into town across a wobbly pedestrian bridge over a river gorge is fun and sets one up for exploring the restored medieval streets. Other than restaurants and hotels it's fun to look in the various shops selling local cured sausages and several types of cheese made from cows, sheep or goat and aged for different periods. You can always ask for a sample before buying if you are not sure whether the stronger flavours of the older cheeses are for your palate. Another option is to buy some bread and cheese, ham and tomatoes and head down to the river where there are several picnic tables set up under overhanging rocks and it is always cool and shady here even in the hot summer months. There is lots of good exploring to do in the surrounding countryside with old churches, country restaurants and of course El Far which is a couple hours walk away. The vistas of wooded hills and small villages and farms below in the valleys are one of peace and tranquility and take you back in time.
This is a perfect day trip from either Girona or Barcelona and offers a combination of unspoilt countryside with the old medieval town of Rupit or the market town of Angles nearby. The first side trip from the main Angles to Olot road is up to the Susqueda dam, a dam built in the 50's to supply water to Girona, the Costa Brava and Barcelona. The lack of rain during the last years has made water an increasingly important issue, with restrictions being threatened for all of the communities mentioned above in the short term unless some pretty major rainfalls occur this spring. The road borders the river that flows from the dam to the River Ter in the valley below but as the dam is barely releasing any water the river is pretty meagre. Once you arrive at the dam itself and head out along the walkway it becomes very clear how much water is missing, the latest count puts Susqueda at only 22% of capacity and it is a sad sight seeing the shortfall from the exposed sides of the surrounding hills. Water restrictions appear almost inevitable and have set Girona against Barcelona as the former do not see any reason to be cut off first for water they consider theirs. Barcelona has seen the writing on the wall and is already bringing in barge fulls of water from the Rhone in France at what can only be an outrageous cost to the tax payer. This situation and the political consequences are likely to get worse before it gets better and with the global warming predictions as well how it will end remains to be seen but everyone needs to do their bit and save as much water as possible.
The "Dansa de la Mort" in Verges (about 20km from Girona) is celebrated every year on the Thursday before Easter. In keeping with many of these traditional parades it involves Jesus' betrayal by Judas and subsequent condemnation by Pilates and sentenced to death on the cross. All this is acted out in costume on a stage in the main square but where things get more interesting is when Jesus carries his cross around the village complete with people his disciples, people haranguing him, his mother Mary crying out to him, the Roman soldiers marching alongside him, the thieves carrying their crosses and then a whole series of caped and hooded followers all holding candles and chanting or playing instruments. This spectacle is more impressive when you consider it starts at midnight and takes place along narrow streets in this medieval old part of Verges. The town is packed and the best spots are reserved hours ahead of time but the atmosphere is electric and in complete silence except for the participants in the procession. The highlight of the event are the 5 members of the "Dansa de la Mort" a legacy from the Middle Ages comprising of one skeleton wielding a scythe, another a clock without hands, a third with a banner proclaiming that death can choose you anytime and finally 2 child skeletons holding boxes with ashes inside. These frightening characters proceed to dance to the rhythm of a deep drum beat and circle and stop in unison for the whole procession. By the time they end up in the church for their final swirls and Jesus has been crucified outside some 3 hours have passed and it's time to head home along the streets lit by oil filled snail shells and marvel at how this tradition has managed to survive for so many years almost completely unaltered.
When it comes to eating out we are fairly spoiled for choice here in Girona. From the Michelin starred to the humble "plats a emportar" (take away) there is plenty of choice for all standards and pockets. Starting at the top for those that want to try the "best" the choices are between the 2 star Celler de Can Roca run by the three Roca brothers and Massana a 1 star more traditional option. While not going quite as far as El Bulli an hours drive up the road in Roses the Rocas are definately into trying to fool your senses of sight and taste with traditional recipes transformed by modern kitchen wizardry into unrecognisable dishes with fancy names and tastes and textures that either amaze or disgust you. As with all these high end establishments you normally feel the portions are pretty skimpy and the barrage of tiny offerings that make up the gastronomic menu somehow lacks the satisfaction of a basic 3 course meal well done. The wine list is impressive but most let Josep the Maitre choose for them and his prediliction for German whites and French reds comes to the fore. At Massana you will at least recognise what you are being served and the ample choice of Spanish wines to accompany the exciting cuisine is as it should be. This restaurant is a favorite with local Girona businessmen and children are barely tolerated, unlike most Spanish restaurants where they are positively encouraged. They have a wide selection of local Catalan and Spanish olive oils and just dipping bread in 2 or 3 different ones makes for a fine appetizer along with a chilled glass of Cava sparkling wine and some whole olives and maybe some wonderfully marbled Pata Negra (Iberic ham). Local specialities include lamb, pork and fresh seafood combined with vegetables bought from the market daily that vary depending on season. For Can Roca a taxi is the best way to get there as it is a few kilometres out of town and Massana is a 5 minute walk from the train station but parking is always an issue.
For anyone interested in Dalí the triangle of the Theatre Museum in Figueras, Dalí's house/museum in Portlligat(nr Cadaques) and his wife Galas Castle in Púbol (nr La Bisbal) are all must visits. The Museum in Figueras is the second most visited in Spain after the Prado in Madrid and clearly shows off his true creative genius on a grand scale. The Castle at Púbol and his house in Portlligat offer a more intimate view of their lives as well as all the numerous famous visitors that spent time in this area. Dalí gave Gala the Castle at Púbol and may have regretted it as she soon insisted on written permission before allowing him to visit. She died there in 1982 and Dalí moved to the Castle to try and come to terms with her death but this ended up with his setting fire to himself while in bed (accident or on purpose was never very clear) and was moved to some rooms above the Museum in Figueras with a full time medical staff until his death in 1989. The Castle shows some typical Dalí creativity such as elephants on stilts in the gardens but overall is a more subdued experience while the setting is certainly delightful and peaceful. The countryside around Púbol is typical of the Empordà, rolling fields of wheat or grass with patches of olive groves and pine forests mixed with cork oaks. For the more adventurous, catching a train from either Barcelona or Girona and getting off in Flaça means you can walk the back road through La Pera to get to Púbol which will take you some 45 mins to absorb the wonderful views.