September can be a fabulous month to visit the Costa Brava and Castell beach near Palamós is one of the nicest spots. It is part nature reserve with dunes and marshland, a great sandy beach and overlooked on one side by ancient Iberian fort remains which you can stroll through.
The coastal path leads along some of the most rugged coves and bays of the whole 220 km Costa Brava with thick cover of Mediterranean pines and wild herbs which give the air a wonderful perfumed aroma. The path is steep in places but the views along the coast are worth every bit of effort, especially after a recent storm when the waves are crashing into the rocks below.
It has recently been included as a protected area which means the handful of houses will never be added to and nature will reclaim most of mans excesses.
This walk is only about an hour and a half and you can take the windy coastal path one way and come back on the GR92 which is a forest track that is more direct but all inland, sacrificing the views.
Cap Roig is worth visiting as it is one of the best botanical gardens in this area and the colours of the plants and flowers as well as the paths and seats placed to look out to sea are a must.
Els Angels can be reached from many different sides as it is the highest point (484m) of the Gavarres protected area which straddles the counties of Girones and Baix Empordà. From Girona it is a hike of some 12 kms and is quite a climb considering you start at 40m altitude. Just like the Castell de Sant Miquel hike this is suitable for mountain bikes as well as hikers and each group has their favourite routes.
There has been a chapel at the top since 1420 and over the centuries gained importance as pilgrims sought protection from natural and political catastrophes. Floods, plagues and harvest failures as well as wars and bandits were the usual disasters people came with a small offering to ask “La Mare de Deu” for help with.
This became such a visited place that a large hostel or sanctuary was added next to the expanded chapel to cater for the steady flow of visitors. During the French wars (1809-14) it also served as a hospital before it was burned down by an angry French general because Girona was resisting his siege.
Today there are picnic grounds and terraces to enjoy the spectacular views and you can eat or sleep at the recently restored hostel, although it still retains its rustic charm. The chapel has some interesting tile murals depicting hikers and picnickers with an impressive statue of the Lady herself surrounded by angels which dominates the gallery.
We were lucky to still see snow on the ground from the storms of a few days before, a contrast which will seem unbelievable to most people making their annual pilgrimage here on the 2nd of august when finding some shade and a breeze is the main reason to seek Her protection.
Leaving Sant Daniel and Girona behind we pass the cemetery with the traditional cypress trees which denote everlasting rest and keep going until the asphalt ends and a well used track begins. After crossing a small bridge there are two options, one path for cyclists which follows the track and one for hikers which goes off to the right marked with white arrows. The hiking route is steeper and more direct where the cycling route winds around the mountain a bit more but both do converge during the initial stages.
After going under the bypass and past a hideous modern sculpture we start to have some good views behind us of Girona and the Cathedral.
Strong walkers should take about half an hour to arrive at the top where there are picnic tables scattered under the pine and oak trees. On sundays groups of people meet up here to have their “esmorzar” which consists of bread (toasted if possible) drizzled with olive oil and tomato pulp and then either cheese or sausage on top and a glass of wine to wash it all down.
At the very top is the partially restored castle with stairs in the keep up to a viewing deck where the views are fabulous. On a clear day we can see the Isles Medes and Torroella de Montgri on one side, the snow covered Pyrenees on the other and Girona, Salt and Sant Julia de Ramis spread out in the valley below. For those that have not had enough exercise there is the option of heading up to the Monastery of Els Angels some 8kms further on in the Les Gavarres mountains or dropping down to Celra on the other side of Sant Miquel.
A perfect walk, especially on a warm and sunny day, starts from the Devesa Park, the largest public park in Catalonia, which is close to the centre of Girona and bordered by the River Ter. Head for La Copa which is outside the smaller of the two Tourist Information offices and is a meeting place for taking tours of the city. From here walk across the pedestrian bridge with great views of both Sant Feliu church in the foreground and Girona Cathedral further back up the hill. Head to the left of Sant Feliu (the church with the top of it’s spire missing) and when you come to the Archeology Museum (in another converted Romanesque church) follow the road on the left which runs parallel to a stream.
Now we are in the Sant Daniel valley where you pass the Font del Bisbe a water fountain that come from underground sources discovered in Roman times, the water is highly mineralised but very refreshing in the hot summer months. Less than a kilometre along this valley we come to the Monastery of Sant Daniel which an ancient building and is still in use today.
From here be sure to find the sign that says Castell de Sant Miquel which is where the countryside begins and the going gets a bit tougher.
Known as the Cami de Ronda, the coastal path that goes all along the Costa Brava up to the French border, has some truly spectacular parts, and this is one of them. It’s only short (an hours hike) but the dramatic scenery and views make it a great introduction to the “Wild Coast”.
After last weeks storm damage, the wooden walkway was either completely destroyed/submerged/brocken as you leave Sant Pol beach in S’Agaró heading south. Once you climb away from sea level, which you do rather quickly, the normal well kept and sign posted path resumes. There are modern houses and blocks of apartments dotted up the hill, but somehow they do not intrude overly, and anyway, ones focus is towards the sea. The path follows the inlets and rugged outcrops as it winds it’s way up to a point from which there are views over the whole Sant Pol beach and bay in the distance.
The really nice part about this stretch is how thoughtful the local council have been in putting picnic tables and benches in strategic places for maximum enjoyment. A legacy from a previous upgrading long ago is a pedestrian tunnel complete with alcoves and windows so you don’t miss any of the wonderful sights as you pass under some splendid mansions garden.
The flora and fauna are protected and the wind blown shapes of the pines and cork oaks add to the surreal but peaceful environs, except for the circling gulls nesting along the cliffs. All too soon we come around the headland on the other side we catch sight of the marina and town of Sant Feliu de Guixols. As we leave the wild coast behind my mouth starts to salivate at the thought of a small glass of wine with a seafood tapa in the bars around the port…
This beach has a bit of everything and is very easy to reach tucked between Sant Feliu and Platja d'Aro. On the one headland you have the imposing buildings of one of the areas premier hotels, the Hostal de la Gavina surrounded by other exclusive houses designed by architect Rafael Maso in the 1920's and 30's.
Then in the middle of the beach is an area of protected sand dunes and small wildlife refuge which is surrounded by normal beach facilities. The boardwalk passes some good seafood restaurants, most of which are open all year round, where you can sit on the terrace when the weather allows.
There are huge Modernist mansions built by Catalans that made their fortunes in Cuba (they are referred to locally as Cubanos) trading sugar and tobacco in the late 19th century and then came back to spend it in their favourite seaside resorts along the Mediterranean.
The fine sand beach turns into rugged rocks at the other end as the headland takes on a more dramatic aspect which you can enjoy by walking along the coastal path, which is where we go next…