La Gola is where the river Ter flows into the Mediterranean Sea, having started in the Pyrenees mountains around the ski resort of Vallter 2000 some 220 kms away.
Many people visit the Dali/Gala castle at Púbol but do not realise that only a couple kilometres off the road there is a charming church hamlet to visit without any tourists, Sant Andreu de Pedrinyà.
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.
Sundays are for exercise and this was certainly the idea when about 1,500 of us converged on the village of Vilobí (12 kms from Girona) for the "marxa popular" which has become an institution locally. These events are organised by local walking groups where as well as marking the route clearly they provide water/oranges/hot chocolate along the way and at the finish give everyone a present and a snack.These are serious events and some people choose to run but most walk and in this case there were a 10km or a longer 15km route to choose from.
The start was at 8am and since we are in january there was a frost on the ground but after an hour the sun had re established itself and by midday everyone was in shirtsleeves; the joy of a Spanish winter, cold nights followed by clear warm days. The route could not have been nicer, passing by some impressive old farmhouses (masias) some with sundials painted on their front walls and a variety of chickens and animals, not all domesticated by the sound and smell of them!
We went through two villages with impressive chapels, Salitja and Sant Dalmai, and in between the path followed a stream with weeping willows that reminded me of walks I have taken in Britain. As is typical here everyone was so busy talking that nobody paid any attention to what they were passing but all stopped at the first refuelling stop to take on hot chocolate (150kgs were made and consumed). This only had the effect of speeding up peoples tongues even more, especially since the temperature was rising quickly too.
The long route went along the top edge of the crater of an extinct volcano called La Crosa which is worth a walk in itself. After a couple hours of what can really only be described as talking while moving gently in a vaguely circular route we ended up back at the school playground where we received our present (a wooly hat with the 3 churches we passed stiched on) and the serious business of eating began.
First comes the sausage (botifarra) sandwich which is cooked over coals which were part of a bonfire which I had noticed some of the inner group of walkers huddling around in the cold dawn and had a dual purpose, clearly. On tables spread all around the playground were plates of salad, potato chips, water and the Catalan porro. This is a glass vessel for drinking wine without touching your mouth to the opening which provides hilarious results when novices attempt to catch the spouting wine in their open mouths, usually the last place that it ends up…
Just when you were thinking that this snack could possibly be lunch it's time for dessert and black coffee with a shot of either brandy or anis (a liqueur) just to make sure you float back to your car or start the whole painless route again!
Penedes is only just over an hour away from Girona but it feels more like France with impressive wineries (Bodegas) dotted around and vines everywhere. They are better organised than in our local Empordà wine area where wine routes and visits are strictly for those that are well informed and have a good guide (which I am so you will see winery visits here over time.)
Vilafranca is the capital of the Penedes and has an interesting old town and a wine museum as well as a tourist information office which can provide all the maps and recommendations you will need.
We headed for the biggest Spanish brand for wine, Torres, which is only a few kilometres outside Vilafranca surrounded by vineyards and with a well organised tour which leaves every hour. The Bodega itself is massive but more interesting is walking around the grounds following one of many marked paths past an old mansion which emulate the great French chateaux and is still lived in by the family.
The main problem with the Penedes is that climate change may make its wine producing capacity decline, something that Torres has been anticipating by planting new vineyards in the Pyrenees foothills a few hours north.
For passing a few pleasant hours wandering around vines, stopping to eat in a good restaurant and trying some of the local wines, this area is perfect, SALUD!
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…
I am not a golfer but since many people come to Girona for the quality and variety of the courses I took the opportunity to walk around the Girona Golf course with marketing director Carla Tonini, an Argentinian working here for the last 7 years. The project was the idea of Pere Ramió and built between 1989 and 92 on this hilltop a mere 10 minutes from the centre of Girona with a variety of house developments around the borders. The course certainly blends in well with the surrounding countryside with lots of cork oaks and splendid mediterranean pines providing plenty of shade for the golfers. The aromas drifting over are heavy with wild rosemary and the blossom of fruit trees which are both typical and evocative of the area at this time of year.
Carla emphasized that this course, while not the hardest in the area, has it’s challenges, and their use of recycled water means both the fairways and greens look fabulous despite the drought we are experiencing locally. There are 3 lakes on the course and from some places there are good views over Girona and the Cathedral and a fairly constant reminder that the airport is also close by. In fact so close that there are Italian and British golfers that take advantage of Ryanair to fly in early, play a round of golf, have a meal and fly home again all in a day. I prefer to think about people taking a little longer to discover the joys of the area and maybe relaxing on the Costa Brava for a few days too.
Many thanks to Carla for taking the time to show me around and for more info see: www.golfgirona.com
When the weather warms up and with a little rain (we need lots more to avoid restrictions this summer) the wild asparagus hunters take to the hills. A little like during the mushroom season everyone has their favourite secret spot where they head to first. Normally this involves some travel(walking, quad, or 4×4) down sandy/muddy tracks and then the fun begins as the well trained eye can pick out the straggly spears a few metres away. Pounced on and cut with a knife about a third of the way down so as to not get the hard stringy part and added to the clutch in one hand. There are no hard and fast rules as to where the best spots are but the general Mediterranean scrub and pine trees and cork oaks seems to be ideal. Always wear long trousers since there are plenty of thistles and tough scrub to wade through once you leave the tracks.
Pick until either your hand is full or you are getting hungry and head home for the simple pleasure of consuming them fresh as can be.
Again nothing complicated for cooking-either in the oven with olive oil, salt and garlic or chopped and added to an omlette with onions and garlic are fabulous, quick and easy. Eat with chunks of country bread with olive oil and maybe some tomato and ambrosia the food of the gods never tasted as good!
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.