The area of La Garrotxa is found just north of Girona on the way to the Pyrenees and combines outstanding natural beauty with well-preserved medieval towns, making it a must visit when coming to Catalonia.
What to see and do
Volcanic Zone Natural Park
The Volcanic Zone Natural Park covers over 12000 hectares and surrounds many of the towns and villages in the area. The park contains 40 now extinct volcanic cones (the last eruption was over 11000 years ago) and has important examples of lava flow. One of the most famous extinct volcanoes is Santa Margarida which has a church in the middle of its crater, the original church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1428 but a replica was built in 1865. There are more than 28 walking routes to take you through this unique Natural Park, though if you dare why no take a hot air balloon ride over the top of these once active volcanoes? The park is also unique in that 98% is in private ownership so you must be careful not to wander off the path. The volcanic area of La Garrotxa is the best example of a volcanic landscape in Spain and one of the most important in Europe making it well worth a visit.
La Fageda d’en Jordà
The Volcanic Zone Natural Park also includes a beautiful and quite ethereal forest of beech trees called La Fageda d’en Jordà. This forest is exceptional as these trees have grown on top of a lava flow at an altitude of 550m producing extremely tall beech trees. If you’re tired of walking why not explore the forest on bike or horseback? The forest inspired celebrated Catalan poet Joan Maragall to write a poem about it. We hope after visiting you’ll feel just as inspired!
LA FAGEDA D’EN JORDÀ
Saps on és la fageda d’en Jordà ?
Si vas pels volts d’Olot, amunt del pla,
trobaràs un indret verd i pregon
com mai més n’hagis trobat al món:
un verd com d’aigua endins, pregon i clar;
el verd de la fageda d’en Jordà.
El caminant, quan entra en aquest lloc,
comença a caminar-hi poc a poc;
compta els seus passos en la gran quietud
s’atura, i no sent res, i està perdut.
Li agafa un dolç oblit de tot el món
en el silenci d’aquell lloc pregon,
i no pensa en sortir o hi pensa en va:
és pres de la fageda d’en Jordà,
presoner del silenci i la verdor.
Oh companyia! Oh deslliurant presó!
La Garrotxa is well known for its stunning and well preserved Medieval towns. Besalú is one of the main towns in the area with an important past. It was the capital of the lands of the Count of Besalú which extended into France. The Romanesque bridge which still stands today was built in the 12th Century and the town was a fortress, built on the River Fluvià, an important route through Catalonia. The town to this day is extremely well preserved and also has restored Jewish baths and the remains of the medieval synagogue open for visits. Castellfollit de la Roca is one of the most spectacular towns in Catalonia. Perched on top of a cliff towering over the Rivers Fluvià and Toronell it looks like it grew out of the rock beneath. Stop just outside the town to take some photographs. Sant Joan les Fonts has a long history which stretches back to the ninth century and is now one of the most populated areas in La Garrotxa. The town itself has two buildings protected as being of Special Historical interest: the Monestary of Sant Joan les Fonts and the Juvinyà Castle, the oldest Romanesque civil building in Catalonia. The village of Santa Pau is nestled right in the middle of the Volcanic Zone Natural Park and the houses surround the Castle of Santa Pau built in the 12th Century and still well preserved. Make sure to taste some of their famous beans often used in stews.
Where to eat and drink
Pont Vell – Besalú
Pont Vell restuarant is nestled right next to the medieval bridge in Besalú and located in an 18th Century building in the town's former Jewish quarter. Open since 1981, Pont Vell offers traditional Mediterranean cooking with the menu changing seasonally to enjoy the freshest produce of the region and the wine list focuses on local and national wines. The décor is traditional yet simple and elegant, and the restaurant has a garden area where you can dine with beautiful view of the bridge, which is illuminated at night. A perfect setting.
Les Cols – Olot
With a Michelin star and a good few architecture awards to its name, Les Cols is quickly establishing a name for itself amongst the best contemporary restaurants. Taking inspiration from the region of La Garrotxa as well as the idea of 'zero kilometre' cooking, Les Cols aims to be at one with the landscape, both in its gastronomic offering and in its architecture, with floor to ceiling windows creating a feeling of eating almost amongst the countryside. The restaurant offers two tasting menus, one focusing on produce from Les Cols' own garden and henhouse and the other with produce from the area such as black truffles, chestnuts and Catalan cheeses. Eating at Les Cols is a joy for all the senses.
Masnou – Santa Pau
Right in the heart of the Volcanic Zone Natural Park is Masnou restaurant. The restaurant combines these beautiful surroundings with a friendly, family feel, serving traditional Catalan dishes taking inspiration from the produce of the region. If you need a rest from hiking trails around the volcanoes Masnou is the perfect place to stop for some hearty, warm food, giving you the energy to keep exploring.
All photographs courtesy of Magí Sanchón Soler