Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Les Roques Encadenades or Les Roques Encantades

Each season in Catalunya brings us something different. The summer - warm weather, BBQ's and the beach scene, spring - Calçots and the blossom on the trees and winter - frozen waterfalls, nights in front of the log fire, Christmas markets and of course skiing. But it has to be said that it is at this time of year, during the autumn, that I look forward to the most and that this is my favourite time of year.....

It's almost mid November, the leaves on the trees are in full display and after a long and hot summer, there's an absolute riot of colour in the mountains. Today it's 23ºC outside, the air is fresh and clear and there is not a breath of wind rustling the leaves. The sky has that particular shade of dark (winter) blue that we only seem to get between the Autumn and Spring equinoxes, when the sun hangs low in the sky all day and makes for long shadows and dramatic contrasts. In the late afternoon, there is a window of opportunity to take stunning pictures. Photographers like myself, call this the "magic hour" and magic hour in Catalunya lasts all day long.

Today, I'm out and about with friends on a short hike in the low Pyrenees and we are off to visit Les Roques Encadenades or Les Roques Encantades - The Chained or Enchanted Rocks located on the cliffs of the Collsacabra mountains just to the north of Girona.

The Vall d'en Bas, just to the north of Girona from the Falgars de Collsacabra.
First things first though, we had to get there.... Easier said than done as although geographically the hike was just a few kilometres to the north of Girona, we had to pass all the way up through the d'en Bas Valley and then turn back on ourselves climbing all the way as there are no direct roads to the Collsacabra mountains from the Costa Brava. This, I have to say, I consider a bonus.... Sufficiently far enough away to deter the casual day tripper, and yet close enough to get there and back comfortably in a morning. Today, we elected to have a lie-in, a lazy start and to spend the whole day out in the low Pyrenees.

On the way to Les Roques, we passed the small village of Les Planes d'Hostoles and stopped off at one of the best little picnic spots I know. A waterfall based at the gorg del moli dels Murris which is situated on the river Cogolls.

The Salt de Cogolls

Incidentally, d'en Bas valley hosts the famous via verde; an obsolete narrow gauge railway-line which was decommissioned in the 1960's and has now been renovated for the use of hikers and trail bikers and winds its way from the Pyrenean town of Olot 100 kms or so down to Sant Feliu de Guixols on the coast. Near to Les Planes d'Hostoles and close to the via verde you will find the gorg dels Murris, the Salt de Magarida (another waterfall and picnic spot) and some outstanding small, local restaurants where you can stop of for a menu del dia or a coffee.

After s short stop off to see the waterfall, we continued north along the valley towards Sant Esteve d'en Bas and the entrance to the Collsacabra mountains.

At Sant Esteve d'en Bas, take the C153 towards Rupit and after a few kilometres of steady climbing, you'll reach the summit at the Coll de Condreu where there is a little bar and restaurant. We normally park there and as we generally return to the restaurant for lunch of drinks after the walk, don't feel too guilty about parking in their carpark.....

Opposite the carpark, on the other side of the C153 and next to the donkey :), there is a small sign indicating the start of the walk to Les Roques Encadenades.

The start of the hike.
Donkey. "Ruc" in Catalan
 and the symbol of Catalunya 

This walk is not really suitable for anyone with mobility issues as it has a short climb and can be a little steep in places, but this hike is perfect for families and children being just 2 or 3 kilometres long. Along the way, you'll find route markers, so there is no need for a map or GPS and typical of Catalunya, there are information stops along the way giving you some background information to the local legends and geology. I have tried to translate these signs and although my Catalan is not that good, believe that I've done them justice.... the following script comes from the info spots that we encountered along the way.

Les Roques Encadenades or Encantades and a self portrait.

A natural cathedral of calmness and magic.
The Collsacabra Mountains.

"The beech forests attract the rains of summer. They are moist and shady places. They share their space with oak, despite living in different parts. Whilst the oaks like sunny spots, beech prefers more shady slopes.

One can walk through a beech forest on a soft carpet of leaves. Become intoxicated by the silence and calmness of the forest. The proportions are deceiving for when you enter, you become almost insignificant next to the true giants of the forest. Light rays penetrate the darkness from the canopy above and the forest becomes a magical and silent cathedral. 
Our Golden Retriever Casi having a fantastic day out in the leaves.
Legend says it was Jesus, who walking through the Pyrenees, found a man cursing. As punishment, he turned the man into a  bear and gave him the power to climb all types of tree in the forest with the exception of the beech, and so this is why to this day bears try to knock down the Beech without success.

Beech forests are the favourite places of fairies and goblins. They live in holes in the trunks, in the canopy and they bathe in the small pools of water that form in the cavities of old trees.

The Oak.

The oak trees were considered sacred to many ancient people. For the ancient Greeks, the oak tree was dedicated to Zeus and for the Romans the tree was sacred to Jupiter. These were the gods of rain, lightning and thunder and therefore worshiped the oaks to pray for rain. The priests of Zeus submerged oak branches in a sacred spring to attract rain and the Romans threw acorns instead of rice at brides and grooms because it was a symbol of fertility. 
The Oak tree which Belongs to the genus “Quercus” (from the Greek “Kratos”),  means power and strength and with reference to its wood, is the most resistant in the world and up to five times harder than the pine. Legend has it that Noah's Ark was built with oak.

The Druids (the name means “the oak men”), used to listen to the whispering of the leaves of the oaks in order to interpret the messages of the gods. In Finish mythology they say that the oaks were created by the god Väinämöinen to protect the birds and to be protectors of the human race. Oak, in  Guernica, in the Basque Country, which represents traditional freedoms and is a universal symbol of Basque poor.

The enchanted rocks or chained rocks.

They say that many years ago, a demon lived in the area. He had a bed of mulch under one of these big rocks. Occasionally, when bored or when there was evil moon, he entertained himself by rolling them downhill to see them crash into the houses of Sant Feliu de Pallerols.

The people of the village, fed up with having to endure these whims of the demon, prayed to God for help. Then one day, an angel came down from heaven and tied the rocks together with chains so strong that the demon could no longer move them. Defeated, the demon went to look for somewhere else to cause trouble.

But the geologists say ....

These rocks are between 22 and 65 million years old. They originated in the sea, near the coast and are made of cemented sands transported and deposited in a quiet shallow sea. They formed underwater rolling dunes. Exceptionally, you can find sharks teeth and other fish in the rock. The water that has trickled  through the cracks later, would, over time have carved the rock into the individual blocks that exist today which every now and then fall down the cliffs. Interestingly, during the XIV and XV centuries there were earthquakes, some notably intense (years 1373, 1427 and 1448) which coincide with the time of the legends."

Finally, we made our way to the Santuari of El Far situated high on the Cingles (cliffs) overlooking Girona,  Les Gavarres Natural Reserve and the Costa Brava in the distance. There is a restaurant and bar there with good parking and outstanding views. What better place to end a fantastic day.

Late afternoon from the cliffs of El Far overlooking the d'en Bas Valley and Les Gaverres hills.
Sunset from El Far.

If you wish to learn more about hiking, biking and adventures on the Costa Brava throughout the year, please contact me through our Facebook page, our website below or our email address caldomino@gmail.com
About me… I have lived in Calonge (province of Girona) on the Costa Brava since 2003 after retiring as a pilot from the british Royal Air Force. My passions are hiking, biking, skiing, photography and discovering and sharing the hidden cultural treasures of this beautiful country. My day job entails managing a luxury self-catering rental Villa, Casa Cal Domino, and in my search for new and interesting things to do for my clients whilst they are here on holiday, I have been genuinely overawed by the beauty and diversity of this land. I’m not leaving any time soon. I love it here and I hope to inspire you to come and discover this wonderful country for yourself.

Monday, 28 September 2015

A Supermoon Lunar Eclipse and a hike along the Cami de Ronda.

Am I tired !? Hardly.... Well maybe a little. A siesta is probably called for later on today having been hiking all day on Sunday and then staying up all night to photograph the lunar eclipse on Monday September 28th 2015. The eclipse was visible from all over Europe and here in northern Catalunya, we had a warm cloudless night. Perfect for sitting back on the terrace and watching the events unfold. It was a beautiful spectacle. Unfortunately, the moon dipped behind the trees of the Gavarres Hills behind the Villa before the earths shadow (Umbra) had completely disappeared from the face of the moon. But anyway, what a great end to a fun-packed weekend !
The end of the total eclipse with the super moon of Sept 2015.

Anyway, before the all the excitement and celestial dark omens of Monday morning, we got up early on  a beautiful warm sunny Sunday morning and packed a picnic. We were meeting up with some friends to walk a part of the Cami de Ronda (Coastal Path) from the beach at Illa Roja to the lovely little seaside village of Sa Tuna, both of which are about 20 minutes to the north of Casa Cal Domino. The weather has been fantastic for early Autumn and the trees have only just started to change colour.  It's still too early yet to be heading up into the Beech forests of Montseny Natural Reserve to admire in the autumnal splendour, so as we were in the mountains last weekend at Vallter, we decided to try a little used trail on part of the Cami de Ronda.

The Lovely beach at Illa Roja
There is no car park at Illa Roja. You'll find the entrance to the beach on the far south side of Platja de Pals and there is very limited on road parking which will get very full, very quickly during the summer months. In September and October though, you'll have your choice of parking slots, the beach will be relatively empty and the water is still warm from the summer months. Illa Roja has quite course grain sand, but is a couple of hundred meters long and about 40 meters wide giving you plenty of space to stake out your spot. You'll need to forget your blushes and your swim-wear too as this beach is Naturist only.

Almost as soon as you arrive at the Illa Roja, there are steps to the right of the beach that take you up a steep track adjacent to the seafront and within 100 meters you arrive at the top of the cliff overlooking the beach. The first part of the this hike has well maintained steps that take you around the coastline hugging the sea. Many parts of the Cami de Ronda are well maintained and quite "manicured", but this track is one of the paths that has retained it's wild nature and the trail is not suitable for anyone with vertigo or mobility issues. Pretty soon, you come to the unkept wild part of the track through natural pine forests and it is not well sign posted, although its natural state is part of the charm of this particular part of the coastal path.

Sa Riera with the Ilas de Medas in the distance.
Illas de Medas.  An Aquatic Nature Reserve and excellent diving location.
The first small village that we came to was Sa Riera. A very small little fishing village with a few cafe's and restaurants and a small sandy beach. The locals still fish from here and to one side of the beach there are a dozen or so typical Catalan fishing boats hauled-up onto the sand. For those that are walking with dogs, there is also a trickle of a river that soon disappears into the sand of the beach, but is perfect for your pets to cool off and have drink. After Sa Riera, there is one further small cala and then a hike through the forests of about 3 kms until the next small cove of Aiguafreda.

The Cami de Ronda.
Aiguafreda (meaning cold water in Catalan) has a small chiringuito open in the summer months (it was still open today serving cold drinks, coffee and ice creams) and is very popular with the diving clubs here for it's clear water and abundant aquatic life. There is also a nice Hostal with a good menu, although we found it a little on the expensive side.

Just a few kilometres further along the coast and you come to Sa Tuna. We like Sa Tuna, it's a small well kept coastal village with a small sandy beach and half a dozen restaurants and bars.

The colourful well kept houses at Sa Tuna from one of the beach bars.
The approach down to Sa Tuna from the Cami de Ronda.
All of these little fishing villages are situated on a part of the Costa Brava that is a little detached from the main tourist spots. They are quite remote and you need a car to get to them and even then, parking during the summer months is problematic as there are very few spaces. Put all of this together and you find these charming little villages that appear to be untouched by modern mass tourism and retain echoes of a slower pace of life. We highly recommend this walk. Allow a good 90 minutes to 2 hours each way, settle down in a beach bar at Sa Tuna and have a long lazy lunch with a bottle of cool dry white wine. Perfect !

Thanks to our friends for the great company and giving me the opportunity to practice my Spanish. Lovely day :)

#caldomino #girona #catalunya #costabrava #satuna #sariera #eclipse #supermoon #moon #camideronda

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About me… I have lived in Calonge (province of Girona) on the Costa Brava since 2003 after retiring as a pilot from the british Royal Air Force. My passions are hiking, biking, skiing, photography and discovering and sharing the hidden cultural treasures of this beautiful country. My day job entails managing a luxury self-catering rental Villa, Casa Cal Domino, and in my search for new and interesting things to do for my clients whilst they are here on holiday, I have been genuinely overawed by the beauty and diversity of this land. I’m not leaving any time soon. I love it here and I hope to inspire you to come and discover this wonderful country for yourself.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Hiking the High Pyrenees at Vallter 2000.

The high summer with scorching temperatures and packed beaches is over and Autumn has started. Time to relax, kick back and enjoy some of the things that fantastic Catalunya has to offer. For me, September is the Goldilocks month and everything is just about perfect. The sea is still warm, the beaches are more or less empty, you have a choice of tables in the restaurants and the kids have gone back to school. I love September.... September signals the start of the outdoors lifestyle without the incessant heat of July and August and for the next 4 months or so, the whole of Catalunya becomes a playground for hiking and biking, culminating in the skiing season which kicks off in late December.

This week, we went to the High Pyrenees and the ski resort at Vallter 2000. At an altitude of 2881 mts, the peak of Bastiments offers cracking views of the Pyrenees, France, Catalunya and in the distance, the Mediterranean Sea.

A Panoramic view from the top of the mountain, the peak at Bastiments.

From Casa Cal Domino, it's 40 minutes by car to the north of Girona, then another hour past the medieval village of Besalu and the pristine lake at Banyoles until we reach a fantastic little pastry shop situated in the village of Llaners. Llaners sits at the base of the mountain below the ski resort of Vallter 2000 and there they sell fresh warm petit pain au chocolate / Napolitanas. Deliciously buttery croissants with a generous filling of chocolate. Mmmmm just the thing to stretch the legs and get ready for the days hiking.

The start of the hike.
"The tree"

Crossing the river Ter.

We park the car on the road just below the ski resort's main car park and head up to the refuge half way to the peak at Bastiments. The path winds its way through pine forest by the river Ter which at this stage is just a small mountain stream trickling its way down the mountainside to become one of the biggest rivers in Catalunya on its 208 km trek to the town of Estartit and the Mediterranean Sea.

Approaching the tree line.
The sign post by the refuge.
The refuge at Ulldeter.

Today, the air is clear and temperatures hover around 15ºC. Perfect hiking weather. After about an hour, we start to reach the tree line, the point at which the forest gives way to mountain proper and to mark the transition, there is the Refuge at d'Ulldeter at an altitude of 2200 mts (http://www.ulldeter.net/en/). Here, they serve hot and cold drinks, snacks and hot meals. There is a warm, rustic wooden-panelled dining area with long trestle tables and benches where everyone sits down together for communal meals. Outside, you'll find a grassy area to sit and relax in the sunshine with a few benches and boulders to sit on. There's a font to replenish water bottles and good views of the mountain and the hike to come.

The top of the Vallter Valley just below the peak at Bastiments.

After leaving the refuge, the climb begins and you follow what would be one of the the ski pistes to the top of the Vallter Valley. This area is a delight to walk through. It's full of alpine flowers, small streams with fresh ice-cold water. If you're lucky, you'll see families of sure-footed mountain goats tearing along the escarpments at breakneck speed and almost certainly will hear the warning cries of the Marmots that thrive here at Vallter. In just 40 minutes from leaving the Refuge, you'll find yourself at the top of the Vallter Valley with the impressive mountain peak of Bastiments in front of you.


Here the climb starts for real and the path zig-zags its way to the very top where the cool mountain air and exquisite views await. Bring a picnic, find a rock, sit yourself down, breath and relax..... What is it about hikers ? Everyone is in a good mood, chatty, sociable and friendly. The minimum that you'll get all day is a cheery, "Bon dia" (good day) or show willing to practice your Spanish or Catalan and you'll find many locals happy to chat to and maybe be keen to improve their English too. This is what it is all about.... a well earned respite from modern life. Clean fresh air and gorgeous views.... food for the soul.

The top of the mountain and my picnic spot for the day.
Marta and Casi waiting for me.
The peak at Bastiments.

I can stay up here for ever... but eventually, the rock that I'm sitting on becomes just a little bit too uncomfortable, the picnic is but a fond memory and a full belly and the descent back down the mountain beckons. It's not all over though. The views on the way down are just awesome. I've always said to friends that come here that there is something special about Catalunya.... It's the light. Some of the worlds greatest painters have made a pilgrimage to Catalunya to capture the light here and today, with my camera, I am spoilt for good views with the most incredible "blue" that you could imagine.


Half way down we stop for a coffee and a sandwich at the refuge. As usual, the same cheery bonhomie seems to infect everyone here and we get chatting to a young couple from Sweden and their 8 month old daughter. They are hiking the GR11 Pyrenean trail from Andorra to Setcases, a small village just below Vallter. Their trek is almost over and they have been wild camping for over a week. What a fantastic adventure for them, but with an 8 month old.....Now that is brave !

#caldomino #girona #catalunya #pyrenees #vallter #ulldeter #bastiments

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About me… I have lived in Calonge (province of Girona) on the Costa Brava since 2003 after retiring as a pilot from the british Royal Air Force. My passions are hiking, biking, skiing, photography and discovering and sharing the hidden cultural treasures of this beautiful country. My day job entails managing a luxury self-catering rental Villa, Casa Cal Domino, and in my search for new and interesting things to do for my clients whilst they are here on holiday, I have been genuinely overawed by the beauty and diversity of this land. I’m not leaving any time soon. I love it here and I hope to inspire you to come and discover this wonderful country for yourself.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Pantas and Cingles of Osana

What a day ! Up in the low Pyrenees at just under 1000 mts AMSL and about an hour north of the Villa, lies one of Europe's best hiking and biking secrets. The Cingles de Tavertet, the Collsacabra mountains and the chocolate-box village of Rupit situated in the region of Osana. This area, between the towns of Girona, Vic and Olot is so full of lakes, waterfalls, volcanoes, green lush valleys and  picturesque rock formations that it's sometimes hard to choose what activity to do. This time, we were on the mountain bikes with our Meetup Group for a 50 kilometer epic ride through this beautiful part of Catalunya. The route is conveniently broken down into three parts. The first section involves an easy shallow climb for 20 km along the shores of the Panta de Susqueda (reservoir) up to the Hotel La Riba situated in the shadow of the Cingles de Tavertet (cliffs). The second segment continues our climb along forest roads for 15 km up to the impossibly pretty village of Rupit which stands guard over the impressive 60 mt Salt de Sallent (waterfall) where we stopped for lunch and finally a sporty descent along technically intermediate forest trails back to the Panta de Susqueda.
The River Ter below and the Cingles de Rupit in the background
The Panta de Susqueda was created in the 1968 with the construction of a dam 135 meters high and a crest length of 360 meters blocking the river Ter which then flooded the old villages of Susqueda and Queros.  Now, the reservoir containing 233 hm³ of fresh water, provides clean energy for the region and is a mecca for hikers, bikers and fishing enthusiasts who regularly hold weekend competitions along its banks. The old Susqueda road (pictured above) still exists here and there on a track that has otherwise more-or-less returned to a more natural state. Even in the heat of the summer months, the refreshingly shady track winds its way through a forest full of ash, cherry, fig, beech and oak trees on a gentle climb up to the next dam situated at Sau.
The Cingles de Tavertet and the Panta de Sau
The hotel Riba where we have our first stop is located on a small hill overlooking the Panta de Sau. It  has a lovely grassy patio garden area with ample shade where you can sit and relax with a cool beer and tapas as you prepare for the next stage of the ride to Rupit. They are well used to walkers and cyclists popping in for lunch and have a large swimming pool that you may use if you purchase drinks and food from the patio bar so don't forget your costume ! 
The Hotel La Riba and patio garden
After a refreshingly cool beer, we were about to continue with the ride when the group that was sat next to us was served some croquettes and french fries. The smell and approving sounds eminating from our neighbours table proved too much to ignore and we sat down again and ordered another beer and some tapas.... Finally, feeling rather guilty of eating a pre-lunch snack, we continued along the forest road on a gentle climb along the valley and up to the top of the cingles and the Salt de Sallent. 

The road to Rupit in the shadow of the Cinlges de Tavertet.

The Cingles de Rupit

From the Salt de Sallent to the Agullola rock

After a very hot dry summer, there was hardly any water in the Salt which made it easy to cross the river and head up to Rupit. The best time to come and visit this otherwise impressive waterfall is in the spring and after the rains in late autumn when the river swells and cascades over the cliff and plummets approximately 60 meters or so to the valley floor below. There are well marked tracks and viewing platforms and a short shady track that leads from the waterfall to the village of Rupit. There is one further waterfall on the way to Rupit with a viewing platform and a natural font where there is always cool,  fresh mountain spring water to re-fill your water bottles.

After a 20 minute climb through the woods, the medieval mountain village of Rupit appears. This village is well preserved and caters for day trippers and hikers throughout the year. Even though it should be a bit of a tourist trap, the prices remain reasonable and we had a very enjoyable lunch of Cargols (snails), and a selection of tapas with a few cool beers.

Rupit, its church and castle were first documented way back in the year 968. The village straddles the Riera de Rupit (Rupit river) and there is a suspension bridge that links the two sides of the village. It is a small and picturesque little village with a few restaurants and bars and touristy shops selling souvenirs and local produce. There are dozens of well marked trails around the Rupit and Tavertet area for hikers and bikers and the village is well worth a visit to stop off for lunch.

After lunch, we headed back along the quiet side road to the church of Sant Joan de Fàbregues situated about 3 km from the village and then began the descent down past the Agullola rock to the shores of the reservoir. From here, the trail continues for another 20km or so until we arrive back at the Panta de Susqueda and the parking.

This route is just one of our Catalan Adventure weekend destinations offering guided or self guided tours through Catalunya away from the tourist hot spots. For this route, you need to be reasonably fit and be able to comfortably ride 50km or so. The technical details for this ride can be found on Strava. Prices start at €180 per person per day for luxury self catering accommodation at Casa Cal Domino (sauna, exterior jacuzzi hot tub, infinity pool), bike rental and guided tour (prices correct 2015). Contact us for further details.

#caldomino #girona #catalunya #pyrenees #rupit #sau

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About me… I have lived in Calonge (province of Girona) on the Costa Brava since 2003 after retiring as a pilot from the british Royal Air Force. My passions are hiking, biking, skiing, photography and discovering and sharing the hidden cultural treasures of this beautiful country. My day job entails managing a luxury self-catering rental Villa, Casa Cal Domino, and in my search for new and interesting things to do for my clients whilst they are here on holiday, I have been genuinely overawed by the beauty and diversity of this land. I’m not leaving any time soon. I love it here and I hope to inspire you to come and discover this wonderful country for yourself.