Photo by Lucy Brzoska
Cingles De Bertí
The scenery seems fairly ordinary in this part of Catalunya, quite flat with small fields and scattered woods. Then suddenly, without warning, the innocuous rural landscape disappears and the world gives way at your feet. The plateau abruptly ends, as if sliced, to reveal bare rock strata then steeply wooded slopes plunging down to the valley below.
The cinglera—an inland cliff—is a defining landscape feature of central Catalunya: overlooking the Sau reservoir near Vic are the immense Cingles de Collsacabra; the Cingles de Busa loom majestically in the pre-Pyrenees of Solsona; the village of Castellfollit in La Garrotxa is defensively perched on its own cinglera. Much closer to Barcelona, and clearly visible from the city, are the Cingles de Bertí, only an hour away by train or bus whenever you feel like a walk on the edge.
Named after the parish of Sant Pere de Bertí, the escarpment ripples grandiosely along one side of the Congost River, from La Garriga to Centelles. On the opposite side of the valley are the more rounded, far older mountains of Montseny. Created by the upheavals in the Palaeocene and Eocene epochs (starting around 65 and 56 million years ago, respectively), when much of Catalunya lay under the sea, the Cingles de Bertí are a recent formation, geologically speaking, too young to have witnessed the dinosaurs. At their base are deep red conglomerate rocks, while the higher strata are pale limestone packed with marine fossils. This alkaline environment explains the rich variety of orchids growing on the Cingles, unlike in Montseny with its acidic soils.
To walk on the edge of the escarpment is to tread a line between the tamed farmland on one side and wild inaccessible woodland below. Eye contact is made with passing cliff-nesting raptors like kestrels and peregrine falcons. A roost of ravens favour the rocky ledges near the Aiguafreda telecommunications mast where they spend hours aerial dancing, executing barrel rolls and bill knocking. Vultures occasionally cruise past on excursions from more northerly mountains.
And above all, there are the views. You constantly need to stop to take in their immensity. The panorama is at its sharpest and most dramatic in winter, when Montseny glows white with snow, and the crisp northerly air stretches the horizons from the Pyrenees to the sea.
A full day’s excursion is highly recommended, starting from Sant Feliu de Codines, where you can pick up a long-distance Gran ruta (walking route), the GR 5, which will eventually drop you off at the train station in Aiguafreda (after 23.5 kilometres). It’s quite well marked with the GR red-and-white signs, but for safe navigation, it’s best to take a map (Alpina Mapa i guia excursionista series, nº. E25).
The trail offers spectacular vistas of the cave monastery at Sant Miquel del Fai and its famous waterfalls, which streak down the cliff face. After a series of forest fires, the woods in this part of the Cingles have been replaced by a thick scrub of rosemary, gorse and strawberry trees. In the depths of winter, the sheltered rocks hum with industrious bumble bees visiting the blooms, a therapeutic sound at any time of year.
Another landmark, once past the semi-deserted village of Bertí, is El Clascar, a strange, mock-Gothic ruin, with vestiges of the original fortified farmhouse dating from the 10th century. Its front steps are ideal for a picnic, with views stretching back to Barcelona, where you can discern the twin towers of the Vila Olímpica. From here the route veers north, and when you re-encounter the edge of the precipice, the full glory of Montseny is spread out before you, its landmarks clearly visible: Tagamanent and Pla de la Calma.
Returning to the lowlands, the GR 5 dives steeply down to the Congost Valley with its road and railway line. It’s worth knowing that if you continue following the edge of the Cingles you eventually come to a wide looping track that also descends to Aiguafreda. This way is a little longer, but far kinder on the knees.
If you approach the Cingles de Bertí from the opposite direction, perhaps with a shorter walk in mind, they can look rather impenetrable, a tremendous vertical wall looming up in front of you. But the cliffs are breached by a number of paths, besides those already mentioned, known as graus. You could climb up the PR C-33 (Pequeña ruta, marked with yellow-and-white signs) from Figaro train station, for instance, surfacing at the top via the Grau de la Trona. After following the cliff edge north, the Grau del Sunyer will take you back down to the station of Sant Martí de Centelles at Aiguafreda. Like many of the paths, it’s rather secretive but can be located with some careful map reading.
The Cingles are beautiful throughout the year. Aromatic herbs thrive, and the scent of thyme is strong even in winter, becoming almost overpowering in the heat of summer. In early spring, the rocky edges are covered in rushleaf jonquils, a diminutive kind of daffodil, their waxy yellow flowers clustering around the rosemary and juniper bushes. Late spring sees the pyramid orchids rise above the other wild flowers on tall strong stems. Summer is alive with butterflies and lizards, while scorpions hide under the rocks, and flocks of swifts and house martins come calling from the valley.
When you return from the heights and look back, the great curves of the cinglera seem like the prows of immense galleons, stranded far inland. Up around the telecommunications mast, the ravens swarm before settling down for the night on their inaccessible ledges.
- Sagalés bus company runs a service to Sant Feliu de Codines, leaving from Passeig de Sant Joan with Diputació, near Tetuan metro. Timetables at: www.sagales.com.
- Trains to Figaro and Sant Martí de Centelles (station for Aiguafreda) go from Sants and Plaça Catalunya.
- Go to Altair Bookshop (Gran Via 616) for maps.
- Don’t forget to take plenty of water.
Lucy Brzoska runs nature tours and writes for the website www.iberianature.com