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The craters of Croscat and Santa Margarida.
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With approximately 40 volcanoes and 20 lava flows, the landlocked comarca of La Garrotxa must have once resembled a near-apocalyptic scene, some time between 700,000 and 10,000 years ago.
Today, this now-dormant mass of magma belongs to the Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa, the most prominent volcanic landscape on the Iberian Peninsula. Situated at the foot of the Pyrenees in the province of Girona, this fertile expanse of volcanic soil and conical forms is home to 1178 species of flowering plants, 261 vertebrate animals, and holm oak and beech forests. Add some wonderful walks, ancient settlements and the odd urban legend to the mix, and you’ve got a fine destination for a weekend (or more) in the Catalan countryside...
Visitors to the park can discover this varied volcanic landscape on foot by following many walking routes signposted throughout the park, part of the Itinerànnia network of hiking trails that stretches over 2,500 kilometres in the north of Catalunya. Plan your route on the website or download the app to help you on your way. The following three points of interest combine to make an ideal one-day circular trek (11km), primarily following the itinerary 15 footpath.
If you’ve ever wondered what the inside of a volcano looks like, this is probably the safest way to find out! Measuring 160m, Croscat is the highest volcano in the area, part of which was quarried until the early 1990s. The quarry cut a clean slice out of this Strombolian volcano, leaving its innards open for exploration, much to the delight of geologists and tourists alike. This geological cross-section adds a unique dimension to a beautiful hike around Croscat’s horseshoe-shaped crater.
This wide, meadow-filled crater is formed in a perfect circle and makes for excellent picnic territory, surrounded by lush forests. At its centre lies a Romanesque church, the curious hermitage of Santa Margarida, and the volcano’s namesake.
FAGEDA D'EN JORDÀ
Life’s a beech in the Fageda d’en Jordà, a beautiful forest located within the volcanic national park, 4km from Olot. Where once lava flowed from Croscat, this beech forest has grown up at the unusually low altitude of 550-650m above sea level, and covers an area of about 4.8km2. A source of inspiration for many (including Catalan poet, Joan Maragall, who wrote a famous verse in its honour), the forest is spectacular at this time of year when it becomes an awesome mass of autumn colours, ideal for an afternoon stroll, with some good photo opportunities for those so inclined.
We might all have Google earth, but nothing quite beats the first-hand experience of floating above the earth’s crust, pimpled with volcanoes, following the topographical twists and turns of this remarkable landscape, and the beauty of its natural colours. You’ll be full of hot air after a scenic balloon ride with Vol de Coloms , an opportunity to catch the most impressive views in the most relaxing manner.
Getting there: Parc Natural Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa is 114km from Barcelona and is best reached by car, giving you the flexibility to explore the area once there. Alternatively, bus company, Teisa, runs up to five services per day from Barcelona to Olot (two hours, 15 mins), passing through Besalú (one hour, 40 mins) and Castellfollit de la Roca (one hour, 50 mins). An express bus service to Olot is also available. Tickets must be purchased in advance from the Teisa office (Pau Claris 117, open Mon-Fri 8.30am-3pm, 4.30pm-8.30pm, Sat 9am-3pm) and buses leave from the junction of Pau Claris with Consell del Cent.
Eating: You’re in for a treat when it comes to regional fare in Garrotxa. The volcanic topography makes fertile soil for earthy ingredients and a rich gastronomic tradition. Chefs of Garrotxa are passionate about local cuisine made using local produce, and even formed a group in 1994, called Cuina Volcànica, to represent this ideology.
For some great post-hike grub at a reasonable price, tuck in to hearty country cuisine at Restaurant Hostal dels Ossos, located between Croscat and Olot (€). Sample the famous fesols de Santa Pau–haricot beans in various guises–at Cal Sastre in the heart of the Medieval village (€€). Or, if you’re serious about your posh nosh (and feeling flush), indulge in contemporary Catalan dishes at Michelin-starred Cal’enric, a long-standing family-run establishment in La Vall de Bianya, or the 18-course tasting menu at chic, two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Les Cols, on the outskirts of Olot (€€€).
Sleeping: If you’re looking for a VIP stay to complement a singular dining experience, Les Cols has a handful of truly unique pavilions designed by local architects, RCR. At the other end of the scale, be at one with nature at Camping La Fageda, or pick the perfect village location on a budget at Hotel Comte Tallaferro or Hotel 3 Arcs in Besalú. And for rustic country charm try the boutique B&B, Mas Can Batlle, near Santa Pau, or sleep amidst the seismic activity at El Ventós, an idyllic rural retreat lost within the natural park itself. Restaurant Hostal dels Ossos and Cal Sastre also offer accommodation.