The Garrotxa is a landlocked county in the north-east of Catalonia, which has two distinctively different types of landscapes. In the south, there are over 40 volcanoes. It’s their lava flows which have sculpted the countryside that today is a protected area – La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone. As we head north, the landscape starts to change rather dramatically. This area, the Alta Garrotxa (High Garrotxa), is characterised by its gorges and cliffs. It has been declared to be an area of natural interest. The entire area is part of the European initiative, the Natura 2000 Network. This initiative aims to protect the most fragile, unique, vulnerable, diverse natural spaces. Both La Garrtoxa and the Fluvia river are part of it.
Just as its landscapes are varied, so are its heritage and cultural offerings. It has some beautiful medieval villages, excellent regional food offerings, a strong artistic heritage, and even a museum dedicated to …the Vietnamese War, in the striking village of Castellfollit de la Roca.
It’s hard to know what is the highlight of the region, as it has so many. For some it could easily be the magnificent volcanic zone, whereas for others it could be its magical, medieval towns. Some visitors come to visit the Romanesque churches, and others come to immerse themselves in the history and Jewish heritage, of the beautiful little medieval town of Besalú.
Lovers of modernism can see many fine examples of this style in the Garrotxa region. The area also has a wealth of Romanesque architecture, as well as evidence of its Jewish legacy. Other forms of artistic expression that can be seen are Renaissance, Contemporary Art, Noucentisme, and the Olot School.
As you’ve probably gathered already, this is not a place for an 18 to 30s beach holiday! The climate is considered to be medium, mountain Mediterranean. This means that if you come during the summer, it will be cooler than other areas closer to the coast. Of course this makes it perfect for some people, who don’t wish to deal with extreme summer heat. The region gets abundant rainfall all year round, which includes refreshing showers in the summertime. Winter is the time of year that normally has less rainfall. You can see average temperatures and rainfall here.
Garrotxa – The Weird And The Wonderful
As if the amazing natural landscapes and heritage oozing from their pores, weren’t enough for you, La Garrotxa has some pretty weird and wonderful experiences on offer as well. You can learn how to goatherd and milk goats, or you could see the fabulous views from a hot air balloon. Or why not check out the Museum of Saints, or go on a two day hike with a local botanical expert, so that you can discover the amazing local world of 20 different species of orchids. These are just a few of the wonderful things you can do in the area…
Things To Do
Romanesque Churches Garrotxa
This region of Catalonia is overflowing with fine examples of Romanesque architecture. The top two medieval villages are Besalu and Santa Pau, although there’s a few more. This is just to single these out, so that if you don’t have lots of time to explore, you can whittle it down to these two highlights. In Besalu alone, there’s the Monastery of St. Pere (Peter), the Church of St. Vincent, and the Collegiate of St. Mary. If you decide to visit towards the end of August, you can go to the special Besalu medieval fair. For more information check out the Besalu travel guide.
In Santa Pau, there’s the church of Santa Maria, which you find in the main square and is known for its fine golden altar. Also in this town is the Sanctuary of Mare de Déu dels Arcs. Read more in the Santa Pau travel guide. Some of the other important Romanesque churches are the lovely Sant Joan de Balbs at La Pinya, and Santa Maria d’Escales, which is perched precariously on a cliff. In the future I’ll write a special feature for a route of Romanesque churches of this area, as there are quite a few more that are well worth visiting. In fact just in the La Vall de Bianya there are 15 Romanesque churches.
La Garrotxa also has a number of notable monasteries which include Sant Pere de Besalú, Sant Joan les Fonts, Sant Llorenç de Sous, Riudaura, and Sant Ferriol.
Where to Eat
La Garrotxa Some Typical Local Produce
This region is especially well known for its fine local produce, its special Volcanic Cuisine, and it also has a couple of Michelin star restaurants. Some examples of the typical local ingredients include:
– Red turnips
– Sheeps’ cheese
– Local beans
– Corn flour
– Wild boar
In 1994 the Volcanic Cuisine group was founded, by a group of local restaurants. This group is highly focused on using the wonderful ingredients which come from the rich, local fertile soil. It’s all about using cuisine that is in raised in the local area, and has plenty of delicious, authentic character.
La Garrotxa Walking & Hiking
There’s no lack of routes to explore in this region. Walk along old historic pathways, where you can discover coastal marshes, medieval villages, Romanesque churches and hermitages and of course dormant volcanoes. Running from the Mediterranean to the Pyrenees, and going through the La Garrotxa county, as well as the Alt Emporda and Ripolles, is a network of around 2500 km of hiking parts which are signposted. This is the Itinerannia network.
Itinerannia has 700 km of routes in La Garrotxa alone. In Spain this was the first area for hiking that has applied a route network concept, allowing users to move safely, in these rural areas. The below link will take you to their website where you can plan your route, plus read through some of the useful suggestions, and advice.
On top of this excellent network, there remains a great variety of other ways to hike around the area, as the Garrotxa Natural Park itself has its own itineraries, as does the Consortium of the Alta Garrotxa. For those who would like to follow the Way of St James, this is also possible, as are a range of other routes, all of which co-exist with the network of Itinerannia footpaths. Find out more about the options here in La Garrotxa walking routes.
Alta Garrotxa Vayreda Route
The places which are depicted in the 19th century novel, La Punyalada by Marian Vayreda, have been put together into a route. The route begins in Sadernes, in the Molí d’en Galceran, and one way is approximately 6.5km in length, therefore making a round trip 13km, and the route is of moderate difficulty. Currently the route is described in Catalan here Or the local county tourist board have an overview of the route in English here