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By Guest Author & Historian, Dan Moorhouse
Olot is the ancient capital of the La Garrotxa region. Situated roughly 50 kilometres from Girona, in the midst of the Pyrenees foothills, Olot is a delightful town that mixes medieval with modern. It has wide, open and spacious walkways, and is surrounded by four of the finest dormant volcanoes in the Garrotxa Nature Reserve.
Symbolic of the city, the Montsacopa Volcano is a great place to get amazing panoramic views over the county and the city. You can walk down into the volcano’s crater, and also into abandoned quarries, where you can see the different volcanic layers.
The town has a genuinely warm and welcoming feel to it. Indeed, this fact was highlighted by a Guardian Newspaper feature that noted just how well immigrants had integrated into Olot in recent years.
The origins of the town’s name have provoked discussion amongst academics. Some claim that the town’s name originates from the ancient ruler of the area, Ulo of the Siculus dynasty (the former Atlanteans), whilst a local legend links the name to the Catalan word Aulot, which translates to wing. The town’s crest alludes to the legend by incorporating a wing in it’s design.
Olot is situated in the Garrotxa Nature reserve. The reserve is home to a large number of volcanoes, all dormant for quite some time. This combined with it being in the foothills of the Pyrenees lends itsself to some beautiful views and striking examples of different forms of scenery.
Visitors interested in the geology of the area don’t have to look too hard to find excellent and diverse examples of volcanic activity. The town of Olot was built on a plain that was formed between four volcanoes: Montolivet, Montsacopa, Garrinada and Bisaroques volcanoes. The Fluvià and Riudaura rivers flow through the plain in which Olot stands and a short distance from the town can be found the Aiguanegra and Sant Vaenti mountain ranges and a series of distinctive plateaux. Olot is home to a Museum of Volcanoes which is open all year round. Current opening times are available via the Tourist Board website.
As a contrast to the mountains and volcanoes, there is also the Fageda d’en Jorda within the Garranxa Nature Reserve. This forest is of beech trees and was described as being a ‘liberating prison’ by the poet Maragall. It’s most beautiful in Autumn, when the colours of the mosses and fallen leaves make it look serene. The Tourist Board also have a very useful guide to the types of mammals and birds found in the region, a volcanological map of the region and a field study guide for people wishing to take things a little more seriously. These can be downloaded in pdf format from this section of the tourist board website.
During the 9th century, the medieval city grew up around the Romanesque church. However in the 15th century the earthquakes destroyed a fair bit of the old town, which was later reconstructed outside the old walls. Today you’ll see that all the streets of this part of the city converge onto the Plaça Mayor (Main Square). This historic part is the heart of the city, which is even more lively during the festivities, some of which can be traced back to 700 years of so. Some of the shops in this area have been open for more than 100 years also.
A National Cultural Interest site, the Claustre del Carme are cloisters which date from the Renaissance period, and are one of a handful of surviving cloisters of the Renaissance period in Catalonia. It was designed during the 16th century by Llatzer Cisterna.Apart from their architectural interest, they are also of interest because the Olot School of Art is based there.
This was designed towards the latter part of the 18th century, by Ventura Rodriguez. It has had a number of uses during its lifetime, which include charitable purposes, art school, museum and market.
Olot also has a number of modernist buildings, which I will cover in that section further below.
There are 4 museums in Olot. One has free admission, this is the Casa-Museu Can Trincheria, and if you buy a ticket to enter all of the other three, this costs €5.00 – or you can buy tickets separately. Check out the prices and hours here.
Carrer de l’Hospici, 8 – Olot 17800
Olot is home to the regional museum, the Museu Comarcal de la Garrotxa. This museum contains a range of different displays about the region’s past, including a section dedicated to the development of the textile trade in the town. However it’s best known for its collection based on the Olot School of Countryside painting. This school of art was formed in the eighteenth century. A movement had begun as part of the Renaissance that followed restoration and an emphasis was placed on Catalan nationalism, its beauty and its landscape.
The School of Art in Olot opened in 1783 and this led to the movement flourishing and becoming widely regarding both locally and elsewhere for the quality and style of the landscape paintings that were produced. In 1880 the first of a series of workshops was held that taught the sills of restoring religious sculptures and statues. Well known artists from the Olot School include Josep Pinos, Josep Clara and Melcior Domenge.
The Olot School of Art continues to produce artists to this day, with some 400+ students currently being enrolled. There are regular exhibitions of their works with a Drawing Festival being held annually.
Located in Parc Nou, this is the place to go to understand about the nature and science of this area. Here you can understand the geology of the land, plus learn about the species and medicinal plants that can be found in the area.
Carrer Joaquim Vayreda 9 – Website: http://www.museusants.cat/english/idx_english.php
An unique and impressive experience – a visit to the Saints Museum will help you understand more about the artistic and religious imagery. The Museum opened in 2007, and it encompasses important aspects of culture, art and history.
Sant Esteve 29
Built during the first half of the 18th century, this was one of Olot’s most important manor houses.Inside the house, you can original decorations such as mythological scenes on the walls. These days it is also the headquarters for the city’s Institute of Culture.
In the Passeig de Miquel Blay, you’ll find this lovely example, which was reformed from 1913 by the great Lluis Domenech i Montaner. Two houses were joined together to make one building and the marvellous façade that you can see today.
Designed in 1905 by Paluzie, this building, in the Plaça d’Esteve Ferrer, has lovely wrought ironwork, capitols with floral motifs and decorated ceramic tiles.
Casa Pujuador in Plaça del Conill – 1911 by Josep Azemar
Casa Escubós in Plaça del Conill – 1905 by Paluzie
Casa Gassiot in Carrer de Sant Rafel – 1911 by Paluzie
Les Cols – Website: http://www.lescols.com/?lang=en
Restaurant Cal ‘Enric Website: http://www.restaurantcalenric.cat/eng/intro_eng.php
To learn more about the food of the region, click on La Garrotxa Cuisine
Olot is a shopper’s paradise, especially when it comes to home-made foodstuffs. The city is especially well known for high quality produce, and its market is bursting with flavours and colours. The municipal market is known to have one of the largest number of producers in Catalonia, who are in control of their product range from start to finish. Some of the top specialities are buckwheat, Olot potatoes, charcuterie, the sweet herb liquor Ratafia, and the traditional cakes – Tortell de Matafaluga – and – Coca de Llardons.
Monday is weekly market day in Olot, which is a good varied market, with a great selection of fruit, vegetables and clothing. This market has been running since the 13th century.
The natural beauty surrounding Olot lends itself very well to walking. Indeed there are too many recognised and planned walks in an around Olot for us to list here. Luckily someone else has compiled an extensive list of the best walks. This collection of walks ranges from a short 2.3km walk with an elevation of just 9: ideal for a pleasant walk on a sunny afternoon, through to a rather more gruelling 21.5km hike with an elevation of more than 1000. There are 18 other walks listed on the site, making the area really somewhere that suits a walker of any ability. There are also walking courses aimed at beginners on offer. These are listed on the website.
Prefer to cycle rather than walk? The lovely scenery lends itself very well to either a gentle pedal around, and that is possible on some of the walks noted above. There is a more strenuous and tested route for experienced cyclists described on this website . The one drawback of this route is that it is not a circular route and at 34km one way a return leg may need some well trained legs!