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By Guest Author & Historian, Dan Moorhouse
Santa Pau is located next to the Baixa Garrotxa Volcanic Nature Reserve in the Girona region of Catalonia. Situated within this conservation area, it retains its medieval charm and is surrounded by a stunning series of dormant volcanoes.
The town grew in importance following the Roman and Arabic invasions. The site was chosen as a suitable location for a stronghold and following the construction of the Castle, the town developed around it within fortified walls. With much of the town retaining it’s original medieval buildings, Santa Pau was granted protected heritage and artistic status in 1971.
Santa Pau is an ideal place to visit for a quiet, relaxing break, be that a day trip or a longer stay. It has numerous lovely walks in the vicinity, excellent sights to see and buildings to explore and provides a delightful contrast to the hussle and bussle of larger towns and cities. Of course it springs into life for festivals, but in a quaint and relaxing manner.
Santa Pau is located within the Garrotxa Nature Reserve. This region is made up of dormant volcanoes and offers some excellent examples of the way in which volcanic activity can shape the environment. There are also some woods in the region that provide an opportunity to see local plants and wildlife. Both the Volcanoes and the woods have signposted walking routes, maps and details for which can be obtained from the tourist information office in the town centre.
The Croscat Volcano is the largest of the volcanoes in the Nature Reserve, standing at a height of 728 metres above sea level. The volcano has previously been quarried which has led to an interesting view of the interior of the volcanic structure: it appears that a triangle has been cut from the side of the volcanic basin.
The Santa Margarida volcano can be found close to the Croscat Volcano. Santa Margarida boats a large crater formed by a volcanic explosion roughly 11000 years ago. The basin is now a pleasant meadow and home of a hermitage, which is mentioned in more detail below.
It is possible to walk to both volcanoes from Santa Pau. Alternatively there are parking areas on the road between Santa Pau and Olot, which would allow easier exploration of the interior of the Nature Reserve.
The town is centred around the square and the medieval castle. Dating from the 13th and 14th centuries the town centre is full of interesting buildings. The square, for example, is surrounded by fascinating arcaded buildings. The castle itself is of architectural interest and the narrow alleyways that run off the main square are incredibly charming. As a fortified Medieval town there are also the town walls to explore and admire from the approach to the town.
The 16th Century Church dedicated to Santa Maria is situated on the main square. The Gothic church boasts a fine golden altar and some fine archways. As is usually the case, the church is the focal point for the town’s celebrations of religious festivals and is worth visiting on major feast days to see the community at its best.
Close to Santa Pau, around 2km, is the sanctuary of Mare de Déu dels Arcs. Once the home of the town’s earliest church, dating back to the 9th century, the sanctuary is now home to a later construction in the Romanesque style. From the sanctuary there are excellent views of the region.
Similarly, there is also the Sanctuary Santa Margarida de la Cot. Built in the basin of the Santa Margarida volcano, this sanctuary, though small, is worth visiting both as a contrast with the Mar Deu dels Arcs and also to take in the views whilst descending into the volcano’s basin. This sanctuary dates from 1865, though was predated by an earlier sanctuary that was destroyed by earthquakes in 1427. The location of the sanctuary makes it popular with church goers and it is somewhat of a place of pilgrimage.
Santa Pau is only a small town of some 1500 residents and consequently does not have a large number of hotels. There are hotel rooms available in the town and there is also a campsite situated a short distance out of town. There are more available hotel rooms in Olot, which is a short distance away.
Santa Pau is a small town based around it’s castle and main square. It therefore does not offer a huge variety of choice but what it does have is good quality and often specialising in local delicacies. There is a nice cafe in the town centre and a restaurant as well. As noted in the festivals section, the area is well known for it’s food and as well as the beans and olives, local delicacies include yougurts and cured meats.
Santa Pau is renowned for it’s local delicacies. Each year it hosts a medieval themed pair of festivals: usually in January. These are dedicated to the local olives and a peculiar local bean. Mixed in with a bustling market and traditional music, the Olive and Bean festivals are highly rated in the surrounding areas. The Santa Pau tourist information office provides full details of the dates of these festivals.
The surrounding area is one of outstanding natural beauty. The nature reserve has an excellent series of signposted walks. These cater for walkers of all abilities and all take in some breathtaking scenery. There are also opportunities to go quad biking, a 4×4 track, horse riding treks and other adventure sport opportunities. For visitors who are not afraid of heights a balloon ride over the nature reserve is well worth considering – the second photo on this article is actually taken from a balloon! This provides a stunning view of an area of great natural beauty.