Updated: Dec 8, 2020
A December weekend getaway up North.
Writing this blog, I can appreciate even more what it was like to just go out and do things. To get in your car, drive off somewhere, visit beautiful places and do things we used to see as 'normal.' It's been more than 2 months in strict quarantine lock-down here in Spain, and it hasn't been easy. Up until recently, the only outside time we had here was for vital trips to the supermarket, taking out the rubbish, or walking the dog. I don't have a dog, so I it was 2 out of 3. Spain has been one of the hardest hit countries, with 240,000 confirmed cases and 27,00 deaths. Italy, the US and the UK are also devastated by this latest pandemic. Slowly things have eased, by allowing children outside to walk between certain times. Writing this blog now in June, Spain has just opened up enough for bars and restaurants to open and for people to leave their houses normally. All with masks on and capacity limits for shops, but it is nearly back to normal. Work has continued for me - I'm one of the lucky ones being able to work online. For some it has been much worse. But it is good to reflect on past times, past trips and back to times when you were happy and free. Appreciate what you had and have now, always. Back in December, before I knew what was only months away, we had a long weekend and thought nothing about taking a trip up north. The plan was to visit and stay in Banyoles, a town on a lake in the province of Girona. I'd been here once, and never really saw much of the town itself. It's very close to many interesting and beautiful places, like Besalu, Castellfollit de la Roca and Olot. All of these places were on the list for this trip too. We got in the car and heading off to enjoy an autumn long weekend.
Although I didn't have a strict, day by day plan, I did have places that I wanted to visit while up here. Although not that far from Sabadell (nothing is that far by Australian standards!), Banyoles is different as there are lots of small mountains and hills in the area, and it is generally just less populated and more rural. I drove up the C-17 towards Vic, and instead of continuing up directly to Olot, I decided to take a diversion. Exiting the highway, we got onto a small national road that took us into the national park. Winding our way through the forest, the treeline broke and we saw what I was looking for - the Sau reservoir. I say 'looking for,' though it wasn't lost - what I was looking for though was the church that is sometimes lost under the water. Back in 1962, when the dam was built, the village of Sant Romà de Sau was evacuated and flooded. When the water level is low enough you can see the tower sticking out - and today I was lucky! I have meant to visit this place for so long and it felt good coming here at last - it's very beautiful and I'd love to come back here and walk around the area more, maybe even do some water sports on the reservoir. The detour wasn't over though - while we were here on this small, windy road, there were 2 other places I put on the list to visit, before getting back to the big, boring highway. The Salt de Sallent waterfall was a short drive up the road, so we got back on the road for a few minutes then parked the car and walked the rest of the way. A very easy walk, but it came with spectacular views as the path was right on the edge of a high cliff. The view, flat mountains with rocky faces and trees as far as you can see, reminded me of the Blue Mountains just outside of Sydney. Within minutes we had reached the waterfall which spectacularly spilled out over the edge and dropped 328 feet (100m) onto the rocks below. There was a fair bit of walking to be done around here, but it was nearly lunchtime already and I was getting hungry. Back to the car and onto the next stop - Rupit.
It was getting a little late for lunch to be honest. I knew this by the rumble in my belly and by how few parking spaces there were anywhere close to Rupit. The locals like to eat at 2pm - start eating that is, as this process can and usually does take some time (especially for family lunches). We managed to find a parking spot (paid however - there was no escaping it) and wander into the village and grab a space at the bar. After a lovely little sandwich and a beer, I needed a walk and to take some photos before the sun set. Being Winter, the sun was already dipping low by 4pm, but the light was perfect for photos. Rupit is a medieval village and nearly all of the houses and streets are stone - but to get to the old part of the village you have to cross a swaying suspension bridge built to connect this part with the new part of town and the main road. There was a queue of people to cross, but then I read that there was a limit of 10 people at a time. I figured that was the reason for the hold up and was ok with waiting. Something I quickly learned here was that 1. People can't count to 10, and 2. People don't seem to care about anyone else but themselves! Ok, so I knew the second one already, and to be honest I think number 1 is more influenced by number 2 rather than counting ability. People strolled over the bridge in large groups, some for group photos, others, it seemed, were just completely ignorant. Then there were the Instagram girls and their boyfriends. Sadly the bridge didn't fall this day, it held far more than it should have and for far longer too. I crossed, snapped a quick picture in the middle and then hurried over to the other side, trying not to make the structure bounce and move too much (just enough to blur those Instagram shots maybe). I know I sound angry, but I'm not really - I just don't have much patience for absolute tourists. The village itself was gorgeous though and you can see why it attracts so many people. Most of the charming stone houses are from the 16th and 17th century, and seem to hang over the rocky outcropping in places. Although quite small, I felt that I could wander around for hours - but we didn't have hours, but we did the walk to the 'ermita Santa Magdalena,' or hermitage of Saint Magdalena (which also means 'muffin' in Spanish!), took some more photos and then went back to the car.
We drove towards Banyoles and our resting place for the night, but on the way had to stop and appreciate the view. The sun was just about below the horizon and this gave the surrounding countryside the most beautiful orange and purple glow. It was worth stopping, even if it was on a small country road with nowhere really to park. I was careful as I pulled over, put the hazards on and then snapped a couple of pics. Totally worth it. The drive to Banyoles was uneventful in the dark - we found some parking, the hostel, checked in and had a lovely dinner out. The next morning we headed out for breakfast before making our way to Olot, the city of volcanoes. Although there isn't that much to see and do in this city, it's no Barcelona or even Girona, the area is littered with extinct volcanoes - this is its draw point. The area is called the Parque Natural de la Zona Volcánica de la Garrotxa (The La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone National Park), and area of green hills and small mountains that were once active lava spewers. I parked the car and we started the short walk up to one such volcano, the Volcà del Montsacopa, which has a 17th century church in its crater. It was an easy walk, there was an easy path to the top, and before you know it you can see everything. The ground is covered in little volcanic stone, from the size of golf balls to tiny little pebbles, and in various colours too, from deep red to grey and even black. A quick circuit of the rim gives you a lovely view of the countryside. You can get an even better view from the stone towers built right on the edge, and also grab a beer at the cute little church cafe. I was already getting hungry and we decided to get some tapas in the centre. The town centre was nice and very busy - it was beer o'clock and nobody had even heard of Covid yet. Those were the days!
We got back in the afternoon, parked the car and decided to head out for a walk around the Banyoles lake. Still and mirror-like, the deep blue colour of the lake was stunning. It was the perfect time to come here to be honest - the colours were just right. White capped mountains in the distance, golden leaves clinging to the trees and red ones already falling, and the blue of the sky and water. It was so perfect that I started wondering where else you could enjoy such weather in Winter? Not many places, that's for sure. The lake is natural too, formed by moving tectonic plates, and is the largest in Catalonia. It was also the venue for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics rowing events - and today there were some rowers skimming their way over the calm waters. Apart from the lovely views of trees, mountains and water, there are also the little houses that sit on the shore. Although I'm not entirely sure what purpose they serve, whether they are small boat houses or summer vacation huts, they are great for photos. I love this lake - it's so peaceful, yet full of life and activity, human and animal. Banyoles only has a population of 17,000 people and I'm sure that most of them were down here this day, enjoying what makes their town special. It'd been a busy day and so it was time for a relaxing dinner in the centre and then to bed - tomorrow was the last day of this great weekend break and there was still a little to do.
On the list was Besalú and Castellfollit de la Roca, both just a short drive from here and on the way home too. Besalú is one of my favourite places in this country and I would never grow tired of coming back and taking even more photos. If you come here, you will know why. The town was very important during the Middles Ages; it was the capital of the area (called Besalú county), and thankfully most of the buildings from this time still exist. Designated as a historical national property in 1966, the town retains its 12th Century Romanesque bridge and the church of Sant Pere, which dates back to 1003. The bridge is the main focus point of the town - its the first and last thing you see when you come here and it always makes you take one more photo. Although the town is full of souvenir shops, a lot of the things you can buy aren't just tack, there is plenty of lovely artwork and handcrafts too. There are a few nice squares in town, as is the Spanish way, all with numerous bars full of people enjoying life (as is the Spanish way). Always a lovely place to come and see.
The last place that we stopped at was Castellfollit de la Roca. Another town shaped by the volcanoes in the area, this gorgeous little town sits on a finger of rock 1km long and 50m high at its end. The stone houses hang over the smooth, black volcanic rock that was formed by two overlapping lava flows I don't know how many millions of years ago. On the streets there isn't much room for anything - barely enough room to walk next to someone in parts. This town never seems busy, but then again I don't think too many people live here and most tourists tend to go to the more well known Besalú. It was basically just us and a few cats on the street as we wandered down to the edge of town, to the church and lookout point. You get a stunning view from here, looking out over the valley and the river. If you want a better view, talk to the friendly guy in the church who will give you a quick tour and then let you climb the bell tower. Looking back over the village, it is basically one street with houses on either side, all trying to hang on and not fall off the edge. It had been a great weekend, a much needed break in December. The weather had been kind, the food good and the road a pleasure to drive on. With restrictions being lifted slowly but surely here in Spain, it will soon be time for little trips like this. And more. Until then!
Remember to also follow me on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/myuncletravellingmatt MyUncleTravellingMatt. December 2019.