Volcanoes of Garrotxa Spain
The Volcanoes of Garrotxa in Catalonia, Spain are somewhere completely off our campervan radar. If I’m honest, we’d never heard of this area before, let alone think about visiting. That’s until August 2022, when our Summer travels somehow brought us to this rather beautiful region.
Our travel diaries series began in France but today, we’re arriving at our first stop after entering Spain. Driving from the Mediterranean French border, our last stop was Port Vendres before continuing inland through Catalonia.
The Volcanoes of Garrotxa came to our attention thanks to a walking book – Lonely Planet’s Best Walks Spain. It’s here, whilst looking for inspiration that we not only find out about the area, but also a fascinating looking walk to do.
Beautiful Besalú – Volcanoes of Garrotxa Spain
First of all, we come across beautiful Besalú. This medieval town has a striking appeal, mainly thanks to its fortified bridge spanning the River Fluvià. Simply put, this is one town where you do a double take and definitely one that you can’t pass by.
Luckily for us, it’s early in the day, so we have time to pull into the large motorhome parking area. Here, it’s possible to park overnight for a fee. It’s also a typical example of a motorhome Aire in Spain, although generally, these aren’t as good as Aires in France. Nonetheless, Spain does offer a very good and convenient system.
Besalú is a pretty and historic place, where narrow streets merge into a larger square, giving way to pavement cafe’s and small shops.
The pastel stone buildings blend in well with the greenery of the mountains surrounding the town. We mingle with passing visitors, admiring both the architecture and sheer beauty of the location.
Soon, we find the mikvah, a Jewish baths which was only discovered in 1964, yet dates back to the 13th century. Unbelievably, this is only one of three that is surviving in Europe, so holds special significance here beside the river.
Banyoles and Santa Pau
After our morning getting into the spirit of Spain, our campervan wheels soon have us moving on. Next up is Banyoles, or so we hoped. Unfortunately, this town with a rather lovely lake, proves too difficult in the campervan. This is one of those places, where not only are we confused by the layout of the roads, but the parking is almost non-existent.
However, not to throw in the towel quite so easily, we attempt another go. At this point I should explain that we’re driving round the lake, which leads into the town, but has the most awkward one-way system. I suppose, the drive is at least giving us a good look at the lake, although our plans were to cycle round and take a dip. Today, we’re not going to do either here.
Anyway, as you’ve guessed, Banyoles gets the better of us in the end. After stopping for lunch in an unscenic car park, we’re ready to give up and move on.
Then comes Santa Pau, where we’re about to enter an ancient land of extinct volcanoes. Apparently, they still give an odd rumbling through the earth, by means of earthquakes – yikes, let’s hope the earth doesn’t move for us tonight!
Here we find green peaks of fertile lands, where lush landscapes bring a new appearance before our eyes. At Santa Pau, we manage to park in a free motorhome parking area. Then we head off on foot to explore the historic old town and take a break with a cold Coke.
It’s a quaint sort of town, with streets huddled together before merging into a town square where locals gather. Obviously ancient, quirky and very much full of character, we think it’s worth a stop for anyone passing this way.
Wild camping no go -Volcanoes of Garrotxa Spain
At first, we think we’re just going to be able to park up overnight somewhere. Maybe a bit of wild camping or at a car park for one of the walks. By the way, I should explain, that we’re doing a volcano walk tomorrow in the Parc Natural de la Zone Volcanic de la Garrotxa – well there’s a mouthful.
In preparation for an early start, we’re hoping to park close to the start of the walk, at the Can Serra parking area. After driving off from from Santa Pau towards the parking areas, we soon realise parking anywhere overnight here is really difficult unless it’s official.
Not only are there signs displaying no overnight for motorhomes etc on every grass verge, lay by and car park, but also many are cordoned off, so you can’t even pull over. Whoa, this is so strict, but we soon realise it’s also the way things are now in many parts of Spain.
What’s more annoying is these rules are new by the looks of it. Certainly when reading reviews and information on our Apps, these indicate the same.
Oh well, this means only one thing, it’s back to the dedicated motorhome parking area at Santa Pau for the night. Unfortunately, even the car parks for the walks, which are huge, now have motorhome and campervan parking banned.
Walking the Walk
We’re up early for the 12km circular walk of the volcanoes. This region of Garrotxa has an incredible 40 extinct volcanoes, isn’t that amazing?
These were formed when the Eurasian tectonic plate moved. Now, we can’t wait to see the modern remains of this once lively landscape.
It’s only a 5 minute drive to our starting point in the Can Serra parking area. When we get there, the parking area is empty, so we take a ticket at the barrier and choose a space under the shade of the trees.
The walk which is Number 1 from the parking, begins just beyond the toilets and visitor centre. First up, is an underpass, leading into the most fabulous woodland area where we soon spot a lively Deer.
Soon, the woods are behind us and we’re in open countryside again. Next, we’re walking uphill into more woods before another uphill section leads to the first volcano.
Santa Margarida Volcano Crater Chapel
The volcano of Santa Margarida is almost upon us. After following a dirt track down into the huge crater, which is a flat, grassy area where the star attraction awaits.
That’s because the volcano of Santa Margarida has a chapel sitting centre stage right here in the crater. Dating from the 11th century, it’s such a pretty place, bringing a feeling of calm to this already tranquil location.
The rim of the volcano looks huge, now filled with greenery from the fertile soils. For us, it seems strange standing in the crater looking around at the obvious volcano shape.
Unfortunately, the little Ermita Santa Margarida is locked up, so we can’t go inside, but it’s so lovely to walk here and see it for ourselves.
Volcà del Crosat – The next Volcano
Stepping out of the crater at Santa Margarida, the path now leads uphill again. We wonder why it’s busy, because up to now there’s been few people on the walk. Then we realise we’re walking to a car park closest to the chapel. So, those not wanting the long circular route that we’re doing can take a short option from here.
We’re now walking on, following the route to the Volcà del Crosat, the next volcano of the walk and the youngest of the Garrotxa.
By now the sun is super hot and we’re in the open air again. Soon passing fields of crops on what looks like a newly formed path.
There’s another visitor centre approaching, and luckily a drinking fountain and tap to re-fill the water bottles. Others use it to wet their head and bodies, feeling the need for cool water on the skin this time of day.
Information boards give details of the area and how the land was transformed, all under the shade of a new-looking wooden shelterâ
A little further along the path, the first sight of the Volcà del Crosat comes into view. Somehow, it’s not quite what I imagined, but it’s quite extraordinary, all the same.
There’s an obvious mix of volcanic matter, deep layers clearly visible from the marked pathway through its centre. The blackened, pink colours of earth shine through in the sunlight, forming a sloping mass around us. the ground is dusty which reflects the colours more and although this isn’t as big as the Santa Margarida, it’s equally as entertaining.
Feeling a bit lost
If you’re interested in geology or geography then this is a perfect place to loose yourself for a while. We’ve seen volcanoes before and this may not have the same wow factor, but it does provide an historic glimpse of a land through time.
It’s definitely a good place to come for both a bit of education and a good walk.
Leaving the Volcà del Crosat on the route back to the Can Serra parking left us a bit confused. For a while, we were feeling a bit lost, unsure if we were on the right path.
Nonetheless, we plod on, walking through another wooded path before finally emerging at the toilets and visitor centre. Thank goodness for that! For a minute then, we were beginning to think we’d gone wrong somewhere.
Overall, the walk had taken us around 4 hours, arriving back at the campervan just in time for lunch. Unbelievably, by now the parking area is full, with more cars coming in by the minute.
For us, it’s time to drive on, leaving the Volcanoes of Garrotxa behind, passing historic villages along the way in this delightful part of Spain. There’s Sant Joan les Fonts, Castellfollit de la Roca, which is perched on a lava cliff and Sant Joan del les Abadesses and Ripoll.
It’s a lovely drive, but storm clouds are brewing. By the time we reach Ribes, the rain is falling and we’re just about to drive up to a time mountain hamlet in the middle of nowhere.
We’ll catch you next time, when we’ll be doing an incredible walk to Nuria. Not only involving a train up a mountain but the quaintest village ever.
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Map – Volcanoes of Garrotxa Spain.