There are few things we love more than a good old off-the-beaten-path hiking adventure. Add to that a beautiful Spanish countryside with ancient volcanic craters, beechwood forests, and strolls through medieval towns, and we’re in travel heaven. Thankfully, guest contributor, Vanessa A Nirode from Girls Drink Stout, is here to take us to the little-known area of Northern Spain’s Garrotxa Zona Volcanica region where she found all of the above and more.
Sometimes I walk.
This past August, while in northern Spain, I walked from Olot to Santa Pau then back to Olot in about eleven hours. I don’t know exactly how far that is but if you go the direct route it’s 10 kilometers one way. I went the – winding trail, climb up a few volcanoes and down a crater or two – way. The walk, although steep at times, was never overwhelming and the beautiful Spanish countryside along the way made for an amazing hike.
The Volcano Hiking Trails
In this region of Northern Spain, the Garrotxa Zona Volcanica region, there is an extensive network of hiking trails. About forty volcanic cones, some explosion craters, and twenty or so basaltic lava flows form the region. Basaltic lava, or mafic lava, is the most abundant lava on earth. Mafic lava is molten rock enriched in iron and magnesium and low in silica. When mafic lava cools on the earth’s surface, it forms basalt. Basaltic lavas are so abundant because they are the product of melting the mantle, which makes up the majority of the earth’s volume. A lot of the hiking trails in the region follow the paths of these ancient lava flows; you find yourself climbing up the side of a volcano through a rocky, uneven gorge etched deeply into the earth. The soil is red and clay-like and tree roots form natural steps to aid your ascent.
The tourist office in Olot, near the bus station, sells a very helpful hiking map and guide of the area for eleven euros. There are long distance trails, some that start in France, that go through the region. I spent some time on the GR 83, or the Cami del Nord, that begins on the Mediterranean coast in Mataro. The trail runs for over 200km and ends in Prada de Conflent. I also walked on the GR 2 that runs from Basalu to Falgars d’en Bas.
The Itinerannia network of footpaths also runs throughout Zona Volcanica. The Itinerannia hiking trails stretch over 2500 km and are marked with a yellow horizontal paint slash. The GR trails are marked with white and red horizontal slashes. Another trail of note is the Olot-Girona Cycleway that runs along the old Olot railway. You can walk or cycle this trail. It passes right by the Hotel Estacio in Olot, where I spent a couple lovely air-conditioned nights, along the bank of the Fluvia River.
The Fageda d’en Jorda
In between Olot and Santa Pau, is the Fageda d’en Jorda, a forest of beech wood that has developed on top of the lava flow from the Volca de Croscat. The forest is considered its own unique ecosystem. The trees tower far above you as you walk and a great silence settles in around you. The forest is cool even during the very hot months of July and August. Its one of those places where you half expect a pixie or dwarf to suddenly appear in front of you.
Things to see along the way
The volcanoes I went up and around were the Volca de Santa Margarida, Volca de Rocanegra, and Volca de Croscat, though there are quite a few others within the area.
On the way there, on an early morning, I hardly saw anyone but some dogs who wanted me to throw sticks and a crazy guy running up the quite steep side of the Volca de Santa Margarida. After noon, when I was headed back, I passed quite a lot of people out hiking. I always wonder why people are so loud out in nature … or is it that their voices carry more?
There are lots of interesting things to see on the way. Down in the crater formed by the Volca Magarida, sits the small stone church of Saint Margaret. You’ll find the church by following a winding trail down the side of the crater until you reach the grassy floor in the center. The church is the only thing in the clearing, looking rather small and alone.
The town of Santa Pau is a medieval town with lots of arches, an old church, and some interesting sculpture. At the base of one of the curved walls that surround the inner town, is a statue of a child, about twenty inches tall. She is leaning against the wall, her head down. The statue is striking in its simplicity. She is also easy to miss as she stands on the side of a busy street and, unless you look down, you may pass right by her.
I saw lots of beautiful landscape – the kind that you find it unable to find the proper sort of words for – the kind that just make you happy and peaceful and humble all at the same time.
The Iglesia de San Miguel Sacot had the only outdoor water fountain that was working, and a shrine or alter with the statue of an angel with some kind of animal. You can stop there and fill your water bottles and rest in the shade of the trees. Small stone churches in the middle of nowhere always seem to me to offer comfort and peace.
Sometimes I walk. It’s easy to outrun your demons when you’re on a bicycle (which I do on a regular basis) but when you’re out walking they kind of settle in next to you and you have to figure out a way to deal with them so they’ll go their own way and leave you be. Walking amongst the volcanoes in Northern Spain is a fine place to get a little closer to nature and demons and resolutions.