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Barcelona Costa Brava Villa Rentals

Guidebook pages 47 to 49 Olot to Camprodon

Palera church above OlotOlot,

the capital of the Garrotxa region, is a far nicer place than first

impressions suggest. As you head towards the centre vila, the

commercial outskirts give way to a series of narrow, old streets and a

pleasant rambla where the inhabitants go about their prosperous

business. The center is largely made up of attractive eighteenth and

ninteenth-century buildings, evidence of the destructive geological

forces that surround the town: successive fifteenth-century earthquakes

leveled the medieval town. Three small volcanoes can be seen just to

the north. Olot was the birthplace of the composer Antonio Soler

(1729-83), who was quite famous as a court composer and musician and a

contemporary of Mozart.

If you arrive on the busy main thoroughfare from the south, the Tourist office is on the c/ Mulleres a block after the gardens at Plaça Clara. The older streets nearby, to the left on c/ Hospital, around the Plaça Major and Sant Esteve church, are a revelation. Filled with fashionable shops, art galleries and smart patisseries, they tell of the continuing wealth of Olot, historically based on textiles and the production of religious statuary. Sant Esteve church lies at the heart of the town, built high above the streets on a platform, its tower a useful landmark. It contains a Gothic retablo, and a Christ carrying the Cross, by El Greco. Nearby, the recently reformed 18C Hospicio has an important collection of mostly 19C Catalan paintings of the so-called Olot School, whose adherents included Vayreda, Alsina, and Nonell. (Daily: 11-14, 16-19h. 300 ptas. Take elevator in patio to 3rd floor) Perhaps the most famous work in the collection is Ramon Casas's gigantic "La Carga" (a scene all too familitiar to 19C Catalans, the police charging a crowd). I particularly enjoyed a collection of art-nouveau cigarette advertisements reminescent of Toulouse Lautrec, one showing a Japanese mother feeding a puff to her baby!, and anther with a nude maja exhaling into a bull's nostrils.

Beyond Sant Esteve church, the central rambla, El Passeig d´en Blay, is lined with pavement cafés and benches, and adorned by several delightful modernist buildings. In the evenings, this whole area teems with life as the well-dressed Passeig swings into action. The local Jardí Botànic, or botanical gardens, has a fascinating little museum, Casal dels Volcans, dedicated to the history of this volcanic region.

Hospitalet dén Bas, just south of OlotMarket on Mondays. Pastry shops of interest: Can Carbasseres at Sant Rafael 5, Callís at Sant Esteve 25, and Ferrer at Plaça Mora 6. The best cold-cuts are at Can Japot on Roser 5. An interesting ceramic shop, Coure, is on Carrer del Sastres 12. The Passeig d´en Blay is the best area for an outdoor drink. The Bar Club, next door to the cinema has good tapas, and its front window serves as a noticeboard for what's happening in town. Further down at no. 49, the Set al Gust pizzeria is smart and trendy. For Catalan food, try Can Guix, c/ Mulleres 3, a cheery bar-restaurant where big queues form for large servings. Somewhat pricier dishes are served at Ramon, Plaça Clara 10 (26 10 01) specializing in escudella and wild game. Purgatori at Bisbe Serra 58 (26 16 06) has seafood brought in daily from Figueres. Red peppers stuffed with calamares and ink sauce, filet of sole with fennel, salt cod with fresh white beans, etc. On the way out of town towards La Canya is Les Cols (26 92 09) a traditional masia with typical Garrotxa gastronomy. Cabbage with duck foie, home-made sausages, and duck with pears, etc. Also Font Moixina and La Deu are very reputable restaurants with outdoor seating in lovely park settings and are well sign posted from the ring road around Olot between the turn-offs for Santa Pau and the C-153 heading south towards Sant Feliu de Pallerols.

The Pyrenees
Like many other toponyms in Catalunya, the name for this mountain chain comes from Greek mythology. The first Hellenic boats reached the Catalan coast at the Gulf of Roses, coming from Masalia, or Marseilles, at roughly 500BC. To the Greeks, this was the legendary land of the Bebrices, whose princess Pirene was seduced and abandoned by Hercules while he was taking a break from performing one of his twelve feats - namely the theft of the herds of Gerion, King of Eritia, and the slaying of a yet another troublesome local giant, this one with three torsos and three heads. Pirene, abominated by her people due to her inadvertent betrayal of her father, was banished and died alone in the mountains, her body devoured by wild beasts. Upon learning of Pirene´s fate, the titan named the chain of mountains separating Iberia and Galia in memory of his ill-fated mistress..

Perhaps the best view of the Pyrenees is from a plane en route to or from Barcelona. In winter, mile after mile of glittering snow-covered peaks and ridges, and in summer, great hollowed green valleys with tiny roads here and there snaking up to a handful of slate-roofed houses or an isolated farm. It´s from the air that one best understands how formidable a barrier these mountains have been throughout the history of Spain; and to this day parts of the Pyrenees are among the most inaccessible areas in Europe, retaining traditional ways of life and forming a great nature reserve. The existence of a few passes through the eastern Pyrenees has from the earliest times made Catalunya a corridor between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe, and laid it open to successive incursions, often short-lived as the invaders passed on, from Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and the Franks. During the Moorish occupation of the Peninsula, the Pyrenees became one of the reservoirs of Christianity, and there are now over 2000 Romanesque buildings within the region, including the great monasteries of Ripoll, Sant Joan de les Abadesses and La Seu d'Urgell.

Route 8. Olot to Ripoll

Important: there are two roads between Olot and Ripoll. By far the easiest drive is by way of the C-153 through the Vall de Bianya and the tunnels of Capsacosta. The C-150 looks the better route on the map, and it does offer some fine scenery, but at times it's rough driving and is takes twice as long as the seemingly longer route through Sant Joan de les Abadesses. Unless you have a decent map this is a bit confusing but... to get on the C-153 towards points west, you must go a few kilometers north of Olot, following signs for Sant Joan les Fonts, and in the small town of la Canya, there is a brand new traffic circle with the C-153 clearly marked for the Tunels of Capsacosta and Camprodon.

The Vall de la Bianya, where several of my favorite rental properties are located, is quite simply gorgeous. Perennial favorite of Barcelonan nature lovers, this valley offers sublime scenery and no less than 15 Romanesque churches spread out in an area no larger than 12 square kilometers. The valley also boasts an inordinate number of good restaurants. I've tried almost all of them and my personal favorite is in the tiny village of Sant Salvador, situated towards the top of the valley a kilometer or so off the main road before reaching the tunels. The town has Romanesque church dating from 1090, consacrated in 1170, and partially desecrated by bad restoration work in the mid 20th C. Nevertheless, the town's eponymous restaurant, family-run San Salvador (972 19 51 54) is a delight. The chef, Joan Borras, is self-taught and has created some exquisite variations on traditional Catalan cuisine using, when possible, a wide variety of locally procured produce. If given half a chance, he will go on at great length about the ingredients that go into his savory ecolations: about the farmers who provide the milk to make the cheeses, the fresh strawberries they pick near the ancient Roman road in the hills above town to accompany the home-made icecreams, the hot-house where he smokes the salmon he buy fresh in Olot, and all the veggies and herbs from his garden. Everything I've tried here is good, so I won't mention specialties, although I should say that the wine card is well balanced and there is a good selection of single malt whiskeys to accompany the "sobremesa" (that is the leisurely after-meal chat at the table which the Spaniards are so fond of). If I do have a gripe about this restaurant, it is about some of the decorative elements found in the five rooms - of a 13C farmhouse - that make up this restaurant. Closed on Wednesdays. From October to June closed weeknights. Kiddy menu for 1,000 ptas.

I were a rich man I might prefer the valley's fanciest restaurant: Ca l'Enric, (972 29 00 15), situated on a curve just after the town of Vall de la Bianya. ? Ca l'Enric has earned two stars in the Michelin Red Guide., and the food here is absolutely divine. Most dishes are an elaborate variation on the basic mountain theme of wild game and mushrooms, but this is Catalan fare with nouvelle cuisine flair (or is that nouvelle cuisine frugality). My gripe here is that portions tend to be smallish by Catalan standards. Be that as it may, this is widely recognized to be the one of the best, if not the best restaurant in the area. Closed on Sunday nights and Mondays.

Other restaurants include Ca la Nàsia, specializing in game, with pheasant and mountain goat cooked on piping hot slabs of slate, and civet of ox-tail. San Miquel has lamb stew and duck with pears... La Sala in Sant Pere D'Espuig has a hearty three-dish midday menu Mon to Fri menu for about 1000 ptas. And last but not least La Gracieta always gets lots of truckers, and they know a thing or two about where to find good cheap eats.

Sant Joan de les Ababesses bridge Turning right at the traffic circle after the tunnels and high mountain pass of Capsacosta (altitude 1,762 meters) turn right for Camprodon - at 950m - the first town with the character of a real mountain town, something that was exploited in the nineteenth-century by the Catalan gentry who arrived by the (now-defunct) railway to relax in the hills. The town still retains the prosperous air of those times, the outskirts of town with ornate villas set amongst rows of towering plane trees, and high town houses embellished now and again with striking modernist flourishes. Camprodon is at the confluence of two rivers, and the old town is criss-crossed by little bridges. The principal one, the 15C high-arched Pont Nou, still has a defensive tower. From here you can follow the main street, c/ València, to the restored Romanesque Cistercian monastic church of Sant Pere (first consecrated in 904) at the top of town. Sant Pere was planned on the Latin cross, with a rectangular apse (the central one the same width as the nave), and an octagonal ciborium, with square bell-tower above. To visit the interior, you may have to ask for the key at the local hospital next door or call 740 124 during the day except between 12 and 13:30h. Below Sant Pere is Gothic Santa Maria, a fine building but of little interest inside except for a fine silver and gold reliquary.

etc. etc.... two pages later I recommend this little excursion:

the magificent portal at Ripoll´s churchBut by far the most interesting excursion from Camprodon is the rather strenuous 14 kilometer narrow and winding road down to Beget, passing through Rocabruna and its wide panorama (and good restaurant, Can Po). Beget is pictureque to the extreme, situated at the bottom of a very deep valley, with stone houses with wooden balconies overhanging the Trull river. The parish church, 12C San Cristòfal, is an architectural gem, with a four-storey tower and an interesting façade, with columns, one smooth, the other salomonic. The apse has curved arches, the cornice and windows with double columns on each side. Its altarpiece has remained intact since the eleventh-century, the elongated proportions of the Crucifixion scene known as "Crist Majestat" is revered locally, and there are some well preserved original frescos. The church is often closed, but you can ask for the keys from Señora María Vila Sauquet,at the house in front of the church. Can Joanic on Carrer Vell Aire 1, (972 74 12 41), offers basic cuisine, including entrée of local sausages, entrecôte, mousse de chocolate. Rocabruna's Can Po enjoys a good reputation for its homemade patés, fresh seafood, and original stews. <