A Travellerspoint blog

Spain

Spain: From the Pyrenees to the Desert

Route: Vallcebre – Barcelona – Arguedas – Girona - Barcelona

sunny 28 °C

SEPTEMBER 2019

After an amazing eight days in Andorra we headed back into northern Spain. Our first destination was the tiny mountain village of Vallcebre, where two good friends, Neil and Nikki, had generously invited us to stay with them for a week. Neil had referred to the accommodation as “The Shack”, which really couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The property was set on a hillside, a kilometre outside the village and accessed by a dirt road. It was a four-storey mansion, with six en-suite bedrooms, vast kitchen and dinning room, swimming pool and magnificent views from the balcony.

The Shack

The Shack

Companions of the Shack

Companions of the Shack

We weren’t the only guests though, as over the week the numbers in the house grew to 12. As you can imagine this turned into a very social affair with the main event being the evening meal where large quantities of food and drink were consumed each night.

The Chef

The Chef

Another great dinner at the Shack

Another great dinner at the Shack

Meal at the Shack

Meal at the Shack

But it wasn’t all eating and drinking, although that did take up a lot of the time. We did manage more healthy activities as well, which included walking in the area and a visit into Andorra for lunch.
The area surrounding the house was in the Pyrenees foothills and close to the Parc Natural del Cadi-Moixero. This provided a beautiful area for hiking, with its wooded hillsides and impressive cliffs.

Cliffs of Vallcebre

Cliffs of Vallcebre

View of the Shack in the valley in the background (bottom right)

View of the Shack in the valley in the background (bottom right)

Hiking around Vallcebre

Hiking around Vallcebre

Hiking around Vallcebre

Hiking around Vallcebre

Church in the woods

Church in the woods

Old church

Old church

View of reservoir in Vallcebre

View of reservoir in Vallcebre

Although we had just spent eight days in Andorra, the rest of the party had never visited. Therefore it was decided that it would be a great location for a group day out. We had already selected a suitable restaurant for lunch during our recent stay, so that was the focus of our visit. The day turned out to be great fun, as we not only enjoyed an incredible lunch, we managed to pack in some sight seeing and shopping as well.

Andorran Restaurant

Andorran Restaurant

Lunch cooking in Andorran restaurant

Lunch cooking in Andorran restaurant

Andorra mountain views

Andorra mountain views

Sadly though, all good things must come to an end, which was probably a good thing for our health, and we said our fond farewells. At this stage everyone headed off in different directions, us included, as we had identified an interesting hike in the nearby village of Gosol.
From the attractive village our hike took us around the ancient castle and up in to the hillside forest. Before completing the circuit back into the village once more. We then drove to Barcelona for one night to meet up with Anne’s sister Catherine.

Scenic view on the road from Vallcebre to Gosol

Scenic view on the road from Vallcebre to Gosol

Description of the floating figures

Description of the floating figures

Strange art on our Gosol hike with swimmers made of porcelain

Strange art on our Gosol hike with swimmers made of porcelain

Gosol Hike

Gosol Hike

The following day we started a new adventure with a long drive west into the centre of Northern Spain. Our destination was the town of Arguedas, which sits on the edge of the Bardenas Reales Natural Park, the main reason for our visit. After a long drive we needed to stretch our legs, so we went for an early evening stroll to check out the town’s unusual cliff dwellings (see “Arguedas Cliff Dwellings” below).

Arguedas Town

Arguedas Town

View over Arguedas

View over Arguedas

With bad weather forecast for the afternoon we didn’t delay the next day’s activities. Straight after breakfast we drove the short distance into the Park Natural Bardenas Reales to explore its amazing landscape. The park is split into three areas and today we were exploring its most famous, La Blanca Baja. The whole park is classified as a desert and covers an area of 42,000 hectares. But what makes the scenery so incredible are the rock structures that have been eroded by water and wind over millions of years. We drove a circuit of the whole area, constantly getting out to admire the amazing natural structures that appear around every corner. There were canyons, plateaus, tabular structures and even isolated hills, called cabezos.

Bardenas Reales, scenic route

Bardenas Reales, scenic route

Bardenas Reales, La Blanca Baja area

Bardenas Reales, La Blanca Baja area

Bardenas Reales La Blanca Baja area

Bardenas Reales La Blanca Baja area

Vulture in the desert

Vulture in the desert

Iconic rock structure in La Blanca Baja of Bardenas Reales NP

Iconic rock structure in La Blanca Baja of Bardenas Reales NP

By mid afternoon we decided we had seen as much as possible and headed back to the apartment. This move was timed to perfection, as no sooner had we got in than an almighty thunderstorm broke.

By the following day the storm had cleared, this meant we could explore more of the park. This time we choose the area known as Plana de la Negra; here the sparse vegetation covering the rock turns the otherwise white environment a much darker shade. Magnificent scenery once again, even if the hot desert sun made the hiking pretty exhausting.

El Fraile in the distance, start of the hike

El Fraile in the distance, start of the hike

El Fraile

El Fraile

On top of El Fraile, Bardenas Reales NP

On top of El Fraile, Bardenas Reales NP

View from the top of Cebazo el Fraile, Plana de la Negra area of Bardenas Reales desert

View from the top of Cebazo el Fraile, Plana de la Negra area of Bardenas Reales desert

It was now time for a change of scenery and after a long drive east we arrived in the town of Girona. We had three nights here, which gave us enough time to see a bit of the area.

First on the agenda was to explore the historic old town. A short bus ride got us to steps leading up on to the ancient wall that still encircles part of the old town. From here we started our self-guided tour. The walkway on top of the wall gave us great views of the towns’ old and new quarters, together with the rural surroundings in the distance.

Girona

Girona

Girona wall and old town

Girona wall and old town

View from Girona wall old town

View from Girona wall old town

After about an hour and a half our wall walk was completed and we descended down back into the old town. Here a myriad of narrow lanes contained shops selling everything from tourist trinkets to high-end fashion to enticing food, all housed in restored historic buildings. We spent a fascinating hour or so wondering around before the crowds and heat got too much and we escaped back to our apartment.

Girona Cathedral

Girona Cathedral

Girona old town

Girona old town

Shop in Girona

Shop in Girona

Old town Girona

Old town Girona

This part of northern Spain was home to the surrealist painter Salvador Dali and a visit to the Dali Museum was one of the reasons we had come to the area. So the following day we drove the short distance north to the town of Figueres, Dali’s birthplace and home to the Dali Museum. What followed were several hours of museum time, admiring the unique, crazy and skilfully created works of Dali plus a couple of exhibitions by other likeminded artists.

Dali Museum building

Dali Museum building

Typical Dali painting

Typical Dali painting

Dali Art

Dali Art

Ceiling art Dali

Ceiling art Dali

Then before returning back to Girona there was time for lunch and a bit of a look around Figueres.

Outside Dali Theatre - Museum

Outside Dali Theatre - Museum

Tyre sculpture in Figueres

Tyre sculpture in Figueres

So that brought us to our last day in Spain. With no rush to get back to Barcelona, we decided to take the scenic route. This took us west into La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park, a beautiful part of the country where mountain roads wind around extinct volcanoes all of which are covered in lush vegetation. But in addition to all this natural beauty, there was an historic village we wanted to seek out.
The village in question was Santa Pau, where a cluster of medieval buildings sits atop a small hill surrounded by extinct volcanoes. Its centrepiece is its castle, dating back to the 12th century, which is encircled by period properties and an outer fortress wall beyond them. The whole village is in fairly good condition considering its age, although sum buildings are now in desperate need of repair. We spent an hour or so looking around and having a light lunch in a café within the walls, before continuing our drive to Barcelona.

Santa Pau

Santa Pau

Santa Pau

Santa Pau

Street Art in Santa Pau

Street Art in Santa Pau

Santa Pau

Santa Pau

Crumbling away

Crumbling away

Recycled agriculture équipement making up a fence

Recycled agriculture équipement making up a fence

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Arguedas Cliff Dwellings
The cliff Dwellings of Arguedas emerged towards the end of the 19th century as places that could serve as homes for local people who could not afford to buy somewhere to live.
The lay of the land meant that these cave dwellings could be dug in the rock, along the front of the rock face. This made best use of natural light, as most didn’t have electricity. The homes had no corridors so you passed directly from one room to another. Many of these had a grain store and a yard, as the majority of their owners were small farmers.
In 1940 the number of cave-homes reached 52, but they were gradually abandoned in the 1960s due to the construction of social housing.

Arguedas and cliff dwellings

Arguedas and cliff dwellings

Cliff Dwellings

Cliff Dwellings

European Deserts
When you think of deserts you don’t usually think of Europe, but it does have a few. A desert is a barren area of landscape where little precipitation occurs (less than 25mm per year) and, consequently, living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life.
In fact Europe has 16 areas that meet the classification of a desert. The Oltenian Sahara in Romania is the largest, covering an area of 800km2, followed by Bardenas Reales in Spain (see above) at 420km2.

A desert road in Bardenas Reales NP

A desert road in Bardenas Reales NP

Bardenas Reales NP Desert view

Bardenas Reales NP Desert view

Catalonia
Throughout our travels in Northern Spain and Andorra we found that the people we met would proudly call themselves Catalan and not Spanish. They would generally converse in Spanish but would speak Catalan (an ancient romance language that incorporates Spanish, French, Portuguese and other old dialects) to each other. Although the Catalan region of Spain is semi-autonomous, there is a movement within the regions of Northern Spain, Southern France and Andorra, for a completely independent Catalonia. However, this line of conversation never came up with the people we met.

Flag of Catalan

Flag of Catalan

Posted by MAd4travel 08:04 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

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