A road trip through Catalonia – Travel Hunger

Fragments of cloud like half-transparent morning mist float past green hills, brown mountains in the background, a road that winds through the landscape with a new scene around every bend, Paintings with brighter, light-footed skies. I am in Catalonia for a road trip, part of the ‘Grand Tour of Catalonia’. The first morning starts magically.

Landscapes are essential for a road trip, something that Dutch highways, surrounded by closed boxes, are generally not very suitable for. In Catalonia, the further you get from Barcelona, ​​the different. Factories and activities regularly look like industrial heritage, instead of the windowless structures that are increasingly advancing in our area. Away from the highway, business, housing and public functions merge even more.

Activity under roof tiles in shades of brown and yellow, which match perfectly with the roofs of nearby villages of low and medium rough stone houses around a church with a spire. Lonely houses on ridges, short round brick towers and castles on a hill. A landscape in which the human presence has crumbled. The Catalonia region has what it takes for a road trip.


La Seu d’Urgell

The first stop is La Seu d’Urgell, a former episcopal city, to which it still owes its impressive cathedral. It is already dark and it is raining, which gives the medieval streets a beautiful patina.

The medieval streets of La Seu d'Urgell in Catalonia

The medieval streets of La Seu d’Urgell

Besides its cathedral and the surrounding area, the town is also known for its cheese. So a visit to an artisan cheese dairy is in order. L’Abadessa is the brand of cheeses made with great care by Judit Carreira, using the best quality milk she can find. We visit the medieval cellar, where the different types of cheese, made from cow and goat milk, mature. Some cheeses are seasonal, others available all year round, and all have their own ripening period.

Artisan cheese shop

Artisan cheese shop

Cheeses in the maturation cellar

Cheeses in the maturation cellar

And then, of course, it’s time to taste. The most exceptional cheeses are the AVI, a cooked pasta cheese made from raw organic cow’s milk of the Bruna breed and aged for at least six months, the Cabresa a raw goat’s milk cheese whose rind has been washed down with craft beer and the Tupi. The latter is a double fermentation cheese typical of the Pyrenees. Made from aged cheeses and brandy, which makes it extraordinarily spicy and strong in taste.

The Cadí-Moixeró Natural Park

The next morning we head for the Cadí-Moixeró Natural Park, a protected natural area that, unlike a national park, is not owned by the government. Most of it is privately owned and the park includes agriculture and inhabited areas. We drive through a landscape that unfolds panorama after panorama until, after a fairly steep climb, we arrive in the beautiful village of Tuixent.

Panoramic Landscapes in Catalonia

Panoramic landscapes

View from Tuixent

View from Tuixent

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Tuixent has a small museum dedicated to the ‘trementinaires’, women who traveled from the closed valley around Tuixent on foot, loaded with oils, herbs and ointments, all over Catalonia to sell their wares. And there are more stories rooted in the area. Around 1200, for example, the Cathars lived in the south of France, a movement of people who opposed the power and wealth of the Catholic Church. They wanted to return to a purer and simpler religious way of life. But almost naturally the church saw this as a threat. A bloody crusade was started in which the Cathars were massacred. However, a small group fled across the Pyrenees to Catalonia. Their path is now a walking route, Cathar walking route on the ‘Chemin des Bonshommes’ (GR107).

Our route leads to a different story. From a clearing just from Tuixent with a wide view, a short walk through a thick forest takes us to Gosol.

Pyrenees Landscape in Catalonia

More pyrenees landscape

gosol

gosol

The town of Gosol owes its fame to Picasso’s stay in 1906. Stuck and without inspiration, he traveled with his muse Fernande Olivier to this village in Catalonia on the advice of a friend. That was quite an undertaking in those days, with the last part being covered with mules over treacherous mountain trails. Picasso stayed there for ten weeks and was inspired by the colors of the village, the Romanesque wooden Madonna from the local church and the people he met. It ushered in a new phase of his artistry.

The Coal Mines of Catalonia

In the mid-19th century, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing in Catalonia. Textiles and wool were important industries. This has led to a lot of industrial heritage in Catalonia. In particular, the industrial colony, factories surrounded by houses and facilities for the workers are typical of the region. But mining was also part of it. Coal mines where the fuel for the factories was mined. Like in the mine in Cercs near the Llobrefat river.

A museum has been set up on the ground floor of an apartment building that housed the miners at the time. We watch a film that tells the story of the mine. After this, a number of connected rooms give an impression of the tools and machines that were used in the mine, and of the people who worked there. It was a hard and usually short life, especially in the early days when there was no ventilation and everything was done by hand. Most miners were farmers, who did the work in the mine, often at night. Without special clothing, helmets, gloves and proper footwear. In the dark by a candle flame.

Next to the museum is a furnished flat that illustrates how the employees and their families were housed. Although small, a kitchen cum living space, a toilet and a few bedrooms that were sometimes shared, not bad living space for the time.

The highlight is a tour in the mine, which starts with a ride in a train that leads into the mine with a lot of noise, with a lot of noise. The tunnel is like a time travel. When you get off at the end it is at a tableau that represents the work in the early days of the mine. The tunnel’s construction is also from the same time, supported by wood. Walking back to the entrance there are similar tableaux with increasingly modern methods.

Chopping to the ground in the early days

Chopping to the ground in the early days

Later with pneumatic tools

Later with pneumatic tools

Everything mechanical in the last years of the mine

Everything mechanical in the last years of the mine

A nice museum with roots in the region and its history.

The volcanoes of La Garrotxa

La Garrotxa is the second national park in Catalonia. Via a tourist center, some meadows where beans and vegetables are grown and a piece of forest we arrive at an open plain. Here unfolds a panorama of more or less conical hills: the volcanoes of La Garrotxa.

The volcanoes of La Garroxta are one of the most beautiful attractions of Catalonia

The volcanoes of La Garroxta

The oldest is 700,000 years old and the youngest 10,000 years. Guide Beth shows a map of the area and explains how the panorama was created with the help of a felt-tip pen and a writing board. In a traditional volcano, a large magma chamber is located just below the volcano. The volcano can therefore erupt several times. The volcanoes in this area have a thin crust over a large area. Here, each volcano is one eruption period. The glowing magma rises to the surface through seismic influence. Because this goes straight through a layer of groundwater, a steam cloud with ash is created in an explosion. Then follow smaller chunks that spread over the area. The environment of the volcano is therefore covered with fine stone rubble, in which every raindrop disappears.

Forest trail to the volcanoes

Beth explains

Over the centuries, the volcanoes had become completely overgrown with trees. But some of them were still used quite recently by stonemasons. The result is a section of a volcano.

The result of mining in the volcanoes of Catalonia

The result of mining

40 volcanoes 20 lava flows

We continue our way to the other side of the crescent-shaped volcano, where once the pressure caused part of the cone to collapse. After this, a lava flow made its way across the land, destroying everything in its path. As the ground became swampy, mounds of pressurized steam and lava were formed. After cooling, the lava broke up into chunks, according to guide Beth, who illustrates it on her writing board.

Volcanism Explained

Volcanism Explained

And in the course of time a fairytale forest arose. Seeds from all kinds of trees germinated by clutter and fed on what little the soil had to offer. But their roots couldn’t penetrate deep enough into the bottom of piled-up boulders. Except for those of the beech, which also develop above ground, which ensures both strength and improved water absorption. This tree species was given a monopoly. As befits a fairytale forest, the soil is resilient and intersected with erratic tree roots and in many places the sky is only visible through the canopy. We walk on paths made up of tree roots and rotten leaves. It is a self-feeding forest, a cycle. In addition to the volcano that has been opened up by mining, not everyone also visits the lava plain with the beech forest, because it is a tough walk over the roots and rocks. If you have time, it is definitely recommended.

The beech forest

Worn out paths

Worn out paths

Soft bottom, dense branches

Soft bottom, dense branches

Catalonia and the Grand Tour practical

The ‘Grand Tour de Catalunya’ is a route designed to discover Catalonia by car. Described as a journey full of journeys, it comprises five themed sections, consisting of five to seven stages. The whole tour, starting and ending in Barcelona is geared to thirteen days, but of course you can share and skip or shorten activities. The aim is to make the tour as sustainable as possible. More info about the Grand Tour: www.grandtour.catalunya.com/en/ and about Catalonia in general: www.catalunya.com/

You can of course fly to Barcelona, ​​a popular and inexpensive destination. With the Thalys you can travel to Barcelona with one change in Paris. The journey will then take 11 hours.

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