Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Pyrenean foothill villages Olot and Besalú

Rain threatens, but the forecast for the afternoon looks promising. Today we head to the Pyrénées foothills where volcanoes and a beautiful medieval village await.

From the top of Volcà Montsacopa in Olot, we enjoy magnificent views
of some of the dozens of other volcanoes in Spain's Baixa Garrotxa region.

Located in the Baixa Garrotxa region, the small city of Olot provides a good base for exploring this region known for its many volcanoes. Wishing to avoid the traffic and confusion we had experienced in Figueres, we park on the edge of town and make our way to the Oficina de Turismo, a modern space with a glass floor that both Ken and I are hesitant to cross. The clerk reassures us that it's safe and manages not to laugh as he gives us some maps. His tells us we absolutely must hike to the top of Volcà Montsacopa, one of the city's three volcanic peaks. Despite feeling a little under the weather because of a winter cold (aren't they the worst?) we decide to give it a try.

Eyeing the sky that is turning from gray to blue, we first kill some time in a café along the Passeig de Miquel Blay and check out some of Olot's man-made attractions. I especially like Casa Sola Moral, a beautiful pink building with a Modernista-style facade.

Built in the Baroque style, Casa Sola Moral has an
impressive Modernista-style facade.

Monternitat by Josep Ciara i Avats in Olot

Caryatids along Passeig de Miquel Blay in Olot

The start of the path along the Grederes del Volcà Montsacopa is an easy upward stroll. Clearly the route has been well-tended and made accessible to all. We come across a few choices along the way. Should we climb up the stairs or continue on the path? We opt for the path up but will take the steps down. Another option of a shortcut that we end up following takes us on a steep narrow path, and we're a little out of breath when we reach Església de Sant Francesc at the top.

Església de Sant Francesc atop Volcà Montsacopa in Olot

Volcà Montsacopa is a Strombolian volcano — one that is "characterized by short-lived, explosive outbursts of past lava ejected a few tens or hundreds of meters into the air," according to San Diego State University's How Volcanoes Work website. However it's been about a hundred-thousand years since Montsacopa's last outburst, so we're probably OK.

Large succulent along the path up Volcà Montsacopa in Olot

At the top, in addition to the church are two watchtowers and, of course, a large, grassy crater. The views from here are, unsurprisingly, pretty breathtaking.

The cup-shaped Cràter del Montsacopa is 120 meters across and 12 meters deep.

One of the watchtowers at the top of Volcà Montsacopa in Olot

A shrine of some sort atop Volcà Montsacopa in Olot

Our hike has earned us an appetite so we decide to make Besalú our destination for lunch. We enter this tiny medieval village on foot by crossing an extraordinary bridge built in the 11th century. Spanning the Fluvià river, the fortified bridge is shaped like an "L" and has a gateway mid-span as well as seven uneven arches. The bridge and the views of the village from the bridge are lovely.

Besalú's stunning bridge leads to a lovely medieval village.

Just before the bridge, we had stopped at the Besalú tourist office and asked about visiting another attraction: a mikvah. This ritual Jewish bath was built in 1264 but had been forgotten about (and buried) until it was uncovered in 1964. Unfortunately we aren't able to schedule a tour, and the mikvah, cemetery and remains of a synagogue are inaccessible otherwise. (A few weeks from now we will see pictures of the site when we visit the Sephardic Museum in Toledo.)

Shoppers and tourists dodge raindrops in Besalú.

Placa Prat de Sant Pere in Besalú

We find several restaurants to choose from for our lunch in Besalú. We sit outside but luckily it is covered as it's started to rain. The shower doesn't last long and the narrow streets are nearly dry as we resume our tour. The large Benedictine monestery Sant Pere dominates the square, but its doors are locked so I can only take pictures of the exterior. A few blocks away, we stop to admire another church, Església de Sant Vicenç.

Exterior detail of Sant Pere de Besalú
Església de Sant Vicenç in Besalú

I sneeze about eight times in a row, which we take as a sign that it's time to head back to our cozy apartment in Cabanes for some rest before tomorrow's trip to Girona.

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