Spain Autumn 2003: From the Pyrénées to the Med

In May 2003 we had a very enjoyable and highly successful week walking along the Catalan coast of Spain in the company of Claire's sister and brother-in-law, Gabrielle and Brian. Being so taken by that experience we decided that we would attempt a much more ambitious three week walk at the end of August 2003. We planned to start high in the Pyrénées and then trek off-road all the way to the Mediterranean coast. Total distance was likely to be in excess of 150 miles (240 km).

As we are both very much walking amateurs we felt that we needed some incentive to drive us on to ensure that we completed the trek and so just a few days before we left decided to ask family & friends to sponsor us, all proceeds to go to the Macmillan Cancer Relief organization.

This is our photo-diary of the adventure...

Friday Aug 29 2003: Birmingham to Ribes de Freser

Ribes de Freser

After a much delayed BA1796 flight from Birmingham to Barcelona and a very 'interesting' & involved train journey from Barcelona Sants station we eventually arrived at our starting point of the town of Ribes de Freser high in the Spanish Pyrénées. Ribes is the lower terminus of a rack railway that runs up into the mountains to the village of Nuria some twenty kilometers north. Unfortunately there was no time in our schedule to allow us to take the ride up (and the walk back), maybe next time!** We stayed overnight in the annex of the 3-star Hotel Els Caçadors which was very comfortable and most welcoming. In the evening, after a simple meal in the hotel restaurant followed by a brief stroll around the town, we were more than ready for our bed.

**We did eventually visit Nuria - but not until Sep 2004

Saturday Aug 30 2003:  Day 1 - Ribes de Freser to Llanars.

The local dustbin men, doing what they have to do immediately beneath our balcony, woke us at 7 am.  Actually it was a blessing in disguise, we would probably have slept until midday otherwise.  After our first introduction to the Catalan traditional breakfast of bread soaked in olive oil with rubbed on tomato and dried smoked meat slices (which went no way at all towards setting us up for the day to come!), we set off with a lift by car to our real starting point in the village of Pardines some 20 minutes away.   The walk to Llanars was fairly easy, wonderful views and we had a great picnic supplied by the hotel in Ribes.  It was mighty hot and we ached a lot at the end because it was, after all, our first day of walking but the beer at a bar on the outskirts of Llanars was VERY welcome.  At the far end of the town we found the Hotel Grèvol, a huge Swiss chalet styled 4-star that was very comfortable and had a reasonable bar/restaurant.  We planned to spend two nights in Llanars.

Day1: 16 km, 16 km in total

Sunday Aug 31 2003: Day 2 - Camprodón

Our first 'rest' day.  After breakfast at the Hotel Grèvol we strolled into the nearby historic town of Camprodón to visit the Sunday market.  The town was absolutely heaving with people, all out for bargains at the market held in the main square.  We walked gently around the old town soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the sights.  Back eventually to the Hotel Grèvol with lots of aches and pains as a result of yesterday's exertions...

Day 2: 5 km, 21 km in total

Monday Sep 1 2003: Day 3 - Camprodón to Setcases

The day dawned damp and misty after a thunderstorm overnight, very low cloud, very cool and fairly dismal!  Today we walked from Llanars initially up the valley of the El Ter river to Villalonga de Ter and then over the Puig de Agudes to the town of Setcases.  It was REALLY misty atSpiders in the mist ...5,700 feet and we had lots of problems finding our way off the tops.  Up until then the waymarks had been really good but up there we suddenly found that we couldn't see more than about 15 yards ahead of us.  Then, all at once, the clouds parted (Claire swears that it was an act of God!) and we were able to find the waymarks for the route down.  Five minutes later down came the mist again - unbelievably weird  -  but by then the route was obvious.  One mile from Setcases, as we were wending our way down the mountain, the heavens opened and we raced down into the town to find our hotel.   The Hotel la Coma in Setcases was reasonably comfortable, the restaurant was very good but our room was a little damp!  It rained all night.  We spent a splendid evening sharing several brandies with Astrid & Tony from York.  They were off to Molló the next day whilst we had another night at la Coma before we too were due to head that same way.

Day 3: 19.5 km, 40.5 km in total

Tuesday Sep 2 2003:  Day 4   -  Setcases to Ulldeter to Setcases

The day started with a lift in a FWD up into the mountains, we were dropped off near to the Ulldeter Refuge at about 2,500 metres.  The plan was to walk back down to the town along the GR route whilst enjoying spectacular views all around us.  Only problems was that it was another day of torrential rain and dense low cloud with visibility at times close to 10 metres!  Because of the weather conditions we decided to avoid the GR route and to simply walk the 12 km back to Setcases along the road (at least it was downhill all the way).  We were soaked through by the time we got back to La Coma and were beginning to have doubts whether we were ever going see the sun again.  It didn't help when we heard that the scorching summer back in the UK was continuing unabated...

Day 4: 12.5 km, 53 km in total

Wednesday Sep 3 2003:  Day 5 -  Setcases to Molló

We woke to blue skies and sunshine. The rain had cleared the air and the visibility was now great. How much we must have missed on the walk down from Ulldeter! We set out for Molló up an initially very steep 6.4 km climb to the east straight up into the hills.The GR11 route was well waymarked. Looking back on Setcases as we climbed made us realise just how steep the first part of this route actually was. Once on top at the Coll de Lliens the views were spectacular and the walking became much easier. Lots of horses & cattle wandering freely, the bells around their necks could be heard for miles.  We came across a newly born calf with its mother and stayed to watch the youngster's first faltering steps - magic!  Eventually we started our descent from Puig de Sant Joan at 1645 metres and reached Molló.  Our bed for the night was at the Hotel Calitxó, a simple two-star that had an excellent restaurant.  We discovered that Tony & Astrid had left a very nice note for us at reception, it really made our day!

Day 5: 16.4 km, 69.4 km in total

Thursday Sep 4 2003: Day 6 - Molló to Beget

The next morning we eventually (but that's another story!) left Molló and headed up GR-11 on the other side of the valley towards Beget. The day was one mostly of 'downs' which were really hard on the legs. We followed a trail high above the Riera de Beget river. The trail was tricky, very rocky and very muddy - at one stage Mike was lucky not to break his ankle when he slipped and got his foot caught between two boulders, the scars lasted for several days. Eventually we arrived at the very pretty village of Beget and spent the night at the Hostel El Forn (the Oven). Our room was wonderful, very modern with a bathroom to die for. Great views and an excellent restaurant.

Day 6: 17 km, 86.4 km in total

Friday Sep 5 2003: Day 7 - Beget to Can Planes

A late start (BIG mistake!) and we eventually set off for the Casa Rural at Can Planes.  Some confusion as to what was the correct route (Claire called it a 'domestic'!). Difficult terrain, very hard on the joints, way-marking was poor, we lost our way at least once. First part was hot and steamy and we did a lot of battling through bushes and sharp briars and picked up many scratches to legs & arms.  We were now leaving the Pyrénées and moving into the Garrotxa. Last part of the trail, although well waymarked, was very steeply downhill and we finally arrived just minutes before sunset.  The hostel at Can Planes was basic but comfortable.  Communal eating, traditional meals.  We spent the evening in the very pleasant company of Tim & Kirsty - they had left El Forn much earlier than us!  Knees & hips very painful!  We slept like logs...

Day 7: 20.5 km, 106.9 km in total

Saturday Sep 6 2003: Day 8 - Can Planes to Olot

Tim and Kirsty left early for Olot, we oldies had our usual leisurely start an hour or two later! Hot to start with with easy climbs up through the woods. Later the weather deteriorated with some heavy rain which continued for most of the day. A farmer's dutch barn provided shelter from the worst of it! We wound our way down to the valley of the river Riera de Bianya and entered the outskirts of the fairly large town of Olot via the rim of the crater of the Volcà del Montsacopa volcano. There was a fiesta of some sort going on in the town which, despite the rain, was heaving with people.  We almost had to fight our way through the crowds queuing for the evening's events at the Bull Ring.  In the main square, kids were playing in a soap foam filled arena which looked highly dangerous! Eventually we found the 3-star Hotel La Perla arriving soaked to the skin, with sore feet and with knees aching. It didn't take long to recover and we had another pleasant dinner in the company of Tim & Kirsty. The Hotel was comfortable and again we slept soundly.

Day 8: 20 km, 126.9 km in total

Sunday Sep 7 2003:  Day 9   -  Olot to Santa Pau

Volcà del Croscat

A dry start which lasted precisely 15 minutes!  Today's trek was through the picturesque Volcanoes National Park, or the 'Parc Natural de la Zona Volcanica de la Garrotxa' to give it its full name, east of the village of Santa Pau.  The rain started and it was torrential, we were forced to shelter under a road bridge at one stage and were in danger of drowning!  We valiantly trudged around the volcanoes one at a time firstly the Volcà del Puig Jorda and then the very interesting Volcà del Croscat the side of which had been carefully excavated between 1982 and 1995 revealing the evidence of many successive eruptions over the centuries.  The Volcà de Santa Margarida which has a church deep inside the crater and lastly the Volcà de Roca Negra.  Fabulous scenery, thank goodness all the volcanoes are now dormant.  We finally reached Santa Pau soaking wet after our longest day's walk to date.  The very quaint 3-star Hotel Cal Sastre was reasonably comfortable; its restaurant, unusually, was up in the centre of the town and that is where we had our evening meal.  Tim & Kirsty were there already and we had an Emporadan special for starters, haricot beans with tomatoes on a bed of raw salt cod - it was er… interesting!

Claire at a Spanish Civil War Memorial just outside Olot

Day 9: 22.5 km, 149.4 km in total

Monday Sep 8 2003: Day 10 - Santa Pau

The intrepid Kirsty and Tim

After so many wet days we decided that we deserved a day off. We said goodbye to Tim & Kirsty in the morning as they left for Can Jou and we then had a gentle day exploring Santa Pau.  At lunchtime we bought some fruit, beer (and fly spray!) and adjourned to the balcony of our room at the hotel to read and enjoy the sunshine for the rest of the day.  At last the rain had stopped!  The area around the hotel was a little 'agricultural' and so, having made the mistake of leaving the window open, we had to spend a good twenty minutes clearing several million little flying visitors from our room before heading back into the town.

Hotel Cal Sastre

Dinner was at a different restaurant at the other end of the town today (can't remember the restaurant's name!) and we strolled gently down the hill back to our hotel at the end of the evening.

Day 10: 3 km, 152.4 km in total

Tuesday Sep 9 2003:  Day 11  -  Santa Pau to Can Jou

A long hard climb this morning as we left Santa Pau heading north east towards the valley of La Miana high in the hills.  After our initial climb the route became much easier as we followed the Serra del Torn ridge and then descended to our destination of the rural inn Can Jou in La Miana.  We arrived nice and early   at about 2 pm in time to relax and have a few beers.  Can Jou is a horse riding centre run by Englishman Mick Peters and his Catalan wife Rosa.  The stables just below the hostel are home to some 30 horses and the hostel was full of youngsters from all over Europe, some there to work with the horses and others on trekking holidays.  We were not out numbered by the youngsters as we were again thrown together with four Brits whose paths we had crossed several times since Santa Pau.  John, Susan, Jenny and Andrew provided some entertainment although they were a just little bit OTT for us!  We had a communal evening meal, turkey in a sweet sauce followed by home-made profiteroles - delicious!  The room was comfortable although Claire was kept awake most of the night by the barking of the Alsatian guard dog - Mike, of course, slept soundly totally oblivious of everything!

Day 11: 12.5 km, 164.9 km in total

Wednesday Sep 10 2003:  Day 12  -  Can Jou to Besalù

An excellent day for our walk to Besalú, hot and sunny with clear blue skies and great views.  The track at the start was one used by the horse riders and was initially very difficult underfoot, rocky and muddy and, at times, quite treacherous.  The views were outstanding as we headed mostly downhill.  Stopping briefly at the recently restored Sant Ferriol Sanctuary we eventually reached the wonderful mediæval town of Besalú.  The last few miles had been dry and dusty as we wound our way down through forestry roads, the beers at a café on the edge of town were mighty welcome!  We had planned two days here staying at the Hotel El Jardin de la Martana overlooking the bridge at the entrance to the town.  Very comfortable room with a small balcony. 


We explored the town briefly in the evening and dined at the Pont Vell restaurant on sweet & sour rabbit with grilled green asparagus in a Romesco sauce.  As the note on the bottom of the menu said "Every dishies (sic) and deserts (sic) are cookeds (sic) in our Kitchen. The Chef supervise that all the products are first quality so that you can enjoy a very good meal".  We did too!  It was a splendid way to end the day.

Day 12: 13.5 km, 178.4 km in total

Thursday Sep 11 2003: Day 13 - Besalù

A rest day. Hot & sunny. Today we joined the tourists and strolled around the town of Besalù in the morning just enjoying the atmosphere. Everywhere we went the distinctive yellow and red Catalan flag was on display. After a leisurely late elevenses in the town square we bought lots of fruit, nuts, olives & beer and headed back over the bridge to spend a quiet afternoon relaxing in the shade of the hotel balcony and catching up with some reading. Because we had enjoyed the previous evening so much we decided to eat again at the Pont Vell Restaurant. This time Mike had 'Duck with Pears' and Claire had a magnificent portion of oven-baked lamb. A couple of bottles of a very good Rioja rounded off the evening nicely!

It was difficult to believe that two whole years had passed since that dreadful day in 2001. Despite the memories of those terrible events that indirectly changed the course of our lives, we were reminded that there is still much that is good in this world when we discovered that Tim & Kirsty had left a letter for us at Reception a day or so earlier which included a VERY substantial donation to boost our sponsorship. What nice people they are!

Day 13: 3 km, 181.4 km in total

Friday Sep 12 2003: Day 14 - Besalù to Hotel La Central via St Llorenç

An early morning taxi took us 35 km to the village of Sant Llorenç de la Muga. We explored the fascinating village before starting out on our day's walk. Very hot, lots of flies, the track rose through pine woods with a valley down on the right. Eventually we started descending through mixed woodland of Holm Oaks, Pinus Halepensis, Box, Rosemary and heathers. A few kilometres further on we headed uphill through woods of Cork Oaks (Quercus Suber), the rocks were now of granite whereas previously they had been of limestone. The walk continued with wonderful views including the seemingly crenellated summit of Puig Castellar and then down to cross a spur of the lake before climbing to meet a road. Ten minutes later we arrived at the Hotel La Central. The day had been very hot and Claire was suffering from mild heatstroke so reaching the hotel was most welcome!

La Central was very unusual, it used to be a small hydro-electric station built in the 1890s which has  been converted into a very comfortable modern hotel in a superb garden setting alongside a most pleasant small river, miles from anywhere!  We had planned to spend two nights there.

Day 14: 12 km, 193.4 km in total

Saturday Sep 13 2003: Day 15 - Around Hotel la Central

Claire shared her lunch with the ants...
A quietish day today with just a short walk planned. We climbed up through the woods to the east of La Central to the Sant Esteve del Llop hermitage. Our picnic lunch was eaten at the hermitage in the company of most of the ant population of Catalonia! Very hot in the afternoon so we strolled gently back to the hotel and spent a leisurely few hours before sunset on the patio supping beer and reading.

Day 15: 8 km , 201.4 km in total

Sunday Sep 14 2003: Day 16 - Hotel La Central to Cantallops

The day started with a lift in the hotel minibus to Mont Roig, about 5 km from La Central. The initial overcast soon cleared and the temperature climbed high into the eighties. We were now down in the plains (where it is supposed to rain but, of course, today it didn't …). We trekked through woods and across fields, passing many ancient dolmens until we eventually reached the village of Cantallops. After a very steep climb on the edge of town we found the four-star Hotel Restaurant Hípica Can Xiquet.

The view from our balcony Definitely the best hotel of the whole trip and we set out to enjoy all that it offered.  The balcony of our room had a wonderful view and the restaurant served an excellent evening meal, we had vegetable lasagne and a confit of lamb with ratatouille, new potatoes and broccoli.  Superb!

19.4 km on Day 16, 228 km in total

Monday Sep 15 2003: Day 17 - Cantallops to Garriguella de Baix

Another day that started with a lift in a minibus, this time we were taken to the village of Vilartoli some 8 km south of Cantallops. A totally clear blue sky, not a cloud to be seen. We trekked eastwards across a plateau of vineyards and rocky outcrops and, as we progressed, the terrain became more rocky with many prickly pear, agaves and cypress trees. We passed through Espolla with its conspicuous churchtower, our track descended and then rose through vineyards to give a great view of the village looking back. Heading south we reached the village of Rabós and the very welcome Restaurant Thomas which provided loos, beers and a brief respite from the day's intense heat.

An hour or so later we stopped on the road heading out of the village and ate our picnic lunch sat on a wall bordering an orchard just before the bridge on the village outskirts.  Leaving Rabós we headed NE for 1.5 km to Coll de Reixac where we took the track SE through undulating hills with vineyards and Piñonero pine woods.  We headed towards the hamlet of Delfià on the main Rabós to Garriguella road.  We could see Garriguella with its high church tower to the left as we descended into Delfià and crossed the main road towards the 11th century Sant Romà de Delfià chapel.  Following the trail through farmyards and farm land we eventually descended down to the town of Garriguella and its outpost village of Garriguella de Baix where we found our stop for the night in the form of the Casa Rural Can Coll.

We strolled into the town in the evening seeking an evening meal and found, to our disappointment, that everywhere in Garriguella is closed on Monday! Luckily just over the road from Can Coll we found the restaurant La Moulin and had a fairly pleasant meal alongside a very large family gathering celebrating Grandfather's birthday!

Day 17: 18.3 km, 239.1 km in total

Tuesday Sep 16 2003:  Day 18  -  Garriguella to El Port de la Selva

Sant Pere de Rodes

This was the hard one! A cloudless blue sky with temperatures in the nineties very early on. We walked from Garriguella across the plains initially to the east and then to the north up the flank of Montperdut, with a quarry below on the right. Climbing steadily we entered the Cap de Creus Parc Natural eventually reaching the Coll de Canyelles. The route continued, ever upwards, until we arrived at the marvellous viewpoint of Mas Ventos ('House of the Winds'). The view from here was quite magnificent, although hazy, the panorama was out over the Baix Emporada across to the Bay of Roses and coastal resorts such as Emporia Brava. Spectacular! In tremendous heat and running out of water (between us we had drunk 3 litres already…) we slogged on climbing upwards until we reached the Monastery of Sant Père de Rodes. The Monastery is now a National Monument and is administered by the local Government - there we were able to buy water, food (and beer!) and we marvelled at the way that the building had been preserved and was being maintained. Well worth the visit.

Now began the long (8 km) and very steep downhill trek into El Port de la Selva where we planned to spend the night. Very hard and very hot despite the approaching sunset. Eventually we reached the town and found the Hotel Porto Cristo. Our luggage arrived one hour later due to the only administrative cock-up of the whole trip, but that is another story… We had at last reached the Mediterranean and there was just one day of walking left before we reached our ultimate destination of Cadaqués. We ate that evening in the hotel's restaurant on the sea front. Mike had hake and Claire had monkfish - both excellent!

Day 18: 21.9 km, 261 km in total

Wednesday Sep 17 2003: Day 19 - El Port de la Selva to Cadaqués

Our last day of walking! It started with a seriously steep climb south out of El Port de la Selva picking up the now familiar red and white way-marks of the GR-11 route. Wonderful scenery as we trekked up into the mountains following the signs for Sant Baldirí. We explored the derelict and overgrown ruins of the Ermita Sant Baldirí de Taballera. The hermitage belonged to the Sant Père de Rodes monastery (which we visited yesterday) and the buildings and reforms dated from the 10th century through the 16th, when the tower was built for defence, to the 19th when it was abandoned. Carrying on past the hermitage we passed a small shepherd's shelter on the right followed by a gully. The path climbed and meandered until levelling off at the boundary of a splendid property called Mas Paltre. As we climbed to the top of the rise we looked back to see Llanca across the bay in the distance to the NW, whilst WNW we could see the Pyréneés and to the West the Sant Père de Rodes monastery far away in the haze tucked high under the ridge dividing Llanca from El Port de la Selva. Here we rested and had our picnic lunch.

Much refreshed, we headed uphill towards a radio mast high on the ridge ahead. Following the contours around valley after valley through areas of intensive dry-stone terracing, now long abandoned. The terraces are a reminder of centuries of olive and vine cultivation when oil and wine were exported to France and Italy. Sadly, the wine industry in the area collapsed when the disease phylloxera arrived at the end of the 19th century. Dotted around the terraces we saw tiny, intricately constructed dry-stone shelters used by the vineyard workers.

Claire with our friends Rachel and David and, of course, Señor Dali Having left GR-11 some time before we were now pleased to again see the familiar red and white way-marking as we joined the GR-92 route to begin the last leg down to Cadaqués. It was now downhill all the way, though not at all easy! Rough, steep and really quite difficult. Eventually, with every joint and muscle aching, we reached Cadaqués and headed for the town centre where we found an extremely welcome beer or two at a bar on the sea front. We had made it!

a total of 277 km (172 miles)

A hard but thoroughly enjoyable slog! The feelings of euphoria just could not be described! Both of us, secretly, did not think at the start that we would actually manage to complete the walk so it was doubly pleasurable to realise that WE HAD ACTUALLY MADE IT. A real feeling of anti-climax as we strolled along the promenade to find the Hotel Playa Sol overlooking the beach. Three-star comfort and most welcome. We couldn't believe that our walk had finished and now looked forward to spending two quiet days relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere of this excellent little coastal town. In the evening we ate at the La Gamba Seafood Restaurant on the other end of the seafront and toasted our achievements with several large glasses of Rioja!

Day 19: 16.0 km, 277.0 km in total

Thursday Sep 18 2003: Day 20 - Cadaqués

Our friends Rachel & David had been on holiday just across the border in France just a short way along the coast. Today they drove across to Cadaqués and spent a most enjoyable day relaxing with us. We all had a huge Paella for lunch at La Gamba and in the afternoon we simply enjoyed the hotel pool whilst basking in our glory!

Friday Sep 19 2003: Day 21 - Cadaqués to Birmingham

An early morning taxi took us to Figueras where we caught a train back to Barcelona Sants station and then another on to the airport for our flight home to Birmingham. All too soon the trip was over - but we still have all the memories…!

Eventually we collected together all the sponsorship money that had been promised and were able to send a cheque for a total of £394.12 to the Macmillan Cancer Relief organization on behalf of all who had been kind enough to sponsor us.

Thank you, everyone!

We arranged our trip through Inntravel who are based on the Castle Howard estate in Yorkshire. They provided maps and suggested route notes, arranged all flights, trains, taxis & accommodation and transported our luggage between each stop. All in all we trekked 277 km (172 miles) in 19 days of walking and stayed in 15 different hotels/hostels. We highly recommend Inntravel, their service is second to none and we'll be using them again!

Our Walking Holidays Spring 2003 - Autumn 2003
total km
total miles
Spring 2003 'Along the Catalan Coast'
Autumn 2003 'From the Pyrénées to the Med'