Cicerone authors talk Winter sunshine walking in Southern Catalunya

Looking to escape the dark gloomy weather? How about heading off to check out some winter sunshine? The province of Catalunya is in north eastern Spain, bordered by the Pyrenees to the north and the Mediterranean to the east.

I caught up with Cicerone author's Philip and Vivien Freakley to find out more about exploring the mountains of Southern Catalunya.

The province of Catalunya is in north eastern Spain, bordered by the Pyrenees to the north and the Mediterranean to the east. Trekkers know well the deep glaciated valleys and lake-filled uplands of the Pyrenean mountains and sun-seekers appreciate the beaches, coves and holiday resorts of its coastline. Barcelona, its principal city, is a long- time favourite with both culture vultures and soccer fans. But, hidden down at its most southerly extremity there are secrets that no walker and lover of wild scenery will want to miss.

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Looking through the Forat de la Vella

The immense limestone crags of the Els Ports natural park overlook the broad orange and olive tree-clad plain of the River Ebro and, set apart, there are the satellite ranges of Montsia and Cardó. Further downstream, the Ebro makes its way through the wetlands of the Delta natural park, with its bewildering and shifting population of resident, overwintering and migrating birds. For further contrast, there is a coastal path that skims the edge of a protected section of rocky Mediterranean coastline, with access to small coves.

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The coastal path weaves between coves, cliffs and olive groves (Walk 30)

The area is ideal for walking from October to May. This is limestone country - unglaciated, water and wind-eroded rock. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Els Ports park. Deep ravines, multi-tiered cliffs, rock arches, pinnacles and serrated ridges form the landscape of the eastern slopes.

They make for fascinating walking circuits, with a surprise around every corner. Passing through this forest of rock to reach the uplands, the landscape becomes surprisingly green and lush, with terraced fields, pastures and woodland. There are remains of old stone-built farms or Masia, where extended families carried out subsistence farming until the mid-twentieth century. Self-sufficient, they managed cattle, sheep and goats; grew cereals and vegetables; pressed their own olives for oil; coppiced wood to make charcoal for fuel; wove baskets from low-growing palms and crafted wooden tools and utensils.

From the high peaks and ridges of the uplands, the views extend to the west, over to the high plateau of Aragon, with its vineyards and medieval hilltop villages.

Els Ports offers the most extensive walking but the mountain groups to the east and south have their own charm. The Serra of Cardó shelters an old monastery and hermitages perched on rock pinnacles and forested ridges with views of the Mediterranean. The Serra of Montsia offers sunny and fragrant herb-covered slopes overlooking the coast and sea.

There is a 5-day waymarked walking circuit of Els Ports, called the Estells del Sud, with refuges and hostels for overnighting. It is also easy to put together 2 or 3 day crossing routes, using the waymarked long-distance footpaths. But the area is probably best explored on day walks, using a hotel in the Medieval city of Tortosa as a central base. Alternatively, there is accommodation in a number of small surrounding villages or even on the coast.

This is a historic area and there is plenty to do besides mountain walking – for example a trip up river to see the Templar Castle of Miravet or a walking tour of the Renaissance palaces and old Jewish quarter of Tortosa make a refreshing contrast

Southern Catalunya can be reached from Barcelona and Reus airports both of which have rail links with Tortosa but really a car is needed to get the most out of the area.

Regards

Philip and Vivien

Mountain Walking in Southern Catalunya describes 30 idyllic winter routes for walkers of all experience and abilities.

Map of  Spain
Freakley Viv

Vivien Freakley

For many years it was weekends in Derbyshire, long weekends in Snowdonia, weeks in the Lake District and summer holidays in the Pyrenees, Alps and Rockies that provided the antidote to academic life in the midlands. The discovery of a little known winter walking area in Southern Catalunya in 2005 brought a new project.

View Articles and Books by Vivien Freakley

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