Stage 5 - Catalonia (1) El Boixar to Montserrat

With its own language and cultural tradition Catalonia is a particularly distinct part of Spain. Its capital, Barcelona, is Spain's biggest city and the province is one of the richest parts of Spain and Europe. As well as nationalist, Catalonia has a radical political tradition and was a bastion of opposition against Franco. Barcelona host one of the world's most famous football clubs and the rivalry with Real Madrid is a symbol Catalonia’s independent tradition.

Catalonia also signals a change of direction for the E4 route. Having followed the route of the GR7 all the way from Andalucía the route of the E4 suddenly gets complicated as it crosses through Catalonia. Instead of carrying on with the GR7 (which heads directly north to the Pyrenees) the E4 heads down to the coast via the GR8, along the coast via the GR92 to Tarragona, before heading north again to Montserrat (GR172) and then along the GR4 to the Pyrenees. It actually arrives at the Pyrenees at a point quite close to where you would have crossed the border on the GR7. At first sight the move away from the GR7 doesn't seem to make a lot of sense but when you look closer at where you walk and what you see than it all adds up.

To compensate for the additional complexity of the route the Federacio d'Entitats Excursionistes de Catalunya (FEEC) has a brilliant website which identifies all the major walking routes and gives you stage distances, estimated walk times, and altitude gained and lost.

I've broken the Catalonia stage of my E4 walk into two parts, Fredes to Montserrat and Montserrat to the Spanish border (Puigarda).

For Day 1 there two choices.  I could be strict about the E4 itinerary and go via Fredes along the GR7 until I hit the GR8 and then head to Ulldecona (at least 40 kms).  Alternatively I could go direct from El Boixar to Ulldecona via La Pobla de Benifassa.  The alternative is a lot shorter but not the E4.   Either way the route takes me out the mountains and onto the coastal plain.  Ulldecona looks like a nice town (has a castle) with lots of accommodation.

From Ulldecona all the way through to Tarragona you walk along a stretch of the GR 92 coastal footpath which runs for 583 kms along the entire coastline of Catalonia. The particular stretch to Tarragona is known as the Costa Dorada.

Day 2 is a gentle 25km 6 hour walk to Amposta. Amposta is quite a large town on the River Elbra and finding accommodation should be easy. It is quite close to the Ebro Delta Nature Reserve which is considered to be one of the most important wetlands on the Mediterranean.

Day 3 is a 32 km walk to L'Ametlla de Mer via L'Ampolla de Mer. The walk looks like a classic coastal walk along fairly low multicoloured cliffs interspersed which beaches. L'Amettla de Mer looks picturesque with a fishing port and lots of places to stay.

Day 4 is another gentle 6 hour 22 kms walk along the coast to L’Hospitalet de L’Infant. L’Hospitalet de L’Infant is a “small scenic town” with lots of accommodation.

After two gentle days it might make sense to crack on a bit especially as Tarragona looks a good place for a stop-over. For Day 5 I want to do 42 kms although there are lots of options for shortening the walk including Cambrils after 15 kms and Salou after another 10.

Tarragona looks great. It has a population of 150,000, Roman ruins with UNESCO world heritage site status, a Cathedral and a large Roman aqueduct. It will be the largest place I have been to so far on the walk (could get my haircut- major planning concern).

Ampitheatre in Tarragona
After Tarragona, and for one night only, accommodation suddenly gets a bit sparse. Day 6 could involve a 21 kms walk (now on the GR172) to Nulles or a longer 37 kms walk to Santa Creus. FEEC estimate that making it to Santa Creus will take over 9 hours so it may be necessary to stop at Nulles. Nulles is a small village but with a famous art nouveau vinery.

Santa Creus looks like a destination worth waiting an extra day for. It plays host to the Royal Monastry of Santa Maria de Santa Creus regarded as a jewel in the crown of Catalan Medieval art.

Santa Creus

Day 8 involves a climb up over the Coll de la Rimbalda and a descent down to the small town of Sant Joan de Mediona where it looks like there is some accommodation. The walk is 33 kms long and will take around 8 hours.

Day 9 involves either a short 17 kms walk to Piera or a longer 35 kms walk to Monestir de Montserrat. Piera looks like a nice place but I will probably press onto Montserrat.

Montserrat is perhaps the highlight of the Catalonia walk. The famous black Madonna has made its monastery a pilgrimage focal point for centuries and a whole series of long distance paths converge on this point. The monastery itself was reconstructed in the last century after being destroyed by the French but looks impressive and has an amazing location with views over the coastal plain. This is an important destination for Catalans and international visitors and there is plenty of accommodation.

So the first part of the Catalan walk involves around 260 kms in 9 days – looks fantastic.

1 comment:

  1. Just back from Barcelona (doing a talk on Communities of Practice). I hadn't appreciated that the Catalan language was so different to Spanish; clearly so because they had two translaters converting my poor English into Spanish and Catalan for the audience.