Walking in the Catalan Pyrenees, October 2001

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Were we lucky with the weather!  Even though it was mid October, and between 1000m and 2000m altitude, we walked in shorts and T-shirts all week in the warm sunshine.  We only had to get our waterproofs out for an hour or so on the last day.  Then, the following day as we made our way back to Barcelona airport for the flight home, the heavens opened.  But it didn't matter since we were indoors or on the train.

Another successful independent walking holiday from Inntravel, who provide the maps and walking notes, and arrange for your cases to be carried from hotel to hotel by road, leaving you only having to carry your picnic lunch and a waterproof.

We arranged our own flight to Barcelona with Easyjet, since it was cheaper, and more convenient (avoiding having to travel to Heathrow and a long-term car park charge).  Inntravel provided the train tickets to Ripoll up in the mountains, and a taxi to the Hotel Grevol in Llanars.  Very nice 4* hotel, with a heated swimming pool, fitness centre, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room in the basement - all free for the guests.  There was also quick tan equipment at extra charge.  Odd food this first night, though - the mushroom soup seemed to be almost devoid of mushrooms - indeed almost devoid of anything, being basically hot water with a few minute bits of chopped carrot and onion in it.  The chef had worked very hard on a thick mushroom-shaped puff pastry cover for the soup dish.  Completely pointless - he should have concentrated on getting some taste into the soup.

Linda in charge of navigation.

Linda in charge of navigation.

Day 1 started with a short lift from Llanars a couple of kilometers down the road to Camprodon, a nice old village on a junction between the Ter and the Ritort mountain rivers.  The previous day when we'd passed through it in the taxi, it was full of people and life, but on this Monday morning, it was all shut - there was a planned power cut, and most people were staying indoors.  We found a shop open, though, and bought some water and a bottle of vino tinto for the road.  Quaint old pyramid-shaped bridge in the centre of the village, with ducks and a dipper on the river below.

From Camprodon we walked east up to Font Rubi, a development of second homes, all locked and shuttered, then joined the GR11 long-distance path heading north-west.  We stopped at the highest point of this section for lunch in the sunshine, with our destination, Mollo, visible ahead.  A short day.

The 2* Hotel Calitxo in Mollo was superb - small, friendly, family-run.  We seemed to be the only guests.  The food was marvellous - masses of it, imaginative, fresh and really tasty.  We were sorry to leave.

Day 2: the best walking day of the trip, as we set off up along the GR11 again to Setcases.  Ridge-walking, with superb views on all sides as the sun shone down.  Quite a few locals out on the mountainsides collecting the assorted large mushrooms growing everywhere amongst the scattered trees.  Delicious picnic lunch provided by the hotel - a tasty crunchy baguette filled with local cheese and ham, all washed down with a bottle of vino tinto purchased from the shop in Mollo. Long and sometimes steep descent down into Setcases, with a welcome beer outside a bar in the main street beside the river Ter - another dipper foraging in and out of the foaming water.

The Hotel Coma in Setcases was quite nice, but completely spoiled for us by a young, self-opinionated and extremely noisy proprietress.  We wanted to make the following day more challenging by extending it from just below the Refuge d'Ulldeter further up the valley - we had a taxi to take us there.  This extends the otherwise short day's walk to something like 16km and about six and a half hours (by Inntravel's own timings).  The senorita declaimed loudly that this was completely impossible, that it would take ten hours or more. We had to practically shout in order to get her to stop ranting and listen.  In the end we rang Inntravel in England, and they presumably had a few quiet words with her.  The atmosphere was then a bit frosty.  She was also the waitress at dinner, and plates were plonked down abruptly in front of us without comment (although there was a good choice of food).  The following morning she was still muttering that she didn't know when we would arrive at the next hotel.

Setcases was again full of locked and shuttered second homes - mainly for the skiing further up the valley.  We found a really quaint shop open and bought some further supplies of local wine and brandy for later in the trip.

Day 3: Spectacular taxi ride up to the ski-lifts at just over 2000m.  We then picked up the GR11 again as it followed the mountain stream back down into Setcases.  The first hour was marvellous wilderness walking, the second hour was spent on the road by the river.  Arrived back in Setcases within two hours (five hours ahead of the senorita's schedule), then continued on another path up over the hills and back down into Llanars.  A lovely picnic lunch watching handsome cows doing their free-range thing.  Much better evening meal at the Hotel Grevol - delicious steak washed down with a vigorous red wine.

Day 4: We walked up from Llanars beside a mountain stream to the almost deserted hamlet of Faitus - quaint old stone cottages and narrow lanes suitable for donkeys.  We sat in the shade and watched the mountain landscape over lunch.  Back to the Hotel Grevol in Llanars and another delicious evening meal.  Beware of the huge vicious St Bernard-type dog in a pen outside the hotel.

Day 5: The longest day's walk, about 20km, from Llanars to Ribes de Freser via the villages of La Roca and Abella and over the Collada Verde down to Pardines.  The day started sunny, but the clouds seemed to hang over the mountains as we ascended to the Col.  We started to get a bit chilly as we lunched in the stone refuge hut just below the Col, and a light drizzle started outside.  On with the waterproofs for the last few meters up to the col and spectacular views down the valley on the other side.  It soon stopped raining, and the waterproofs came off again.  After Pardines, Inntravel's normally excellent walking notes completely lost it - there seemed to be no relation between the notes and the ground.  By luck and judgement we found the right way off the mountainside down into the rather grotty town of Ribes and the Hotel Ca├žadors.

This was a fascinating hotel - when we arrived at about 5pm, it seemed completely dead, and we ordered a couple of beers from the deserted bar.  At mealtimes, however, the place was heaving with people - all Spaniards.  Ribes is the jumping off place for the scenic rack railway up the Nuria valley, as well as being a spa town.  Nice hotel - though our room was small, the staff and waiters were friendly, and they even refused to charge us for the aforementioned beers!

The hotel gave us a lift to the main line railway station, and the train from Barcelona arrived only 15 minutes late.  It was supposed to turn round immediately and go back to Barcelona, but it stayed put for ages waiting for a connecting train to come from somewhere else.  We gradually learned that this connecting train had broken down, but nobody made the obvious decision, so we waited and waited, getting increasingly concerned that we would miss our flight.  Eventually, the obvious decision was made, and the train pulled out an hour and a half late.  Completely pointless delay - the connecting train never arrived.  A mad heart in mouth scramble at Barcelona Sants main station to buy tickets and change trains for the airport (fortunately there was one due very shortly).  We eventually got to the Easyjet check-in desk with just 20 minutes to spare.  There we learned the lesson of flying on the cheap - the plane was delayed by three hours.

The guide books all said that the Pyrenees support bears, wolves and wild boar.  Although we saw plenty of birds, including Buzzards and an Egyptian Vulture, we saw no animals at all, apart from farm animals.  Not even a rabbit.

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