Geography of the Ampurdan
One of my favourite points of entry to the Ampurdan is Exit Number 5 from the Autopista between Barcelona and the French border. The road descending to the coast is on the frontier between the two comarques and provides spectacular views to the north, east and south, providing a magnificent overview of the region from the Pyrenees to the southern Costa Brava. The basins of the rivers Muga, Fluvià and Ter form the main plain, with the Montgrí masif like a pimple in the middle. The biggest mountain in the region is Canigó in France, invisible in summer but absolutely dominating the landscape with its godlike presence for at least 6 months of the year. To its west, the Pyrenees range widens and grows even higher towards Aragon, but to the east the mountains soften into the Alberes, Gaverres Mountains in the southernmost part of the region and the pre-Pyrenees uplands to the west combine to make the seaside plain look like the flat stage of a classical amphitheatre or salad bowl. range and tumble into the sea.
Fransesc Gimeno: Un poble empordanès/An Ampordan village (Torroella de Montgrí. Note Montgrí in the background) (1918)
Climate & Landscape
The Ampurdan has a pleasant climate. The winters are mild and the temperature in summer varies between 24º and 40º Celsius. There is sufficient sunshine for oranges to grow wild, although the main crops are apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, figs, quince, marrow and of course grapes to make wine and tiny green olives, which are particularly delicious. Figueres onions are famous for their purple tinge. Mist and fog can make driving difficult on autumn and winter evenings. Rainfall is infrequent, but when it does occur it tends to be heavy and prolonged.
However, the strong Tramontana wind is a fairly regular feature of the region in all seasons except summer. This variant of the French Mistral wind blows NE-SW across the landscape for 3-12 days at a time, and can be bitter when the Pyranees are covered in snow and ice. Taking shelter indoors avoids the icy blast, but not the shrill moan as the wind swirls around corners and down chimneys to make fireplace flames flicker and die. The English proverb “red sky at night – shepherds’ delight; red sky in the morning – sailors’ warning” is reversed in the Ampurdan; glorious sunsets signal the imminence of the Tramontana, whereas beautiful dawns are the norm.
In ancient times, marshes covered almost the entire plain of
But most of the Ampurdan would still become regularly waterlogged without the drying effect of the Tramontana wind. The influence of the Tramontana can be seen in the rural landscape and architecture, with walls and lines of beech trees designed as windbreaks, and open arches at the top level of old farmhouses to dry stored crops. The people of the region tend to live in harmony with the local climactic vagaries, but the Tramontana affects their behaviour most of all, making the children giddy on the first day and rendering everybody depressed when it blows for a week. After 10 days of Tramontana, the murder rate goes up and both people and animals have been known to commit suicide.
This article was written by Francis Barrett. See also Francis' excellent guide to Ireland irelandbyways.com
Information about the Ampurdan
Ampurdan main page
Information about the Costa Brava
Accommodation in the Ampurdan and the Costa Brava