Sant Martí d’Empúries to the Aiguamolls de l´Empordà (1)
Sant Martí d`’Empúries is a pretty village with a Romanesque church, several good bars and restaurants and some great views of the Gulf of Roses. Originally an island, this was where the first Greek traders established a settlement. Count Sunyer II (862-915 AD) of Empùries moved his residence from Sant Martí into Castelló circa 860 AD Historians think that this was due to Norman and Barbary pirate raids and pillaging along the coast. If you walk out onto the ancient stone pier, you may experience a very odd electrical phenomenon!
Beside Sant Marti, but nowadays more easily accessible from L’Escala, are the ruins of Empúries, an extremely important archeological site. Here you can see layers of ancient history, from the earliest Greek settlers in the 8th century BC to the last inhabitants in the 9th century AD. It is well worth buying a guidebook. The Greek city of Emporion (trading station) is closest to the shore. The Roman city is ten times the size of its Greek predecessor, with an amphitheatre, fine villas and a broad forum. Recent subaquatic excavations have confirmed the existence of the remains of a large Roman port situated some 200 m offshore. There is an extensive but rather didactic museum.
The small family-run Hotel Empúries is rather eccentric. The wooded shores around here hide a series of lovely calas with shallow water and soft sand. Be warned that, due to a strong undertow, bathing off the shore here can be dangerous, especially if the weather changes suddenly. A riding club just outside Sant Marti provides mounts at reasonable rates, and the semi-marshy area full of fruit trees between here and the tiny nearby hamlets of Cinclaus [5 Keys], Pelacalç and Montiró is very pleasant to ride, cycle or just stroll around. I once saw an otter beside a drainage ditch here.
There is a pleasant backroad between San Marti and the rather drab resort of San Pere Pescador at the estuary mouth of the river Fluvià, where water-skiing is taken very seriously.
Halfway around the Gulf of Roses is a lovely nature reserve, the Parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de l´Empordà, encompassing 4,000 hectares of what’s left of the Ampurdanese wetlands. The stark ruin of an unfinished 1970s hotel is all there is to show that this was the scene of major confrontations between environmentalist protesters and developers backed by police. Unusually, the protesters won. These coastal marshes are famous for their resident purple gallinules and white storks, as well as for the huge numbers of herons, waders and terns that pass through in spring and autumn. It is the haunt of several varieties of warbler, and the booming call of the secretive bittern is the origin of the legend of “El bruel“. This tells of a greedy merchant who tried to escape across the marshes with an oxcart full of corn at a time of local famine, only to founder in the swamps, and the strange cry heard on foggy nights is said to be the bellow of his drowning ox. There are several easy paths around lagoons and marshes, and blinds have been built along the way. Morning and early evening are the best times for bird watching, and you’ll see the largest number of species during the migration periods (March to May and August to October). Entrance to the park is free. Don’t forget the mosquito repellent!
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