9. Santa Pau
Santa Pau, the central village of the volcanic zone, has a beautifully preserved fortified medieval precinct with a defensive perimeter of tall and almost windowless houses. The old town surrounds a large and very attractive double plaça popularly known as the Firal dels Bous, or cattle market. Primitive wooden balconies drip with flowers and huge potted plants line the pavement arcades. Cobbled alleys converge on the 13th century, arcaded Plaça Major, with its dark Romanesque church of Santa María, an enormous medieval building with no obvious raison d’etre. There are several good restaurants, notably Cal Sastre in the square adjacent to Plaça Major, Plaçeta dels Valls, and Can Tona, on C/ del Pont, just before the bridge. Santa Pau hosts a gastronomic event in January celebrating the pea (pèsol).
There is an information centre on the Plaça Major offering brochures and maps of the extensive and well signposted footpaths that thread through the volcanic zone. The tourist office can also inform you of the hot-air balloon rides that depart nearby, (flight lasts from 11am to 1:30 pm, accompanied with cava and coca, plus post-landing country breakfast – not cheap!), mountain bike rentals or helicopter tours of the volcanoes.
Continuing west after Santa Pau, you’ll come across a large parking lot where many excursionists leave their cars while exploring the footpaths. The main path up to the tiny hamlet of Sa Cot, with its lovely medieval church, also passes the crater of Santa Margarida, famous for the 13th century chapel built in its centre. The last stretch up to the crater is very steep and can be hard going. Nevertheless, once you’ve reached the top, various easy paths take you through the heart of the volcanic zone, with lavic stone crunching underfoot and minor craters off to either side. From Sa Cot you descend into the Fageda d´en Jorda, a beautiful beech forest which boasts a remarkable range of flora and fauna and has many legends of woodsprites anf the like.
There are several good restaurants between Sant Pau and Olot, notably Hostal dels Ossos, a huge and busy family-run establishment in a masia with a vine-covered terrace. A more out of the way setting can be found by taking the turn off to the mountain village of Batet de la Serra, where there’s a good cheap restaurant called Font Faja.
This article was written by Francis Barrett. See also Francis' excellent guide to Ireland irelandbyways.com
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