Olot is the capital of the Garrotxa and is far nicer than first impressions of the industrial / commercial outskirts suggest. Three small volcanoes can be seen just to the north, and the town is surrounded by destructive geological forces. The local Jardí Botànic has a fascinating little museum, Casal dels Volcans, dedicated to the history of this volcanic region. Little is left of the medieval vila, levelled by successive earthquakes. Most buildings are 18th and 19th century, many very elegant. Narrow old streets are lined with fashionable shops, indicative of the wealth of Olot, historically based on the production of religious statuary. Sant Esteve church lies at the heart of the town, its tower a useful landmark. It contains a Christ carrying the Cross by El Greco, no less. Nearby, the recently reformed Hospicio has an important collection of mostly 19th century Catalan paintings of the so-called Olot School. Perhaps the most famous work in the collection is Ramon Casas’s gigantic “La Carga”. I particularly enjoyed some art-nouveau cigarette advertisements reminiscent of Toulouse Lautrec, one showing a Japanese mother feeding a puff to her baby! There is a surprisingly strong anti-clerical tradition evident here too. The central rambla, El Passeig d´en Blay, is lined with pavement cafés and benches, and adorned by several interesting modernista buildings. Olot is totally self-reliant for entertainment and nightlife, and does a very good job! The notice board in the window of the bar beside the cinema is always covered with announcements of local events, from amateur drama performances to flower shows. Bullfighting is surprisingly popular; the hunky Jesulín de Ubrique recently performed before a women-only audience. The Festa Major on * is probably the best in Catalunya.
La Vall d’en Bas, El Bosc de Tosca, Puigsacalm, Sant Privat d’en Bas, Sant Esteve d’en Bas, Les Planes d’Hostoles, Sant aniol de Finestres (good hostal), Amer, La Cellera de Ter, Anglès
There are two roads between Olot and Ripoll. The C-150 looks the better route on the map, and it does offer some fine scenery, but at times it’s rough driving and is takes twice as long as the seemingly longer route through the tunnels of Capsacosta.
The Vall de Bianya is quite simply gorgeous. Perennial favorite of Barcelonan nature lovers, this valley offers sublime scenery and no less than 15 Romanesque churches spread out in an area no larger than 12 square kilometers. The valley also boasts an inordinate number of good restaurants. I am told that the best of all is in the tiny village of Sant Salvador, situated towards the top of the valley off the main road before reaching the tunels. The eponymous eatery is set in a 13th century masia and is family-run.
At the traffic circle after the tunnels and high mountain pass of Capsacosta (1,762 m) turn left for Sant Joan de les Abadesses and Ripoll, or turn right for Camprodon.
This article was written by Francis Barrett. See also Francis' excellent guide to Ireland irelandbyways.com
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