Olot – Spanish Volcano Alley
We first heard of Olot from a friend who went to an art-science residency there. He told us it would be a great place to visit if we wanted to get out of the city and and enjoy some time in nature. Since it was only an hour and a half away by bus from Barcelona, we decided it was a pity we hadn’t visited it yet and booked a weekend in Olot as soon as we could.
Olot, the City
Olot is known for many things, foremost of which is its natural landscape, dominated by four volcanoes. The Montsacopa, Garrinada, Bisaroques and Montolivet. These volcanoes are all covered in verdant green and surrounded by forests, so visiting them would mean lovely hikes through the woods.
It’s also a city of culture and art, and delicious food. This region of Catalonia, Garrotxa, is known for its cuisine, called Volcanic Cuisine, because it is charaterised by the prime ingredients harvested from its rich volcanic soil.
Despite being a small city, there was a lot to do in Olot. In a weekend, we explored its streets, hiked for miles around the volcanoes and ate some truly delicious and unpretentious food.
In Olot, city, nature and art are all one and there are no clear delineations between them. In fact, the city of Olot surrounds the Montsacopa Volcano, and we had an enjoyable time admiring the lovely architecture of the city for the first part of the ascent to the crater.
After a while, the architecture peters out to give way to well maintained trails that lead to some historical monuments that surround the crater at the top, and a lovely restaurant overlooking the city. We didn’t have the opportunity to dine at the El Fortí del Volcà Montsacopa (we were not there at the right time), but would love to do so in the future.
The city itself is a hotbed of Modernist architecture, with several famous homes designed by architects from the time, like Domènech i Montaner, who also designed the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona. Along with architecture from that time, however, are also a number of modern art pieces in the city – a mix of statues, murals and well done graffiti can be found on many a corner in the heart of Olot.
Forests and Volcanoes
The highlight of our visit to Olot was the long trek we made to the many volcanic craters not far from the city. We chose a route that went south-east from the city center, into the forest of Fageda d’en Jordà.
We didn’t have a car, so the first part of the hike consisted of walking through residential areas and exposed agricultural land. The area was beautiful, but exposed to the scorching late-morning sun, and we were very glad when we finally entered the forest.
Under the shade of the trees, the temperature was pleasant and the air cool and sweet smelling. If you have a car or can rent one, we would definitely recommend that, since starting the hike in the forest as soon as you can would be the best thing to do.
The trees here are amazing and they go on for what seems like forever. Inside the forest, surrounded by beech trees that grow up to twenty meteres or more, was a truly amazing experience. Here, in this forest, you feel a sense of both comfort and freedom.
The Japanese have a word, “shinrin-yoku” which means forest bathing – and I cannot think of a more perfect place for this. Fageda d’en Jordà is truly a special place. I think what makes it perfect for “shinrin-yoku” is how thick and lush the forest is, yet, how easy it is to enjoy.
On our hike, we saw many butterflies in the forest. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered so many different species in the wild. Most of them were not so easy to spot, being quite nearly the colour of the forest leaves and flowers. It was a joy to watch these delicate and beautiful creatures flit from flower to flower. There’s something fragile about butterflies we don’t often associate with other insects, and this fragility brought to mind an article I’d read in a science magazine about the impending extinction of insects. It made me feel sad that one day, these beautiful creatures might no longer be around to keep the Earth alive.
Usually beautiful forests require quite some work – but here, the land is never too steep (I think the rims of the volcanoes are around 500m or less), and the ground always dry and soft. This easy terrain really allowed us to just soak in the atmosphere. Although we walked for over twenty kilometers, we did not realise we were tired until the very end.
The highlight of the hike was the decent into the Santa Margarida Volcano, an extinct volcano in the heart of Fageda d’en Jordà. This volcano was the result of an eruption 11,500 years ago. Today, the volcano, like the others in the area, is no longer active. Instead, they are all covered by verdant green and convey a sense of great tranquility.
Inside the crater of the volcano is the hermitage of Santa Margarida, from which the volcano got its name. The hermitage was destroyed in 1865 by an earthquake and subsequently rebuilt. It was closed when we were there and we couldn’t enter the building, but I didn’t think it was necessary to do so. It was enough to find shade under one of the many trees that ring the bottom of the crater and have a moment of quiet contemplation overlooking the hermitage.
We remember reading somewhere that walking in the forest can do wonders for our bodies – something to do with the microorganisms that live in the very air. While walking through Fageda d’en Jordà, I certainly felt myself being rejuvenated – an effect which lasted for days after. Olot is worth visiting for many reasons – but its main attraction for me is definitely this.