La Garrotxa, the Volcanic Region of Catalonia, is one of the most beautiful, unique yet undiscovered regions of Catalonia. Set between the Pyrenees and Costa Brava, and part of the Girona Pyrenees region, in the province of Girona, La Garrotxa borders with France on the northern parts, and it’s about 120 km from Barcelona, and 45 km from Girona.
While the entire world knows Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, and are now getting to know Girona, the best starting point to explore beautiful Costa Brava, not many people know where La Garrota is – but I assure you it’s worth visiting, for it is packed with interesting sights, untouched nature, and beautiful villages and small cities. Top this with delicious food and wine and you will want to go.
Curious to find out more? Here I uncover the places that make La Garrotxa a great travel destination, and share useful trip planning tips. But first of all, why go?
Why Visit La Garroxa?
There obviously are tourists in Garrotxa, but most of them are local ones, coming for a day trip or for a weekend getaway from Barcelona, or from the neighboring regions of France, on the other side of the Pyrenees. And those that visit come prepared, knowing that restaurants may not open at all on a Sunday, or that there’s no place to have breakfast on a Monday morning, because hotels and coffee shops deserve a rest day as well (yep, that happened to me and it was perfectly ok!).
Only in Besalù (more about it below) there were a bit more visitors, and even then it was hardly a crowd.
The overall impression you’ll have is that of a place that throughout time has managed to retain all of its local character, all the while being very welcoming to visitors.
Another thing that makes this a special place to visit is the welcoming, helpful and genuine people are. They are the kind of people who will stop you in the street if they think you may be lost, or will gladly exchange a few words of appreciation for the view – in Catalan, the local language; in Spanish, which they all speak; or in any other way they can find to communicate.
Finally, La Garrotxa is a great destination for all kinds of travelers. Whether you like hiking or are looking to discover local history and culture, you will find plenty to be entertained for weeks. Solo travelers like myself will find it safe and welcoming, and families with children will find that there are plenty of fun activities to keep even the youngest entertained.
The Best Places To Visit In La Garrotxa
Scattered around La Garrotxa there are a bunch of small and at times tiny medieval villages, all nicely preserved and worth exploring. They are the kind of places where you are likely to find reminders of the medieval past, such as narrow cobbled alleys, red roofs, old mills, church squares and medieval bridges.
Here are the villages you should not skip:
SANT’ESTEVE D’EN BAS – The most important village of the Vall d’en Bas, which was likely founded before the year 900 (the first mention of the village dates back to 904). Its main attraction is the 12th century church. The views of the village from a distance, when walking to the nearby tiny (and just as pretty) Els Hostalets d’en Bas, are stunning.
HOSTALETS D’EN BAS – The main feature are the pretty balconies decorated with geraniums; but the sight of the church is also quite impressive.
JOANETES – A small village in a beautiful setting, right on the slopes of the Puigsacalm mountain (where there are some of the nicest hiking trails of La Garrotxa).
SANTA PAU – One of the most charming villages of La Garrotxa. Declared of Historical and Artistic importance in 1971, it has retained all its medieval charm, with tiny irregular alleys, walls and access points. The village was built around a Baron’s castle starting in the 13th century. The castle (unfortunately closed to visitors) remained the residence of the lords, and later on the center of the village. The nicest view of the old historical center of Santa Pau is from a terrace located by a rather old fashioned (but extremely local) coffee shop called Can Pauet.
BESALU – The most famous village in the region, it used commercial center of La Garrotxa. The first sight you’ll get is that of the medieval stone bridge, Pont Vell, built in the 12th century in Romanesque style. The village is also home to the Monastery of Sant Pere; Casa Cornellà, a nicely preserved medieval house; the church of Sant Julià and there also are the remains of a synagogue, a reminder of the presence of an influential Jewish community in the area. A walk along the river will reveal great views, and an art installation that includes the “humble chair.”
Olot, capital of La Garrotxa, is one of the nicest places to visit in the region. Set on a plain crossed by the Fluvià and Riudaura rivers, and surrounded my mountains, Olot – which now counts around 35000 inhabitants – was an important market center already in the 13th century.
The city is packed with small yet interesting museums, beautiful buildings such as the Church of Sant Esteve and the Renaissance Claustre del Carme. You’ll also find many Art Nouveau and the small but lively Mercat d’Olot, an indoor market where you can buy the best meat, fish, vegetables and fruits produced locally, as well as bread, spices and nuts. The city also hosts a couple of weekly markets where locals go to buy foods, crafts and even clothes.
Known as the “City of Volcanoes,” Olot it is part of La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. Montsacopa and Montolivet are easily accessible from the city center; but there also are Garrinada and Bisaroques. The Volcano Museum, in Olot, and the Parc Nou Botanic Garden, outside the city center, are two excellent places to learn more about the volcanoes La Garrotxa.
Forget about your typical art gallery or archeology exhibit. Museums in La Garrotxa are truly interesting. Here are the ones you should not miss:
BESALU MINIATURE MUSEUM – A fun place to visit if you are in town, a good place to spend an hour or so.
MUSEU DEL SANTS – AKA the Museum of Saints, in Olot: it’s the kind of place where you go to peep in, and end up spending a couple of hours learning about what once used to be the most important craft in La Garrotxa. Indeed, the city used to be famous for its production of religious images, and there used to be dozens of workshops where statues of saints were manufactured to then be sold around the world.
Nowadays, the production of religious images has been moved to Olot Museum of Saints, which is housed in a beautiful neo-gothic building in the center of Olot. All visitors are handed a headset, so they can browse the exhibit while learning about the creation of the statues. On the lower level, through a glass wall, they can observe artists at work as they create new statues.
MUSEU GARROTXA – In Olot, it has a nice exhibit with pieces of the School of Olot.
VOLCANO MUSEUM – Located in a 19th century villa in the Parc Nou Botanical Gardens of Olot, it explains a great deal about the formation and activity of volcanoes and is a great place to learn more about the Volcanic Region of La Garrotxa.
TIP: Make sure to check the opening times of museums on their website before visiting, as they vary depending on the season and the day.
Art Nouveau Buildings
There are some incredible examples of Art Nouveau scattered in La Garrotxa – thanks to the work of many Catalan artists who took a liking into the curved lines, decorations that were rich in details, plant motifs and asymmetry. There even is La Garrotxa Art Nouveau route, which can be explored from the Carrilet cycle lane.
The best Art Nouveau buildings are:
CASA GASSIOT – In Carrer Sant Rafael, Olot.
SOLA- MORALES HOUSE – In the Firal (market place) of Olot, in 2000 was included in the European Art Nouveau Route;
GAIETA-VILA HOUSE – Also in the Firal of Olot, it’s an eye-catching colorful building.
MAS LA RIBA – In L’Hostalnou, in La Vall de Bianya.
CAN CASA – In San Feliu de Pallerols, it’s a building that nowadays hosts a chemist, dating back to the beginning of the 20th century (which marks the final years of the Art Nouveau movement) and decorated with colored glass, painted ceramics and worked wood and iron.
Other notable pieces are the Casa de la Coromina and the altar piece and entrance door of the Romanesque church of San Salvador de Bianya.
Romanesque Churches and Hermitages
La Garrotxa is packed with Romanesque churches and hermitages. These are churches built in a very simple, functional style that started appearing in the 10th century, and they all have in common the thick walls, the curved ceiling, the tiny windows and the layout that follows that of the Latin cross. Romanesque churches are often in the countryside, or in what appears to be the middle of nowhere.
Most of the Romanesque churches of La Garrotxa are still active and consecrated, but you will usually find them locked as they are only used for special occasions and celebrations.
TIP: If you are particularly interested in visiting one or more Romanesque churches in La Garrotxa, get in touch with the tourism office beforehand and look for the person who has the keys.
If you are particularly keen on Romanesque churches, there is a dedicated route, but whether you follow it or not you are bound to see many. Here are the nicest ones:
SANTA MARGARIDA DE SACOT – The church was built at the center of the crater of Volcano Santa Margarida, and – like many others in La Garrotxa – was destroyed during the earthquakes of 1427-1428, and eventually rebuilt in 1865.
SANT MIQUEL DE SACOT – Another example of beautifully preserved Romanesque Church in La Garrotxa, which was however enlarged in the 18th century following a more neoclassical style.
SAN MIQUEL DE CASTELLO HERMITAGE – Reached on a hike from Hostalets d’en Bas – it takes about one hour to get there on a steady uphill trail, it’s a pretty church and the view of the valley from there is breathtaking.
SANTA MAGDALENA DEL MONT – Various hiking trails of medium to high level difficulty lead all the way to the hermitage, from where there are beautiful views of La Garrotxa below.
SANTI FRUCTUOSI DE URSINIANO and SANCTUARI DEL ARCS – Both of them are beautifully kept and isolated, but, as many other Romanesque churches in La Garrotxa, closed.
SANTA MARGARIDA DE BIANYA – Located next to a. beautiful boutique hotel from whose rooms there are splendid views of the Pyrenees.
SANT MIQUEL DE PINEDA – The former rectory (the house where the priest used to live) has been restored and is now a cozy bed and breakfast.
Volcanoes are what drew my attention to La Garrotxa to begin with. La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park is an incredible example of volcanic landscape. The region is packed with lava flows and there are 40 inactive volcanoes. The park has a multitude of hiking and biking trails, some going to the craters of inactive volcanoes, others through the thick forest.
TIP: If you want to get a stunning view of the volcanic landscape, go on a hot air balloon ride. It’s costly, but mark it down and one of the most highly recommended experiences in La Garrotxa.
MONTSACOPA – Easily reached from the center of Olot via a a short hike that takes between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on the trail you pick (there is one that starts behind the center of the city, and another that starts next to the cemetery). At the top of the volcano there is the beautiful Sant Francesc church as well as a 19th century watch tower at the top: the views from there are incredible.
MONTOLIVET – Also in Olot, there is an easy hike that goes around the crater (which is now covered in vegetation!) and eventually along the banks of the river Fluvià.
GOOD TO KNOW: Montsacopa and Montolivet are easy hikes and you can do both in one day.
CROSCAT – A Strombolian volcano which with its 160 meters is the highest volcanic cone in the Iberian Peninsula. One of its sides used to be a quarry, which can now be seen when hiking in La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. Nowadays it’s a place where families enjoy spending a day out, and schools take their students on day trips.
VOLCANO SANTA MARGARIDA – A freato-magmatic volcano. Here, right inside the crater, there is the Romanesque church of Santa Margarida. Nowadays the crater floor is pasture land, while the slopes are covered in a beautiful oak forest.
GOOD TO KNOW: Volcano Croscat and Volcano Santa Margarida can be seen on the same day when visiting La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. There are several trails in the park that can be combined to see as many places as possible and are all easily accessible.
TIP: Add Fageda d’en Jordà to your itinerary in La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. It’s a beautiful beech forest, at the center of which there is also an organic dairy factory (which children love visiting).
La Garrotxa is an incredible hiking destination. People from Costa Brava and Barcelona go there on day or weekend trips to hike. Some of the best trails are in La Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park.
Since La Garrotxa is set between Costa Brava and the Pyrenees, you’ll also find an excellent network of short and medium distance trails of various levels of difficulty, though there also are the longer distance trails that go right in the Pyrenees.
All trails in La Garrotxa are marked. The Vìas Verdes once were railway lines throughout Spain. Nowadays, they are a famous network of trails for hikers and cyclists (and some parts are even wheelchair accessible): these trails are marked in green. In some cases, the Vìas Verdes coincide with the GR trails (some of the toughest hiking trails that can be found across Europe), which also run through La Garrotxa and which in Spain are marked with white and red lines.
You can also follow the Itinerannia trails, a network of paths in the counties of El Ripollés, La Garrotxa and L’Alt Empordà. These are marked in yellow and, like the Vìas Verdes, at times coincide with the GR trails.
The good thing about Itinerannia is that there are trails of various lengths and levels of difficulty, and you can put together various short trails to continue walking; other times, hikes are more challenging and you’ll need a guide.
TIP: Most trails in the Pyrenees of La Garrotxa are well marked, with either vertical signs or marks painted on rocks and tree trunks. Keep in mind that at times the mud and the leaves cover the signs, and the heavy rain deletes the paint, so you stay alert not to get lost!
The best thing to do is to get a good map of the trail you want to follow, and if possible download an app. Itinerannia has an app with all the trails. Another good app is View Ranger: once you upload the tracks it works offline (so also in areas where there is no network) and tells you exactly where you are and in which direction to go.
GOOD TO KNOW: The Camino Catalan route of the Camino de Santiago goes right through La Garrotza, starting in Les Planes d’Hostoles and continuing through Sant Feliu de Pallerols and Sant Esteve d’en Bas.
Waterfalls and Swimming Holes
La Garrotxa is packed with lovely waterfalls and swimming holes, which are easily accessible on foot, by bike and by car.
The name San Joan Les Fonts quite obviously indicates the vicinity to water of this lovely village. There are various natural springs in the area – the Ruta de les Fonts takes to a few of them.
Another route in La Garrotxa that takes to a couple of swimming holes and some lovely small waterfalls is the Ruta dels Gorgs (gorgs actually means bathing pool), which is a circular hiking trail of 12 km that starts and ends in the lovely Santa Pau, and takes to the lovely natural pools of Can Batlle and sanctuary of Els Arcs.
San Feliu de Pallerols is crossed by the river Brugent, a tributary to river Ter. The municipality is dotted with around 50 natural springs – several of them can be easily reached by foot. The nicest ones are the Gorg d’en Duran and the Gorg de la Mola.
Other Fun Things To Do In La Garrotxa
Go on a Hot Air Balloon Ride
The best views of La Garrotxa are from the sky. A hot air balloon ride is a fabulous way to get full appreciation of the volcanic landscape of Alta Garrotxa as it reaches an elevation of up to 1600 meters above sea level. Throughout the flight, your guide provides plenty of information about the area, pointing to various places of natural interest as well as landmarks, and gladly shares a number of anecdotes.
Flights depart at around sunrise from Vol de Coloms, right outside Santa Pau and last between one and two hours (mine was just short of two hours). Depending on the size of the gondola, there can be up to 13 passengers on the same ride.
A hot air balloon ride is quite costly, but the experience is worth every penny. During the flight, you will enjoy a glass of cava, munch on traditional Catalan sweets, and even celebrate birthdays.
Once down, you are taken back to the base camp where you get to enjoy a traditional brunch of La Garrotxa, with lots of dishes of volcanic cuisine – lots of charcuterie, traditional sausages (botifarra), beans which are typical of the region, and lots of bread and tomatoes.
TIP: Hot air balloons don’t fly if it rains, if it is windy or if there is poor visibility. If you are keen, allow at least some flexibility and plan to spend an extra day or two in the region, in case the flight gets cancelled on the day you are booked in for. The weather was quite bad for a few days and the flight was cancelled when I was scheduled to go, but thankfully I was still in the region when it finally cleared and I could go!
One of the perks of visiting La Garrotxa is that the food is really delicious. There are restaurants for all budgets: fine cuisine, international, indigenous and traditional food.
The soil is incredibly fertile in Garrotxa, with the result that local products are of a very high quality. The region produces onions, potatoes, buckwheat, white haricot beans (known locally as fesols), kidney beans and even truffles which are used to accompany pork and other meats. Local goat cheeses are renowned too.
La Garrotxa is known for its “volcanic cuisine,” a network of local chefs and restaurants that have been actively promoting the products and recipes of the area throughout Catalonia and the rest of the country.
One of the nicest dishes to try is the “patates de Olot” (Olot potatoes), potatoes stuffed with ground meat and onions and then fried until crispy on the outside, and moist and tasty on the inside. Coca is a sweet bread cake, served for breakfast but at times even with pork scratchings (in which case it is called coca de llardons).
The local liquor is ratafia, made from green walnuts, mixed herbs and spices.
The following restaurants are all tried, tested and approved:
CA L’ESTEVE – in Els Hostalets d’En Bas, it is a nice small local restaurant very popular among locals. The good, fresh food and the unbeatable prices (a mere 12 euro for a set menu!) may be the reason.
LA QUINTA JUSTA – in the center of Olot, this is one of the restaurants adhering to the Volcanic Cuisine movement. Located in a beautiful building; the food is delicious. Make reservations.
LA DEU – right outside Olot, its serves huge portions of delicious local food. One of its specialties if Olot potatoes (you can even order them to take away).
LA CUINA DEL MERCAT – located right next to the covered market in Olot. The service is friendly and informal and the food delicious. It’s very popular with the locals.
Try Local Chocolate
A chocolate making workshop at Pastisseria Ferrer in Olot with matre chocolatier Jordi Ferrer is a great way to spend a morning. He uses high quality ingredients to prepare some unique pralines. My favorite one is the salted corn (yes, you read that right!) one, for it is crispy, salty yet sweet and bitter at the same time, and it melts in your mouth.
If enrolling in a chocolate workshop isn’t your idea of having a good time, make sure to at least pay a visit to Pastisseria Ferrer to try some of the pralines. The bonus is that it is located in a beautiful historical building.
Practical Tips To Organize A Trip To La Garrotxa
How to get to and around La Garrotxa
You can travel to La Garrotxa by car or bus (not by train) from Barcelona or Girona – which actually is a bit closer. Both cities have good flights connecting them to the rest of Europe and Spain, and Barcelona El Prat airport also has intercontinental connections.
It takes less than two hours to drive from Barcelona to Olot, the main city in La Garrotxa. Driving time from Girona is even shorter – 45 to 50 minutes to Olot. If you are thinking of renting a car, you can check the rates here.
The main cities of La Garrotxa are well connected to the rest of Costa Brava by bus – Teisa Bus website has updated information on the bus routes, times and fares. Keep in mind that it will be trickier to get to some of the smaller villages and attractions in the area. Unless you want to call a taxi any time you need to go somewhere far, I recommend that you rent a car .
Guided tours of La Garrotxa
I recommend spending at least one week in La Garrotxa, but if you are tight on time you can go there on a guided tour from Barcelona or Girona. For more information on guided day trips, click here.
There even are multi-day guided tours of La Garrotxa that involve activities such as hiking, biking, exploring various villages and other parts of the Pyrenees and Costa Brava.
When to visit La Garrotxa
All in all, the time you visit La Garrotxa really depends on what you want to do there and what your interests are. If you like hiking, the best time to go is either spring or fall. I visited in mid October and the temperatures were mild and pleasant, but it rained a lot (there was a terrible stormy front in southern Europe!).
TIP: No matter the season you intend to visit La Garrotxa, make sure to be prepared for the rain with rain gear and boots, as the chances of rain are high throughout the year.
Best Places to Stay
La Garrotxa is packed with good hotels for all tastes and budgets. These are the ones I have tried and I can recommend:
- LA RECTORIA is a beautiful, cozy bed and breakfast located in Sant Miquel de Pineda, right next to a Romanesque church and not far from San Feliu de Pallerols. Rooms are cozy, the common areas have plenty of historical flavor, the hosts are kind and welcoming. They serve breakfast and a delicious dinner.
- CASA RURAL MAS EL FERRES, in Joanetes, is a basic guest house with very large rooms with beautiful views of the mountains. Dinner and breakfast are home cooked (and very good) and the owner is incredibly kind.
- HOTEL VALL DE NAS is a fantastic boutique hotel in Joanetes, with very large rooms and a great restaurant serving delicious traditional food with a modern twist.
- HOTEL LA PERLA, in Olot, is a nice hotel with clean comfortable room. There is a dining service for guests.
- PENSO HOTEL CAN MENCIO, in Santa Pau, is run by an incredibly nice local family. Rooms are basic, but clean and comfortable. The view of the main square from the rooms at the top floor is worth the ride up the stairs.
- HOTEL MAS LA FERRERIA is another beautiful boutique hotel next to a Romanesque style church. It’s located in La Vall de Bianya. Rooms are beautifully decorated and comfortable and the view of the Pyrenees from the terrace is stunning.
Other useful information
More information about La Garrotxa can be found on the website of the local tourism board. Most cities and villages also have their own website, although at times the site isn’t completely up to date.
Have you ever been to La Garrotxa, or do you plan to go? Feel free to leave a comment with your questions!
Are you planning a trip to Costa Brava? Make sure to read my other posts:
- The Most Beautiful Hikes In Garrotxa: A One Week Itinerary
- 10 Fantastic Attractions In Besalu, Spain
- The Best Guide To The Things To Do In Girona
- What You Must Know Before Visiting Girona
- Hiking In The Pyrenees: The Best Trails
Interested in volcanoes? Check out these posts:
- Everything You Need To Know To Visit Mount Bromo, Indonesia
- Everything You Need To Know When Going On A Hike Of Pacaya Volcano, In Guatemala
- Everything You Need To Know To Hike Stromboli Volcano
Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Patronat de Turisme Costa Brava Girona during my trip to La Garrotxa for the #InPyrenees #LaGarrotxa #lagarrotxatotlany and #itinerannia campaign, and wish to thank them for helping me out with the organization. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post remain my own.