11 Fantastic Attractions In Besalu

11 Fantastic Attractions In Besalu

Besalú is a lovely, beautifully preserved small town in Garrotxa, part of Catalonia. It’s about half way between the Pyrenees and Costa Brava, and right at the edge of La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. In medieval times it was the capital of an independent state.

Nowadays, Besalu has lost its status of independence but it remains a real gem. It is a maze of narrow, cobbled alleys and beautifully kept building, set against the background of two placid rivers (the Capellades to the north, and the Fluvià to the south) and the volcanic landscape of Garrotxa.

Of all the villages in Garrotxa, I find Besalú to be the prettiest. I have visited for a day when I traveled to Garrotxa. It marked the ending point of my one week hike, and it quite easily was the cherry on the cake. Needless to say, I fell in love with it.

Interested in hiking through Garrotxa? Check out my post “The Most Beautiful Hikes In Garrotxa: A One Week Itinerary.”

To do Besalu complete justice, you’d have to spend more than one day there, so that you’d get to enjoy its atmosphere and have dinner in one of the lovely restaurants. But if you are tight on time, you’ll be happy to know that Besalú can be easily visited on a day trip from Girona and even Barcelona.

Pressed with time? Visit Besalú on a guided tour of Garrotxa from either Barcelona or Girona. Here’s a selection of the best tours:

This post highlights the things to see and do in Besalú, either on a day trip or in a couple of days, and shares some tips to plan your trip there.

For more reasons to visit Garrotxa other than Besalu, read my post “The Most Beautiful Hikes In Garrotxa: A One Week Itinerary.” And if you are visiting Girona, make sure to read my post “The Best Guide To The Things To Do In Girona.”

Besalu, Spain

The iconic Pont Vell of Besalu

A Guide To The Nicest Attractions In Besalu, Spain

Besalú gorgeous medieval bridge

Besalú medieval village is the obvious starting point of a visit. It’s the trademark of this lovely small town, and allows you to cross the River Fluvia to get into town. Pont Vell, as it is called in Catalan, was first built in the 12th century in Romanesque style. There are seven arches on the bridge, and two towers, and from there you’ll get a splendid view of Besalu.

TIP: Before actually crossing Pont Vell, make sure to walk down the stairs to reach the bank of the river. The views of the bridge and of Besalu from there are splendid!

The church of Sant Vicente de Besalu

Besalu has a few nice churches. If you decide to visit just one, make it this! Much like many other churches in Garrotxa, this church was built in Romanesque style, though there are also Gothic features. It dates back to 977, when the parish was first created.

This church is what made Besalú a famous pilgrimage site: the remains of the True Cross of the Christian faith are allegedly held there.

Besalu Spain

The monastery of Sant Pere in the beautiful central square of Besalu

The Monastery of Sant Pere

One of the unmissable things to see in Besalú is the Monastery of Sant Pere. To be fair, most of the monastery is not visible anymore, but the church annexed to it still is. It used to be a Benedictine order monastery, founded in 977. The church that was annexed to it however dates from the 11th century. It’s a fairly big church, in a nice airy square with some other buildings you’ll want to visit (more about those soon) and a few nice places to stop by for a drink or a meal.

The Casa Cornellà (also known as Casa Llaudes)

In the same square as the Monastery of Sant Pere, Casa Cornellà is one of Besalu’s landmarks. It was built by the Cornellà family in the 12th century: at the time, they were one of the most important families in the area. This is thought to be one of the best preserved examples of Romanesque style civil buildings in Catalonia. Llaudes is the name of the family that acquired the building in the 15th century.

The Hospital of Sant Julià

The Hospital of Sant Julià dates back to the 12th century and actually used to be a pilgrims’ hostel built by the counts of Besalu. The only original bit is the facade, which is truly impressive.

The Jewish mikveh baths

Girona and Garrotxa used to have a large Jewish community, which inevitably left its mark: the same is found in Besalú. Jewish people arrived in the area as early as the 9th century, and as a result there are a few buildings that testimony the Jewish history of this beautiful small town. The most important one is the mikveh, or the Jewish baths used in religious ceremonies, that were built in the 12th century.

The Jewish quarter

Though the Jewish community in Besalú mixed up with the Christians, there are traces of a small Jewish quarter near the mikveh. This is also where the synagogue used to be.

Besalu Spain

A gorgeous view of Besalu

The Museum of Miniatures and Microminiatures

One of the quirkiest places to visit in Besalu is the Museum of Miniatures. There is a full collection of miniatures on display, that you’ll have to observe with a magnifying lens. This will show you the level of detail that was put into these works!

Sagrat Cor Chapel

A bit outside Besalu there is the lovely chapel of Sagrat Cor. It’s on a hill from where there are lovely views of the village, and the hike there is pleasant one.

Besalu Spain

The Humble Chair on the bank of the river Fluvia, in Besalu

Go on a walk along the Fluvia river

I have already suggested to head down the bank of the Fluvia to get a nice view of Pont Vell and of Besalú. After exploring the village, I also recommend walking along the other bank. The views of the bridge are impressive from that side, and it is a nice, pleasant place to walk away from the crowds that at times get into town.

On this side of the river, you’ll also get to see “the humble chair,” a piece of artwork that comes from a collaboration between people living in Besalu and local artists.

Shop for souvenirs

The presence of so many souvenir shops in Besalú, as opposed to other medieval villages in Garrotxa, only goes to show how it became a popular tourist destination in recent years. The good news is that most shops sell locally produced stuff, so it’s a good place to get some small presents to bring home with you.

Besalu Spain

The lovely souvenirs shop in Besalu

Practical Information To Plan Your Visit To Besalu

How to get to Besalú

Besalu is easy to reach from both Barcelona and Girona. It takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes to drive there from Barcelona, and little over half hour to drive there from Girona. You can rent a car here.

If you plan to drive to Besalu, you’ll be happy to know that there’s plenty of free parking on the south side of the village, with a parking lot located near the Pont Vell. That’s also where the Information Office is located – so you can stop there for information and maps before you actually head to explore.

Should you prefer to use public transportation, Teisa has regular buses from Barcelona and Girona to Besalu.

Another option is to visit Besalú on a guided tour, departing from either Barcelona or Girona.

Guided tours to Besalu

Most tours to Besalu are part of day trips departing from either Barcelona or Girona, and that include visits to also other places in Garrotxa.

These are the best tours departing from Barcelona:

And these are the best tours departing from Girona

Besalu, Spain

A different perspective of Pont Vell, the symbol of Besalu

Where to eat and sleep in Besalú

If you plan to sleep in Besalú, you’ll be happy to know that there are some excellent accommodation and dining options.

Here’s a selection of best places to sleep in Besalú:

Castell de Besalú is one of the best restaurants in Besalu. Pont Vell is a stylish, cozy place that serves dishes prepared with local ingredients. Finally, Can Quei is another excellent restaurant serving local food.

Further information

More information on Besalu can be found on the website of the tourism board of Garrotxa.

Have you ever been to Besalu, Spain? What did you like the most about it?

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. 

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Discover the things to see and do in Besalu

17 Reasons To Visit The Volcanic Region of Catalonia, La Garrotxa

17 Reasons To Visit The Volcanic Region of Catalonia, La Garrotxa

La Garrotxa, the Volcanic Region of Catalonia, is one of the most beautiful, unique yet undiscovered regions of Catalonia. This region is set between the Pyrenees and Costa Brava and it is part of the Girona Pyrenees region, in the province of Girona. It borders with France on the northern parts, and it’s about 120 km from Barcelona, and 45 km from Girona.

Not many people know where La Garrotxa is, but visiting is worth it, for it is packed with interesting sights, untouched nature, and beautiful villages and small cities. If this isn’t enough to convince you to go, let me add that gourmets will find plenty of mouthwatering reasons to visit: food and wine in this part of the country are delicious.

La Garrotxa What?!

There’s probably not a person in the travelers’ community that doesn’t know about Barcelona. The capital of Catalonia is an incredible city; an old time favorite of Europeans and North Americans who go there for the ultimate weekend getaway.

Girona, the biggest city of northern Catalonia, is also becoming increasingly popular. Call it the power of budget airlines, which started flying there en masse to avoid the high landing fees of Barcelona El Prat airport. And Costa Brava is now a favorite summer destination thanks to its lovely beaches and charming villages.

Planning to go to Girona? Read my post “The Best Guide To The Things To Do In Girona.”

La Garrotxa though? Most people outside of Spain have never even heard of it. I was one of them, to be honest. I discovered it thanks to my obsession for volcanoes and volcano hikes, as I was researching for volcanoes in Europe. I was thrilled to find out that a place that was within easy reach from Sardinia was actually packed with extinct volcanoes, and home to some of the most incredible hikes in Europe.

By the way, if you are curious to know more about my experiences hiking active volcanoes, check out my posts Everything You Need To Know To Visit Mount Bromo, Indonesia and Everything You Need To Know When Going On A Hike Of Pacaya Volcano, In Guatemala.”

I visited La Garrotxa in October and spent 10 incredible days there. I foresee it will become a very popular international tourist destinations in the near future, for it has anything a traveler may want to.

In this post, I will highlight some of the reasons that make La Garrotxa a great travel destination, and share some tips to help you organize a trip there and make the most of it.

La Garrotxa

Sant Esteve, one of the nicest villages in La Garrotxa. Not many people outside of Spain know where it is – yet!

17 Excellent Reasons To Visit La Garrotxa

It is still quite undiscovered

One of the things I enjoyed the most about La Garrotxa is that it’s still relatively undiscovered. Don’t get me wrong: there are tourists around, 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 (and frankly, who am I to say they shouldn’t?).

Only in Besalù, quite possibly the nicest village in La Garrotxa, there were a bit more visitors, and even then it was hardly a crowd.

The overall impression I had in La Garrotxa is that of a place that throughout time has managed to retain all of its local character, all the while being very welcoming to those who want to discover it.

La Garrotxa

Besalu is one of the nicest villages in La Garrotxa

The villages are gorgeous

Scattered around La Garrotxa there are a bunch of small and at times tiny medieval villages. All of them are 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

Among the villages worth exploring there are 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). The most important building in the village 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 main feature are the pretty balconies decorated with geraniums, though I have to say that the sight of the church is also quite impressive. Joanetes, a nearby village, is 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 is 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 (which unfortunately can’t be visited) 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.

The most visited village in La Garrotxa is Besalú, and after having been there I can only say that I am not surprised it is: this small medieval village is incredibly charming. Once the commercial center of La Garrotxa, it’s quite simply a pleasant place to explore.

The first sight of Besalú that visitors get is that of the medieval stone bridge, Pont Vell. This was built in the 12th century in Romanesque style. If this is not impressive enough (as if!), the village has plenty else to offer. It is home to the Monastery of Sant Pere; Casa Cornellà, which is a nicely preserved medieval house; the church of Sant Julià and there also are the remains of a synagogue, a reminder of how the Jewish community thrived in Besalú and the rest of Alta Garrotxa, from the end of the 9th to the 15th century.

I also recommend going on a walk along the river – on both sides of it, if possible. The views of Pont Vell are equally gorgeous from both sides of the river; those of the village from the southern side are stunning; whereas on the northern side there are just as many nice viewpoints. The northern side is also where the “humble chair” is located. This is a nice piece of artwork that comes from a collaboration between Besalú inhabitants and local artists who create their version of a chair.

Read my post “11 Fantastic Attractions In Besalu, Spain.”

La Garrotxa

Olot is the main city in La Garrotxa – and it’s lovely

And so are the cities

Olot, capital of La Garrotxa, is one of the nicest places to visit in the region. It’s actually quite a small city, with only 35000 people living there. Set on a plain crossed by the Fluvià and Riudaura rivers, and surrounded my mountains, Olot was an important market center already in the 13th century.

Olot is a fantastic place to get a good feel for the local atmosphere (people are lovely!), to go shopping, and to get a better idea of the history and culture of La Garrotxa.

The city is packed with small yet interesting museums, beautiful buildings such as the Church of Sant Esteve and the Renaissance Claustre del Carme. Adding to this, there are a bunch of beautiful Art Nouveau buildings scattered around town, and the small but lively Mercat d’Olot, an indoor market where it is possible to 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.

Olot is known as the “City of Volcanoes,” and it is part of La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park – so you can really see why I wanted to visit it! Montsacopa and Montolivet are easily accessible from the city center (more about the hikes and the volcanoes of La Garrotxa in a bit!); 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.

Last, but definitely not least, Olot has some of the best accommodation and dining options in Garrotxa. There are good places to stay for all budgets, as well as restaurants that go from budget eateries to fine dining.

La Garrotxa

The Museu del Sants in Olot is one of the most unique of La Garrotxa

There are some truly quirky museums

Forget about your typical art gallery or archeology exhibit. Museums in La Garrotxa are truly interesting. Besalu Miniature Museum is a fun place to visit if you are in town, a good place to spend an hour or so.

Another incredibly quirky museum is the Museu del Sants (aka the Museum of Saints) in Olot. It’s the kind of place where visitors 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, Olot used to be famous for its production of religious images, and there used to be dozens of workshops scattered around town 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.

More traditional museums include the Museu Garrotxa, in Olot, which has a nice exhibit with pieces of the School of Olot; and the Volcano Museum, which is located in a 19th century villa in the Parc Nou Botanical Gardens of Olot, and explains a great deal about the formation and activity of volcanoes – it’s 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.

La Garrotxa

One of the best examples of Art Nouveau in La Garrotxa is this beautiful building, in the historical center of Olot

And wonderful examples of Art Nouveau

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. I only got to see some (there are really many!) but those who are interested in this cultural and artistic movement will be pleased to know that there is a La Garrotxa Art Nouveau route which can be explored from the Carrilet cycle lane.

Olot is the best place to visit for anybody who’s interested in this artistic style, with several beautifully preserved buildings in the center of town.

One of the most famous Art Nouveau buildings in Olot is Casa Gassiot, on Carrer Sant Rafael. The Firal (market place) is home to two buildings: the Solà-Morales House, which in 2000 was included in the European Art Nouveau Route; and the Gaietà-Vila House, an eye-catching colorful building. Some more Art Nouveau buildings can be found along the ramblas of Olot. It just takes an observing eye to spot them, as some are shadowed by the trees.

More examples of Art Nouveau in La Garrotxa can be found in La Vall de Bianya – the most famous works here are the Mas La Riba, which is located in L’Hostalnou; Casa de la Coromina and the altar piece and entrance door of the Romanesque church of San Salvador de Bianya.

In San Feliu de Pallerols there is the Can Casas, 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.

La Garrotxa

Santa Margarida is one of the many Romanesque churches of La Garrotxa

Romanesque churches and hermitages are stunning

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.

I am a massive fan of Romanesque churches. My parents got married in one in Sardinia – in fact, it’s a family tradition as pretty much all my family members got married in the same church. This is to say, I was truly happy to come across a bunch of Romanesque churches in La Garrotxa – though I couldn’t possibly visit them all.

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. The good news is that, even if you don’t want to follow the dedicated route, you are bound to see many of them – just as I did.

One that I truly loved discovering is that of Santa Margarida de Sacot. Aside from the fact that the church looks really pretty, it’s the setting that caught me by surprise: 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.

Not far from it, Sant Miquel de Sacot is 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 Castellò Hermitage can be reached on a hike from Hostalets d’en Bas – it takes about one hour to get there on a steady uphill trail, and once there you can either go back to Hostalets or continue to Joanetes. The church is pretty, and the view of the valley from there is breathtaking.

Another hermitage that requires quite an effort to be visited is that of 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.

I stumbled on the Church of Santi Fructuosi de Ursiniano and the Sanctuari dels Arcs while hiking. Both of them are beautifully kept and isolated, but, as many other Romanesque churches in La Garrotxa, closed.

Two churches which are truly lovely and, contrary to the other ones I have mentioned, easy to reach, are those of Santa Margarida de Bianya and Sant Miquel de Pineda. In the first case,right next to the church there is a beautiful boutique hotel from whose rooms there are splendid views of the Pyrenees.In 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.

La Garrotxa

Volcano Croscat is one of the many of La Garrotxa – it was once used as a quarry

It is packed with volcanoes

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 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.

The most accessible volcanoes in La Garrotxa are those in Olot. You can easily walk to the top of Montsacopa from the center of Olot. This is 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, is an easy hike that goes around the crater (which is now covered in vegetation!) and eventually along the banks of the river Fluvià.

TIP: Montsacopa and Montolivet are easy hikes and you can do both in one day. Plan to have lunch break in Olot to enjoy La Garrotxa volcanic cuisine at La Quinta Justa in between the two hikes.

Another nice volcano in La Garrotxa that can be accessed quite easily is Volcano 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.

If you are curious to know what it’s like to hike an active Strombolian volcano, head over to my post “Why Stromboli is the best volcano hike.”

Volcano Santa Margarida is 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.

TIP: 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.

I recommend adding the Fageda d’en Jordà on the itinerary: this is a beautiful beech forest, at the center of which there is also an organic dairy factory (which children love visiting). Leaving the Fageda, the trail goes by the beautiful Romanesque church of Sant Miquel Sacot.

Garrotxa

Thanks to the Pyrenees, there are some incredible hikes in La Garrotxa

And incredible hikes

La Garrotxa is an incredible hiking destination. People from Costa Brava and even those who live in Barcelona go there on day or weekend trips to hike. Some of the best trails are in La Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park. As I have already pointed out, the natural setting of the park, with its beech forests, extinct volcanoes and nature reserves is ideal for hiking, and sure enough I made the most of it.

But there is more. La Garrotxa is set between Costa Brava and the Pyrenees and counts with 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.

I have walked parts of Vìas Verdes, but I have the mostly followed 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. At times, I put together various short trails so that I could continue walking; other times, I walked longer and significantly challenging trails, for which you’d be better off hiring a guide or joining a group.

Read my post on why I don’t recommend hiking alone.

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 really have to 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 one which I have used and found helpful is View Ranger, which once you upload the tracks works offline (so also in areas where there is no network) and tells you exactly where you are and in which direction to go.

Needless to say, if you are planning to hike in La Garrotxa (or anywhere else, actually) I recommend wearing appropriate hiking gear – first and foremost good hiking boots. Stay tuned as I will be writing a detailed packing list for those who plan to hike in La Garrotxa.

If you plan to do some hiking in La Garrotxa, make sure to read my post “The Most Beautiful Hikes In Garrotxa: A One Week Itinerary”. You may also want read my post about the best hikes in the Pyrenees.

The Camino de Santiago goes right through it

One of my biggest dreams, as a hiker and a lover of nature, mountains and anything cultural, is to walk the Camino de Santiago. This is one of the most famous walks in the world. I have walked bits and pieces of it in the North of Spain, starting in the Basque Country and going all the way to Galicia.

One of the things I didn’t know about La Garrotxa and was quite happy to discover is that the Camino Catalan route of the Camino de Santiago goes right through it, starting in Les Planes d’Hostoles and continuing through Sant Feliu de Pallerols and Sant Esteve d’en Bas.

La Garrotxa

There are many beautiful waterfalls in La Garrotxa

Waterfalls add a refreshing touch 

I visited La Garrotxa in October, when the temperatures were incredibly pleasant. Yet, this part of the country does get quite hot in the summer time. The good news is that 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. 

The views are just incredible

If you, like me, enjoy a good view, you’ll be in for a real treat. La Garrotxa is packed with viewpoints from where to catch a breathtaking view. The nicest views of Olot are those from Volcano Montsacopa. It’s an easy hike from the city center, and the views of the medieval town are darling.

The view of Santa Pau from the terrace by Can Pauet, as well as those of the village from various viewpoints, are precious.

The hermitage of Sant Miquel de Castellò, which can be reached on a steady uphill hike from either Joanetes or El Hostalets d’en Bas, is the best place to get stunning views of the Vall d’en Bas. The hike to Santa Magdalena and of Puigsacalm also afford some of the best views in La Garrotxa.

La Garrotxa

The views of La Garrotxa from a hot air balloon are breathtaking

Especially from a hot air balloon

Yet, the best views of La Garrotxa are those 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, the 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.

These are the best hot air balloon rides in La Garrotxa:

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, passengers get to enjoy a glass of cava, munch on traditional Catalan sweets, and even celebrate birthdays.

Once down, passengers are taken back to the base camp where they can enjoy a traditional brunch of La Garrotxa, with lots of dishes of what is locally known as volcanic cuisine. This usually involves a lot of cold cuts, traditional sausages (which here are called 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 on going on a hot air balloon ride, make sure to allow at least some flexibility and plan to spend an extra day or two in La Garrotxa, in case the flight has to 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 enjoy a fabulous flight!

La Garrotxa

Food in La Garrotxa is delicious

The food is delicious

One of the perks of visiting La Garrotxa is that the food is really delicious. There are restaurants for all budgets (I am a fan of local eateries that serve home cooked style food) that serve food for all tastes: 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, buckweat, 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 in La Garrotxa is the “patates de Olot” (Olot potatoes) which are stuffed with a mixture of ground meat, onions and then fried until crispy on the outside, and moist and tasty on the inside. Coca is a sweet bread cake, often served for breakfast but at times even with pork scratchings (in which case it is called coca de llardons)

Adding to the cuisine, there are also the drinks. The local liquor is ratafia, which is made from green walnuts, mixed herbs and spices. 

Especially chocolate 

I honestly never thought of La Garrotxa as a place for chocolate. However, rain forced me to change my plans on my second day there, and as I looked for things to do, I enrolled in a chocolate making workshop at Pastisseria Ferrer in Olot. That’s how I ended up spending more than two hours (which really went in a zip!) with Jordi Ferrer, who showed me the secrets to some of his nicest chocolate pralines.

Jordi 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.

La Garrotxa

A lovely elderly man I met in Olot, La Garrotxa: every day he goes on a walk with his beloved cat.

It suits any kind of traveler

Whether you are a keen hiker looking to spend your days walking your way up volcanoes and mountains, or you are more into history and culture and like visiting historical sites, churches and museums, La Garrotxa has anything you may want and you will find plenty of things to keep you entertained for days.

La Garrotxa is perfect for any kind of traveler, too. 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.

Locals are welcoming

One of the things that I enjoyed the most in La Garrotxa is how welcoming, helpful and genuine people are. Whenever they spotted me from their balconies and had the impression I may be lost, they called out and suggested a route to follow to get where I wanted to go. When they noticed that I was full of appreciation for the views I was sharing with them, they engaged in conversation about their lives, their city and even their pets.

Of course, the fact that I speak Spanish (people in La Garrotxa speak Catalan, but they all speak Spanish as well) helped out a lot. But I think that such genuine and kind hearted people would be helpful no matter the language barrier.

Practical Tips To Organize A Trip To La Garrotxa

How to get to and around La Garrotxa

La Garrotxa is easy to get to. These are the various options available. Train travel is not one of them.

By Plane

You can either fly to Barcelona El Prat, which is the second largest airport in Spain, or Girona, which is actually closer to La Garrotxa. Both airports are served by budget airlines. If you arrive by plane, you then have to make your way to La Garrotxa by either public transportation or car. Various companies offer competitive rates for car rental. You can check prices here.

By Car

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.

By Bus

The main cities of La Garrotxa are well connected to the rest of Costa Brava; but it is 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 – find out the prices of car rental here. Teisa Bus website has updated information on the bus routes, times and fares.

La Garrotxa

Guided tours go to all the nicest places to visit in La Garrotxa, such as Santa Pau

On A Guided Tour

Keep in mind that I recommend spending at least one week in La Garrotxa. If you are tight on time and would still like to explore La Garrotxa on a day trip when visiting Barcelona or Costa Brava, a guided tour is probably your best bet as you will be taken to all the nicest places to visit, and you won’t have to worry about transportation. There are guided tours of La Garrotxa departing from Barcelona and Girona.

These are some of the best guided tours of La Garrotxa departing from Barcelona:

There even is an Alta Garrotxa half day hike from Girona.

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 La Garrotxa in mid October. The temperatures were mild and pleasant, and though it was mostly sunny when I visited, the whole of Southern Europe was hit by a wave of terrible storms, so even La Garrotxa got quite a bit of rain.

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.

La Garrotxa

La Rectoria is among the nicest places to stay in La Garrotxa

The best places to stay in La Garrotxa

La Garrotxa is packed with good hotels for all tastes and budgets. These are scattered around the region, and as I moved from one place to the other, I visited quite a few of them.

These are the nicest places to stay in La Garrotxa:

Where to eat in La Garrotxa

Here’s a secret: no matter where you go in La Garrotxa, food is bound to be good. Having said that, I have had the pleasure to dine at a bunch of excellent places.

Ca l’Esteve, in Els Hostalets d’En Bas, is a nice small local restaurant that, judging by the amount of people who were there on a week day, must be very popular. The good, fresh food and the unbeatable prices (a mere 12 euro for a set menu!) explain why.

La Quinta Justa, in the center of Olot, is one of the restaurants adhering to the Volcanic Cuisine movement. The restaurant is located in a beautiful building, and the food is delicious. It’s so popular that it is better to make reservations, especially during the weekend.

La Deu, right outside Olot, serves delicious local food and impressive portions. One of its specialties if Olot potatoes (you can even order them to take away).

La Cuina del Mercat is 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.

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.

Stay tuned as I will be writing more posts about La Garrotxa!

Have you ever been to La Garrotxa, or do you plan to go? Feel free to leave a comment with your questions!

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. 

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Which Are The Best Canary Islands?

Which Are The Best Canary Islands?

This post on the best Canary Islands is the first one of a series on more detailed posts about the best hikes on the various islands of the archipelago. Here, I provide a short introduction on the various islands and explain their main characteristics.

The archipelago of the Canary Islands is an autonomous region of Spain, located at around 100 km off the coast of Morocco. It is composed of seven main islands – namely Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, El Hierro, Fuerte Ventura, La Palma and La Gomera; and multitude of much smaller ones. Of these, Lanzarote is often considered the best canary island for surfing.

In general, the Canary Islands are thought to be a fantastic holiday destination, to the point that each year they attract more than 12 million tourists looking to make the most of their beautiful beaches, the mild weather, the quaint villages and bigger cities, the good food and relaxed atmosphere. Each tourist has its own view on which ones are the best Canary Islands, but – needless to say – these views are completely subjective and based on their personal taste.

If we are to think about nature, determining which is the best Canary island becomes an even more daunting task. The archipelago is originally volcanic, and the nature is at its best. Suffice to know that a whopping four of thirteen national parks of Spain are located here, and that of these two have become UNESCO World Heritage sites and other two have been added to the list of World Biosphere Reserve.

I guess what makes the Canary Islands attractive to me is the volcanoes, of which a few are still active. In my travels, I have hiked several volcanoes, including Mount Bromo, in Indonesia; Etna, Vulcano and Stromboli, in Sicily; Pacaya in Guatemala and Cerro Negro in Nicaragua. Teide, located in Tenerife, is the tallest volcano in Europe (as well as the highest mountain in Spain) – this would be enough to say that Tenerife is the best Canary island.

With their amazing nature and volcanoes, the Canary Islands are an incredible hiking destination. Here, I will provide some essential information on the best Canary islands, on the things to do and see there, and a brief selection of the best hiking trails. Stay tuned for more detailed posts on the various islands.

best Canary islands

Tenerife, with Mount Teide, is one of the best Canary islands

Which Are The Best Canary Islands?

Tenerife

Often considered the best Canary island, Tenerife is the biggest and most populated of the archipelago. The most important cities on the island are Santa Cruz de Tenerife (the capital) and San Cristobal de la Laguna, home of the University of La Laguna which was founded in 1792 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A top tourism destination in Spain, Tenerife is thought to be one of the best Canary islands for surfers thanks to the good, persistent waves.

What makes Tenerife one of the best Canary islands is also the beautiful beaches, quaint villages and lots of natural sites. One of the best beaches is La Caleta, a real hidden gem thanks to its beautiful setting and quiet environment. Completing the idyllic setting there’s a delicious fish restaurant.

Another fantastic beach is Playa del Bollullo. This is characterized by dark, volcanic sand (typical of Tenerife) and surrounded by breathtaking cliffs. It’s a fairly remote place, though there’s a trail that reaches it. It’s a popular beach among surfers thanks to the winds that bring in good waves.

One more reason to consider Tenerife one of the best Canary islands is the lovely villages. The unmissable ones are Masca, perched on a rock and with its narrow, cobbled alleys and overflowing gardens; Garachico, a small port that survived the forces of nature; Tegueste, located in the countryside, which has a nice square and buzzing farmers’ market. The highest village is Vilaflor, famous for being completely surrounded by the forest. Last but not least there’s Granadilla, where there is a beautiful 18th century baroque church.

Tenerife owes its reputation of best Canary island to the lovely climate and the beaches. However, adventures seekers go there to challenge Mount Teide and Teide National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Indeed, what makes Tenerife one of the best Canary islands is the multitude of hiking trails. There are many volcano hikes: Montaña Blanca trail goes to Teide summit. It is a challenging hike, but the views are breathtaking. Other fantastic trails are the Roques de García and the Dogollada de Guajara. The latter starts in Teide National Park and ends in Vilaflor.

There also are forest trails, perfect for those who want to get closer to nature. A bunch of trails are located in Anaga Rural Park. And there are also coastal trails, such as Malpaís de Güímar.

Here’s my post on the best hikes in Tenerife.

best Canary island

The gorgeous dunes are a famous attraction in Gran Canaria, one of the best Canary islands

Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria is the second most populous and the third largest of the Canary Islands. Thought to be one of the best Canary islands, its a lovely place to visit thanks to all that it has to offer. The capital, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, was founded in 1478. Its original name was Real de Las Palmas. Nowadays it is the most populous city of the archipelago, famous for its carnival. Located in the city there’s Las Canteras beach, a protected area and incredible diving spot.

Like the rest of the archipelago, Gran Canaria is of volcanic origins. The highest peak on the island are Pico de las Nieves, which reaches 1949 meters, and Roque Nublo, with its 1813 meters. Such mountains make Gran Canaria one of the best Canary islands for hiking.

Gran Canaria is known as “Miniature Continent” because of its different climates and varied landscapes. The 4 million tourists that visit it each year consider it the best Canary island thanks to its long, white sandy beaches, the green ravines and the beautiful villages.

Famous attractions in Gran Canaria include the Maspalomas Dunes, located in the south of the island where the climate is warmer and sunnier. That’s the part of the island where most resorts are located, thus receiving most of the visitors.

Other attractions that make Gran Canaria one of the best Canary islands are Agüimes, a beautifully restored small city located on the eastern part of the island. Not far from it, there’s the protected area of Guayadeque ravine. Here, a church has been built on the side of the mountain and tourists love the many cave restaurants. Also on the eastern side of the island there is the most famous diving spot, the marine reserve of Playa de El Cabron.

Half of Gran Canaria is part of the Canary Islands Network for Protected Natural Areas, and a third of the island is protected by UNESCO and a recognized Biosphere Reserve.

Another thing that makes Gran Canaria one of the best Canary islands is the presence of some incredible hiking trails. The walk to reach Playas de GüiGüi, two gorgeous, off the beaten path beaches on the west coast of the island, is one of the best trails. The challenging walk to La Aldea de San Nicolás is perfect for experienced hikers. The one through Tasartico is a lighter walk. Another trail is that of Ruta de Las Presas: it goes from La Aldrea de San Nicolás to Artenara, Gran Canaria’s highest municipality.

Check out my post on the best hiking trails in Gran Canaria. 

best Canary islands

Gorgeous beaches such as Papagayo make Lanzarote one of the best Canary islands

Lanzarote

Lanzarote is thought to be the best Canary island for surfing, thanks to the beautiful beaches and the great waves. This is the easternmost of the archipelago, and the third most populated. The capital is Arrecife, and the main attraction is the Timanfaya National Park, in the centre west of the island.

Another reason Lanzarote is thought to be the best Canary island is the weather: it is called “the island of eternal spring,” thanks to its mild climate throughout the year. It receives just 16 days of rain, but it is regularly swept by strong winds.

Since it is of volcanic origins, the landscape in Lanzarote is quite desert-like. There are two mountain ranges crossing the island: Famara in the north and Ajaches in the south. El Jable desert separates Famara and Montañas del Fuego. The highest peak is Peñas del Chache, which reaches 670 meters above sea level.

Located in Lanzarote there is also the Tunnel of Atlantis, the largest underwater volcanic tunnel in the world.

Tourists are attracted to Lanzarote for its gorgeous beaches, such as Papagayo – a series of small coves of white sand nestled between lava rocks; its world class surfing and diving; the quaint city of Teguise; the local wine; Timanfaya Natural Park; and the many volcanoes (Volcan El Cuervo is just one of them). There are some fantastic hiking trails, too: Femés to Papagayo gives the best of both (hikes and beaches); Caldera Blanca goes to the crater of a volcano. With so much on offer, it’s easy to see why Lanzarote is thought to be one of the best Canary islands.

Find out what are the best hikes in Lanzarote in this post. 

best Canary islands

The unique landscape makes El Hierro one of the best Canary islands

El Hierro

The westernmost island of the archipelago is El Hierro. This is also the smallest of the largest ones, and the least populated. The entire island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 2000 – easy to guess why many think of it as the best Canary island. The capital is Valverde. With no more than 21 days of rain per year, the island has a wonderful climate that makes it great to visit at any time of year.

El Hierro is home to an active volcano. The last intense activity was recorded in 2011. There also are several endemic animal species, some of which endangered such as El Hierro Giant Lizard.

El Hierro lack the major tourist infrastructure that other Canary islands have, so it is not nearly as busy as the rest, and that nature is still unspoiled there – this is why many consider it to be one of the best Canary islands.

El Hierro has some of the best beaches of the Canary islands. The most popular one is Playa de Tacoron, on the south coast. It is not a sandy beach, but the water is incredibly transparent and the surroundings beautiful. There’s a viewpoint for magnificent sunset views.

Another attraction on El Hierro is the shrine of Our Lady of the Kings, an hermitage erected in 1577 to home a statue of the patron was taken to the island in 1546.

More reasons to appreciate El Hierro as one of the best Canary islands is the beautiful small villages; the good museums (such as the vulcanology center, and the Parque Cultural de El Julan) and some incredible diving spots.

Hiking junkies will say El Hierro is the best Canary island thanks to the pleasant weather year round which makes it a fantastic hiking destination. There are trails that go all around the island. Las Dehesas is one of the top ones thanks breathtaking views and a peak into the island’s nature and wildlife.

best Canary islands

The lovely sites around Fuerteventura make it one of the best Canary islands

Fuerteventura

Fuerteventura is the second biggest island of the archipelago, but is not nearly as populated as Gran Canaria or Tenerife. The capital is Puerto Rosario, and the highest point is Pico de la Zarza, which reaches 807 meters. It is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since May 2009.

Fuerteventura is the oldest of the Canary Islands, and thought to be the best Canary island by many. Throughout history it has been eroded by wind and precipitations, and the landscape is often barren. Many tourists who visit the island fall in love with its beautiful beaches, the strong surf and the pleasant climate.

Contrary to the other Canary islands, Fuerteventura is not overdeveloped – though there still are fantastic hotels and restaurants. To many, this is what it makes one of the best Canary islands.

Fuerteventura has some beautiful historic villages such as Betancuria: here the pace of life is slow, the surroundings gorgeous. It used to be the capital of the island until 1834. Villa Winter is another attraction: this series of cellar, caves and watchtowers surrounded by the barren landscapes was built by a German engineer and by German prisoners of war from the Tefia concentration camp. It’s such an interesting place that to many it’s what makes Fuerteventura one of the best Canary islands.

The interior of Fuerteventura is all lavascapes and volcanic mountains. It is a protected area, but it can be visited. There are various hiking trails (making Fuerte Ventura one of the best Canary islands for adventure lovers), which include the one to Montana de Tindaya, the oldest mountain in the Canary Islands, located on the North-East of Fuerteventura. It is a sacred mountain to the Majorero people, who are indigenous to Fuerteventura.

The hike to the lava craters of Corralejo is a 4 hours walk, which can be rather strenuous due to the lack of shade.

best Canary island

It’s easy to see why La Palma is one of the best Canary islands

La Palma

La Palma currently is the most volcanically active of the Canary Islands. The entire island is Biosphere Reserve – with such nature, it’s easy to see why it is considered one of the best Canary islands. The capital of La Palma is Santa Cruz de la Palma, a quiet, peaceful and pleasant place to visit.

Teneguia is the main volcano on La Palma; it last erupted in 1971. This is the second highest peak of the Canaries, with Roque de los Muchachos reaching 2423 meters. The views from there are breathtaking. There is located one of the best astronomical observatories in the world. Star gazing is thought to be a must when visiting La Palma.

Whale watching is another must when visiting La Palma (which thus becomes the best Canary island for wildlife lovers). The beaches never get too crowded.

The beautiful, untouched nature and the volcanoes make La Palma is a fantastic hiking destination – and one of the best Canary islands for hiking. La Cumbrecita is one of the best hikes. Here, it is possible to walk along the volcano’s caldera. The Ruta de la Cresteria goes around the crater of Taburiente and provides fantastic views of a collapsed volcano. The Route of the Volcanoes is an incredible trail that winds among the line of craters of La Palma southern-central spine.

best Canary island

Is La Gomera the best Canary island?

La Gomera

La Gomera is, geologically, the oldest of the Canary islands. It also is the second least populous. Since it is one of the most untouched and least commercial islands, it is thought to be one of the best Canary islands. The capital is San Sebastian de la Gomera.

What makes the island a favorite of tourists is the presence of beautiful, black sand beaches – though keep in mind that the currents can be quite strong. Playa Santiago offers the best sunset views; whereas Valle Gran Rey is a completely unspoiled beach. Hermigua Beach is splendid: the currents are quite strong but there’s a lovely natural pool on the beach.

Much like La Palma, La Gomera is a great place to admire marine life such as dolphins and whales. This makes it a favorite of wildlife watchers, who consider the best Canary island.

La Gomera is a lot less touristy compared to the rest of the archipelago. Those who go enjoy its wine, produced with grapes cultivated on the rich, volcanic soil. The most famous wines are white – either Foraster, or Forastera Gomera.

Another unique thing about La Gomera is the way of communicating that was created by the local shepherds. They would whistle down the valley to be heard up to 5 km away. It’s so special that in 2009 it has been declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

La Gomera is very mountainous. The highest peak, Alto de Garajonay, goes all the way to 1487 meters above sea level. Garajonay National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. Here, there are numerous species of plants, some of which under risk of extinction. Such nature makes La Gomera one of the best Canary islands.

La Gomera is a fantastic destination for hiking. There are many good trails. The path Circolare Costas de la Gomera is a multi-day hike of over 120 km that starts in San Sebastian and which can be divided in 5 different trails, of varying difficulty. It’s so great that it’s easy to see why hikers think of La Gomera as the best Canary island.

The best view of the island is that of Hasta la Vista – on clear days the views opens up to show Tenerife!

Have you ever been to the Canary Islands? Which do you think are the best Canary islands?

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My Perfect Tenerife Itinerary

My Perfect Tenerife Itinerary

It’s been two years since I published a post about the 11 places I’d want to visit in the following year. It was November 2015 and I was making plans for 2016. I said I’d visit Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, and Sapa Valley, in Vietnam. And I did – I went with my sister in March 2016. I promised I’d go to Bergamo, in the North of Italy. And kept that promise.

I wrote that I intended to go to the Maldives and to Etna. And I went – a year later than I had intended, but I did go. In fact, I so wanted to go to Maldives that I decided to pay a visit even though I’m still single (and learned there are many things to do in Maldives that aren’t just for couples). And I didn’t just hike Etna, but also Vulcano and Stromboli.

Tenerife

Volcanoes and gorgeous beaches – that’s Tenerife

But of those 11 places, there’s some I still have to visit. The thing is, at time life gets in between me and my travel plans. And other times, I simply don’t have any plans, because I am too tired to plan anything, and because I like the idea of having at least some level of flexibility.

Tenerife though… I still have to go. And seriously, I won’t be able to stare at my own reflection if I don’t go in 2018. I’ve read about it, I have been drooling over pictures, I have been dreaming of myself conquering Teide, and I have even thought of a rough itinerary that I’d love to follow there, something that puts together my thirst for adventure, my love for small villages, and my desperate need to relax and just do nothing.

Here’s what my perfect Tenerife itinerary looks like.

Teide

It’s the hiking I am after, in Tenerife

My Perfect Tenerife Itinerary

Enjoy lots of hiking

Most people go to the Canary Islands, including Tenerife, to enjoy the beautiful beaches. But it’s the hiking and adventures I am after.

Check out what the best Canary Islands are in my latest post. 

Tenerife is where the highest volcano in Europe, Mount Teide, is located, and Teide National Park has a series of incredible trails that I am keen to hike. Montaña Blanca, the path to Teide summit, is meant to be hard, but I am eager to challenge myself. Other trails there are the Roques de García and the Dogollada de Guajara. The latter one starts in Teide National Park and ends in Vilaflor.

But there’s more. Teno Rural Park has various trails, of varying difficulty. One goes from Los Silos and terminates in El Palmar. A tougher one starts in Garachico and ends in Chinyero mountain.

These are all volcanic trails – which would quench my thirst for volcano hikes. But there also are forest trails, such as those of Anaga Rural Park, and coastal trails such as Malpaís de Güímar.

Tenerife

Coastal villages in Tenerife

Discover the beautiful villages

Whenever I travel, anywhere in the world, I like having a mixture of adventure and hiking with culture and sightseeing. Ideally, I alternate hiking days with days during which I visit a city or, even better, a bunch of villages. The best is actually hiking to a village.

Tenerife is packed with coastal and rural villages – some of them connected by beautiful hiking trails. In my time there I plan to visit as many as possible. Here’s just a few of them.

Among the unmissable villages to visit in Tenerife there is Masca, which is perched on a rock needle and characterized by narrow cobbled alleys and bougainvillea gardens.

Tenerife

There’s more than just beaches in Tenerife

Garachico is another village I am keen to visit. It is a tiny port that has been threatened by the forces of nature throughout time, but has somehow managed to survive (and shine).

Tegueste is meant to be one of the prettiest villages in Tenerife: set in the gorgeous countryside, it has a lovely square and a farmer’s market buzzing with life.

Vilaflor is Spain’s highest village and that’s enough for making me want to visit. It is backed by mountains, surrounded by a forest of pine trees, and it is said there’s flowers all over.

Last, but definitely not least, Granadilla, home of an 18th century baroque church and a Franciscan convent.

Tenerife

La Caleta is one of the best beaches in Tenerife

Relax at the beach

I did say that to me a good trip has a good combination of adventure and culture. I should however add that the ultimate trip would end with some relaxing time and some pampering, possibly at a lovely beach.

I feel incredibly attracted by the possibility of sitting in the sun and swimming in the sea even in April (Sardinia is still too cold at that time of year). Add to this the fact that Tenerife is packed with beautiful beaches – and it is easy to see why I am keen to go.

Among the best beaches of Tenerife there’s La Caleta, which is thought to be the hidden jewel of the island for its idyllic setting and quiet environment. There’s even a few traditional fish restaurants there.

Similarly to La Caleta, Playa del Bollullo is one of the most remote beaches of Tenerife, though there is a footpath which makes it quite easy to reach. It is a black volcanic sand beach (typical of Tenerife), of plain, wild beauty and surrounded by gorgeous cliffs. The beach is very popular with surfers as it is often swept by winds that bring in good waves.

Playa Jardin is an urban beach, and as the name says it is completely surrounded by palm trees and cacti, a bit like a garden. As many other beaches in Tenerife, it often gets big waves.

Tenerife

Tenerife has great waves

Los Gigantes beach is located in western Tenerife, in a secluded place where nature rules. It is a resort, but the beach is meant to be gorgeous, with golden sand and clear waters, and surrounded by cliffs that reach 800 meters.

Another resort beach is Playa del Duque. It is characterized by golden sand and the water is clear and warm. The beach is completely serviced: sunbeds, restaurants, and it is so clean that it’s been awarded the blue flag.

Located in Playa del Duque there’s the Iberostar Grand Hotel el Mirador, which sounds like the perfect place to end a trip packed with adventure. It has a spa, it boasts view of the beach, there’s restaurants that serve only the best local cuisine and it’s motto is tranquility, which is just what I like.

Have you ever been to Tenerife? What did you like the most about it? Do you have any insider’s tip about places I should add to my itinerary?

5 awesome things to do in Madrid

5 awesome things to do in Madrid

Whenever I think of an awesome getaway for a few days or even longer, Madrid city breaks are the way to go for me. Spain’s capital city is beautiful and interesting: the perfect combination for both relaxation and sightseeing!

Bustling with shows, exhibitions, galleries, museums and night life, Madrid offers a huge selection of things to see and do. Here’s five of the best:

1) Take an art walk on Paseo del Arte

Paseo del Arte — English for “Art Walk” — is a must-see for art lovers. This area of Madrid boasts some of the most famous art galleries in Spain, including the Prado Museum, theRoyal Botanical Gardens and the Reina Sofía Museum. With at least 15 museums and galleries in a one-kilometer stretch of the city, I never get bored there.

 - photo courtesy of Ricardo Ramirez Gisbert (flickr)

The beautiful garden of El Prado – photo courtesy of Ricardo Ramirez Gisbert (flickr)

2) Soak up the nightlife in Malasaña

Madrid has a well-deserved reputation for lively night life, and the Malasaña neighborhood is the best place to start. With a huge range of established bars and clubs, visitors to Madrid should give this a try: I love to go there and drink and dance until the sun rises! There’s a huge range of music styles to suit all tastes.

3) Visit the Royal Palace

I love to soak in some of Spain’s history with a visit to the Royal Palace — still the official residence of Spain’s royal family today. The palace is beautiful, with 3000 rooms, opulent decor and iconic artworks. Don’t forget to drop in the Royal Armoury and Painting Gallery too!

4) Shop at the Rastro

Madrid’s most famous street market, the Rastro has been a shopping area since the medieval era. It’s open on Sundays and public holidays from 9 am until 3 am. There’s just about anything for sale: from household items to clothes, through to antiques and jewelry. The Rastro is located in the La Latina district, and it’s full of locals and tourists all mingled together.

There is always an interesting find at the Rastro - photo courtesy of Nelson Benitez

There is always an interesting find at the Rastro – photo courtesy of Nelson Benitez

5) Relax in the park

Madrid is a very green city, with lots of public parks. One of the finest is the Quinda de Los Molinos: 21.5 hectares full of trees, fountains and a lake. The pink and white flowers of its almond trees are a well-kept secret: I love going there during spring to see (and smell) the spectacle!

That top five is just the start. For a quick getaway or a longer visit, Madrid has so much to offer that you’ll want to keep going back again and again and thanks to the online great deals, this is easily doable.