La Garrotxa Travel Guide: 15 Reasons To Visit The Volcanic Region Of Catalonia

La Garrotxa Travel Guide: 15 Reasons To Visit The Volcanic Region Of Catalonia

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

For as little known as it is, visiting La Garrotxa is truly 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.

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!

La Garrotxa Travel Guide: Why You Should Visit The Volcanic Region Of Catalonia

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 well preserved. Besalú has been inhabited since the Iron Age, and there is proof that a market existed already in the 11th century. This grew so much, that the village became the commercial center of La Garrotxa by the 14th century.

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.

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, dating back to the 18th century, and the Renaissance Claustre del Carme, which used to be a convent cloister and it now houses the Olot School of Art.

Adding to this, there are a bunch of beautiful Art Nouveau buildings scattered around town, and the small but beautiful Mercat d’Olot, a lovely indoor market where it is possible to buy the best of local produce such as meat, fish, vegetables and fruits, bread, spices and nuts. There are also weekly markets (the Monday market on – errr – Mondays; and the Rengle Market on Fridays) where to buy foods, crafts and even clothes; and other craft markets are hosted throughout the year.

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! Indeed, there are a whopping four volcanoes in the boundaries of the city: 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 the first of its kind in Catalonia. The collection of miniature displays – going from a 14th century pharmacy to a 20th century hair dressing salon – is fun to admire, especially as you do so through magnifying glasses thanks to which you get to see all the details of the various pieces.

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 (some pieces are permanent, others temporary) of local history and art 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, with a strong focus of those 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 whose typical traits are orientation towards East, an apse, thick walls, a curved ceiling, very small windows (so hardly any light gets in) and a Latin-cross layout. Another thing that Romanesque churches have in common is the setting: they are often in the countryside, or in what appears to be the middle of nowhere.

I am a massive fan of this style 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 as it is often the case with these small countryside churches, they are only used for special occasions such as the celebration of the saint patron. This means that they are often locked.

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 – you can start in Vall de Bianya Landscape Interpretation Center in Sant Salvador the Bianya where you can get more information on the churches and even arrange a guided tour of the church of San Salvador de Bianya, which is right next to the center.

TIP: make sure to call or email the Landscape Interpretation Center in advance as the opening hours can be sporadic!

The good news is that, even if you don’t want to follow the Romanesque Churches of La Garrotxa 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 easy to reach are those of Santa Margarida de Bianya and Sant Miquel de Pineda. In the first case, the former rectory (the house where the priest used to live) has been restored and is now a cozy bed and breakfast; in the second case, right next to the church there is a beautiful boutique hotel from whose rooms there are splendid views of the Pyrenees. 

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 known as one of the best examples of volcanic landscape in Europe, with more than 20 lava flows and a whopping 40 inactive volcanoes. The park is so big that within it there are 26 different natural reserves, and an infinity 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.

Among the most accessible volcanoes in Alta Garrotxa there are Montsacopa, which is literally in the center of Olot (it’s a short but steep hike that takes between 15 and 30 minutes and there is the beautiful Sant Francesc church as well as a 19th century watch tower at the top: the views from there are incredible); and Montolivet, also in Olot, and which 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 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 local, regional, national and even international trails of various levels of difficulty and various lengths.

All trails in La Garrotxa are marked. The Vìas Verdes (literally “Green Ways”) are a series of old railway lines throughout Spain that have now been turned into 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 (Gran Recorrido in Spanish, or Gran Recorregut in Catalan) trails, 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, but at times, the crisscrossing trails and the marks on a rock or a tree that may not be easily visible (or ruined by the elements) can cause some confusion.

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.

I will be writing a more extensive post about my hiking experience in La Garrotxa, so stay tuned for that. Meantime, you may read my post about the best hikes in the Pyrenees.

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.

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.

Locals are welcoming

One of the things that I enjoyed the more 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 Garrotxa speak Catalan, 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.

By Plane

You can either fly to Barcelona El Prat, which is the largest airport in the area, 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 continue to Garrotxa by either car, bus, taxi / shuttle or guided tour. 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, or from Barcelona to Besalù. Driving time from Girona is even shorter – a mere 30 minutes to Besalù, and 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 small villages and attractions in the area. You may want to use a local taxi service or, even better, rent a car – find out the prices of car rental here. Teisa Bus website has updated information on the bus routes, times and fares.

By Train

There are no trains that go all the way to La Garrotxa. You can arrive to Girona by train, but once there you have to continue by either car, bus or guided tour.

La Garrotxa

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

On A Guided Tour

Guided tours are probably the best way to visit La Garrotxa if you don’t want to rent a car or use public transportation. They depart from either Barcelona or Girona.

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

These are the best tours of La Garrotxa that depart 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.

These are some of the nicest multi-day tours that also go to La Garrotxa:

When to visit La Garrotxa

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.

All in all, the time you visit La Garrotxa really depends on what you want to do there and what your interests are. Generally speaking, autumn and spring are pleasant and there are less people than in the summer months. Summer is nice as the days are longer and the entire area is more lively, but the prices are higher and certain places may be more crowded. Winter is a perfect time to visit if you are keen on snow and winter sports – though you can’t really go skiing in La Garrotxa, you can easily reach other areas in the Pyrenees where you can do that.

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 this part of the country gets quite a bit of rain throughout the year. Winter is the driest season, but you will need winter tires or snow chains if you intend to drive to the Pyrenees.

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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Discover La Garrotxa, Catalonia, Spain and why you will fall in love with it - via @clautavani

 

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?

This post is written in partnership with Iberostar.

How To Visit Mount Etna Without Any Hassle

How To Visit Mount Etna Without Any Hassle

Mount Etna is the cherry on the cake of my volcano expedition to Sicily. After hiking the Gran Cratere in Vulcano and Mount Stromboli, I am looking forward to conquering Mount Etna. After all, it has been a dream of mine for a long time. And the regular news reports on its eruptions have been making it all the more fascinating to me.

Etna is located on the south east of Sicily, not far from Catania. That’s only a one hour flight from Cagliari, Sardinia, where I am based. I really can’t find any more excuses for not visiting: it is time to finally go.

Mount Etna

The mighty peaks and craters of Mount Etna

The Mighty Mount Etna

With its 3350 meters, Mount Etna may not be the highest volcano in Europe (that’s Teide, in Tenerife), but it certainly is the largest one with a base circumference of around 150 km.

Mount Etna actually is a series of stratovolcanoes – a number of volcanoes built of layers of lava flows, ash and blocks of unmelted stone. It has four craters at its summit: the central ones, called Bocca Nuova and Voragine; the Northeast crater; and the newest Southeast one (formed by the 1978 eruption).

Mount Etna is the most active volcano in Europe, and one of the most actives in the world, with Strombolian kind of eruptions (producing ash, tephra and lava fountains) that constantly change its shape and elevation.

In 1669, a large eruption destroyed part of the port of Catania. Since then, eruptions have been regular and of a smaller scale, though rather violent. These kind of eruptions are called “paroxysms.” The last recorded one has been in February 2017, when 10 visitors were injured by boiling rocks ejected from a crater on the south-east side.

I am hoping to experience at least one small eruption during my hike of Mount Etna, though my friends call me crazy when I mention that. Either way, I am looking forward to the hike.

However, things don’t quite go as planned and I end up not hiking Etna at all. But I enjoy it all the same, and I plan to go again to conquer it. Here’s what happened, and why I didn’t hike it but still enjoyed it.

Mount Etna

Mount Etna as seen from Bosco Ciancio

Mount Etna: Volcano or Mirage?

Mount Etna is the very last stop of my volcano extravaganza tour of Sicily (a region that should always be included to any trip to Italy). Four days, 3 volcanoes: it can’t get better than that. I can’t wait to be there.

The cold I have had the week before seems to be finally gone, and though I have felt a bit chilly while at the top of Mount Stromboli, I conclude that the uneasiness I am feeling is pure exhaustion due to the 7 weeks of uninterrupted travel, from Italy to Sri Lanka, then to the Maldives and Spain before ending up in Sicily; the change of a few time zones and of a number of beds I hardly care to remember.

To read more about my hike of Stromboli, check my post “Why Mount Stromboli Is The Best Volcano Hike.”

It’s really early on Saturday morning, when I board a hydrofoil that is meant to take me from Stromboli to Milazzo. There, I catch a ride to Bosco Ciancio, near Biancavilla, on the southern slopes of Etna. The closer we get there, the clearer I see the mighty volcano. And the stronger the headache and body ache I have been feeling since I woke up get.

By the time I reach my hotel in the early afternoon, all I want to do is crawl in bed after taking a strong dose of paracetamol.

I suppose sleeping and paracetamol work, because a few hours later I wake up feeling better, though definitely not my 100% and not ready for a difficult hike the morning after.

The good news is that I can still visit Mount Etna without having to hike it. I decide to opt for the soft approach, thinking that I can always take advantage of the direct flights to Catania in the future, to go on that much dreamt hike.

Mount Etna

The moon-like landscape at the top of Mount Etna

Mount Etna Without The Hassle

The starting point to visit Mount Etna on the southern slope is the complex where Rifugio Sapienza is located, at little over 1900 meters above sea level. The area is lined by souvenir shops, coffee shops and restaurants.

I wonder if the owners are not afraid that eruptions and lava flows may destroy their businesses. I know that lava flows have destroyed houses and businesses in the past. On my way to Etna, I spot a house whose only visible remain is the roof – the rest covered by solidified lava. I conclude that business may be quite good if the owners are willingly taking the risk to have their shop destroyed.

I walk past the shops and restaurants to jump on a cable car that takes me to an elevation of 2500 meters. The view from the cable car is stunning, but just a prelude to what I will see once at the top. Every now and then I see people walking up, following a rather uneven trail (in the lava flows). I would have done the same, had I not been so sick the day before.

Once at the top, I hop on a 4×4 bus that, driving along the desert slopes of the volcano, takes me to 2950 meters above sea level, by the Torre del Filosofo (Philosopher’s Tower), where I and the rest of the visitors are greeted by Paride, a local guide and vulcanologist.

Paride takes the group around the caldera and shows the solidified lava flows, as well as the results of the latest eruptions and the fumaroles. We stand in awe of the Valle del Bove (Valley of the Ox), a large caldera in the shape of a horseshoe on the eastern slope of Mount Etna.

Mount Etna

The road that goes all the way up to the Torre del Filosofo was destroyed by the latest eruption

I ask if eruptions cause any threat to the local life, and Paride mentions that the lava flows occasionally threaten agriculture, transportation, and at times even the local towns surrounding Mount Etna. He points to the road that the 4×4 buses use to drive visitors up from the cable car and tells me that the park authorities regularly have to re-build it, as it gets destroyed by eruptions.

He mentions that in the winter, people go skiing on Mount Etna. I try to imagine how incredible it must be to ski on an active volcano, snow all around, and at the same time have a view of the Mediterranean sea in the distance.

I can see why the locals call it “Mongibello” (the beautiful mountain): Mount Etna is simply splendid, in a frightening yet charming kind of way. It is a huge resource for local life. Its fertile soil is perfect for the cultivation of olives, grapes and fruit – some of the best Italian olive oil, wines, mandarines and oranges are produced here. And the revenue produced by tourism is thriving, with ski tourism in the winter, and hiking the rest of the year.

As I hop back on the 4×4 bus that takes me to the cable car, I vow to visit again.

Mount Etna

The stunning view from Mount Etna spans all the way to the Mediterranean Sea

Practical Facts

The best access point to Mount Etna is on the southern side, where Rifugio Sapienza is located. That’s also where the cable car is located.

There’s various ways to visit Mount Etna, reflecting the difference in one’s budget. Keep in mind that due to the high activity of the vulcano, it is necessary to hire a guide in order to go all the way to the peak craters. Indeed, the fumaroles close to the craters eject toxic gases whose direction change depending on the wind. It is not uncommon for guides to have to go rescue groups that venture on their own and eventually get stuck because unable to breathe.

The cheapest (and most difficult) way is to walk all the way up via the path that follows the cable car.

A cable car ride costs €33 for the round trip.

A combined ticket that includes a cable car ride, a 4×4 ride to the Torre del Filosofo, and a guided tour around the calderas costs around €63.

Guided treks to the peak craters start from Rifugio Sapienza and cost around €85. The meeting time is normally 9:30 am. The excursion starts with the cable car ride to 2500 meters, and is then followed by a guided hike all the way to the peak craters and back. Please not it is not recommended to hike Mount Etna alone. Check out my post on why I don’t go hiking alone

Mount Etna

At 3000 meters above sea level, the temperatures are rather chilly even in October

Gearing up for the visit

Whichever month one plans to visit Mount Etna, it is important to keep in mind that there’s at least a 10 degrees Celsius difference between the temperature at the base of the volcano and the top. I have visited in mid October, and it was quite cold. I can only imagine that it is really cold during the winter, when Mount Etna is covered in snow.

The following list is applicable to those visiting Mount Etna during the warmest months:

  • Hiking boots: the terrain is rocky and sandy at the same time and that extra ankle support will be needed.
  • Hiking pants, a thermal t-shirt, a sweater, and a warmer wind proof jacket: it does get cold at 3000 meters above sea level! I also recommend taking a scarfand a hat, and gloves to be on the safe side.
  • Sunglasses: the sun can be fierce on the eyes in the summer months, and there’s a lot of dust flying around.
  • A daypack to carry the extra clothes, plenty of water (especially if planning to hike) and food and snacks.
  • A camera to catch the amazing views.
Mount Etna

A gorgeous aerial view of Bosco Ciancio and its surroundings

Where to stay and eat near Mount Etna

There are various places to stay and eat near Mount Etna – either in the villages around it, or even in Catania for those who prefer staying in a big city.

After weeks of non-stop travel, I was in desperate need for a quiet place where I’d hear no noise of traffic and where I’d be sure to get proper sleep.

I opt to stay at Bosco Ciancio, a beautifully refurbished rural house, once the ancient manor of the Dukes of Ciancio. The building, dating back to the 1800s, is located in Etna Park and completely immersed in nature. All rooms have stunning views of the countryside, and there is a lovely internal garden and an outside patio.

Mount Etna

The main hall of Bosco Ciancio is the perfect place to relax

The reception area, where the bar is located, is stylishly furnished and it’s a cozy place to relax while reading a book or sipping a glass of wine.

The restaurant at Bosco Ciancio offers meals that reflect the local tradition and which are carefully prepared using local and seasonal ingredients. The breakfast buffet includes homemade cakes, jams and local chestnut honey. In fact, as I go for a walk in the forest I spot a number of hives.

The dinner menu changes every day and generally includes a selection of appetizers, pasta dishes and main courses, with also vegetarian and vegan options.

The quietness of the location, the charming environment and the cozy room make my stay at Bosco Ciancio simply perfect. I manage to get over 9 solid hours sleep, which is a real treat!

Click here for the latest rates at Bosco Ciancio and here for reviews.

Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of Bosco Ciancio during my visit of Mount Etna. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.

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Why Vulcano Is The Perfect Adventure Island

Why Vulcano Is The Perfect Adventure Island

I went to Vulcano to experience yet another volcano hike, and discovered an island that has so much more to offer than I ever expected.

When I finally arrive in Vulcano, after more than 12 hours of traveling from Spain, the night has fallen already. I have heard the island (one of the seven of the Aeolian Islands archipelago, and the closest one to Milazzo, in Sicily) is beautiful. But I can’t confirm this, right now: it’s so dark that I can’t see a thing.

I have also heard that Vulcano has a strong smell of sulphur. This, I am immediately able to confirm, on the other hand. The air does smell like rotten eggs. I wonder if I’ll get used to it.

The acrid smell of sulphur is only one of the many things that, in my time on the island, remind me there’s a reason why Vulcano has that name. It’s the same smell I sensed on other volcanoes, such as Masaya in Nicaragua, or Mount Bromo in Indonesia. Volcanic activity here has been going on since 120000 years. There’s craters and calderas all over. It’s what prompted me to visit – after all, I only have a mild obsession with volcanoes.

Vulcano

Vulcanello peninsula can be seen from the Gran Cratere of Vulcano

Vulcano: The Perfect Island For Adventure And Relaxation 

It’s 7:00 am in the morning when I open the blinds of my room at Therasia Resort and marvel at the view in front of my eyes. The light is magic at that time of day. Right in front of me there’s Lipari, the biggest of the Aeolian Islands. In the distance, I can see Alicudi, Filicudi, Salina and Stromboli, which will be my next stop on my volcano tour of Sicily and where I also plan to go on a hike.

Read about my adventure in Stromboli on my post “Why Mount Stromboli is the best volcano hike.”

Behind me, I can see the base of a volcano. That may be the one I’m meant to hike in the afternoon (I later learned that it was Vulcanello). Meantime, I decide to explore the village and the beaches.

Vulcano

The mud of Vulcano is said to have beneficial properties

The buzz of the summer months has gone. It’s mid October, and the crowds of tourists are mostly gone: soon enough all businesses will be closed and only the roughly 500 people that live in Vulcano throughout the year will remain. To date, there’s a lot of vineyards and olive trees on the island, though the main revenue is obviously tourism.

A few tourists lay at the beach. It’s still warm and sunny. There’s two beaches on each side of the isthmus that connects the main island to a smaller one known as Vulcanello. Both beaches are characterized by dark, volcanic sand. It’s so different from the white beaches of Sardinia I am used to, or from the incredibly turquoise waters of the Maldives that I have visited only a month ago. Yet the sea is incredibly transparent.

Some other tourists seem to enjoy the mud baths Vulcano is famous for. They are said to have incredibly beneficial properties. It is only €3 to get in, but the sulphur smell is so overpowering that I pass on the opportunity to cure my asthma.

I’d much rather climb the “faraglioni,” the rock stacks from which I may get a good view of the bay, but the guy at the ticket booth of the mud baths doesn’t seem too eager to let me in. I convince him to let me go under the promise that I won’t jump any fence and won’t have to be rescued.

Vulcano

The clear waters and the “acque calde” of Vulcano are inviting for a swim, even in the fall

I get all the way to the top to admire the view. A few people are swimming in what are known as “acque caldo” (warm waters). Tens of submarine volcanic fumaroles eject hot steam, giving the water the effect of a natural jacuzzi. I can see why people love it.

Continuing my wanders around the village, I stop at the coffee shop right in front of the harbour and order a granita. I may as well indulge in this typical, refreshing Sicilian treat before I go on my daily hike.

That reminds me, I am in Vulcano to hike the Gran Cratere. It’s meant to be a sweet, easy hike, yet rewarding. Here’s a recollection of what I saw and experienced during the hike, followed by some tips to make the most of it.

Hiking the Gran Cratere e Vulcanello

I decide to hire a guide to take me around Vulcano, thinking that since I am there for a short time I need to make the most of it (besides, I am not a fan of hiking alone – and here’s why). Our first stop is Vulcanello, located on the north of Vulcano. This used to be a separate island, formed with an eruption in 183 BC, which through a series of eruptions, was eventually joined to Vulcano via a small isthmus by 1550 AC.

Vulcano

The view of Lipari from the caldera of Vulcanello

Vulcanello was the youngest vulcano of the island, and the one with the shortest life too. It’s fairly easy to reach once the guide points the trail, which is well hidden in the vegetation. There’s a very large caldera – a volcanic depression that was formed after a violent volcanic eruption, when the cone of a volcano collapses in the space left after the magma is expelled.

We then go to Valle dei Mostri (Monster Valley), located in Vulcanello. This looks almost like a natural anfitheater, with statues all around – which actually are the result of the erosion of the lava rock by the sea and the wind. They look like monsters – hence the name of the place.

Nowadays, only a few remain. With time, many have been completely eroded.  I can understand that. Others have been taken away by the owners of local villas to place them in their gardens. I leave wondering how the local authorities have allowed this to happen.

Vulcano

The eroded lava stone took the shape of a dinosaur

It’s almost 4 pm when we start hiking to Gran Cratere. The afternoon is warm, but there’s a lovely marine breeze. I puff along the steep trail, but the view is so beautiful that I often stop to take a photo. From the top, I can see all of the Aeolian Islands archipelago – Lipari and Salina, really close; Alicudi, Filicudi, Stromboli and Panarea in the distance. On a very clear day it is also possible to see the northern coast of Sicily and Etna.

It takes me less than one hour to reach the main crater, known as Caldera de La Fossa. The caldera is huge, with a 500 meters diameter. The last eruption here occurred in 1890, but there’s plenty of fumaroles that eject steam. It isn’t possible to get inside the crater, because the concentration of gas that is accumulated in the depression makes the air almost impossible to breathe.

Vulcano

A splendid view of the Aeolian Islands during the Gran Cratere hike

The fumaroles are mostly composed of sulphur, which gives the terrain its red and yellow color, and which fills the air of the typical acre stench. I walk through the fumaroles wearing a mask (good thing the guide carried one), yet the smell almost nauseates me.

I spend about 15 minutes at the top, admiring the view around me. I can see the port of Levante, where I landed the day before, and Vulcanello and the Aeolian Islands on one side; and Piano, one of the villages of the island, on the other.

Thankfully, I don’t have to walk through the stinky fumaroles to reach the path to go down again.

Vulcano

The fumaroles in Vulcano: the yellow of the rocks is due to the sulphur – which also makes the air smell like rotten eggs

Practical Facts

Vulcanello, the Valle dei Mostri and Gran Cratere can all be accessed for free and without a guide, though having one will obviously make the experience more complete with information and tips.

Valle dei Mostri can be reached on an easy 30 minutes walk from Porto di Levante (the largest village, where the hydrofoils to the other islands and to Sicily depart from) and it is well signalled. The path to the caldera of Vulcanello, on the other hand, isn’t as well marked and it may be necessary to ask directions to the access point.

The entry point to the path to Gran Cratere is located at around 10 minutes walk from Porto di Levante. The walk to the crater and back takes no more than 2 hours, though the path is steep and sandy in some points and the lenght of the walk depends on one’s level of fitness.

Vulcano

The Gran Cratere of Vulcano

Gearing up for the hike

The hike to Gran Cratere is short and not too demanding, but wearing and carrying the proper gear is always recommended. Here’s a useful list of what to wear and take:

  • Hiking boots: some people wear plain running shoes, others even attempt to hike with walking shoes or flip flops. But keep in mind that the terrain is sandy, rocky and slippery in some points; not to mention the ground near the fumaroles is very hot. Hiking boots provide the much needed ankle support and protect from the heat.
  • T-shirt and either shorts (in the summer months) or hiking pants: also add asweather and a wind proof jacket. The wind is quite chilly at the top.
Vulcano

A scarf or, even better, a mask is needed if wanting to walk through the fumaroles

  • A scarf, or a bandana: the sulphur at the crater makes the air stink so much that wearing a scarf around the nose and mouth is a must! If possible, wear a mask.
  • A hat: especially if walking in the summer months and in the hottest hours.
  • Sunglasses: it is so dusty that they are necessary to protect the eyes.
  • A daypack: use it to carry the extra layers and a lots of water.
  • A camera: the view is so breathtaking that taking pictures is a must!
Vulcano

A splendid view of the Aeolian Islands from the top of Gran Cratere in Vulcano

Where to stay and eat in Vulcano

As with the rest of the Aeolian Islands, there are plenty of sleeping and eating options in Vulcano. I arrived there at the end of 6 weeks of hectic travels, so I felt the need to pamper myself and opted to stay at the marvelous Therasia Resort. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.

Aside from a gorgeous, spacious room with views of the sea and the rest of the Aeolian Islands, I enjoyed eating at the two delicious on site restaurants (the breakfast buffet is one the best I have ever seen!); I jumped into the beautiful infinity pool; and I treated myself to the spa where I could pick from a great variety of treatments.

How to get to Vulcano

Vulcano can be reached via hydrofoil in a little over one hour from Milazzo, near Messina. From Vulcano, there are regular hydrofoils to the rest of the Aeolian Islands and to Milazzo.

Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of Imperatore Travel during my time in Vulcano. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.

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Learn how to enjoy Vulcano - via @clautavani

Why Mount Stromboli Is The Best Volcano Hike

Why Mount Stromboli Is The Best Volcano Hike

I didn’t just get to see a volcano when I hiked Mount Stromboli. I also got to listen to its voice. And it was a thrilling experience.

As a proper volcano and hiking junkie, I could no longer postpone a trip to the Aeolian Islands. I had hiked various active volcanoes in the world. I had gone volcano boarding on Cerro Negro, in Nicaragua. I had looked down the crater of Mount Bromo, in Indonesia. I felt a bit embarrassed that I had been to far away places and had yet to travel to the South of Italy.

It was finally time to fly to Sicily and explore some of the world’s most active volcanoes, which incidentally are at a stone’s throw from where I live.

Mount Stromboli

A perfect sunrise from Stromboli, in the Aeolian Islands

A one hour flight from Cagliari, Sardinia, to Catania, one of Sicily’s most beautiful cities; then a 2 hour car or bus ride to Milazzo (a small town near Messina); and finally a hydrofoil ride from Milazzo took me to the Aeolian Islands archipelago. Located off the North East coast of Sicily, this is composed of 7 islands, all of them of volcanic origin. It literally is a volcano extravaganza.

In my very brief time there, I had the chance to visit Vulcano (the name says it all!), where I hiked Vulcanello and Gran Cratere, and Stromboli, one of Italy’s most active volcanoes.

Hiking Stromboli was the highlight of my brief time in the Aeolian Islands. In fact, it was one of the best hikes of my life.

Mount Stromboli

Mount Stromboli in the distance, and a lovely atmosphere: easy to fall in love!

A Lovely Island

I fell in love with Stromboli at first sight, as soon as I set foot there after a hydrofoil ride from Vulcano. Come to think of it, I actually fell in love with it as soon as I saw it in the distance, right after sunrise, from the balcony of my room in Vulcano.

The island is tiny – no more than 12 square km and around 600 inhabitants that reside there throughout the year, although the island gets a large influx of tourists during the summer months. There’s hardly any car – just tuc tucs, golf carts and scooters.

I visited in mid October, at the very end of the summer season, when most businesses that cater to tourists have either already closed for the winter or are just about to.

Mount Stromboli

Tiny alleys, white buildings and tuc tics: this is Stromboli

It was great. The weather was sunny and warm (without the terrible heat of the summer months). I got to experience the best of the island – its environment, the narrow alleys of the small village, the food, the locals – without any of the crowds. And, more importantly so, I got to hike an active volcano.

It was a thrilling adventure. One that I recommend to anyone who enjoys hiking, and who wishes to admire one of the most spectacular sunsets in the South of Italy. The following is a recollection of my experience on Mount Stromboli.

Hiking Mount Stromboli

Although I had hiked other active volcanoes in the past and had even seen the lava explosions on Volcano Pacaya in Guatemala, my experience on Mount Stromboli was ten times better.

I can’t quite explain what made it so special to me. It may be because Stromboli itself is an island, and all the time during the hike I enjoyed splendid sea views. It may be the all encompassing experience, where I could see, hear and literally feel the lava explosions. It was simply fantastic.

Mount Stromboli

The view from Mount Stromboli: the intense blue of the Mediterranean sea

Mount Stromboli reaches an elevation of 926 meters above sea level. There are three craters at its peak, all of them regularly throwing smoke and lava. The most recent major eruption occurred in April 2009. Indeed, Stromboli is a very active volcano, characterized by what are known as Strombolian eruptions: explosions of lava that occur at more or less regular intervals.

The highlight of a hiking expedition on Mount Stromboli is seeing the lava explosions, and the best time of day to see them is when it is dark and the bright red of the lava strikes against the darkness of the surroundings. As it is easy to imagine, this was a major factor in making me sign up for the hike.

However, I had been warned that there was no guarantee that I’d be able to see the eruptions, as this would depend on the weather conditions. In fact, as I walked out to meet my guide and the rest of the group for the hike, the owners of the hotel where I stayed mentioned that guests who hiked the day before didn’t get to see much, because it was foggy at the top.

Yet, I was optimistic. I always am.

Stromboli

Walking through the village to hike up Mount Stromboli

Soon after meeting the guide and the rest of the group, we started walking to Mount Stromboli cutting through the village. The guide led us through the narrow alleys to eventually follow a path that goes all the way to the peak. A few minutes after leaving the centre, it appeared like nature was claiming its place: the vegetation was thick, and the soil dark and sandy, as it often is on volcanoes.

Walking up, the vegetation occasionally opened to reveal the breathtaking views: the intense blue of the Mediterranean sea against the darkness of the volcanic sand of Stromboli beaches and the whitness of the village.

Mount Stromboli

As soon as the landscape became bare, I spotted other groups

At around 400 meters above sea level, vegetation started becoming sparse. Eventually, getting closer to the crater, the landscape got completely bare and it felt like walking on the moon. That’s when I finally realized that, indeed, it was a volcano I was hiking. That’s also when I noticed the presence of several other guided groups hiking Mount Stromboli. It looked like the few tourists that had remained on the island were all doing the same thing. I could not blame them!

Mount Stromboli

A fabulous sunset over Alicudi and Filicudi as seen from Mount Stromboli

By the time my group reached the top, the sun was setting. The light was simply spectacular. The islands of Alicudi and Filicudi were clearly visible. The sea and the sky looked like one, big, cloud. Our guide led us to a viewpoint where we could literally sit and enjoy the show that was taking place below us.

Finally, the smoke, the fire and the lava explosions on the craters below were visible, and also clearly audible – though I admit at first I didn’t understand what the loud roar I heard was! I even felt the ashes from the explosion on my skin.

We spent round 30 minutes admiring this incredible show of nature before eventually making our way back to the village.

Mount Stromboli

Posing for a photo on Mount Stromboli, my attention was caught by a loud explosion!

Practical Facts

Due to the high activity of the volcano, only guided groups are allowed on Mount Stromboli (in any case, I hardly recommend hiking alone in general: read here why). Guided hikes are offered between the end of March and the end of October.

There are various companies that offer guided hikes in a variety of languages. Group expeditions of up to 20 people cost around €30 euro per person, though it is also possible to hire a private guide (which is inevitably more expensive).

I walked with Il Vulcano a Piedi and had a good experience.

Hiking expeditions depart directly from the village in the afternoon – depending on the season, between 3:00 and 5:00 pm. The hike lasts around 6 hours, based on the number of breaks and on the time spent at the top of the volcano. The idea is that of getting to the top right in time for sunset and walking down when it is dark already.

The path is mostly sandy: a steady uphill on the way to the craters, and a steep downhill on the way back to the village.

I didn’t find the hike to be difficult nor strenuous, though I suppose that depends on one’s level of fitness and I would recommend to not underestimate that.

Mount Stromboli

The bare landscape on Mount Stromboli

Gearing up for the hike

Here’s a short list of what I recommend wearing and carrying for the hike:

  • Hiking boots are vital: the soil is very sandy and good ankle support makes it much easier to walk. The good news is that all companies that offer guided hikes also rent boots and other gear, and there’s plenty of shops in the village where it is possible to buy them too.
  • Wear layers, and carry at least one extra t-shirt: I recommend wearing a thermal, quick dry t-shirtand to carry an extra one to get changed during one of the breaks. Long hiking pantsare necessary, as it gets cold at the top, especially as the sun goes down. Also take a good wind jacket, a fleece sweater, a scarf and if possible also a hat and gloves. I hiked in mid October and I wished I had gloves, as my hands almost froze. I am not exaggerating!
  • A head lamp or torch is necessary: the walk back down to the village is all done in the dark, and a light comes in handy. Companies usually provide that too, along with a helmet that must be worn once near the crater.
  • Wear sunglasses: most of the walk is actually done in the shade or in the dark, but there is a lot of dust.
  • Bring a small daypack: that can be used to carry extra clothes, plenty of water, and some snacks.
  • Carry a camera: the views along the hike and from the top are simply stunning.
Mount Stromboli

There’s many lovely places to stay in Stromboli

Where to stay and eat in Stromboli

Though the island is small, there are plenty of accommodation options and places to eat in Stromboli. I only spent one night there, and opted to stay at Hotel Miramare. Rooms there are plain but comfortable, and they all have a large balcony with incredible views of the sea. The owners are two lovely, incredibly sweet and kind ladies. There’s a bunch of friendly cats hanging around – they are all rescues. That added to the relaxed atmosphere to me! Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.

Another option, if staying longer, is that of renting one of the many villas in Sicily by the sea. I have seen several walking around the narrow alleys of Stromboli. They all have beautiful gardens and the benefit of having a kitchen to enjoy cooking using fresh local produce.

A good place to eat is Pizzeria Da Luciano. Pizza is perfect: a delicious, soft and crispy crust and some great fresh toppings; but there’s also other great options, which include fish and seafood, lots of pasta dishes, salads and a great, creamy tiramisu.

The best gelato is that of Lapillo, which also makes the freshest typical Sicilian granita.

Mount Stromboli

Enjoying the show of nature on Mount Stromboli

Getting to and from Stromboli

Stromboli can be easily reached via hydrofoil. There’s three leaving daily from Milazzo, near Messina, to Stromboli. Two of them are direct, while one stops in Vulcano, Lipari, Salina and Ginostra islands before reaching Stromboli.

There’s 4 daily hydrofoils leaving from Stromboli and going to Milazzo. Keep in mind that if the sea conditions are too rough the connections are stopped. That happens regularly in the winter months.

Legal disclaimer: I was a guest of Imperatore Travel during my visit to the Aeolian Islands and wish to thank them for putting together an incredible itinerary. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.

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Learn why Mount Stromboli is the best volcano hike - via @clautavani