John Weller and Lola Culsán, authors of Wild Swimming Spain, explore the wild swimming joys of Catalonia
Why have five whimsical, watery grottoes evolved around one tiny Catalonian village? How does it feel to swim through the bell tower of a long-abandoned church? What joys are to be found jumping into turquoise waters under the gigantic arches of an early Roman toll bridge? Arriving at GRO airport – en route to a cultural break within the medieval walls of northern Cataluña’s largest city, or heading east to the resorts of the Costa Brava – most travellers are unaware of the wild swimming joys that lie in wait near this historic capital. We invite you to share some of the silvery secrets of the volcanic region of La Garrotxa.
Les Planes d’Hostoles
Just half an hour by car and two and a half by bike from the terminal building, the tiny village of Les Planas d’Hostoles is awash with enchanting waterfall grottoes and river pools – a wild swimmer’s dream.
Gorg del Molí dels Murris A
An impressive natural waterfall which cascades from high rocks into a wide pool surrounded by trees. Get here early and enjoy having the place to yourself. From Planes d’Hostoles at the junction of the C-63 and C-63, 46 head northwest for 1.4km. After travelling down a small hill you will see a few parking spaces on your right. The path to the waterfall is signposted 20m further down the road. We stayed at Camping Alguer on the edge of town – www.campingalguer.com – they are very knowledgeable about the local area and recommended some wonderful wild swimming spots. They also have the best outdoor pool we visited in the whole of Spain. Well, what’s a swimmer going do on their day off?
Easy, 5 mins, 42.071440, 2.539893
Gorg del Molí dels Murris A+
After a short dip in the pool go exploring downriver and discover a natural rocky dam in the Riera de Cogoll, creating a deep section for a perfectly secluded swim, while sunlight filters through tall trees to dance on the surface of the water.
As you walk back from Gorg del Molí dels Murris turn left down a narrow woodland path immediately after you cross the small concrete bridge. Follow the path for 20m until you reach the dam. You can enter the water here.
Easy, 1 min, 42.071529, 2.539708
Gorg de Santa Margarida
Just 2.5km from the centre of the village is another magnificent waterfall with huge green pool which formed the backdrop to part of ‘Polseres Vermelles’ (Red Bracelets) – a Catalan-language programme famed as the “TV series that made Spielberg cry”. The water is clear, delicious, and deep enough for a decent swim. A magical place to bring the kids.
Take the C-63 SE from Les Planes d’Hostoles. After 2km you will see a large sausage factory. Park on the side of the road just before factory. Walk along the road towards the factory entrance then follow the wide path round the side of the factory. When you reach the wood, take the uphill path for 5 minutes until you reach the waterfall.
Easy, 5 mins, 42.044473, 2.552835
Gorg de la Plana
Even more exciting and romantic is the ‘secret’ Gorg de la Plana, for which you will find no signs. Follow our directions to some wooden steps which lead down into a magical fairy glade. A 10-metre high waterfall cascades down tall rocks, one of which appears to be a calcified tree. The water flows under a tiny wooden bridge into a gorgeous greenish pool, followed by a smaller waterfall where you can imagine pixies frolicking on midsummer’s eve.
From Les Planes d’Hostoles take C-63 NW for 1km. Park opposite the cemetery on your right. Go through the gate and walk down the tree-lined path for 70m. Take the path on the right, go past the house and continue through the allotments until you reach the other side. You’ll hear the waterfall. You’ll come upon some wooden steps which lead down into the glade. Easy, 6 mins, 42.063155, 2.529450
Gorg del Can Poeti
For sheer fun, follow our local tip-off to another totally unmarked place, the Gorg del Can Poeti. This huge green pool with its small waterfall and natural jacuzzi provide natural entertainment to the village children and their parents, well shaded from the summer heat. In the centre of Les Planes d’Hostoles turn off the C-63 NE along the Passeig Estacio by the El Rebost d’en Bacus restaurant. After 100m you’ll see Escola de Parapent. You can park anywhere round here. Continue on foot NE for another 100m until you reach the bridge. The path down to Gorg del Can Poeti is on the left-hand side immediately after the bridge. Easy, 5 mins, 42.056888, 2.546394
(I know, we said five waterfalls: locals told us there was one more, but we could not get clear directions. If you discover it, let us know...)
Panta de Sau
If you are looking for a long swim, look no further than the magnificent Panta de Sau. Overlooked by the colourful 200m high Tavertet cliffs on one side and the Guilleries mountain massif on the other, the surroundings are breathtaking. For wild swimmers, there are a variety of ‘beaches’ from which to launch yourself into a long, languid swim. The more adventurous may come across the church bell tower of the old village of Sant Román de Sau, submerged for evermore beneath the expansive waters.
Floating on the surface of the reservoir, looking up into the Guilleries mountains it is easy to picture 16th century Robin Hood-style bandit Serallonga, Catalan romantic literature’s mythical hero, forced after a false accusation to become an outlaw. Hiding out among the mountain forests, he is believed to have led a group of bandolers who stole from the rich, cruel noblemen and tax collectors to give to the poor peasantry. Follow the signs up to the Parador de Vic-Sau hotel (parador.es, +34 938 12 23 23) – about 11km on BV-5213 via Tavernoles from C25 J183. 600m short of the hotel, on the right, find a tarmac track, by the Les Masies de Roda car park. Drive 2.5km to find the best beach, though there are many good sports all along this road. Easy, 2 mins, 41.969060, 2.384177
Alta Garrotxa (Catalan for ‘high lands that are harsh and difficult to walk on’) in the eastern Pyrenees combines tall imposing cliffs and natural rock walls with rivers running through deep valleys covered with holm and common oak trees.
Sadernes, Rio Lierca
Amazing deep pools with jumps in the gorge beneath the road.
Continue 3.5km up the GIV-5321 from the Pont Roman to find the delightful hamlet and church of Sadernes where you can park (also a beautiful rustic campsite and hostel – sadernes.com, +34 972 68 75 36). The road from here up the valley is shut June – August and at weekends, so walk 1km up the valley to find the first pools.
Easy, 15 mins, 42.274115, 2.590662
Sadernes upstream, Riera Sant Aniol
The most beautiful pool is on Riera de Sant Aniol, 1.6km from Sadernes church. From the car park, drop steeply down through trees to the right to find a mesmerising pool with a waterfall and canyons above. Carry on up the road again for another 1km for an old bridge on the Sant Aniol. A clutch of small pools can be found upstream. (42.286658, 2.589722).
Easy, 20 mins, 42.278807, 2.590136
Pont Roman, Río El Llierca
This savage landscape has shaped human settlement; the magnificent 28m high single arch Pont Roman (Roman bridge) over the Riu Llierca is part of a wealth of grand medieval and Romanesque architecture scattered like a historical crumb-trail all over the region. Splash and swim in the huge greenish pool below and imagine locals with packhorses queuing up to pay the toll and cross to sell their wares in the villages beyond. Great for children.
2.5km N of Montagut on GIV-5231
Easy, 1 min, 42.247309, 2.603697