Strolling around l’Empordà - 2. A Greek Inheritage

Discussion in 'Global Trip Reports' started by Jurgen, Jun 28, 2014.

  1. Excerpt: My second ‘Costa Brava’ itinerary took me to the North, actually over the Baix Empurdà's limits, to the historic Empúries compound. This region also offers enjoyable motorcycle rides, along the sea or over hills, with visits to small and medium sized towns and Greek and Roman remains.

    Strolling around l’Empordà
    2. A Greek legacy (L’Estartit - L’ Escala)

    Complete story – 5 trip reports:

    1. The Coastal Paths (Pals - Palafrugell):

    2. A Greek Legacy (L’Estartit - L’ Escala):

    3. Medieval Sites (Pals - Peratallada):

    4. From the Indigetes to Salvador Dali’s castle - to be published
    5. The Megaliths Trail (around the mountain - Les Gavarres) – to be published

    1. Over the hill to Empuries

    I started my trip again in Torroella de Montgri, the city where I had rented a small motorcycle (Honda Marauder 125 cc [1]). From there, an eastern loop, along the Montgri mountain range, leads to L'Estartit, in front of the infamous Medes islands, a former pirates’ stronghold. Scuba divers now visit sunken wrecks around these reefs and boats trail tourists to its shores, while the rocks, the summit and its lighthouse, off limits to wanderers, are a bird’s paradise.

    L’Estartit is a former fishermen's dwelling, promoted to a popular tourist destination; it is worth a longer visit, but that day, I was eager to climb to Cap de la Barra, for a panoramic view. This promontory can be reached by driving up a steep byroad, followed by a short walk on a rocky footpath.



    Cap de la Barra is a karst cliff, jutting over L’Estartit and the Medes islands; this panoramic vantage point affords a far-reaching view, along the sandy Pals costal line, down to the cove of Sa Riera, the Begur Mountain and to the seamless water and sky horizon.




    The glimpse over the islands, the ‘Meda Grand’ with its lighthouse, the ‘Meda Xica’ and the ‘Carall Bernat’ sugar cone shaped rock, is well different from the usual beach level perspective.







    Down from the vantage point, I took another trail, up again, through the ‘Parc Natural del Montgri’, toward Torre Ponça; a narrow link, including a four kilometer unsealed rocky stretch. In mid-June, when the earth becomes dry and the risk of forest fires increases, the circulation is prohibited for motorized vehicle and only open to walkers and cyclists. This ten kilometer road cut through a plateau, in a bucolic environment, however, with few direct glances toward the sea; despite its bumpy components, it is a pleasant nature drive.






    After diving down the Montgri’s forland northern edge, I reached Cala Montgó a popular bay marred with an overbuilt promontory topped by an interesting observation edifice from 1598. The Punta Montgó hill also provides a panoramic vantage point, overlooking ‘Punta de Trencabraços’, unfortunately, when I reached the summit, menacing rain clouds darkened the horizon, an augur of my excursion’s probable shortening.





    The Montgó cove is still part of the 'Torroella de Montgri'/L’Estartit’ municipality. A virtual delimitation between the Baix and 'Alt Empordà' cuts right through it. I had crossed my primary rambling region’s border, without any gap in continuity; L’Escala dwellings are now intermingled with Montgó

    Following the Mediterranean rim, I stopped along Platja de les Barques, in the city’s center, a place featuring a wide choice of seaside restaurants.

    As many other places along the ‘Costa’, L’ Escala was founded as a small fishermen's hamlet, inflated, in recent times, by the tourism invasion. The constructions along the seashore are now compact, leaving no space between Montgó and Empuries. On the city’s north rim, however, narrow streets and old houses are still a photogenic reminder of its historic past.








    As the weather continued to deteriorate, with some drizzle and a black horizon, I speeded back on highway C-853, keeping the region’s further exploration aside for another day [2].

    2. Greek and Roman cities

    Two days later, I drove back on the same highway, straight to L’Escala’s north rim, to the ‘Cônjunt arqueologic d’Empuries’. This historic site is divided into three parts: the Hellenic town, an indoor museum, and the Roman city. It is advisable to arrive early - nothing in Spain is ‘very’ early – to avoid the harsh midday sun and to reduce the number of tourists dotting the pictures.

    The first known dwellers of the region, the Indigetes, were Bronze and Iron Age populations; Empúries itself (Emporion) was founded by the Phoceans, in the year 550 B.C. This first Greek trading center of the Iberian Peninsula became a bustling place for exchanges with the local populations and an important gateway for the culture and civilization’s flow. As a modern times rehearsal, the Olympic flame, for the Barcelona games, arrived at this same place.




    The Asclepius’ statue - the Greek god of healing - dominates his former temple’s compound and became the symbol of the archeological site.




    Clay tubular amphorae, originally filled with filtering material, were used to clean the drinking water.


    The remains of a Paleochristian basilica can be seen in between the Greek city’s ruins, as the compound mixes vestiges of different epochs.




    Smaller and valuable pieces are collected inside the museum’s building; during the hot mid-day hours, the indoor visit provides a refreshing respite.

    The outside Asclepius statue is a copy, the original image being kept inside, well protected from atmospheric and people aggressions.


    Many artifacts, original mosaics, stoneware and statues are also exhibited indoors.








    Outside again, I walked to the Roman city, a dwelling built later on, during the Punic wars, as a military camp. This first Roman settlement, on the Iberian Peninsula, became intermingled with Emporion’s Greek city. The whole compound covers a large area, and it is estimated that only 25% has already been excavated.

    The ‘Forum’ is a central place in Roman cities; here, only a small portion is still standing or rebuilt; these remains however, provide an insight into its former splendor.



    Sometimes, in the 70[sup]th[/sup], I had visited Empuries; few changes can be seen on my former pictures, obviously, thirty years are only an eye blink in more than two millenniums of history.

    The Roman Forum, pictures from the 70[sup]th[/sup].



    The Roman houses, the Domus, are often decorated with exquisite mosaics; some are intact and provide valuable specimens of antic crafts.



    A ‘Domus’ (Roman house) and a mosaic, pictures from the 70[sup]th[/sup].


    The Greek city overview, picture from the 70[sup]th[/sup]:


    North from Emporion, the view stretches to the Pyrenees, a mountain range often still snow capped in June.


    3. Driving back on country roads

    Route GIV 6322/621 is an alternative way, back from L’Escala’s north rim, to Torroella de Montgri; it avoids the straight drive on highway C-853.

    As the Empurdà was once covered with lakes and inundated marshlands, small fortified cities were often built on hills, close to a castle and to a church, to increase their defensive power and to avoid floods.

    Along my back road itinerary, the first medieval city is Albons, a charming old village perched on a small mount. The Sant Cugat roman church and the runes of an old castle are its historic testimonials; my favorite features, however, are the pastel colored houses lining narrow streets; a glance into an atmosphere apparently frozen in time.





    My journey continued, on the narrow country road, to ‘Bellcaire d'Emporda’, another medieval dwelling built on a highland. It once poked out of a large lake that was dried up in the 18[sup]th[/sup] Century.


    This city, a former residence of the Count of Empuries, host a large fortified ‘Palace-Castle’ (‘Castell-Palau’), a stronghold challenged by the opposite, unfinished, ‘Montgri Castell’. In the 14[sup]th[/sup] Century, this fortification also protected the local populations against the sea brigands.





    The Baix Empordà has a dense maize of secondary trails and I left Belcaire on an unsealed road, following an approximative west direction. This itinerary brought me through a yellow ocean of sunflowers, with a gorgeous view toward the medieval city, poking to the sky like an island.



    Finally, for the last stretch toward Ullà, I joined the paved secondary road, along the Montgri Massif’s western rim.


    From time to time, along this pastoral trail, flocks of goats or sheep can be seen; this, unfortunately, seems, to be a more and more seldom encounter.



    The majestic Montgrit massif is an ubiquitous landmark, and a beckon all around the Baix Empurdà. Seen under various perspectives, its characteristic shape, a sleeping woman or a bishop, with its ‘nipple’ castle, pointing toward the sky, is a precise ‘position system’ even without a map..



    4. Down to the Ter river’s mouth

    The Empurdà is a vast alluvial sediment plain; the Baix Empurdà, for its part, is drained by two major rivers flowing toward the Mediterranean sea, along the coast between L’Estartit and Pals. The old Daró river stream irrigates the ‘Basses d’En Coll’ lagoons and the Ter its Aiguamols. These regions are popular cycling destinations and ‘motor assisted’ conveyances are well advises to keep a low profile and a moderate speed.

    From highway C-31, south of Torroella de Montgri, a partly paved, partly earthen track, leads along both sides of the ‘Gola del Ter’ (Ter river mouth).


    For my first itinerary, I followed the river’s right rim, leaving the main road on the bridge’s south side.



    The sea shore, at the river’s mouth, features gorgeous marshes, sand dunes and reed beds landscapes. In June, the beaches are not yet crowded, but punctuated by - wind and water shaped - old tree trunks. The whole region is, nowadays, a protected natural park, keeping human activities inside narrow limits (‘Reserva Natural Partial del Baix Ter’).







    There is no bridge at the seashore and, in order to cross the river, wanderers have to pass through waist level waters. On a motorcycle, the trail goes back to the highway and, down again, on the other rim.




    From ‘El Bari de Ter’, the track follows a paved and finally an earthern road, along the river’s left side, to the ‘Aiguamols del Baix Ter’, the northern part of the natural park. This protected marshland zone is also home to various kinds of local plants and wildlife.







    Wild grass, sand dunes and an undulating sea shore, the river Ter’s mouth is a great destination for nature lovers.





    Less than a kilometer from the coast, the Medes islands punctuate the sea’s offing, particularly the curious Carall Bernat, sugar cone shaped and white caped. These rocks are the last hiccups of the Montgrit mountain range, collapsing into the Mediteranean sea.




    A sand-trail, recessed from the shore, leads toward l’Estartit, through the – nowadays -protected La Pletera area.





    Odd pseudo-antic vestiges, along la Pletera zone, testify about an aborted urbanization development. A rehabilitation project is already drafted but its realization is still lacking the realization funding.




    Coming from nowhere, a straight paved stretch finally leads to L’Escala, along Els Griells urbanization.


    The colorful l’Estartit harbor, marked the end of my loop, over and around the Montgrit mountain range.



    Driving back to Torroella de Montgri, I completed my ramble with a short stretch to the West. After a couple of kilometers, the road follows a channel, completely dry at this season. This artificial link drains the rivers Daró’s high waters, making it a river Ter’s affluent, a curse deviation who greatly benefited to the Galta’s region, sparing it from frequent inundations.





    The Gualta’s outskirts provide an adequate ending point for my peregrination, as my next itineraries through ‘Emporsdá’s Medieval Sites’ (see the following GT-Rider trip report) will lead me through this region again.
    next itineraries through Emporsdá’s Medieval Sites (see the following GT-Rider trip report) will lead me again through this city.



    [1] Big Moto shop, Torroella de Montgri, . Here I rented a small Honda Marauder 125. There are other bikes available, like scooters (50 and 125) BMW 650 and 1200

    [2] As the weather was becoming menacing, I took the straight highway GI-632/C853 back from La Escala to Torroella de Montgri. My actual visit to the Empuries site was some days later, early morning, before the day’s highest peak (The site’s opening hour 09:30 AM)

    Intersting Empurdà websites:
  2. Jurgen this is a breathtaking post. Amazing you've still got the power on alright.
    Incredible research & information.
    Thank you so much.
  3. Thank you David ... two more reports to come, to close the Empurdà loop ... but I do not forget my Mekong love :) and I will soon be back home to work on these (overdue) stories.
  4. Beautiful Photos of a Beautiful Place. Great information supplied as well. Thanks.
  5. Ditto Jurgen, great photo's and good to see another country trip report, thanks
  6. As always, stunning photographs and a well researched and compelling narrative make for a fascinating and entertaining read! Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us! :clap:
  7. Lovely photos and scenery Jurgen.

    How do you find that bike compared to the Versys back home?
    - Looks like you are getting ' off-road '

  8. Merci JURGENpour toutes ces aventures (et magnifiques photos) que tu nous fais vivre intensément.Nous parcourons ces pays avec toi comme guide, quelle chance… j’espère que toutela famille se porte à merveille et que le jour où tu décides de venir aux USAet les traverser sur la 66, tu nous fasses signe afin de passer un petit boutde temps ensemble à Atlanta ou ailleurs et partager l’hospitalité du sud.
    On vousembrasse tous et a+ pour les prochaines aventures.
    Olivier, Susan, Julie et Quincy the dog


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