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Friday, 31 May 2013

Over the Pyrenees to Southern Catalonia

Day 3 was glorious as you will see in the photos which follow! We took the route which goes to the col de Somport, and rather than take a boring 8.6km long tunnel, of course we took the minor route which went higher to the actual pass at 1,632m altitude. There was one solitary cafe up there just over the border on the Spanish side which allowed us to stop and enjoy being up in the snow line. The snow was melting but the grass was only just beginning to green up in places, so I was most amazed to see two Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, feeding on the only flowers available, a few dandelions! We also saw several bird species never before seen up in these high points. Species list at the end of this post.

Up in the melting snowline at the Col de Somport

Once over the other side the change was so apparent to see. On the French side of the Pyrenees all was lush and green; as soon as you are on the Spanish side the rocky, more barren, aridness is all too apparent. Lovely to see such contrasts. We'd see a few fields here and there where more normal (for us) arable crops were being grown, such as maize and barley, but I think these need some irrigation. 

Further along our route we passed kilometer after kilometer of peach farms. Even when you come down from the mountains, the terrain is never really flat. There are interesting rock formations and strange flat topped mini mountains/hills dotted about here and there. The journey took us most of the day as we were not travelling on motorways, although some roads were dual carriageways. Rather than take a possibly faster coastal route to our destination as we neared the coast, we opted to follow a minor road along the route of the Ebro river. Our destination was the Ebro Delta, a major wetland area renowned as a place for bird watching, as the whole delta area is a major rice growing area, and around the outside of the delta are vast lagoons teeming in bird life.

The Ebro river

It was quite hot here, probably the hottest day of our holiday!

Yours truly with the river in the background

Eventually we arrived at our destination, Sant Carles de la Rapita, which is a small seaside town very close to the edge of the south side of the delta. I chose to splash out a bit on this hotel as we are normally very good, staying in budget hotels. However private parking is important to us, having a car full of 'stuff' to unload, and I have found after our last holiday in Spain that Spanish hotels are better value than French ones. 

Also included in the price is breakfast. Now we are not big breakfast eaters, but we always make a packed lunch from what is available at breakfast, surreptitiously squirreled away into my backpack which always goes to breakfast with me...... this saves us money and also time looking for somewhere to eat in the often remote places we find ourselves during the day!

Hotel Miami Mar at Sant Carles de la Rapita. It really was lovely!

Our first evening here we were a bit shocked to discover that the hotel restaurant didn't even open until 9pm, then realised of course we'd be on Spanish time from now on! In Spain they eat out late. This actually worked out fine as there was no rush to get off early in the mornings as we knew we could be out all day, come back about 7.30pm if we wanted and still plenty of time to relax, and have a shower all before dinner time.

Of our three full days here, two were spent on the Delta itself bird watching, which will be another post, but the second day we decided to go inland a bit to the mountains nearby known as 'Els Ports de Tortosa'. Unfortunately this was the day the car first decided to play up. 

The lower slopes are olive grove country

One thing which saddened me about the olive groves are that they are weedkilled to within an inch of their lives. It's pretty boring driving through miles of olive grove country where the only vegetation are the wildflowers by the side the road. Only the 'overgrown' groves full of grass and flowers looked interesting - the rest was far too barren and sterile to be interesting at all. Sad.

The road leading up to Mont Caro (1,441m high)

Did we get to the summit? Sadly, no.

Grumpy face. You can see the car petered out still partially on the road!
Thankfully there was barely any other traffic and it was wide enough to turn round
here and go back down.

I did find this impromptu pause to my benefit and all the following half hour breaks during the rest of the holiday whilst waiting for the engine to cool down. It gave me a chance to look at the wildflowers and the bugs that I'd so often find on or around them!

Top: unknown beetle, the pretty blue flower I have no idea
but the red beetle is a Leaf Beetle called Clytra 4 punctata

After that fiasco we chose a different route which sounded scenic and not quite so high up, and thought we'd try once again in case the car problem had been just a blip... unfortunately not, so once again, down we came after stopping here for our picnic lunch.

Nice quiet picnic spot. We never did see anyone near that other car!

More time for me to do a bit of wildflower and bug hunting. I couldn't believe I was seeing salties (jumping spiders, but not featured here as a bit too small for my camera to do justice to) just wandering about on the gravel beside the car parking area! It's amazing what you can find in a bit of gravel and 'weeds'.

A few bugs, clockwise from top left:
Wasp Beetle (Clytra arietis), possible solitary wasp or wasp mimic bee,
a grasshopper, and a looper caterpillar. Was really pleased to find this,
just attached to the pebbles by the car parking area!

Some of these plants were growing on the other side of the road in more natural rocky/scree type habitat.

Ummm! Well the top two are the same plant, which is a delicate succulent.
The white flowering plant was beautiful and the one middle right is a Hellebore!
I wish I knew more but I have googled myself silly and there is practially
nothing on the internet regarding wild flowers in Spain.

Coming back down we stopped at this lovely cafe restaurant beside the river Senia. It obviously was once a watermill because inside, to get to the toilets, you had to cross a glass floor which looked down into the old mill workings. For someone like me who suffers from vertigo, it wasn't the easiest thing to cross!

The plane trees gave shade and it was a lovely place to while away the best part of an hour

I bet that water, coming down from the mountains, was cold!

Here, beside the shrine, was a natural spring where
people were collecting water in bottles

On the way back we crossed into Valencia where suddenly the olive trees gave way to loads of orange groves, for a change! When we got back to the hotel, typically the sun was shining on the coast so there was nothing for it but to have a dip in the pool.

Birds seen so far: 
An asterisk denotes a lifer, and I'm not noting every robin or sparrow seen, only the less common birds that we don't see in the garden!

Lurbe St Cristau (hills behind the hotel)
Black Kites
Griffon Vultures
Black Redstarts

Col de Somport
Tree Pipit *
Alpine Swifts *
Pallid Swifts *

During drive to Catalonia (often seen from the car or during a break)
Red Kites
White Stork
Egyptian Vulture
Crag Martin
Black-winged Stilt
Litte Egrets


  1. Excellent summary! Very enjoyable. I think of all the people who never get out of their cars and thus miss all the flowers and bugs :-)

    1. I know! And I didn't run the risk of my OH getting bored with me either as we weren't going anywhere!! The only thing that is frustrating is that so often you'd see a beautiful scenic view (or an interesting flower!) and there just wasn't anywhere to stop to take a photo. But I guess road builders up mountains can't cater for tourists/nature lovers at every turn. Thanks Marianne :-)

  2. Really enjoying reading about your holiday Mandy, lovely photos too.


    1. Thanks very much Philippa! I have a lot more to share... gulp. Gulp is because I need to sort out the photos and there are rather a lot of them! :-)