Volcanic mountains

La Garrotxa: the Spanish region containing 40 volcanic cones – and there is an isolated church in a


The Spanish Costa Brava is rightly coveted for its stunning beaches and beautiful coastline.

But visitors to the area should get away from the sands and sangria and add a diversion a short distance inland to their itinerary – to the beautiful La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park.

It is about an hour’s drive from the Gulf of Roses, north of Girona, and contains 40 volcanic cones, one of which is home to a mysterious solitary hermitage.

In the photo, the Santa Margarida volcano – with a church in its crater – in the natural park of the volcanic zone of La Garrotxa

This stunning photo shows the Santa Margarida volcano surrounded by cloud covers

This stunning photo shows the Santa Margarida volcano surrounded by cloud covers

For the sake of the crater: The church dates from the 12th century.  It was destroyed by the 1428 Catalonia earthquake and rebuilt in the 19th century

For the sake of the crater: The church dates from the 12th century. It was destroyed by the 1428 Catalonia earthquake and rebuilt in the 19th century

It has been about 11,000 years since the extinct volcano Santa Margarida (foreground) erupted

It has been about 11,000 years since the extinct volcano Santa Margarida (foreground) erupted

A superb aerial photo of the natural park of the volcanic zone of La Garrotxa taken from a hot air balloon

A superb aerial photo of the natural park of the volcanic zone of La Garrotxa taken from a hot air balloon

The small church is said to date from the 12th century and is located inside the crater of the Santa Margarida volcano.

Not much is known about this unusual religious abode, but we do know that it was ravaged by the Catalonia earthquake in 1428 and rebuilt in the 19th century.

It has been about 11,000 years since the now extinct volcano erupted.

Santa Margarida is 766 m (2,513 ft) at its highest point, and the Hermitage is 682 m (2,238 ft) above ground level

Santa Margarida is 766 m (2,513 ft) at its highest point, and the Hermitage is 682 m (2,238 ft) above ground level

A Tripadvisor reviewer writes that the mysterious church

A Tripadvisor reviewer writes that the mysterious church “gives the feeling of a fleeting existence in between all this magnificent glory of Mother Nature”

Vacationers can park their car in a parking lot next to the volcano and climb a steep path that leads to the crater

Vacationers can park their car in a parking lot next to the volcano and climb a steep path that leads to the crater

Inside the hermitage are rows of chairs and a small altar.  Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Inside the hermitage are rows of chairs and a small altar. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Santa Margarida – which is dense with forest – is 766 m (2,513 ft) at its highest point, and the hermitage sits 682 m (2,238 ft) above ground level, in a clearing in the crater.

Vacationers can park their cars in a parking lot next to the volcano and climb a steep path that leads inside the crater.

Another route, the Mas el Cros trail, guides hikers to another part of the volcano, where they will see the volcanic rocks that have accumulated after the eruptions.

It seems that the hermitage is rarely open to the public, but if visitors take a peek inside, they will find rows of chairs and a small altar.

After walking to the mysterious building in the crater, a Tripadvisor reviewer wrote: “We had our picnic there and rested under the trees. It is a place that we would like to visit every day. There is a cute little church right in the center of the crater, which as a man-made thing feels like a fleeting existence amidst all this magnificent glory of mother nature.

Discussing the trail, which takes around 30 minutes to hike from base to crater, another said, “Be careful! You might see (and spare) rare plants, like the orchid we found blooming in the middle of the trail.

The Santa Margarida volcano trail takes approximately 30 minutes from base to crater

The Santa Margarida volcano trail takes approximately 30 minutes from base to crater

The Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park is about an hour's drive from the Gulf of Roses

The Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park is about an hour’s drive from the Gulf of Roses

The fascinating hermitage is not the only delight that awaits you in the natural park of the volcanic zone of La Garrotxa, which has more than 20 basaltic lava flows. [solidified molten rock].

On a 4.5-hour hike from Santa Margarida volcano, make your first stop at Fageda d’en Jordà, a verdant beech forest where trees have thrived on volcanic matter in the soil.

The hike then ventures to the Croscat volcano, which is the largest in the Iberian Peninsula at 786 m (2,579 feet) high. On one side, part of the side of the volcano has been cut out – these ridges were created when the volcano was used as a quarry.

The Volca del Montsacopa, now extinct.  This volcano, around which the town of Olot is built, also houses a church - the hermitage of Sant Francesc from the 17th century.

The Volca del Montsacopa, now extinct. This volcano, around which the town of Olot is built, also houses a church – the hermitage of Sant Francesc from the 17th century.

In the photo, the beech forest of Fageda d'en Jordà, where the trees thrived thanks to the volcanic material in the soil

In the photo, the beech forest of Fageda d’en Jordà, where the trees thrived thanks to the volcanic material in the soil

The Croscat volcano, pictured above, has the title of largest volcano in the Iberian Peninsula

The Croscat volcano, pictured above, has the title of largest volcano in the Iberian Peninsula

Croscat still bears the scars of its use as a quarry

Croscat still bears the scars of its use as a quarry

Many spend the night in the nearby town of Olot, the capital of Garroxca. It’s packed with Baroque and Art Deco architecture, and visitors can spend time in the Casal des Volcans, a museum about the region’s volcanoes.

The next morning it is worth visiting the waterfall of Sant Joan Les Fonts, also known as Moli Fondo, which is just a 15-minute drive from Olot.

Then, go to the spectacular Castellfollit de la Roca. The city is built on a huge basalt cliff – over 50 m (164 feet) high – which was formed by the superposition of two lava flows.

Make Olot, pictured above, your base while exploring the delights of the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park

Make Olot, pictured above, your base while exploring the delights of the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park

Olot is full of Baroque and Art Deco architecture.  In the photo, the town's Casa Sola Moral, built in 1781

Olot is full of Baroque and Art Deco architecture. In the photo, the town’s Casa Sola Moral, built in 1781

It is worth visiting the waterfall of Sant Joan Les Fonts, pictured, also known as Moli Fondo

It is worth visiting the waterfall of Sant Joan Les Fonts, pictured, also known as Moli Fondo

The spectacular Castellfollit de la Roca (photo above) is built on a huge basalt cliff, formed by the superposition of two lava flows

The spectacular Castellfollit de la Roca (photo above) is built on a huge basalt cliff, formed by the superposition of two lava flows

The volcanic rock was also used in the construction of the city – you will find basalt in the paths and in the decorative elements of the buildings. The church in the town of Sant Salvador is perched right on the edge of the cliff.

Once there, go to the Museu de l’Embotit, a museum dedicated to cold cuts. If that whets your appetite, head to the nearby Poch microbrewery for a craft beer.

A final interesting stop on a visit to the magnificent volcanic region is a visit to Santa Pau, a fortified medieval village with narrow cobbled streets, cloisters and a wonderfully ornate Gothic church.

Santa Pau Park, pictured, is a fortified medieval village with narrow cobbled streets and a Gothic church

Santa Pau Park, pictured, is a fortified medieval village with narrow cobbled streets and a Gothic church

If you plan your trip well, you might arrive just in time for the annual Santa Pau Food Festival which celebrates “fesol,” a variety of beans grown in the city’s volcanic soil. Known as the “Fira de Sant Antoni”, it takes place every January.

To access the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park, the ideal means of transport is by car.

However, Tiesa buses also transport visitors to and from the park from cities like Figueres, Girona, Ripoll, Vic or Barcelona.