Tag Archives: ACSI

Spain – Olot (part 2), Santa Pau and Banyoles

We slept soundly in our scruffy campsite.  It was a chilly, cloudless morning as we collected our bib numbers and readied ourselves for the off.  Thinking 10km should be an easy jaunt, less than a quarter of the distance I’d completed the Sunday before at Cheverny, I was a little blasé and returned to bed until ten minutes before off.  We were less than 30 seconds from motorhome to start-line, so perfectly placed for the event.  A quick warm-up, then we set off into the town, with no notion of the route.  After many bends, streets, squares and 47 minutes and 23 seconds we arrived back, the wonderfully cool morning and number of participants allowing a fast time (for us).

Olot - race banner

Olot - pre-race warm-up

Our time was enough for Nicky to finish second in her age category, and as sixth lady overall.  We were informed that they had a small trophy for the top three placed in each section, so we waited around for the presentations.  Unfortunately we found out that trophies were only awarded in the half marathon race, not the 10k, so it wasn’t to be.  We had the consolation of having each been gifted two vacuum-packed bags of non-descript meat for finishing the race.  (The half-marathon finishers each received a leg of ham).  We inquired later with some locals and were told it was definitely pork, but ears, noses and tongues were mentioned, along with intestines and blood.  We were to boil our prize for between one and three hours and were promised it would be the tastiest thing ever.  Mmmm.

Santa Pau - free aire

Santa Pau - village

Instead of parading with our tacky plastic trophy, we instead had post-race showers at the campsite, packed up and headed off to stopover at a free aire in nearby Santa Pau ( 42.146914n, 2.568332e )  This was a peaceful, large field close to the centre that we had almost to ourselves.  Later we had a mid-afternoon stroll around the beautiful medieval stone village, seeing the Castell de Santa Pau and the softly rolling hillsides it sat within from many angles.

Santa Pau - Nicky at castle

We drove a little way back the next morning, intent on walking an advertised 10km loop of the local extinct volcanoes.  We avoided a packed car-park charging €8 to enter, instead parking about 400m away in a much nicer free area, almost entirely unused, with wonderfully spacious motorhome spaces.  A perfect base, and we couldn’t fathom why so many were paying in the other car-park, other than to save themselves the little extra walk.

Volcano walk - free parking

We set off through knotty forests trails with twisted roots and cool shade.  Some stretches, nearer to the car-parks, were overrun with parents and their young kids, a reminder this was the beginning of the Easter holidays and most places were likely to be busy.  We first passed the crater of Volcà de Santa Margarida, named for the church built down inside the forested rim.  Later we circled around the Volcà del Croscat, where we passed groups of kids on what looked like their first camping trip, all noise and chat, some carrying packs bigger than themselves.  There were stretches of beautiful forest trails with jumbles of lava rocks and tree roots.  It wasn’t long before we arrived back at our starting point.  It took us 2hrs 30mins to walk around the 12km route at our leisurely pace, although the signboards suggested 4hrs 20mins for the loop.  Perhaps we need to stop off and savour the views a little more.

Volca del Croscat - forest trails

Volca del Croscat - paths

From here we drove a short way on narrow, winding roads, passing loose white horses with young foals on the way.  We arrived at an €19 ASCI campsite in Banyoles ( 42.120655n, 2.747245e ) set on the shores of a luminous blue lake.  It had tight, cramped pitches, marked with stones on open areas with no privacy, and many scruffy and unoccupied permanent sites.  The hook-up was low amp electricity that we tripped twice in the first two minutes before we learned of its secrets.  But once in and settled, we sat still for a few hours and properly relaxed, glad for the restful downtime both mentally and physically.  We both suffered poor sleep due to drunken chatting and dogs barking into the wee hours, not the relaxing quietness that we’d had in each of the free aires we’d stayed at to date.

Banyoles -Nicky on run

Banyoles - Nicky looking over lake

We got ourselves up at 8am and headed out to run a circuit of the nearby lake.  Beautiful in the low morning light, the lake was well used with casual kayakers and serious rowers being drilled by coaches in motorised craft.  Plenty of others are walking or running the shore path.  We ran at a slow pace, stopping frequently to take in all the miradors and enjoy the wonderful freshness of the morning air.  The loop was just shy of 8km, an easy jaunt to waken us up and properly kick-start our day. We rewarded our efforts with an early brunch of butties thick with bacon and HP sauce, both brought all the way from the UK.  Then, with full stomachs and content from our early exercise, it was time to head for the rugged stony coastline, the central focus of our planned Costa Brava trip.

A&N x

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SE Sweden – Kalmar & Almö

Sweden’s South East coast – Kalmar & Almö

Crossing the long bridge from Öland, we returned to revisit the town of Kalmar, the inescapable point where the island’s only bridge meets the mainland.  We parked near to the 13th century fairy-tale Kalmar Castle, proclaimed as the best preserved Renaissance castle in Sweden.  A large anchor marked the beginnings of the castle’s defences, set on the banks of its deep protective moat.  We entered the extensive grounds, a purpose-built island complex, via a flag-lined wooden bridge over the moat, taking in the views in all directions.

Kalmar - (approaching the castle)

Kalmar - (on the bridge)

The original tower was constructed in the 12th century, with the ring wall fortress following in the 13th century, making the tower one of Sweden’s most impenetrable fortifications.  Due to its status as a key strategic site over the straits leading to the Baltic Sea, the castle faced many wars over the centuries.  The defences were strengthened again in the 16th century with four cannon towers added.  The 18th century saw the castle utilised as a prison, distillery and supply depot.  It is now managed by the Swedish National Property Board, as a site of important cultural heritage.

Kalmar - (n and the castle)

Kalmar - (defensive cannons)

Kalmar - (castle and moat)

We circled the castle grounds at both low and high level, enjoying the first hints of blue skies we’d experienced in a long week dominated by little but muddy grey rainclouds.  We passed cannons on the ramparts, had views out to sea over strategically important islands where other formidable forts had once sat, and learned of the important, formative history of the site’s defenses.  It truly was an impressive place, balancing the precarious need of strong barricades with a wish for elegant beauty.

Kalmar - (internal courtyard)

Kalmar - (castle and moat view)

Leaving Kalmar and its fairy-tale castle behind, we drove on south to the celebrated, historical naval town of Karlskrona, on the south coast of this region of Sweden.  We first visited services on the edge of town, where we filled and emptied, and took time to wash the worst of the filthy sprayed mud off Benny, the wet roads having turned his pristine white coat a muddy grey-brown.  We then turned our attention to the town, it looking very industrial and initially unappealing from our outsider’s perspective across the grey water.  We arrived in the town centre at 4pm, just when the town’s parking restrictions end, so we had our free choice of places to park.  We found the nearby tourist office and were helpfully gifted a town walking route map and proceeded to follow this route, to gain a feel for this nautical town.

Karlskrona - (Main square)

Karlskrona - (church in square)

Karlskrona - (statue and church)

There was certainly a more interesting architectural and cultural dimension in the heart of the town than the rough, industrial feel our first impressions had offered.  Created from scratch on uninhabited islands, the stone fortress was built in the 17th century as a necessary Naval Port on the Baltic Sea, to act as an efficient centre of excellence for the then dominant Swedish navy.  It built and maintained ships, it trained, fed and housed sailors and organised the navy crews.  Karlskrona was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1998, as the most complete example of a European Naval base planned in accordance with the ideals of 17th century maritime knowledge.  It remains the sole active naval base in Sweden, still producing modern submarines and renowned surface vessels on site, the island neatly divided into a civil north and a military south.

Karlskrona - (street with flags)

Karlskrona - (maritime musuem front)

Karlskrona - (diving boards)

We began in the main square, Stororget, before moving along flag-strewn streets of pretty timber buildings all housing boutique shops or cafés that reminded us both Bergen and Stavanger.  Our route crossed to another small island, Stumholmen, where the new Maritime Museum, completed in 2014, was situated.  It had closed for the day, but we looped around its stainless steel clad walls and passed by the moored ships outside, then through to the adjacent grassy picnic park with its public swimming spot, complete with high diving boards.  We saw Sweden’s last remaining wooden aircraft hangers, in use for storing and maintaining military seaplanes from 1914 until 1949 and now simply preserved for future generations.

Karlskrona - (maritime museum gardens)

Karlskrona - (timber aircraft hangars)

Karlskrona - (clock tower)

We followed the coast-hugging path past small lighthouses, impressive municipal buildings and statues of notable local dignitaries to reach the Admiralty Church and the pyramidal clock tower in the nearby park. We returned to the Great Square, Stortorget, and revisited the facades of the impressive Trefaldighetskyrkn and Rådhuset.  The vast, elegant square was originally conceived as a monumental public space to rival the grandest of those in France or Italy, set out to classical architectural ideals.  Unfortunately, the twin requirements of modern convenience and tourism have turned it mostly into a very grand car-park.  We examined the centrally positioned statue of Karl XI, watching possessively over the busy square, before tailing off our walking tour and returning to Benny.

Karlskrona - (Admiralty church)

Karlskrona - (n with preacher)

Karlskrona - (main square carpark)

There were a lot of other places of interest to see, but time was pressing on and we wanted to arrive at our next aire before nightfall.  After months of midnight sun and long, bright evenings, we were struggling a little with the sudden arrival of dark, gloomy nights.  Sweden in sunshine has been the perfect outdoor playground for us, our favourite country for swimming, hiking and canoeing, but in dreary, persistent rain under dull, grey skies, it holds only the sadness of potential unfulfilled.  We drove out of the town on the main road to Malmö and turned west, before cutting south on a small road to reach the island of Almö.  A large portion of this thin island was designated as a protected nature reserve and we had hopes the weather would lighten up and allow us to explore it, at least a little.

Almo island - (rocky headland)

We found a grassy aire with its own beach and direct access to walking paths to the south, and decided to sit here a few days as we awaited some drier weather.  We undertook a short walk on the first night, to take in our local surroundings.  The moss-covered rocks and tall, twisted trees tangled with pistachio-coloured lichen had the feel of an ancient landscape, something from the age of dinosaurs.  We followed the well-worn footpaths that led to areas fully set up with fire-pits and makeshift benching; clearly a popular summer hang-out on the shores of the lake, but there was no one here but us on this damp, grey September day.

Almo island - (a on walk)

Almo island - (rocky moss)

We had a longer walk the next day, following the rocky, moss-covered coastal path past several fenced off military zones and through more dark trees heavy with hanging lichen.  We saw and picked blackberries, a reminder we were at the beginning of autumn.  Some trees were beginning to turn, a hint of golden yellow on their leaves.  We reached a long causeway at the end of the Nature Reserve that led to the next island, but there was no obvious way to walk further other than on the road, so instead we turned and retraced our steps along the rugged coast.  We considered a swim in the chilled, choppy lake, but on this occasion our lazy sides prevailed and we opened a bottle instead.

Almo island - (lakeside wander)

After a slow morning under more rain clouds, we slowly packed up and left the grassy aire, heading on westwards, in search of a quiet campsite to sit out the weather in relative comfort.  After some deliberation, we headed in the direction of Långasjönös, a nearby ACSI campsite, with our committed intention of relaxing there for a little while.