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La Garrotxa: the Spanish region that contains 40 volcanic cones, and there is a lonely church in one

Spain’s Costa Brava is rightly coveted for its magnificent beaches and stunning coastline.

But visitors to the region should take a break from the sand and sangria and add a detour a little further inland to their itinerary, towards the impressive La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park.

It is located about an hour’s drive from the Gulf of Roses, north of Girona, and contains 40 volcanic cones, including one that houses a mysterious solitary hermitage.

In the photo, the Santa Margarida volcano, with a church in its crater, in the La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park.

In the photo, the Santa Margarida volcano, with a church in its crater, in the La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park.

This incredible image shows the Santa Margarida volcano surrounded by cloud cover

This incredible image shows the Santa Margarida volcano surrounded by cloud cover

This incredible image shows the Santa Margarida volcano surrounded by cloud cover

For the sake of the crater: The church is said to date back to the 12th century.  It was destroyed by the 1428 Catalan earthquake and rebuilt in the 19th century.

For the sake of the crater: The church is said to date back to the 12th century.  It was destroyed by the 1428 Catalan earthquake and rebuilt in the 19th century.

For the sake of the crater: The church is said to date back to the 12th century. It was destroyed by the 1428 Catalan earthquake and rebuilt in the 19th century.

Approximately 11,000 years have passed since the extinct Santa Margarida volcano (foreground) erupted.

Approximately 11,000 years have passed since the extinct Santa Margarida volcano (foreground) erupted.

Approximately 11,000 years have passed since the extinct Santa Margarida volcano (foreground) erupted.

Impressive aerial photograph of the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park taken from a hot air balloon

Impressive aerial photograph of the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park taken from a hot air balloon

Impressive aerial photograph of the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park taken from a hot air balloon

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

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

An estimated 11,000 years have passed since the now-extinct volcano erupted.

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

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

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

One Tripadvisor reviewer writes that the mysterious church 'gives the feeling of ephemeral existence amid all this magnificent glory of mother nature'

One Tripadvisor reviewer writes that the mysterious church 'gives the feeling of ephemeral existence amid all this magnificent glory of mother nature'

One Tripadvisor reviewer writes that the mysterious church ‘gives the feeling of ephemeral existence amid all this magnificent glory of mother nature’

Tourists can park their cars in a parking lot next to the volcano and ascend a steep path that leads to the crater.

Tourists can park their cars in a parking lot next to the volcano and ascend a steep path that leads to the crater.

Tourists can park their cars in a parking lot next to the volcano and ascend a steep path that leads to the crater.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After walking up to the mysterious building in the crater, one Tripadvisor reviewer wrote: ‘We had our picnic there and rested under the trees. It is a place that we would like to be able to visit every day. There is a nice little church right in the center of the crater, which as a thing made by humans gives the feeling of ephemeral existence among all this magnificent glory of mother nature. ‘

Discussing the trail, which takes about 30 minutes to complete from base to crater, another said, ‘Watch your steps! You might see (and save) some rare plants, like the orchid we found blooming in the middle of the trail. ”

The Santa Margarida volcano trail takes around 30 minutes to complete from the base to the crater.

The Santa Margarida volcano trail takes around 30 minutes to complete from the base to the crater.

The Santa Margarida volcano trail takes around 30 minutes to complete from the base to the crater.

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

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

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

The intriguing hermitage is not the only delight that awaits in the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park, which has more than 20 basalt lava flows. [solidified molten rock].

On a four-and-a-half-hour hike from the Santa Margarida volcano, make your first stop at Fageda d’en Jordà, a green beech forest where trees have flourished thanks to the volcanic matter in the soil.

The hike then ventures up to the Croscat volcano, which is the largest on the Iberian Peninsula at 786 m (2,579 ft) high. On the one hand, part of the flank of the volcano has been cut; These ridges were created when the volcano was used as a quarry.

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

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

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

The photo shows the beech forest of La Fageda d'en Jordà, where the trees have flourished thanks to the volcanic matter of the soil

The photo shows the beech forest of La Fageda d'en Jordà, where the trees have flourished thanks to the volcanic matter of the soil

The photo shows the beech forest of La Fageda d’en Jordà, where the trees have flourished thanks to the volcanic matter of the soil

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

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

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

Croscat still has the scars from when it was used as a quarry

Croscat still has the scars from when it was used as a quarry

Croscat still has the scars from when it was used as a quarry

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

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

Next, travel to the spectacular Castellfollit de la Roca. The city is built on a massive basalt cliff, more than 50 m (164 ft) high, which was formed by the overlapping of two lava flows.

Make Olot, in the photo above, your base while you explore the delights of the La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park

Make Olot, in the photo above, your base while you explore the delights of the La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park

Make Olot, in the photo above, your base while you explore the delights of the La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park

Olot is full of Baroque and Art Deco architecture.  The photo shows the Casa Sola Moral of the city, which was built in 1781.

Olot is full of Baroque and Art Deco architecture.  The photo shows the Casa Sola Moral of the city, which was built in 1781.

Olot is full of Baroque and Art Deco architecture. The photo shows the Casa Sola Moral of the city, which was built in 1781.

It is worth visiting the Sant Joan Les Fonts waterfall, in the photo, which is also known as Moli Fondo

It is worth visiting the Sant Joan Les Fonts waterfall, in the photo, which is also known as Moli Fondo

It is worth visiting the Sant Joan Les Fonts waterfall, in the photo, which is also known as Moli Fondo

The spectacular Castellfollit de la Roca (pictured above) is built on a massive basalt cliff, formed by the layers of two lava flows.

The spectacular Castellfollit de la Roca (pictured above) is built on a massive basalt cliff, formed by the layers of two lava flows.

The spectacular Castellfollit de la Roca (pictured above) is built on a massive basalt cliff, formed by the layers 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 of the town of Sant Salvador is perched on the edge of the cliff.

While you’re there, go to Museu de l’Embotit – a museum dedicated to delicatessen. If that whets your appetite, wander to the nearby Poch microbrewery for a craft beer.

A worthwhile last stop on the tour of the impressive volcanic region is a visit to Santa Pau, a walled medieval town with narrow cobbled streets, cloisters, and a wonderfully ornate Gothic church.

Santa Pau del Parque, in the photo, is a walled medieval town with narrow, cobbled streets and a Gothic church.

Santa Pau del Parque, in the photo, is a walled medieval town with narrow, cobbled streets and a Gothic church.

Santa Pau del Parque, in the photo, is a walled medieval town with narrow, cobbled streets and a Gothic church.

If you schedule your trip well, you could arrive just in time for the annual Santa Pau food festival that celebrates the ‘fesol’, a variety of beans that is grown in the volcanic soil of the city. 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.

Nevertheless, Stiff Buses also transport visitors to and from the park from cities such as Figueres, Girona, Ripoll, Vic or Barcelona.

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