The week of the three towers

How good is spring?! The days are lengthening, the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming. Tortosa feels alive, like a new town. After a two winters in a row, we are really appreciating all of this, and the promise of warmer days ahead.

Yesterday we got out and enjoyed the sunshine by riding between L’Aldea and Camarles in the Ebro Delta region, visiting three watchtowers. Medieval towers pop up all over the landscape here, mysterious remnants of times and coastlines past. Who wouldn’t love a quest to visit as many as possible?

Our first stop, after setting a personal record for ‘smallest town to get lost in’ in L’Aldea, was the tower at the Hermitage just out of town. Tower #1 was rebuilt on the original foundations in 1936, but the area was settled since the mid-12th century. We thought we would just be able to look up at the rectangular torre but not, the door was wide open!

After getting the OK from the friendly man at the information hut, we climbed the tower and enjoyed lovely and free view across the delta. Every floor of the tower also housed great information boards (I love me an information board!) about life in the watch tower. Did you know that if all was well (i.e. no pirates could be seen) then the guard would hang a bunch of grass on the flagpole? Neither did I.

Tower1
Tower #1: La torre de l’ermita, L’Aldea. Complete with trusty steed and flowers.

After the guy at the info centre directed us to the best road to ride along—he was wearing cycling gear so we trusted his judgement—we set off to Tower #2. We had an inconsiderate head wind, but the sun was shining and as we were riding along a channel there were plenty of swallows and water birds to see. We also pretty much had the road to ourselves, apart from the odd tractor.

The rice fields that cover the Delta region are still being prepared for planting at the moment, so our surroundings were fairly brown. As was the smell! It will be fun to return in a few months when the fields have changed.

FIelds
The rice fields under construction.

Tower #2, in the small town of Camarles, was a little circular number that was restored in the early 1990s. The door was locked when we arrived, but the track notes suggested we ask at the information centre across the road. So we did and were rewarded with the keys! How often do you get keys to an 800 year old tower in your life, really? From the top we could see the mountains, the ocean and the delta all at once.

Tower2
Tower #2: Torre de la Camarles.

After lunch at a nearby restaurant, featuring local duck and pizza with artichokes and black pudding, we headed back towards L’Aldea and Tower #3. La Grandella Tower was another rectangular torre that dated back to the 12th century. This last tower was accompanied by dogs instead of friendly information assistants, and the dogs did not seem to want to let us in. But still, I call success! Three out of three.

Tower3
Tower #3: La torre de la Granadella. Note the not-so-friendly information guard dog at the bottom left.

We headed back to L’Aldea via the highway and some back roads, definitely NOT the route suggested in track notes, and made it back to the train station 10 minutes before our train arrived. Double success! I am officially hooked on tower chasing. Much more exotic than windmills.

P.S. Detailed track notes can be found here. We did the route backwards and managed to follow the suggested path about 50% of the way.

The week we Via-ed Verde-ishly

Warning: for some inexplicable reason, this post contains an alarming amount of alliterations.

Yesterday we bundled our bikes into the bottom of a bus and headed off to explore the mountains that surround Tortosa. We ventured with verve to velocipede on the Via Verde.

Via Verdes (or Greenway) are old train lines that have been converted into cycling and walking paths over the past 20 years. Apparently most of the original train routes were never used or even completed, an ambitious infrastructure plan that was, for lack of a better word, derailed by the Spanish Civil War.

There are more than 90 Via Verdes across Spain (more than 7,500 km of path), and because trains can only go so fast up a hill, all of the trails are gloriously flat. The route that ends in Tortosa combines Via Verdes of two regions and starts in Arnes on the southern Catalonian border. However, due to the wonderful weekend bus timetable not including a bus to that particular village, we started our adventure in Gandesa in Terra Alta, around 40km north of Tortosa.

We hopped off the bus at about 9:30, ready for a superb day of self-propelled splendour. Gandesa’s main attraction, the region’s wine cellar was not open yet (probably for the best), so we pedalled off towards the south.

Terra Alta, the region adjacent to Tortosa’s Baix Ebre province, fortunately contains many walking/cycling routes that are well marked and provided amazing views of vineyards, orchards, and geologically-impressive mountains.

Unfortunately, only one of these trails is a Via Verde. The others are steep and scree-ish. So the first 9km of our journey was over hill and under dale along a dirt rode to get to the start of the official Via Verde track. Beautiful views but I was too busy watching the loose gravel on my timid treddly.

Gandesa_to_bot
Me trying to look like I’m having fun among the vineyards while the loose gravel mocks me.

We hit the straight and narrow in Bot, a gorgeous sandstone village with delicious chocolate croissants. As we started along the Verde’s wide, paved and city-bike friendly path, we realised what a genius idea it had been to start in Gandesa and ride back towards Tortosa, or towards the sea. We were going down hill the whole way!

Tunnel_bridge
Bridges and tunnels, and all on a slight decline.

And so we coasted. We coasted through old train tunnels that were lit with solar-powered lights, lit by our cleverly packed head-torches and even one tunnel that was lit by the headlights of a friendly policeman. We coasted past stunning swimming spots, charismatic cliffs, bold bridges and stately old train stations. Apart from the occasional sod struggling up the slight incline, we were on our own too (thank you winter!).

Lunch No. 1 was consumed at Fontcalda, a popular swimming hole with a natural warm spring. Lunch No 2. was devoured in Xerta, near where the Terra Alta Via Verde joins the Baix Ebre leg of the trail. We followed the huge Ebre river back to Tortosa, dragging our bruised buttocks home by about 4pm. An amazing 40km adventure to amplify our attraction to the alluring (Terra) Alta.

Fontcalda
A geologist’s delight! This will be the most lovely place for a swim come summer time.
Ebro_river
The mighty River Ebre (Ebro in Castellano)

For more information:

The Via Verde website (In English): http://www.viasverdes.com/en

Gandesa to Tortosa tour notes: http://www.hife.es/es/servicios-hife/bus-bici-via-verde/

A map that I blatantly stole from the Tortosa Via Verde information sign:

Via_Verde_map
The Via Verdes in Terra Alta and Baix Ebre, as well as another path (in red) that goes down to the sea. Save that one for next time…

The week I bought a bike

On Thursday as I shut the bedroom balcony doors, I looked out along our street. It was around 7pm. Golden street lamps bathed the stones now that the Christmas lights are gone, and the town was full of noise. Children running ahead of their parents, people heading home with groceries, and old couples wandering up the street, only to turn around and amble back down.

Across the road I could see into the music school that is in the building opposite. In one room, a teenager was learning the trumpet. In the next, a young man practised on a giant xylophone. The sound of trumpets and violins drift into our apartment most evenings and I am yet to get sick of it.

Next to them, Mary and Jesus sat in their small shrine that looks up to our kitchen window. The inset shrine has a large bunch of plastic roses below it, presumably giving our Career De La Rosa its title. Mary and her boy look old and faded as they watched me close the doors.

Towards the cathedral, the local bar had just opened up. You can tell when it’s open because there are little glass bottles with thistles in them set up on the outdoor tables. The owner also brings out a table laden with jamon set up for slicing. He often opens big umbrellas as well, and wraps strings of fairy lights around the stands. Last week he had an outdoor heater fighting against the cold but on Thursday, I could see little blankets on the back of every chair, ready for customers.


It’s been a lonely week, with my man away exploring Andorran ski fields. It was going to be The Week I Was Alone. Plenty of time for working long Spanish hours, learning how to cook romanesco broccoli and appreciating our lovely street view.

But on Saturday, after a few failed attempts, I managed to buy a bicycle. A lovely second hand black Catalonian-made cruiser with six gears and much swagger.

Buying a second hand bike was harder than I expected, particularly in a smaller town like Tortosa. I scoured segundamano, Spain’s second hand website, and contacted several people before finding a bike that was available and affordable. There were many more options in Barcelona than in the country, so one train trip and 145 later, she was mine. As I was in Barça, a 30 lock was also needed, as well as another lock to secure the seat to the frame. Bike theft is an epidemic in the city apparently.

It was great to explore the city on pedal power! Barcelona is so bike-friendly, with glorious bike paths and wide flat streets. I sailed along Las Ramblas, cruised around Sagrada Familia and even up to Park Güell on my trust steed. Today I got her back safely on the train, as there is space on the train carriages especially for bicycles. There are bike paths and flat roads all around here, so look out for more flowery descriptions of local streets, experienced at a slightly faster speed.