Garraf

The Garraf Natural Park lies just 30km to the south-west of Barcelona, but despite this proximity, it is remarkable how bleak and wild the landscape feels. A combination of limestone bedrock and human activities has created this classic Karst Mediterranean landscape with an absence of surface water. Although the park’s north-eastern fringes are cloaked in dense pinewoods, most of the massif is covered by a low garrigue, which has taken hold as fire and overgrazing over the centuries reduced the ancient forests. Although a sense of emptiness envelopes one as one walks or drives through the park today, there was once a large human population, and the massif was intensively farmed until the late nineteenth century, when the outbreak of Phylloxera almost entirely ruined the vineyards that occupied the hill slopes. This led to the rapid abandonment of the area, with many of the impoverished farmers heading for the slums of nearby Barcelona.For guide books, have a look at Costa Brava: And Barcelona (Landscapes) This walking guide book has a couple of nice walks in the Garraf, which I’ve done. Also, more specifically and with map El Garraf Guide+Map. Roads and Routes on Foot which is you best bet if you’re going to spend any time in the area.
Hotel Ibai in Sant Pere de Ribes is an ideal base if you can afford it.

Relief and geology

The Garraf forms part of the Catalan Coastal Mountains. Most of the massif is made up of limestone, producing a thoroughly Karstified scenery with typical features such as dolines, potholes, gorge and limestone pavements.

Vegetation and climate

Note: The excellent Spain: Travellers’ Nature Guide has a good chapter on the wildlife and flora of El Garraf

The vegetation of the park gives one the impression of an area sparse in rainfall. In fact, this one the wetter spots along the Catalan coast with an average of between 650 and 700mm of rainfall, although with a characteristic Mediterranean summer drought with rain often coming in short, violent downpours, leading to massive erosion. Temperatures are also relatively moderate here because of the dampening affect of sea winds. It is the presence of a limestone bedrock and its sensitivity to human activities (grazing, framing, fire) which has produced the landscape we see today. The garrigue is the dominant community on calcareous soils, forming an impenetrable scrub, only broken limestone outcrops. This garrigue is composed of typical southern Mediterranean species (xerophytic plants with leathery or resinous leaves, long roots, spiny leaves to reduce evapo-transpiration). This is reputably the most northerly area of Europe where this association occurs, and is dominated by kermes oak. In damper and non-limestone areas, and on coastal slopes, a higher, denser maquis takes over. Typical plants in both associations include:

  • kermes oak. (Quercus coccifera) Sometimes known as holly oak. Historically important as the food plant of the Kermes insect Kermes ilices, from which a red dye, the natural source of crimson, was obtained. The tree takes its Latin and English name from this insect. Appearance of leaves are very similar to young holm oak, but leaves are shiny on both sides and lack hairs.
  • strawberry tree Arbutus unedo Occasionally delicious, though more often mealy, fruit plentiful in autumn. Together with the bear the symbol of Madrid
  • rosmary
  • gorse
  • tree heath
  • butcher’s broom Ruscus aculeatus
  • dwarf fan palm Chamaerops humilis (Europe’s only palm, and most >northerly site in the continent)
  • masic (lentisk). A hard, brittle, transparent resin, also known as mastic, is obtained from the tree. The resin is collected by bleeding from small cuts made in the bark. Used as a spice in liquors, cooking and in Turkish delight!
  • Lonicera implexa
  • Viburnum tinus
  • Smilax aspera
  • North African coast grass (Ampelodesmos mauritanica), which probably arrived in the Garraf from seeds dropped by migratory birds.

Sandstone replaces limestone in the park’s northern-eastern fringes which are covered in dense woods of Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis). Aleppo pine is also gradually gaining ground in other parts of the park, as the soils ever so slowly recover from the last serious fire of 1994. Given the composition of the vegetation, fire is today a constant hazard. Holm oak, the original climax species for much of the Mediterranean, are present in valley bottoms. This pdf in English gives a more detailed overview of the vegetation of the Garraf.

Wildlife of El Garraf

The high level of sunshine and the lack of surface water means the park does not have a rich mammal life, though wild boar, fox, genet (video in Garraf), and beech marten are all present. See video here summarising monitoring of mammal populations in the park. Reptiles include typical Mediterranean species horseshoe whipsnake and snub-nosed viper.

Birdlife of El Garraf

The dry conditions make the park a great site for typical Mediterranean species. Breeding birds include: thekla lark, tawny pipit, black eared wheatear, rock thrush, Dartford warbler, Sardinian warbler, southern grey shrike, ortolan bunting, peregrine, pallid swift, red-rumped swallow and crag martin. Star of the show though goes to the pair of bonelli’s eagle. See video here of monitoring programme which also gives good idea of the Garraf’s landscape . The massif is also a good spot for observation of migratory raptors and storks, as they head down the coastline on their way to Africa.

List of Garraf birds:

  • Robin Erithacus rubecula
  • Blue Tit Parus caeruleus
  • Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla
  • Bonelli’s Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli
  • Coal Tit Parus ater
  • Crested Tit Parus cristatus
  • Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
  • Magpie Pica pica
  • Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
  • Jay Garrulus glandarius
  • Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur
  • Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus
  • Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus
  • Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
  • Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
  • Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
  • Green Woodpecker Picus viridis
  • Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
  • Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti
  • Great Tit Parus major
  • Blackbird Turdus merula
  • Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
  • Rock Bunting Emberiza cia
  • Serin Serinus serinus
  • Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala
  • Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata
  • Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis
  • Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator
  • Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis
  • Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa
  • Stonechat Saxicola torquata
  • Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica
  • Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana
  • Thekla Lark Galerida theklae
  • Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra
  • Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris

Where to stay in El Garraf

  • Hotel Ibai in Sant Pere de Ribes “Conveniently situated within easy reach of the nightlife of Sitges and the beauty and tranquillity of Garraf, this country inn is the perfect haven for a restful, restorative or romantic holiday”

Guide books in English

Costa Brava: And Barcelona (Landscapes) This walking guide book has a couple of nice walks in the Garraf, which I’ve done.

More specifically and with a map El Garraf Guide+Map. Roads and Routes on Foot which is best if you’re going to spend any time.

The excellent Spain: Travellers’ Nature Guide has a good chapter on the wildlife and flora of El Garraf

Human history of El Garraf

Although a sense of emptiness envelopes one as one walks or drives through the park today, there was once a large human population, and the massif was intensively farmed until the late nineteenth century, when the outbreak of Phylloxera almost entirely ruined the vineyards that occupied the hill slopes. This led to the rapid abandonment of the area, with many of the impoverished farmers heading for the slums of nearby Barcelona.

Practicalities

  • Park office

Parc la Pleta Website
Tel. 935 971 819
p.garraf@diba.es
Monday-Friday: 8 to 15:00
  • Walking

Good routes here in Catalan

  • Getting there

  • Car
    Easiest route into park
  • Train Barcelona to Sitges. Get off at El Garraf (only 1 an hour) and walk back towards Barcelona until you come to GR-92 footpath on side of mountain. This will lead you up to massif and visitor centre.
Catalonia
  • Aiguamolls de l’Empordà Natural Park
  • Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici
  • Birding sites in Catalonia
  • Cap de Creus
  • Catalonia earthquake of 1428
  • Congost de Mont-rebei / Mont-rebei gorge
  • Delta del Ebro
  • Els Ports
  • Garraf
  • Lake Banyoles
  • Lerida Steppes
  • Montseny
  • Pica d’Estats
  • Sant Llorenç del Munt
  • Serra de Montsec
  • Sierra de Cadi
  • The Iberianature guide to Spain

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