Saturday sanctuary: Hiking in Montseny Natural Park
Just before 3 p.m., I sat with a fresh café con leche at Restaurant de Santa Fe de Montseny in the mountainside village that also serves as the launching point for a handful a hiking trails through Montseny Natural Park. Some eight silver metal tables covered the rock-lain patio, each table topped with the unmistakable red label of the Estrella beer bottle, a Catalonia treasure. Inside, muddled roars seeped out of the back room where families and friends were no doubt feasting on plates of jamón, patatas, beans, and healthy servings of seasonal vegetables, accompanied by the the ubiquitous vat of vino.
A few cars were just pulling into the scattered parking lots. Catalans hopped out one by one, sometimes with a dog or two in tow, to begin a leisurely (or not so leisurely) afternoon hike. I watched them from my chair, sipping my coffee, having just completed to C-208 trail in (most likely) record time. The route is meant to take four-and-a-half hours, but I had finished prematurely in just three hours, retroactively wishing I had spent more time sun-basking and grape-snacking at the acme.
Afternoon clouds were rolling in, softly weaving into the smoke wafting from the restaurant chimney. It's definitely autumn up here, save the blanket of emerald that enveloped the hillsides. The temperatures were flirting with 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius), but spotting color-changing trees became more of a challenge than an expectation.
Unsure of whether a storm was brewing, I scanned my map for the other trail options that departed from Santa Fe, seeking to make the most of my day trip from noisy Barcelona.
Catalonia's "biggest festival"--La Mercè--had persuaded me to leave town. Having enjoyed aspects of it during my past three late-Septembers in Barcelona, this year I chose to forgo the noise and crowds, and instead opt for tranquility 30 miles inland.
In conjunction with the raucous fiesta taking place in various venues all over the city, Catalans also are constantly marching, chanting, and flag-wearing for their independence referendum, which is scheduled to take place on October 1. While I support the right to convene peacefully and fully condone chanting and late-night pot-banging in place of violence, I had been looking forward to the sleepier streets that the end of the summer brings, once the tourists have fled and Barcelona returns to normal.
Having had to cancel two out-of-town trips in the past three months due to an illness and an injury, respectfully, I felt trapped in my unchanged urban environ, and sought solace in the neighboring mountain ranges.
Montseny thoroughly satisfied this yen for zen, and although I felt physically unprepared to tackle the trails I had chosen (the most difficult in the area), the endorphin release was just what I needed to return to the city rejuvenated, albeit completely exhausted.
Driving back to Barcelona in my rented Alfa Romeo, with the Mediterranean Sea to my left and the majestic mountains to my right, I wondered how I could ever live anywhere but Catalonia.