The soul of Catalonia

Bat­tles and bo­hemian hill­top vil­lages in the Ebro Val­ley

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - NICK REDMAYNE

“Mosquitoes were the first en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists,” says MonNatura Delta de l’Ebro Cen­tre di­rec­tor Josep Culvi, as we sur­vey the gor­geous ex­panse of dunes, la­goons, salt marshes and rice fields be­fore us. “They kept peo­ple away.” About 150km south along the coast from Barcelona, just 50km from Reus, the 7800ha Parc Nat­u­ral del Delta de l’Ebre forms one of the Mediter­ranean’s most im­por­tant wet­land ar­eas.

Here, you’ll find species that ex­ist nowhere else. The park’s bird list ex­tends to 300 species, 60 per cent of the Euro­pean to­tal, in­clud­ing rare Au­douin’s gull, Bonelli’s ea­gle and the greater flamingo.

But the land­scape doesn’t claim an en­tirely nat­u­ral her­itage. Salt pro­duc­tion dates from an­cient times, and a few glis­ten­ing pans re­main to­day. Fish­ing, too, has left its mark. The look­out we’ve climbed oc­cu­pies the roof of a for­mer fish­er­man’s house. Be­low, the delta’s shal­lows pro­duce 2000 tonnes of oys­ters and 5000 tonnes of mus­sels ev­ery year. The Catalonia of the Ebro Val­ley and river delta ex­ists more sim­ply and at a slower pace be­yond the crowds of Barcelona.

At L’Am­polla’s L’Are­nal Beach, I meet up with Ma- rina Gon­za­les Sal­vado, a lo­cal marine ecol­o­gist who guides our group on a gen­tle 20km cy­cle around the La Bassa de les Olles, one of the Delta’s smaller la­goons.

It’s truly per­fect cy­cling along car-free tracks where tou­sled wild­flow­ers give way to tow­er­ing rushes, and cross­ing bridges over fast-flow­ing ir­ri­ga­tion chan­nels, where the smell of the sea grows stronger. El­e­vated view­ing hides look out over la­goons, though hu­mans are not the only ones keep­ing a keen eye on the wa­ter. In places, up­wards of 50 herons stand pa­tiently still, wait­ing for lunch. The pace is steady with not much free­wheel­ing, but nei­ther are there car­diac-in­duc­ing as­cents. It’s just one of many ac­ces­si­ble cy­cling routes in the area.

Boats moored in Catalonia’s Parc Nat­u­ral del Delta de l’Ebre; birdlife in the delta, be­low

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