The soul of Catalonia
Battles and bohemian hilltop villages in the Ebro Valley
“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