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Hiking through the Serra del Cardó

Tarragona is surrounded by rugged countryside and the Serra del Cardó makes for the perfect hiking experience.

The Iberian peninsula is a curious place: it has a overdeveloped coast an a largely unknown interior. Catalonia follows this pattern despite the fact that  is one of the most diverse regions in Europe, its inland still relatively unknown to outsiders.  Tarragona makes for a great starting to explore the whole western chunk as nothing lies further than one hour drive at the very most.

The Serra del Cardó is a solitary formation which runs along the river Ebro. It’s poor soil and raising slopes makes for poor cultivation so the whole territory has been largely left to its own and has relatively few paths to follow, mostly marked by hunters and shepherds. But this may be changing. Country walking in Catalonia is on the rise and with mobile application like Wikiloc the remote interior is being discovered and opening up.

We arrive here early morning after less than one hour drive , the mist rising from below enveloping the old ruins of the resort of Cardó in perfect silence. I am walking with a group led by geographer and photographer Rafael Lopez Monné who is planning a book about the Serra del Cardó. Our journey starts at the ghostly ruins of the balneari, a old Spa which  had been converted from large convent and hermitage dating back to 1605.  Left abandoned since 1965 it makes for an evocative start to a walk which soon moves uphill, into the thick canopy of pine trees and shrub.

It’s a circular, partly arduous walk, around 10 km which takes a good six hours to complete. One by one, it takes us past the ruins of 12 small hermitages, some with their belltower still intact, some dramatically set over rocks and precipices or almost hidden by the scented mediterranean canopy. The landscape is breathtaking and timeless and it’s no wonder that it became the central setting of a religious order which favoured seclusion and contemplation.

By the time we return to our starting point the sun is moving behind the hills and large flocks of starlings are settling in the canopy of trees.  We drive away and the ridges and valley returns to silence.

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