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Rising from the ashes – forest fires & their aftermath

Walking holidays in SpainYou might not think it – looking out of your window right now (it’s raining here in North Yorkshire) – but some areas of southern Europe have been experiencing very hot weather over recent months and this has left the maquis undergrowth and pine forests tinder dry.

In the news there have been reports of one or two forest fires in such regions, and we are closely monitoring the situation as some of our walking routes pass through areas prone to fires.

Indeed, James Keane, who looks after our walking holidays in Spain, has just returned from Catalonia after going to see for himself the effects of one particular fire that has now been extinguished. He has reported back with some very encouraging news.

Walking holidays in SpainWe have to remember, of course, that forest fires are a part of life in these regions and actually serve a vital function within the ecosystem. Many trees have evolved to react to intense heat, their cones popping and releasing seeds that have been waiting to get loose for years, which are then free to germinate, grow and rejuvenate the forest. These landscapes are dynamic and change in response to variations in climate and to disturbances from the weather, and so periodic burns contribute to the overall health of the environment. As a fire spreads, it burns off lower branches and clears any dead wood from the forest floor, instantly setting a remarkable regeneration process into action, dormant seeds bursting into life galvanised by nutrient-rich ash, which creates ideal growing conditions.

Walking holidays in SpainAfter a fire, it’s not long before the first green shoots are seen – grasses and small plants, followed by hardier shrubs and bushes and then the new generation of trees begin to appear. Such episodic regrowth also improves the habitat of the forest floor for many species of fauna that prefer relatively open spaces and so such fires are actually beneficial to wildlife, too. Needless to say, the emergency services are always ready to swing into action at a moment’s notice to ensure everyone’s safety and to limit damage to property as much as is possible.

The fires in Catalonia are well out but it will be some time before the blackened landscape turns green again – which left our man James with something of a dilemma when he got to our hotel just outside the pretty mountain village of Maçanets de Cabrenys in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Walking holidays in SpainPrior to the fire, our From the Pyrenees to the Sea itinerary included a rewarding walk through rolling wooded hills to the secluded village of Cantallops on the edge of the lush, green Albera National Park (right). However, James decided that, although the situation was perfectly under control now, the fire had temporarily, at least, destroyed the natural beauty of the area and so a new route for this one day would have to be found. His answer has been to arrange for Inntravel’s customers to be transferred the short distance from Maçanets de Cabrenys to Cantallops, and then to follow a new circular route taking in the castle and hamlet of Requesens. What makes this particularly exciting is the spectacular location of the castle.

Requesens Castle was built for Gausfred II of Rosellón – though within the realm of Count Ponç I of Empúries, who was not amused. After numerous arguments, Ponç sent his soldiers to attack in 1148 and defeated Gausfred in the war ‘de Requesens’. A neo-medieval castle was built on the ancient walls in the late-19th century by the owning Rocabertí family, using traditional materials, thus making the original and new sections almost indistinguishable. On the death of Tomas Rocabertí, the castle passed through a number of owners but it has been uninhabited now for many years. Our walking notes will take you up to the castle (left) to explore the towers, courtyards and stone stairways within its battlemented walls [subject to opening times], from where there are far-reaching views over the village and plain below.

Thanks to James’s prompt response to the situation, this popular holiday will continue without interruption. While not wishing to underestimate the seriousness of these fires and their impact on local communities, the aftermath of this fire, at least, has meant that we have been able to improve the holiday experience by now adding a more rewarding route that guides you to one of Catalonia’s most beautiful, and least-known, castles. Click here for a 360-degree view from the castle.

Walking holidays in Spain

Posted: 21/08/2012 10:27:46 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: heritage, opinions, Spain


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