In November 2018 we spend three weeks not far from Tarragona.
Having read “Las historias naturales” by Juan Perucho, I wanted to cross the mountains of the Maestrazgo and visit Morella.
Let us quickly recapitulate, what happened in the Maestrazgo and in Morella in Perucho’s novel “Las historias naturales”(see separate blog): In 1840, during the first Carlist War, the protagonist, liberal Antonio de Montpalau traverses the mountains of the Maestrazgo in search of the vampire, alias El Mochuelo, alias Onofro de Dip de Pratdip. Montpalau and his followers are captured by the conservative Carlist troups and taken to Morella, where the general of the Carlists, Ramón Cabrera, has his headquarter. Cabrera had been bitten by the vampire. Later Cabrera with his troups leaves Morella for Berga, where Montpalau will help Cabrera escape from the gloomy fate of becoming a vampire.
Now, let us follow the tracks of Perucho and Montpalau by crossing the Maestrazgo on the way to Morella.
Our routes to Morella crossing the Maestrazgo mountains
Montpalau crossed the Maestrazgo mountains coming from Horta San Juan and Valderrobres (just outside the map above, see the dotted red line). We traversed them farther south starting at Tortosa (continuous red line leading to Morella).
Source: Street map Michelin “España Noreste”
Approaching the Maestrazgo mountains
This is, how Montpalau approached the Maestrazgo (p. 164): “En Horta de San Juan visitaron la plaza gótica porticada y el Convento de San Salvador… el aire era muy frío y tuvieron que abrocharse hasta el último botón de la levita. El paisaje había cambiado ahora; salvaje, grandioso y como telón de fondo, las altas montañas del Maestrazgo.” (In Horta de San Juan we visited the gothic main square and the monastery San Salvador… the air was very cold and they had to close their frock coats up to the last button. The landscape has now changed; wild and grand and with, in the background, the high mountains of the Maestrazgo).
We, however, ascend to the Maestrazgo mountains via Más de Barbera where we have a wonderful view of the Montsia mountains and of the Galera plane with its utterly tidy olive groves.
We take a coffee in the Lo Racò that would make a good stop for eating, recommended in Tripadvisor. Nearby we find a signboard that lays out enticing hiking paths.
The Maestrazgo mountains – fresh pristine air and wild barren landscape
We continue ascending to the village La Senia where we reach the Maestrazgo mountains. The road becomes narrow curving through wild rocks.
The Cistercian monastery Benifassà is closed and opens on Thursdays from one to three p.m., just two hours per week, not more. Very secluded.
The village of Benifassà looks like an aery – a nest for eagles – in a barren landscape.
The road winds up and down along a rocky mountain ridge. We are on about 1000m above sea level.
We agree with Perucho and Montpalau (p. 165) “Era un paisaje de maravilla. A media que se ascendían se renovaba el aire, se hacía más puro, y un perfume salvaje de bosque y de animal en libertad se mezclaban curiosamente… Pasaron por debajo de grandes cascadas de agua ensorcedoras…; descubrieron cuevas… enormes… En verdad, el Maestrazgo era una tierra muy extraña y sorprendente…” (It was a marvellous landscape. As they climbed higher and higher, the air refreshed, became more pristine, and a perfume of wild forest and animal in freedom mixed up strangely… they passed under large and ear-deafening waterfalls; they discovered big caves… as a matter of fact the Maestrazgo was a strange and surprising area).
We reach a barren high plateau with some lonely farms dispersed on meagre meadows. Ever once in a while we see some cows, some sheep, some goats. We are alone here – like Montpalau and his friends in Perucho’s novel (p. 165): “Desde que se hallaban en el Maestrazgo no habían visto a nadie. Se acercaba el puesto del sol. Vieron una masía, medio abandonada… Decidieron de pasar la noche en la triste masía… “ (Since they had arrived in the Maestrazgo, they had not seen anyone. The sun was about to set. They saw a farm, half abandoned… They decided to stay in the desolate farm for the night…).
The next day, Montpalau and his followers succeeded to escape giant fleas that were attacking them… their weapons were branches of pine trees that they ignited and carried like torches. Very fancy… but perhaps… why not… I could almost imagine giant fleas jumping around us in this wild landscape and if they came, thanks to Montpalau, I would know, how to fight them – with ignited branches of pine trees..
After more than two hours on narrow roads, we reach the Port de Torre Miró. We are now above the valley of Morella and enjoy the gigantic windmills and the view together with other tourists. We are no longer alone.
Mountains around us. Ursula captures them with a panoramic view.
We continue our way to Morella – and I will talk about this small and fortified in my next blog.
Juan Perucho: “Las Historias Naturales”, Hurope, Barcelona 2003.