Castell del Montgrí: Throwing in the towel, in 13th century style.

Castell del Montgrí: Throwing in the towel, in 13th century style.

Driving around both Alt and Baix Empordà there is seen, off in the distance this small square structure that rests atop a decently tall mountain. If you stay to the main cities of the region, rarely do you ever get close enough to see that it is a small castle called, Castell del Montgrí. A structure that had construction started at the end of the 13th century, it sits alone atop the mountain. A defensive structure for a battle that never came, its construction was abandoned in 1301, just seven years after it was started. And there it was to sit since that day, beckoning to me to come for a visit.

When I was at Quermançó Castle I saw it off in the distance some 60km away and it reminded me that I still had yet to make it up there. After all, it isn’t just a hop off the road like Quermançó. It’s a 300m climb that take 1-2 hours to reach the top of. While not the most arduous thing I’ve ever done, it isn’t the most easy climb in the world, but the top is well worth it.

You arrive in Torroella de Montgrí to park. This town sits at the bottom of the mountain, with a constant view of the castle. It looks almost ridiculous, like something from a movie set seeing as how it’s the only thing on the top of the mountain and it’s just the outer structure of the castle. The initial part of the hike is quite easy, winding up gentle trails that pass through the rocks. You reach the cross and suddenly things get a great deal harder. It’s advisable to a break and take in the view of all of Empordà as it’s quite stunning, especially if you go up just after it’s rained like I did.

Then the fun begins. The trail falls apart quite quickly and has numerous dead-ends that I’m not sure if they’re natural or something that was devised to fool potential marauding armies. But as I scrambled up the rocks, I was thinking that this must have been all kinds of fun for the guys working on this thing back in 1294:

“Hey, Jaume.”
“Oh hey, Josep. What’s up?
“Nothing much, just a Monday. Scrambling up the mountain again to quarry some rocks and then scramble back down tonight. Same shit, different day, but always from from the caganer.”
“Beats farming.”
“True, and drywalling.”

After a lot of twists and turns, I finally did come to the top. The view is nothing short of amazing. You see out to all of the mountains that border the Empordà Plane and across to the Mediterranean Sea. And then, there’s the castle itself. It’s basically the most impressive half-assing I’ve ever seen and this is 700 year-old half-assing at that. The walls are all there and can be walked around, which is quite cool as they’re 31m high. But beyond this, you can actually see all the structures and initial supports that were to frame in the rest of the castle interior. Typically, these are encased in a well-preserved structure or they’re demolished in ruins. It’s quite interesting to see how it is that they built a castle and all the planning that went in to the engineering of it.

Then of course walking around the back shows the moat. Why on earth a fortified castle 300m above the closest building on the top of a barren mountain peak needed a moat was beyond me.

“Jaume, we’ve got the towers in place. The crenelations are pretty solid. The interior cistern is capped off. We’re sitting on the top of a barren mountain that we made incredibly steep while quarrying the rock for the castle out of it. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Josep, if you’re thinking, moat equals molt xulo, then yes I am!”
“Ah yeah! This is why my daughter is marrying your son.”
“That and the dowry.”
“Ah yes, the dowry…”

And that’s about it. You walk around this castle that they stopped building because the Counts who decided that they needed it realized that it was freakin’ insane and not worth the cost. Of course you can’t just go, “Stupid castle! Why must you be so unnecessary?!!” and then proceed to kick it down. No, you just leave it and leave it they did for all of us to see and enjoy while taking this great hike up above this little piece of Catalonia. Oh yeah, pick up the bread as you’re heading out of Torroella de Montgrí on the way back. It’s the ultimate in convenience and taste.