Up and down the Ebro
Trip Start Oct 30, 2012
7Trip End Nov 06, 2012
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Where I stayed
Our Ryanair flight was on time and only half fulll, but we were warned by the staff not to brandish red peppers during the flight or to bombard fellow passengers with peanuts because there was a person travelling who was allergic to both. This seems ludicrous. I can think of no good reason why someone else's allergy (or fad) should prevent me from enjoying a Star Bar or a Picnic (do Picnic still have peanuts in them?) or indeed a salad with a bit of pimento. I never rub my food against strangers. In fact I don't molest people that I know well with ingredients of my meals either and surely, as a minimum the alleged allergic would need to come into contact with the substance – I have a bad reaction to mussels and as a consequence avoid eating most shellfish, but I don't have a problem with companions eating them and I've never been force fed a whelk in all my life
Apart from that the flight was reasonably well-behaved and arrived on time – hardly surprising given that the flying time is less than two hours and the scheduled times about 30 minutes longer and with no bags to pick up we were soon at the Goldcar desk and picking up our somewhat battered (bruised, almost) Ford Focus.
The Allotjament Marjal in Poblenou del Delta was our destination but we took a bit of a detour to a village that I head read about on a travel forum. Appropriately enough, Miravet is right next to the River Ebro and we would be spending the next two days in the Ebro delta so it was nice to see what the river looked like further up its course. The weather was glorious and a nice improvement on the damp and cold of the England we left behind and an hour or so after touchdown, having negotiated the traffic in Reus, though it might have been quicker finding a way around the city, we were queueing up for the tiny ferry that takes people across the river to the village.
The ferry was part of the reason we were here. I had read that it was little more than a wooden raft, which sounded like fun and I wasn't disappointed
Close up we could see that we were on a flat wooden platform attached to a couple of pontoons or perhaps very large canoes and that there was a cable crossing the river that also linked to the boat. I never did work out what actually propelled it though. Presumably the cable, because I couldn't hear any engine noise.
The minibus was occupied by a small party of Americans from Florida and Michigan who didn't quite spot my reference to one of their modern cultural icons when I mentioned the possibility of a "Missouri boat ride" (they got it the second time around) but who seemed to be having an interesting holiday getting off the beaten track a bit before getting a transatlantic boat crossing back
After a couple of minutes we were over the river and driving up the ramp on the other side and a short distance later we were pulling over to find a place to park and get the first photos of Miravet, which looked lovely in the superb weather, with the village and the castle arrayed on a cliff overlooking the river.
We hadn't seen many birds on the drive here but there were Cetti's Warblers calling from the riverside undergrowth and a couple of Black Redstarts on the edge of the village were new birds for the year for us.
The castle seemed the obvious place to head for, standing high above the village as it does, so we set off in its general direction, enjoying some lovely views of the river and the surrounding countryside and also the prettiness of the streets and lanes of Miravet that seem almost untouched by the modern world. Unfortunately after the halfway point we fell victime to Ryanair's luggage policy. In the expectation that we would be going out at night, Julie had brought some going out footwear with her and because there took up more space than her day time trainers she had worn them to fly in (hand luggage only, you see) and had forgotten to change them
We by-passed the tempting looking cafes with river views and walked into the centre of the village where a small cafe had several groups outside. We asked if they were serving food and they told us that they would start at 1 p.m. As that was less than half an hour away we sat down to wait with a drink.
The menu, when it arrived, was pretty good and I immediately spotted something unfamilar in Catalan which Julie quickly confirmed on her phone was quail (modern technology can be quite useful sometimes) so I ordered that and Julie went for loin of pork.
The food when it arrived was very tasty. I hadn’t had quail since some time in the 1990s but it was as good as I remembered and benefited from the simple presentation. It was nice to be able to sit outside, although we were rather less cosily dressed than most of the locals, including a table of about 16 who were also sitting at tables in the square. Julie washed hers down with a small jug of sangria for a few Euros (I was driving so only had a sip) which somehow seemed appropriate
I was keen to get a look at the Ebro delta in daylight and I wasn’t sure how long it would take to drive to El Poblenou del Delta from Miravet (I was guessing about an hour, assuming faultless map reading and sign following) so when we finished our lunch we decided to get on our way. The trip back across the river on the ferry was tempting but so was the minor road leading the other way out of the village which looked a bit more interesting on the map, although it would probably take a bit longer. We walked back to the car and set off in the "other directions" direction, threading the car through the narrow and somewhat challenging village streets. I was glad that we didn’t meet anything coming the other way at several points, though the centre is hardly what you would call busy. I wonder if it ever does get busy, even at the height of the tourist season.
Even without traffic problems we still managed to get lost within minutes of setting off, somewhere near a sign for the cemetery, I think. If you see this sign it might be an idea to turn around and try again. We however continued on ever narrower and less well maintained roads
The first part of the drive towards the coast was pleasant, passing through sparsely populated and attractive limestone uplands with some evidence of viticulture. The roads were very quiet indeed but I managed to remember to stay on the wrong side of the road reasonably consistently.
Eventually we dropped down to parallel the Ebro and by-passed Tortosa on the way to Amposta which is situated on the edge of the Ebro delta
I got lost in Amposta which resulted in us taking a more or less U shaped route into and out of the town but at the second attempt we found signs to Sant Carles de la Rapita which was close to El Poblenou del Delta. Sant Carles was quiet and looked worth a brief stop (we had considered it as a possible base for our visit to the delta) and the lack of obvious signage didn’t bother us too much because we had realised that if we kept on going until we couldn’t get any further then a left turn should get us to our hotel. Which is more or less what we did.
The last short section of the drive between Sant Carles and Poblenou del Delta was through the delta proper and it was quite distracting. One of the main activities in the delta is rice growing and all the padi are flooded at this time of year which meant that the area was alive with water birds. As well as several species of herons there were numerous gulls, cormorants and others. The globally rare Audouin’s Gull has a stronghold in the delta and we soon spotted a few, along with the commoner but for many harder to find Slender-billed Gulls. Cattle Egrets were abundant with Squacco Herons also in evidence, especially around El Poblenou del Delta.
Driving and birding don’t really go well together in places like this. The roads are straight but narrow and invariably slightly elevated with drainage ditches down both sides. Not too bad for one car but I had to force myself to stop looking at birds several times when vehicles approached from the opposite direction and to pull over when faster drivers (everyone, really in these conditions) caught up
El Poblenou del Delta is quite unusual. In fact the whole area is unusual, reminding us much more of somewhere in South East Asia rather than Western Europe. But the village itself is oddly self contained. It is almost polygonal and simply stops at the road that encircles it. There’s a road and then there are fields. There’s none of the overflow or sprawl that is normally associated with urban areas. It as if a line has been drawn between village and fields and both have declared "No passeu!".
The Allotjament Marjal, being on an edge of the village and a corner to boot was not tricky to find. We’d established before arrival that they had no car parking but there were few restrictions on the road itself so we found a reasonably convenient place and set off to find the door. The hotel does not go much for flashy and obvious but we found a bell to ring and were admitted.
The first thing we noticed about the Allotjament Marjal was the scent. Just inside the door a couple of incense sticks were smouldering, giving the light and airy interior a spicy and appealing aroma that was not overwhelming. We were ushered in, checked in and shown to our room on the first floor, adjacent to a gorgeous lounge with a huge floor to ceiling arc-shaped window with a view over the fields to the hills beyond, with a telescope set up for the use of guests
The room was in keeping with the rest of the hotel. A large bed with crisp white linen, a nice big window overlooking the fields and lots of light and space. We had a remote control for turning the radio on in the bathroom but we managed to resist using that during our stay. Having sorted ourselves out (thrown our bags on the floor) we were soon back in the car and looking for some decent birding sites. We were stopping every few hundred metres to check out flooded fields full of gulls and herons but I don’t think we really annoyed any other road users. There weren’t many, anyway.
I had spotted MonNatura Delta as part of my limited and sketchy research into the area. http://www.monnaturadelta.com/ca/home/portada It’s a project funded by CatalunyaCaixa which is dedicated to the wildlife and traditions of the Ebro Delta and in particular seems to be trying to establish a reproduction of the Salinas that used to be prevalent in this coastal section for small-scale commercial salt extraction. Salinas are very good for a wide range of wildlife, especially water birds. A local speciality is a rather attractive small fish called the Fartet, which is a type of Tooth Carp, for those who know about such things.
The young lady in the visitor centre was very helpful and gave us a map of the site with a suggested walking route so we paid our €8 each and set off for the viewpoint on top of the tallest building which has a number of fixed telescopes to allow people to get a closer look at some of the area's birds. Flamingoes were easy to find as were numerous herons and huge numbers of coots and cormorants. Waders were mostly too far away to identify satisfactorily, though we recognised the call of Redshank and spotted a couple of Common Snipe.
We then moved on to a ground level hide from which we could see a large-ish flock of Little Stints but not much else. We then had a look at the saltings in a search for Fartets, which we couldn't find and realised that the sun was almost setting and we were getting hungry again, so we drove back through the twilight to get ready for dinner.
My research hadn't come up with much regarding eating out at night in November in El Poblenou del Delta although I had worked out that if the pickings were thin it was only a short drive to Sant Carles de la Rapita but we had noticed a couple of places when we had arrived so before getting into the car we set out into the night on foot and very soon came across Lo Pati d'Agusti where the staff confirmed they were serving food after a moment's hesitation.
Having had quite a large lunch we were not ravenous but the octopus stew first course sounded too good to miss so we agreed to share a serving, which was a good job because it was huge. To follow we had rabbit and duck. Both were good, although the rabbit, which still had its head and most of its teeth was best. We didn't have room for pudding but did enjoy the inexpensive house wine which, like all the wines we sampled in the region, was from a local vineyard.