Before leaving The Balneari Prats Hotel we went in search of improved health and swam for a last time in the rejuvenating waters of the swimming pool but after half an hour I was still running out of breath and joints were still creaking so we gave up on the whimsical notion of eternal youth, packed our bags and left for a short journey into the mountains to the west.
There was a fast new road from Girona to Vic with almost no traffic to share it with as we soon started climbing, climbing, climbing through a succession of long tunnels bored directly through the mountains which I presume the old roads had to negotiate in long difficult raking loops. As we climbed we left the Province of Girona and entered Barcelona but in contrast to that city we passed through vast green forests spreading in every direction and punctuated here and there with terracotta villages hiding in the folds of the hills and only given away by their church towers that peaked above the tree tops.
Eventually the climb levelled out and there in front of us was a vast agricultural plain surrounded on all sides by a ring of mountains and in the centre of this was the town of Vic spreading from its centre like wine spilt on a table cloth. We would visit Vic later but first we needed to find our hotel in nearby Sant Julià de Vilatorta so that we could drop off our bags. It was quite early and we didn’t really expect to be able to check in but we were lucky and even at mid morning the room at the five hundred year old farmhouse now the up-market boutique Masalbereda hotel was ready so we explored the hotel and then the village before driving back into the hills.
There were no new roads here and we had to take the traditional way of reaching the top by a narrow country road full of hairpin bends, hard climbs and the occasional crazy local drivers who were prepared it seems to take extraordinary risks to overtake an inconvenient tourist in a Volkswagen Cabby!
We were driving to see a reservoir at the top and this was another vertiginous road that went up, up, up and then down, down, down until we reached the languid green waters of the reservoir under the shadow of a tall red mountain top which felt suddenly as though we had been transported to Utah or Arizona and we were on the set of a John Ford western movie.
It was hot and it was humid so after we had walked for a while around the machinery of the massive dam we returned down the same road and stopped for a very expensive beer in the highly manicured village of Vilanova de Sau before driving the short distance to Vic.
Mid afternoon and in the heat of the day was not the best time to visit Vic because most of the town was closed and the sensible residents were resting in the shade behind closed shutters because the dusty Plaza Mayor inside its ring of high stone buildings the sign on a chemist shop claimed that it was a sweltering thirty-five degrees centigrade. Undeterred by this we followed the tourist trail through the town through narrow stone streets, past the cathedral (closed for the afternoon) and the Roman Temple (also closed for the afternoon) and then along the disappointingly concrete Las Ramblas where a few hardy folks were sitting out at the occasional pavement bar.
We declared it too hot for the full sun so we darted back into the shade of the side streets and after being turned away from an air conditioned restaurant because we only wanted a beer found a bar in a small square with tables under the shade of some leafy plane trees stopped for a while to cool down with a more sensibly priced drink.
I have to say that I don’t think Vic is worth making a special journey to visit but it is a nice enough regional town to spend an hour or two. It turns out that Vic has a long history but my favourite story is that after it was destroyed by the Moors in 788 most people abandoned the town for the safety of the hills until it was made safe again and repopulated by the magnificently named William the Hairy a hundred years later. (There is a story that William was so named because hair grew on a part of his body where it normally doesn’t but I cannot find any further details – my guess is the palms of the hands?)
A little bit disappointed by Vic we returned to Sant Julià de Vilatorta and because we suspected that the hotel restaurant might be rather expensive we walked the streets to find somewhere suitable for evening meal. We found three good places but on enquiry they all told us that they were closed tonight on account of an important football tournament in the village and all recommended the Masalbereda, so it looked as though we had no option.
This turned out to be rather lucky because although we have a preference for a noisy bodega or a lively tapas bar to the crisp white table cloths and whispered conversations of a silver service restaurant the menu turned out to be quite reasonable and the food was excellent and we enjoyed our short stay at a smart hotel that was unusually expensive for us and before I went to sleep I tried as hard as I could to remember just why I had booked something so far out of our usual price range.