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Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking Information129Catalonia is an immensely proud andsemi-autonomous region of Spainwhich boasts its own culture andlanguage, age-old customs and festivals,a highly diverse landscape, andinternationally renowned culinarytraditions. Situated in the north-east of theIberian Peninsula, it has over six millioninhabitants and covers an area the size ofBelgium or Switzerland. The CatalonianPyrenees, part of that spectacularmountain barrier between France andSpain, dominate the entire north of theregion, stretching for more than 200kilometres from Val d'Aran, in the west, tothe headland of Cape Creus, in the east,where the last rocky spurs of thePyrenees, stripped bare by the wind andwaves, plunge into the Mediterranean. It isa dramatic land of snow-capped peaks,glacial lakes, wooded gorges andastonishing rock formations, and its floraand fauna is similarly rich. This 2-centre holiday, inspired by theeternal popularity of our long-runningSpanish and French Pyrenees tours,together with the enthusiasm andencouragement of the Catalans for us toshare some of their rich natural heritage, isbased for the first three nights in charmingaccommodation at the monastery of SantaMaria de Bellpuig, near les Avellanes.Nearby, tiny picturesque villages dot thelandscape, beloved of such species asBlue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart, CirlBunting and Bonelli's Warbler, whilstsurrounding areas hold Wryneck, GoldenOriole, Melodious, Dartford and OrpheanWarblers and Ortolan Bunting. This is alsoa good base from which to search formore typical 'southern' and steppe birdssuch as Little Bustard, Crested and TheklaLark, Black Wheatear and Lesser Kestrel.A distinct flora will be evident here and wewill no doubt appreciate the colourfulabundance of such wayside flowers asmulleins, thistles, mallows, asphodels andJudas Trees.We next head north-east, leaving thetranquil surroundings of the monastery totransfer to our next base, a splendidmountain hotel high up in the Pyrenees.Our journey will take us through a varietyof habitats. The flora of the area is awonderful mix of Mediterranean, northernEuropean and Alpine. In the villages, SoftSnapdragon (Antirrhinum molle) grows onthe walls. Along the tracks grow Rosemary,Thyme, Lavender, Rock Soapwort(Saponaria ocymoides), Blue Apyllanthes(Aphyllanthes monspeliensis), Centaureaconifera, Clary (Salvia sclarea) and manyvetches, including the pungent Pitch Trefoil(Psoralea bituminosa). In delightfulmeadows many orchids are found,including Lesser and Greater Butterfly,Woodcock, Fly and Fragrant Orchid, aswell as both Sword-leaved and RedHelleborine. Birds of prey will be verymuch in evidence, and may includeGolden Eagle, together with WoodchatShrike, Hoopoe, Red Kite and Short-toed Eagle.Perhaps the highlight of our holiday will bea visit to the spectacular Parc Nationald'Aiguestortes, in the high Pyrenees. LandRover taxis take us up as far as the snow-line and within tantalising distance of themajestic summits. Here we are transportedinto a different world, botanically speaking,with true alpine flowers such as AlpinePasque Flower (Pulsatilla alpinassp.sulphurea), gentians, Snowbells and bothBirdseye and Entire-leaved Primroses(Primula farinosaand P. integrifolia)amongst a wealth of other interestingplants. Birds at this altitude may includeCitril Finch, Crested Tit, Crossbill, AlpineAccentor, Crag Martin, Alpine Swift andpossibly Black Woodpecker. We will also spend time around the little-visited eastern edge of the national park,enjoying a backdrop of tiny villages,flower-filled meadows and pinewoods.Later we will drive up to a mountain refugewhere a short uphill walk will take us to aspot with splendid mountain scenery.Along the way Black Woodpecker, Crested Tit, Ring Ouzel and Capercailliemay all be seen. On our final day we will set out to followone of the best rivers for Otters inCatalonia. Walking past meadows ofdaffodils, little-known mountain villagesand a landscape awash with hedgerowsand copses, we should see such birds asRed-backed Shrike, Golden Oriole, CirlBunting and Yellowhammer in abundance.After lunch we will retrace our steps alongthis very special valley and then head to amountain pass at over 2,000 metres wherethere will be another chance to see suchelusive alpine species as Rock Thrush,Alpine Chough, Water Pipit and evenAlpine Accentor. This region of Spain has something ofinterest for everyone. The flowers, birdsand butterflies are outstanding; not tomention the scenery, food and hospitality!Catalonia - The Eastern PyreneesAn 8-day holiday of birdwatching and botanical walks in the Catalonian Pyrenees.Wednesday 1st May - Wednesday 8th May Cost: £1,295TOULOUSE LES AVELLANESESPOTBARCELONA CATALONIA LLEIDA REUS TARRAGONA ANDORRA BILBAO MADRID PARC NATIONALD'AIGUESTORTESFRANCE SPAIN Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Barcelona; transferles Avellanes.Day 2/3Daily programme ofbirdwatching andbotanical walks in theCatalan Pyrenees.Day 4/7Espot.Day 8Fly UK.Accommodation Charming, family-run hotels servingexcellent local food, both withprivate facilities.Food All included in the price.GradingGrade A/B. Easy day walks only.Focus Birds, plants and other wildlife.LeadersJaume Zurita (ornithologist) andAndrew Cleave or Paul Harmes(botanist).Single room supplement£160.ExtensionsBarcelona city breaks, and otheroptions, available on request.Web quick search: ESP01Woodcock OrchidLesser KestrelMontrebie Gorge

On a recent autumn visit to this little-known sierra in the foothills of thecentral Pyrenees, we initiallyexplored by car for a full day, almostcircuiting the Guara using the back roadsbetween the villages of Alquézar and Bara.During over 12 hours on these roads weencountered not a single other vehicle -an astonishing achievement in today'sage, especially within Europe! However, asany map of Spain will indicate, the Sierrade Guara, protected as a parque naturalsince 1990, is one of Spain's quieterregions and, although it does become ahaven for canyoning and climbingenthusiasts during the summer months, wehope to find plenty of peace and quiet,and an abundance of birds and plants, aswe explore its valleys, gorges and uplandmountainsides during the course of thisexciting holiday.The Sierra de Guara is not a high range -Tozal de Guara, at 2,077 metres, being itshighest summit - but, being protected bythe high Pyrenees just to the north, itssouthern slopes, in particular, receive littleprecipitation and are consequently verydry. At lower altitudes it offers a prettypatchwork of rolling oak woods, almondorchards, olive groves and small, irregularwheat fields, traditionally farmed. Attractivelimestone villages and their splendidchurches ride the flanks of the sierra; theirpopulations, like virtually all in rural Spain,are dwindling today and allowing natureback in. Above them lies a rugged land,clothed in stunted oak forest and maquisscrub and characterised by numerousspectacular gorges, canyons, cliffs andpinnacles fashioned from limestone andconglomerate. This is a land beloved ofbirds of prey. Griffon Vultures arenumerous, whilst other resident breedingbirds include Lammergeier, Golden Eagle,Bonelli's Eagle, Red Kite and Peregrine,and these are joined in summer byEgyptian Vulture, Short-toed and BootedEagles, Honey Buzzard and Hobby.On this 2-centre holiday, we will exploreeach day on a series of gentle walks,breaking each day with a traditionalNaturetrek picnic lunch! It is the southernslopes of the sierra that we will focus onduring the first part of this holiday, andduring it we will be based in the magicalfortress town of Alquézar, built around aspectacular 8th century Moorish citadelwhich sits on a pinnacle above the gorgeof the Río Vero. This quaint and ancienttown, with its narrow streets, sits like aneagle's eyrie on a shoulder of the sierraand is a perfect centre from which toexplore on foot the surrounding valleys,gorges and higher slopes . and fromwhich to watch for passing birds of prey.The fortifications at Alquézar are typical ofmany forts built in this area, to the south ofthe Pyrenees, by the Moors or Christiansas they wrestled for control over thesenorthern limits of Muslim Spain throughoutthe Middle Ages. Today, like many of thedeserted villages, they now provide ahome for Hoopoes, Black Redstarts,Spotless Starlings and Rock Sparrows.The maquis-like vegetation of the southernslopes is dominated by dense, low,evergreen oak scrub, mixed with junipers,pines, Strawberry Trees and Rosemary. Itis a habitat favoured by such birds as BlueRock Thrush, Red-backed and WoodchatShrikes, Melodious, Subalpine andBonelli's Warblers, and Cirl, Ortolan andRock Buntings. Overhead, Alpine Swift,Crag Martins and abundant birds of preyare to be seen whilst, lower down, gorgesand rivers lined with poplars supportbreeding Bee-eaters and Golden Orioles,and little fields hold Crested Larks, TheklaLarks and Tawny Pipits.The northern slopes of the Sierra de Guara are very much damper, sustainingheavy winter snowfall. Consequently thevegetation they support is quite differentfrom that of the arid southern slopes. Theextensive oak forest and scrub here islargely deciduous, containing also Beechand maple, whilst the higher slopes areawash with rose and bramble cover. Toexplore this area during the second phaseof our holiday, we will base ourselves in thevillage of Nocito. This remote and isolatedvillage, situated towards the end of a longtrack, boasts fewer than 10 inhabitants andis an hour's drive from the nearest shops!From it, we will explore almost entirely onfoot, though we may include a night driveto look for the Wild Boar, Polecat and PineMarten that may sometimes be seen on theroad after dark. We will also enjoy a peace,solitude and magnificent night sky that isnot easily found elsewhere in Europe.Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Zaragoza andtransfer Alquézar.Day 2/4Sierra de Guara(southern slopes), fromAlquézar.Day 5/7Sierra de Guara(northern slopes), fromNocito.Day 8Fly London.AccommodationA comfortable family hotel inAlquézar, and a simple, friendlyhotel in the very isolated village ofNocito. All rooms have privatefacilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade A/B. Easy to moderate daywalks, though some tougheroptions may be offered.FocusBirds, plants and butterflies.LeaderByron Palacios.Single room supplement£140. Web quick search: ESP13Spanish FestoonSierra de GuaraTOULOUSEBARCELONACATALONIA LLEIDAHUESCASIERRADE GUARAZARAGOZATARRAGONAANDORRA BILBAOMADRIDFRANCE SPAIN130Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItinerarySpain's Sierra de Guara -Land of the Lammergeier An 8-day holiday of gentle walks focusing on the birds, plants and butterflies of the little-known Sierra de Guara, the most thinly populated and under-developed region of Spain's Pyrenean foothills -a land of gorges, cliffs and canyons beloved of the Lammergeier. Tuesday 7th May - Tuesday 14th May Cost: £1,295Lammergeier