Les Olles, Bot
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Review of "Les Olles, Bot"
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I often spend my summer in Spain and last week, with my son and his girlfriend over to visit, I had to think of somewhere interesting to take them. Now where I stay in Rural Spain has hundreds of interesting places to visit and enjoy, but I wanted somewhere new and different, that would interest two twenty-five-year-olds who seemed to be bored of life and a fifty-four-year-old who is chomping at the bit to experience everything. It also had to be crowd free as they had had enough of beaches, markets and people-filled tourist spots.So I chose somewhere a friend had told me about recently….’’’Les Olles de Bot’’’
Pronounced “oy yes”, literally translated from the Catalan this means “the pots” or “the saucepans” and is used to describe a small stream or river running through rocky terrain, which over the centuries has created a unique landscape perfect for recreational purposes. Small waterfalls have trickled or gushed (depending on the time of year) over smooth hard rocks and eroded away the softer rock beneath to create a series of deep pools, which the locals adopt as natural swimming pools and try to keep as secret as they can from outsiders.There are many “olles” dotted around the Tarragona province, mostly created by tributaries of the mighty River Ebro, some are well signposted but only locally, so you have to know where to go in the first place, some are very difficult to find, and many dry up completely in the hottest summers, although this one in Bot was still flowing strongly even after four weeks of a heatwave.
Bot is a small village of around 1000 people in the Terra Alta region of Tarragona, which gets its name either from the Catalan “Bou” (bull…which it carries on its flag) or the Catalan “Bota” (wine receptacle), no one knows which for sure. Terra Alta (high ground) is so named with reason as the village sits at a height of 289 metres above sea level.Just a stone’s throw from larger Gandesa with its wine bodega built by students of Gaudi and inspired by the great man himself, the whole region is famous for its wine and olive oil. Although Bot enjoys very little tourism, the people who do come are hikers, birdwatchers and nature lovers, as the town and its surrounds follows the river Canaletes and is overlooked by the Corral Mountains which inspired Pablo Picasso on his summer sojourns to nearby “Horta St Joan”.
How to get there
Coming into Gandesa from either the East or the West on the N420 turn at the roundabout in the centre of town and follow the signs to Bot. .Or from the South on the much smaller C43 turn left towards Bot before you reach the centre of town unless you really like roundabouts. Continue along the windy TV 3531 right through the centre of Bot and out the other side. Take a left turn at the signpost to Prat de Compte. Follow this single lane TV 3301 for about 3 km under a tunnel/bridge until you see a small antique aqueduct on your right. Immediately after the aqueduct there is a right hand turn onto a concrete track signposted to “Les Olles”.This single lane concrete track takes you all the way to Horta St Joan I believe, but Les Olles are just 3.3 km along it, and you are encouraged along the way by small green signs counting down the distance. I would advise you to take this track at 15 -20 miles an hour as a maximum, as being too enthusiastic as always I nearly took out the front skirt of my car on an unexpected dip in the road either side of a drainage grate.
When you reach the Olles it will be obvious by a number of cars parked on the side of the road, as well as the sign announcing that you have arrived. The sign tells you to take a left hand turn down to Les Olles, but I took a cue from the other cars and left mine parked neatly on the road side and realised why others had been cautious when I saw the foot deep ruts in the solidly packed mud road leading down to the river. A couple of 4 x 4 type cars had braved it so they could enjoy the shade of the trees, but I wouldn’t have tried it with anything but a tractor.
Our VisitTaking with us a bag each with towels, sun cream and a packed lunch, we strolled down to the river’s edge, looking forward to our day out. The view as you reach the river, which at this point in its journey is really just a stream, is outstanding:- The smooth whitened rocks contrasting starkly with the green water under the bright blue cloudless sky, and it all looked very tempting indeed on a hot day in the 35 degree sunshine.
To get down to the river’s edge required a bit of sure footedness as we picked our way down a small wooded bank and then tight-roped along the edge of an old roughly made, concrete water channel. Most of the people we saw came in the same way as us, a few picking their way down a longer and steeper bank instead, but nowhere was there an easy, stepped entrance down onto Les Olles, nor indeed any manmade steps or handrails. This is swimming with nature, using your own skills and at your own risk.Initially we counted four main pools of water, each with its own differing character and its own charm, and constantly flowing stream of water. The lower pool which we named “the beach” was separated from its upstream pals but huge whiteish grey rocks, smoothed over time by the passage of water, and on which we spread out towels, The water was a good six foot deep on the upstream side where we sat, and petered out to a gravel beach on the other side. The pool was an uneven shape and depth but perhaps 40ft wide by 30ft to the other side.
Slipping quickly into the cool, refreshing water as soon as we arrived, we realised that we were not in control here…the rocks and the water dictate where you can enter and leave the pool and how fast both of those manoeuvres will be. Anywhere where the water touched the smooth rock was incredibly slippery with algae whether an obvious green, an occasional orangey/brown or more often than not invisible to the naked eye, but very obvious to the foot or hand when attempting to get a grip.Because of this slipperiness, a smooth, controlled glide into the water down a rock became a less than graceful flop; An Ursula Andress type walk into or out of the water became a clownish acrobatic trick as our feet went one way and our bodies,, in an attempt to stay upright, overcompensated in the opposite direction; And getting out of any of the pools became more of a beached whale/stranded sea elephant montage as we desperately heaved ourselves bodily clear of the wet rock looking for that elusive dry handhold in the smooth surface.
Taking all of this in the right humour, it became very funny indeed as we laughed out loud at our companions attempts only to find ourselves slipping suddenly over or losing grip with the lack of applied concentration. “The Beach” benefitted from one area where the water had become around 8 ft. deep allowing my son and his girlfriend to enjoy jumping off an equally high rock into this pool, but |I wasn’t quite brave enough to do it I am afraid, although I did jump off a 6ft high rock in another area.Altogether there were no more than 30 or 35 people at most spread along the four pools during the whole time we were there, much less around 2pm when many went home for lunch, and we had “The Beach” to ourselves for around 3 hours before we decided to go exploring. I would say the spot was very peaceful, except for the sound of people laughing and splashing which wasn’t disturbing in the least, but there is never complete peace and silence in rural Spain as the constant clicking screech of the Cicadas calling for a mate always fills the air in the summer.
After we had polished off our food and enjoyed a good sunbathe and several swims, we took all our belongings back to the car and taking only ourselves and my car keys (non electronic) tied to my sons trunk string, we went exploring. Following the water we swam through one pool at a time: “The Naked caveman pool”, a bit smaller than “the Beach” and so named because two different couples had arrived at different times and both of the men in these couples had decided to strip down completely, and stand around on the tops of rocks for all to admire; “The Jacuzzi” so named because it was small, rounded and not very deep so the water was very warm: and “The Olympic pool” named by us for its length. This pool was a good 50yds long I reckon, winding its way through steep sided rocks and was very deep…so deep that youngsters were jumping off the 15ft high rocks on either side. We could get a good swim going in this pool although at two points there were large smooth rocks just under the surface which you can either swim around or like me enjoy slithering over. This pool also had a wide overhanging cave which we could swim right into.
Although we had earlier guessed, during quick reccies, that this was the last pool, walking over the rocks a bit further we discovered five more pools, all different and interesting in their own way, although not nearly so popular…mainly because they could only be reached by swimming, so no towels or food could really be taken that far. The last of the pools, which was long, thin and deep, ended in a vertical waterfall, which the youngsters managed to scale after a few failed attempts, but found merely a shallow gravel bottomed river at the top.
The foothills of the mountains which surround the Olles, are very good for trail walking and indeed we did take a half hour foray up one of them thinking we could get to the upper pools with all our stuff but to no avail as the trails just kept getting higher and never dropped back down to the river again.
WildlifeMake no mistake about it you will be sharing your swimming pools with various other species apart from the odd caveman! The most obvious and prolific of these are the small fish swimming with you. I was told that these are mostly Barbel, most are tiny and all will swim out of the way from the great big human invading their space. The largest I saw was around 6” long and that was only one fish. If you sit very very quietly a couple might come and investigate your toes for a new source of the algae they feed on.
Other than these fish we also saw an Iguana under a bush (not a native species but a few enjoy the good life Spain has to offer), a small water snake (harmless), a swimming spider, a few frogs, and a freshwater crayfish (also not native but thriving and becoming a problem). We were also surrounded all day by buzzing dragonflies and damselflies going about their business. In the surrounding country side you may be lucky enough to see small deer, mountain goats or even wild boar although we saw none of these on this trip.If you are excessively squeamish then this isn’t really the place for you, but there was plenty of room there for both us and the wildlife with no need to bother each other at all. My son's girlfriend, who turned out to be our eagle eyed wildlife spotter, even helped the swimming spider along his way with a small stick so that we didn’t accidentally stand on him, afterwards professing to be scared of our eight-legged friends…I guess it’s just different when you are in their environment!!
Some final tips on Safety and AccessTo enjoy Les Olles properly I would recommend decent footwear, preferably rubber diving boots or water shoes. We are hard nuts and spent most of the time bare foot, and my son even went exploring barefoot and up the mountain in flip-flops, but us girls put our rubber boots on. They will not give you much added grip on the slippery rocks unfortunately, but they will allow you to walk on the optimum surface without worrying about hurting your feet.
Sunscreen is also an essential. On the hot a sticky day that we were there, there was a cool breeze flowing down the stream tricking us into thinking that the sun wasn’t so fierce….it was, and we all got burnt despite it being their last day of the holiday and them both having a good tan already.This is not a place to go if you aren’t sure footed or prepared to pick up the odd bump and bruise. It is, unfortunately, completely unsuitable for people of limited mobility which is a great shame, as even the access to the pools is tricky. Also do not attempt to bring the car right down close to the river. Leave it on the top concrete road with all the others and walk the 20 or so yards down.
Although it obviously happens and is mostly ignored, being completely naked is an offence in Spain…do it at your own risk. I found it risky enough just trying to avoid looking!!Finally, if you are tempted to jump off the rocks into the pools, remember these are natural pools with no health and safety warnings and no designer except nature herself. My advice, if you really have to do it, would be to do it wherever you see the locals already doing it, and ask advice. The safe jumping places have been used by two, three or four generations so the locals know best, and don’t worry about the language barrier, sign language can work wonders and from the top of the rock they can’t point out the safe areas to jump and the submerged rocks to avoid.
Product Information : Les Olles, Bot
Manufacturer's product descriptionNature Reserve
Type: Nature Reserve
Listed on Ciao since: 20/07/2017