On a Catalonia two-step, climber and WildBounds contributor Chris Kalman stops in Margalef, home to some of the world’s best climbing.
Just an hour and a half west of Siurana, on the western side of Parc Natural de la Serra de Montsant, lies a sleepy village, an old hermit’s hovel, a castlesque refugio, and some of the best climbing in the world. Behold, Margalef.
It’s hard to imagine, but Margalef may be even better than Siurana. The walls are large, extensive, and bulbous – often shaped like the bow of a ship, starting with incredibly steep climbing and ending on vertical, or even slabby terrain. There’s even a famous 8a there named La Curva de Felicidad, which translates literally as “The Curve of Happiness.” In reality, la curva de felicidad is the Spanish term for a beer-belly. The name is fairly apropo, as the wall is precisely that bulging.
Where Siurana is typified by fingertip busting crimpers and sidepulls, Margalef is famous for its pockets. The rock is a form on conglomerate, and over the aeons all the stones and pebbles that were initially caught up in it have eroded, and fallen out. The result are walls that look like emmental cheese – pockets of all sizes dancing their way up lines of bolts, providing perfect holds for hands and feet. There are literally scores of cliffs, and hundreds of routes to choose from – but the Balcon l’Ermita has got to be one of the best. Situated high above the valley, and accessed by a historic hermit’s shelter, the scene alone is enough to make this crag memorable. But the excellent climbing, exciting finishes, and steep rappels into open air make the Balcon one of the best walls in Spain – and, by extension, the world.
If you loved the camping in Siurana, you’ll certainly enjoy sleeping for free right there like the hermit San Salvador did, himself. But for those seeking a little bit more sophistication (aka, a roof and a shower), the Can Severet Refugi down in town is comfortable, affordable, and owned by the legendary route developer, Jordi Pou. The town of Margalef, itself, is incredibly endearing. Shacking up at the Can Severet is a wonderful excuse for padding lazily along the cobbled streets, poking your head into bread shops in the afternoon, old smoky bars in the evening, and searching high and low for the best Pan con Tomate when breakfast rolls around.
Pulling on pockets day after day is not without its risks. Although your Siurana-ravaged fingertips will have likely healed by your third day on at Margalef, your tendons will be begging for a rest from all the one and two finger pocket pulling you’ve been doing. That means it’s time for another rest day, and a rest day means it’s time to move on. But don’t despair! More great climbing awaits, further north, in the foothills of the Pyrenees.