The Catalonia castles you need to see
Barcelona is the capital of the region of Catalonia. Our history dates back from the Roman times 2000 year ago and older. But it started defining its identity specially during the middle ages. In those times, Christians fought to push back the attacks of the moors, of Muslim religion. Castles were the fortresses that allowed the war lords to protect a piece of land. Their protection attracted the christian population, what helped colonizing the newly claimed areas.
The many castles in our area could have given origin to the word “Catalonia” or “Catalunya”, from the word “castlà” – governor of a castle. If you are an etymology fan, use Google Translate to learn other possible origins of the word in this well researched article.
There’s roughly 800 of them left, most in ruins, but a remarkable amount still quite well preserved. And all of them between 1 and 2 hours drive from Barcelona. Let me show my favorite with you!
These are the best Castles in Catalonia:
Castell de Cardona
This is a truly scenic location: a castle that occupies the entire top of a hill rising at 585m (1919f). The counts of Cardona were a powerful house that controlled the salt mines in the valley. Salt in those times was so valuable that the Cardona family were known as the “kings without a crown”. (BTW did you know the word “salary” comes from “salt”, because salt was often used as a way to pay for work?). Part of the castle is now a Parador (a chain of hotels in unique locations run by the Spanish Government).
It is said that the room 712 is haunted by the ghost of a Christian girl in love with a Muslim in the XI century. Her father locked her to die in the castle tower (Torre de la Minyona or Tower of the young girl). The rest is open to the public and includes a 1000yo church of St. Vincent, in Romanesque style and an arched patio. You can also visit the fortress walls that protected the enclosure during many wars: Guerra dels Segadors, Guerra de Successió… Cardona is located 1h15min away from Barcelona by car. Unfortunately the train+bus combination to get there makes it too difficult to reach by public transportation.
Castell de Peralada
If sleeping in a castle is your dream, there are more choices for castle hotels near Barcelona! The Castle of Peralada is documented from the 800s, although the original structure was destroyed in a war in 1285. The ruins can still be seen at the top of the village. The current structure was built from scratch in the 1300s with multiple additions and refurbishments. The Peralada house also reached the Count rank. In 1923 the Mateu family bought the fortress, and they continue to occupy part of it.
The rest houses a renowned wine cellar, a spa and golf hotel, a casino and some lovely gardens where every Summer takes place a music festival. You can also visit the old convent of Carmen, nowadays an impressive private library and museum. It features over 1000 editions of El Quijote, an interesting glass collection and a wine museum. Again, you’ll need a car to reach Peralada: it’s a bit over 1.5hrs drive. But it’s worth coming and staying: from here you can explore the Dali Museums, the Costa Brava and a myriad of beautiful medieval villages that will remind you of Tuscany.
Castell de Miravet
Let’s head South now. 2 to 2.5 hours drive from Barcelona, depending on the route you choose, you’ll find this medieval castle overlooking the Ebro River. The Moors chose the location first for its strategic position. But in 1153 the Templar’s took over and turned the small fortress into a powerful monastery-castle. Nonetheless, the Order of the Templar was an order of soldier monks.
In 1835 the minister Mendizabal expropriated a large number of properties of the Catholic Church, including this castle. Since then it’s been empty. But despite the many wars, including the cruel Battle of Ebro during the Spanish Civil War, the structure is still well preserved. it is open for visits Tuesday through Sunday, the whole year around. Stepping on those old stones guarantees a trip centuries back in time.
Castell de Sant Ferran
Finally a castle you can reach by public transportation! The town of Figueres is connected by train with Barcelona – either the slow regional train or the high speed train. It’s not really a medieval fortress, though: it was built in the 1700s as a result of the Treaty of the Pyrenees. The border between France and Spain had been redesigned, and the area needed control. The castle was named after Saint Ferdinand, in honor of King Ferdinand VI.
But it makes this list not for its antiquity but for its dimensions: it is considered the largest bulwark in Europe. Besides the regular guided tours, they also offer very unique visits in SUV around the property and inflatable boats to explore the castle underground cisterns. And from the castle you can enjoy views that go from the Pyrenees to the Bay of Roses. BTW, Salvador Dali did here his military service! The Dali Theater Museum is a mere 20 minutes walk from the Castle of Sant Ferran.
Castell de Santa Florentina
A family of knights from the village of Canet de Mar turned some Roman ruins into a fortified mansion. So it wasn’t technically a castle. Then in the early 1900s the owner and uncle of the architect Domenech i Montaner asked him to refurbish it. The architect added medieval touches to the structure, but respected what was left of the original medieval building. The resulting combination of Modernism and Gothic is just outstanding.
King Alphonse XIII visited the property in 1905, and he felt the visit was such a treat that he granted his host the title of Count – it was such an honor! The Castle has also hosted the House of Tarly. Sounds familiar? Check out Game of Thrones, chapter 6 of season 6. Wink, wink. The castle is open for visits but tickets must be booked in advanced. It’s a 45min ride from Barcelona. Or you can take the train to Canet de Mar, then walk 30min to the castle.
AND BONUS! Is there a castle in Barcelona?
Castell de Montjuic
Yes, there’s a castle in Barcelona. But I’m afraid locals don’t have a good relationship with it. Throughout history, the Castle of Montjuic has been used to repress Barcelona more than to protect it. The War of Succession in the 1700s, the bombings of General Espartero in the 1800s, the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s…
The President of the Generalitat (Catalan Government) Lluís Companys was executed in its fields. And so was the innovative pedagogue Francesc Ferrer i Guardia. A military prison and museum, the property was finally transferred to the Barcelona City Council in 2008. From then on, the military occupancy would be moved away, the military museum dismantled and the canons pointing to the city gone. But the canons pointing to the Mediterranean sea remain.
The best way to reach the castle is by taking the funicular from the Paral·lel metro station, then switching to the cable car. Make sure to get cable car tickets in advance to avoid the usual lines. You can walk around the walls and see the moats from there, enjoy the views and take pictures of some of the canons. Or you can opt to buy tickets to go inside. That’ll allow you to explore the different levels of terraces, arched patio and exhibition rooms. A must for war history lovers!
What castles around Barcelona are you planning to visit?
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