MEDIEVAL TOWNS IN CATALONIA WORTH VISITING
In the early 1000”s, the unification of several Franc counties gave place to Catalonia. And before that, the early Medieval times had already been a period of splendor for our land. A good prove are the many Catalonia medieval villages that you can visit in a short drive from Barcelona.
Imagine walking around quiet streets lined of stone houses, with old arches here and there. Cool photo opportunities around any corner. Backstreets that make you feel like you just traveled centuries back in time.
One of our favorite medieval destinations at ForeverBarcelona is the town of Girona. But we’ve covered it extensively in this other post. Today we want to take you off the beaten path, to those little gems only known by the locals. The kind that guidebooks only mention briefly because they need to focus on the big sites. And yet, the small ones are the ones that often will bring you more pleasure of real travel.
These are our favorite Catalonia medieval villages:
The Empordà is the inland area of the upper Costa Brava and it’s packed with gorgeous medieval villages. The guidebooks tell you to visit Castelló d’Empúries, Pals, Peralada and Peratallada. And yes, they are nice. Specially Peratallada. But I’m personally in love with Monells.
I spent a weekend at a lovely hotel there when I was pregnant and with my husband attended the Dansa de la Mort festival in the nearby village of Verges. Its streets have been beautifully restored, its plaza is full of geranium flowers. And most of the time you feel you have the town only to yourself when you stroll around its alleys.
The Middle Ages in Catalonia were a time of Reconquest. The Christians were pushing the moors back. The hamlet of Siurana connects you with that time of history. Located at the top of a very high cliff, now a rock-climbers haven, it was one of the last bastions to be taken over. The Christians only managed to crash its impregnable defenses after someone from inside betrayed the rest.
Taken by surprise, the Moor Queen of Siurana Abd-el-Azia was too proud to accept defeat. She her white horse and spurred on it towards the cliff for a last fatal jump. It is said that the imprint of the horseshoe left by the horse trying to brake can still be seen today marked in the stone at the edge of the cliff.
The Jewish community also had an important impact in the Catalan medieval history. And while most of its heritage is pretty much gone, there are places where you can still retrace their footprints. Besalú is one of them: here you can visit the medieval Jewish baths – mikhva, and stroll around peaceful ancient alleys.
But everyone’s favorite moment is crossing the impressive Romanesque bridge over the local river. It’s so scenic it was one of the options to become the setting for Highgarden during GOT season 6. Unfortunately, another location was finally chosen. BTW, Besalu and Girona can be easily visited on the same day if you have a car.
Castles were key for the protection of the land reclaimed to the moors in the middle ages. Any hilltop with good visibility over the surrounding area was a strategic opportunity to keep an eye over the enemy’s movements. And often they offered protection to the rural population, who paid tithes to the local lord, established in the castle.
That’s the case of the Castle of Suria, located at the top of a hill and surrounded by medieval streets. The main town moved towards the valley at its foot as the land became safer. A quick ride from Suria will take you to Cardona, with an even more impressive castle on top of a mountain. But while the castle of Cardona is quite breathtaking, in my opinion a stroll around the streets of Old Suria connect you better with the past.
When castles weren’t around, then monasteries took the role of keeping the lands safe from the enemy. The Cistercian order was in charge of 3 spectacular monasteries in the province of Tarragona. The monks had strong relationships with the Catalan Royalty, who often chose Cistercian monasteries as their royal burial places.
Montblanc is the largest town in the area, and it was also often visited by the Catalan monarchs as well, who even organized Court assemblies there. The medieval walls of Montblanc count among the longest medieval walls in Spain. Did you know Catalans believe that Saint George killed the dragon precisely in Montblanc?
AND BONUS! Are there any medieval Barcelona villages by the sea?
Tossa de Mar
Are there any Costa Brava medieval villages? Actually, many coastal villages in Costa Brava do have medieval (or even more ancient) origins. But their look is usually more that of a fishing village than a medieval hamlet. An exception is the tiny Sant Martí d’Empúries – eclipsed by the Roman and Greek ruins next to it.
But closer to Barcelona there’s the more scenic Tossa de Mar. It’s the only walled beach town in Catalonia! The hill where the walled old town is located towers over a small bay, now a favorite local beach resort. The climb to the top of the hill is steep and will make you sweat – specially if you visit in the Summer. But the views from there and the walk down the cobblestoned alleys are so worth it. BTW, this is one of the destinations we visit in our Costa Brava Tours, and can also be done in combination with Girona.
Contact us if you need help exploring the best Catalonia medieval villages!
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