The Girona Pyrenees are located in the northeast of Catalonia and in addition to the varied landscapes, mountain peaks and magical valleys, there are important architectural and artistic monuments, buildings and remains, ancient towns and magnificent Jewish touches dating back to the Renaissance period. These are all part of the fascinating historical heritage of the Pyrenees.
Besalú – How the Jewish made their mark. The old village of Besalú is just half an hour’s drive from Girona, the capital of the province of the same name. As far back as the sixth century Besalú was settled by Celtic tribes. In the ninth century, a fort was built in its territory with the Latin name Bisoldonom, from which the name Besalú comes. From that time on the village was ruled by various peoples until the victory of the Spaniards over the army of the French Empire at Besalú in the 19th century during the Spanish War of Independence.
From the 9th century to the 13th century there was a large Jewish presence in Besalú, in fact a quarter of the village’s population was Jewish. During archaeological excavations carried out in 1964, a ritual bath (Mikve) from the 12th century was discovered, and next to it the remains of a synagogue. This is a very important archaeological relic. Up until now, only two edifications for purification ritual baths have been discovered in Spain.
When exploring this small medieval village you will not fail to notice a Romanesque bridge from the 12th century, built over the River Fluvià with a number of arches. This bridge had previously served as the gateway entrance, where a toll was collected from those who wished to enter the village. We recommend a wander through the alleyways and shops, and of course through the Jewish Quarter of Besalú.
More info: www.gotosefarad.com
The town of Santa Pau – Historic Heritage Site. The town of Santa Pau lies in the Garrotxa region. Approximately 81 per cent of its land is a volcanic area and even the town itself is surrounded by a number of dormant volcanoes. This is a town from the 13th century, seeped in history going back centuries, and all around you will feel its medieval heritage. In fact, the very existence of the old town walls will take you straight back to the atmosphere of the Middle Ages. Santa Pau is located near the town of Olot and as you come closer to the town before you will see rise up impressively in the distance the Castell De La Baronia De Santa Pau.
The town of Santa Pau is built centered on the castle, which was built in the 12th century, around the old town square – Placeta dels Valls. It is highly recommended to explore the charming narrow streets and the fascinating buildings, in all their architectural richness. From the main street of the town, called Sa Cot, you can reach a number of interesting medieval churches. Furthermore, if you continue walking along this street, you will come to the volcanic crater Santa Margarida, in the heart of which is an old church. Santa Pau was recognized as world historical heritage in 1971.
More info: www.santapau.cat
The Romanesque church of Santa Maria de Ripoll. The first church built in Catalonia is located in the village of Ripoll in the region of Ripollès, another county in the Girona Pyrenees. In fact, Ripoll itself is considered a noteworthy village in the history and identity of Catalonia. The church of Santa Maria de Ripoll was built as a monastery in the 9th century, with its visible Romanesque architectural style, and at the time served as the main religious centre of Catalonia.
In 1428 the church was damaged severely by an earthquake and massive reconstruction work had to be undertaken, which included new parts that were built in the Gothic style. In addition, the church was used as a centre of learning, thanks to the great library that was here. It was officially inaugurated as a church in 1896. The portal of the church, built in the 12th century is very inspiring with its sculpted reliefs depicting biblical scenes. Enter the church and pass through the different aisles to the main stage. The beautiful green gardens within the church are also worth a look.
More info: address: Plaza de l’Abat Oliba s / n 17500 Ripoll. Website: www.visitaripoll.com
The Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes – The place and the legend. Sant Pere de Rodes is a monastery built in the 10th century in the Porte de la Selva (El Port de la Selva) area on Mount Verdera, about 250 meters above sea level. The monastery was founded by monks of the Benedictine Order and was declared a national culture site, due to it being the best example of Romanesque architecture in Girona. To this day, neither the origin of the monastery nor the reasons for its construction are known. According to legend, Christians arrived in the Gulf of Llançà along with other martyrs, seeking refuge as they fled from barbarian tribes that had invaded the empire. After the danger had passed, Pope Bonifaci the fourth ordered them to build a monastery there. Several years later, huge walls and two towers were constructed for defence around this imposing monastery. Today, visitors of the monastery are sure to find it a wonderful and enriching experience and, of course, it offers a beautiful view of the Gulf of Llançà and the National Park of Cap de Creus. This is one of the most important and popular attractions in the area.
More info: Address: Camí del Monestir, s/n, 17489 El Port de la Selva, Girona
The Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes. Copyright PTCBPG
The bridge of Besalú. Copyright GotoSefarad.com
The Romanesque church of Santa Maria de Ripoll. Copyright PTCBPG
Beget – architecture, heritage and medieval history. The tiny town of Beget, located in the valley of Camprodon, was recognized in 1983 as an historical heritage site. The church of Sant Cristòfol is located in Beget – remains from the 10th century and the Romanesque period. Inside the church there is a carved wooden statue of Christ, almost three meters in height, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful in all of Catalonia. The church itself has been recognized as national heritage since 1931.
Aside from the historic and important church, the town of Beget has other fascinating architectural qualities that have been preserved over the years, such as stone houses with heavy wooden doors that can be found around the church. In addition, the town also boasts beautiful views of the landscapes around it, fruit of its location at the confluence of the River Beget, at the bottom of the Camprodon valley. Without doubt, a stroll through the charming alleyways of the town will make you feel like you have gone back in time to the Middle Ages. Please note that you cannot enter the town by car.
The ancient monastery El Carme – the peak of the Renaissance. The old monastery of El Carme was built in 1565 in the village of Olot in the Garrotxa county. The monastery was designed by the architect Llàtzer Cisterna and also has a church. There is no doubt that the monastery itself is the paramount architectural structure in Olot and one of the most important monuments of the Renaissance period in Catalonia. The building itself has two floors and inside you can appreciate the arches around the central courtyard. While exploring the village of Olot, you will notice this construction standing out for its orange and yellow painted facade. Inside you can admire the church, and of course do not forget to explore the inner courtyard of the building. The village of Olot is just an hour and a half drive from Barcelona and is known as an area covered with dormant volcanoes.
More info: Address: C. Pare Antoni Soler, 1-3 17800 Olot
“Call” in Girona – The Heart of the Jewish heritage and community. The village of Girona is known as the birthplace and residence of the Ramban and to this day has one of the most important Jewish quarters in Catalonia. The Jewish touch is definitely felt in every corner of the quarter, where the Jewish Museum is located. The museum displays the history of the Jewish communities in Catalonia, with explanations and illustrations of the Jewish community’s life in Girona. Furthermore, the museum complex has classrooms and at the end of the museum tour we recommend you go down to the patio where you are sure to notice a giant Star of David embedded in the floor.
The Jewish Quarter is called the “Call”, from the Hebrew word “public” and is undoubtedly one of the most important quarters of Girona city. Wandering the alleys of the Quarter will give you a glimpse into the life in the Middle Ages, during which a large, meaningful and glorious Jewish community was present here. During your wander, take in the old street – Carrer de la Força, which was central and important at the time, and around which the rest of the Quarter was built.
More info: www.gotosefarad.com
Along with visiting these amazing historical sites you can enjoy hiking through spectacular natural parks, surround yourself with snow capped peaks and volcanic landscapes. This area also offers exquisite dining with a variety of restaurants that follow traditional recipes using products grown in the region. The spring and autumn seasons are quite a site in this area, covering the landscape with beautiful flowers or hues of autumn. Winter, of course, is a great time to come skiing in this area, which offers top ski resorts along with other mountain and adventure sports. Summer is also a great time to visit this area with the enchanting beaches of the Costa Brava.
How to get there
Bus: Daily bus services from Barcelona and Girona take you to the different villages in the Pyrenees. The bus company is Teisa. Consult the site for the timetable.
From Barcelona to Besalú: The bus stop is on C/Pau Claris 117. The fare from Barcelona is € 15.40 and the journey takes an hour and fourty minutes.
From Girona to Besalú: The fare from Girona is € 4.10 and the journey takes 50 minutes.
Train: There are no trains to the Garrotxa region. It is possible to take a train to Ripoll or Girona and then a bus to the rest of the villages.
From Barcelona to Girona: Daily trains leave the Barcelona-Sants train station to Girona. The fast train (AVE) takes fourty minutes and the fare is €16.20. Check the timetable at Renfe.
Car: From Barcelona to Besalú: Leave Barcelona via the C-31 following the signs to Girona, exiting on the E-15/AP-7 highway. Get off at the C-66 (direction Olot) until you reach Besalú. It’s an hour and a half to two hour drive and the highway toll is €9.75.
From Girona to Besalú: Leave Girona via the N2-a and then take the C-66 (direction Olot, Banyoles) until you reach Besalú. It is a fourty minute drive.
Information about the Garrotxa region
Official site of the Girona Pyrenees
The Jewish heritage of Besalú
The village of Santa Pau
Things to do in the Camprodon Valley
Distance calculator and driving direction
Tourist information points
Where to sleep
The Girona Pyrenees offer an array of accommodation options, from five star spa and ski resorts to homely rural houses and camping sites.
Our personal recommendations:
Mas Garganta Lodge in Vall d’en Bas
Casa Cundaro Apartments located in the heart of the Jewish Call of Girona.
The Can Jordi restaurant in Espinavell offers great accommodations.
Hotel Resguard dels Vents In Ribes de Freser.
Cal Calsot and the Cerdanya Resort & Wellness Spa in the Cerdanya region.
Check the links to the websites for fees and more information.
Where to eat
In the city of Girona:
Indigo tapas bar
Volcanic Cuisine in the Garrotxa area:
Quinta Justa restaurant in the village of Olot.
Can Guix Restaurant is located in the centre of the village of Olot. Address: Mulleras, 3, 17800 Olot