Sunday, 17 September 2017

Aiguabella - a Taste of the Catalan Countryside

After 5 busy days in Barcelona it was time to take it down a notch and move somewhere quieter. It has to be said that there was still plenty for me to see and do in Barcelona, but the men in my family were growing a little tired of Gaudi and Modernista architecture. Is that possible?
We drove north to the Garrotxa county, an area known for the Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa, a huge natural park with many extinct volcanic cones. We had booked an apartment in Aiguabella, a beautiful manor house dating from the 13th century, set in the charming village of Sant Feliu de Pallerols. Aiguabella was built by local noblemen and each apartment is named after the house's 13th and 14th-century inhabitants. Our apartment was simply spectacular and we loved every minute of our stay there. The pictures above and below show the view we had from the apartment's windows, and look at the village itself. Just look at it!
The 8 nights we stayed in Aiguabella were meant to be for relaxing, swimming and generally unwinding, but honestly I am not very good at that! I relax when I am visiting unfamiliar and beautiful places. Each day we set out for somewhere new. We visited nearby Olot, the capital of the Garrotxa county, known for its natural landscape including four volcanoes scattered around the city centre. We climbed the steps up the Montsacopa volcano, which has a circular crater produced by an explosive strombolic eruption some 100,000 years ago. From the top we enjoyed the 360º panoramic views of Olot. The volcano also has a chapel on its top, built in 1817 and dedicated to Saint Francis, and two watchtowers surrounding the crater. Later that same day we walked around the medieval town of Santa Pau, built around a castle, with lovely views of the surrounding valleys.
Another day - the boys' absolute favourite day of the holiday - we drove to Ribes de Freser and took the rack railway up to La Vall de Núria in the Pyrenees. The railway climbs 12.5km over an incline of more than 1,000 metres through wild mountain scenery, and is the only way to access Núria's Valley. Stepping off the train, we were greeted with the most incredible views - and a sudden and unexpected heavy fall of rain and hail, which fortunately stopped just 10 minutes later! La Vall de Núria sits 3000 metres above sea level in a perfect little valley hidden from view, until the last moment, by the the mountains which completely surround it. In the centre of the valley is a hotel and exhibition centre, a picnic area, a lake and a small farm with animals. We soon left all this behind and set off on one of ten marked trails that climb above the valley. The words spectacular, stunning, awesome, breathtaking, beautiful and jaw-dropping spring to mind.
I knew that the Call Jueu or Jewish quarter and medieval centre of Girona was a must-see, so I booked a guided tour with Miquel at Girona Trips for our visit to the city. Girona was once home to a large Jewish community. Rabbi Moses ben Naḥman Girondi (better known as Nachmanides or Ramban) headed one of the most important Kabbalistic schools in Europe here, but in 1492 the Jews were expelled from Girona and Spain as a whole. Girona also happens to be the place where some scenes from the 6th season of Game of Thrones were filmed, and the men in my family are big Game of Thrones fans.
We met Miquel in front of the Basilica of Sant Feliu and were soon exploring the old town. We saw the Girona Cathedral, the old synagogues, the Aljama and the Jewish quarter, the archaeological gardens and old city walls, and more. We also discussed quite a bit of football! Afterwards I visited the Museum of Jewish History, a museum which allowed me a glimpse into Jewish life, both in Girona and in Spain. The tour was a great success.
We had been told that the Costa Brava is rugged and beautiful so set off for Tossa de Mar on the southerly part of the coast, to see it for ourselves. The craggy rocks with the teal-coloured Mediterranean glimmering below were indeed gorgeous, but the beaches were absolutely packed with tourists and the English menus in the restaurants were not our thing! We quickly made our escape to the next beach up the coast. Maybe one day in the future we will travel further north and enjoy the unspoilt stretches of coast up there.
Modest, the friendly owner of Aiguabella, suggested a drive into the hills to enjoy the incredible views of the Garrotxa region from La Salut Catholic Sanctuary, located at the height of 1,028 metres, and the Sanctuary at El Far, positioned on top of some spectacular cliffs and overlooking the Montdois Plain and the Susqueda reservoir.
And then it was our last full day. I can't say that I am the biggest Salvador Dalí fan, but I wanted to experience the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, his birthplace, for myself. The Dalí Museum is officially called the Dalí Theatre-Museum because it is a renovation and expansion of the town's old theatre which Dalí knew as a child, and which was almost destroyed by a fire during the Spanish Civil War. It holds the largest collection of major works by Dalí in a single location. In addition, a small selection of works by other artists collected by Dalí is housed there, and the second floor is dedicated to the work of his friend Antoni Pitxot, who became the director of the Dalí Museum after Dalí died. Mister Handmade in Israel and the boys even opted to join me on this visit and we spent a good couple of hours at the museum. I’m glad we saw it. There is little doubt that Dali was a very unique and thought-provoking creator. But am I now a fan of Dalí's work? Erm, no.
Our final stop, before it was time to pack our bags, was Besalú, a picturesque medieval town dating back to the 11th century. Famous for its impressive Romanesque bridge which, unusually, is not straight but follows more of an 'L' shape to take advantage of rock in the riverbed, Besalú is also well known for its mikveh, a ritual Jewish bath dating from the eleventh or twelfth century and thought to be one of only three left in Europe from that period. The mikveh anchors the remnants of the old Jewish quarter, as well as the remains of a medieval synagogue, located in the lower town near the river. The Jewish population of Besalú thrived until 1415, when the authorities sealed the Jewish quarter, according to a plaque at the site. Within 20 years no Jews remained in Besalú and, by the end of the century, the Spanish Inquisition was going strong and Jews and other "nonbelievers" were forcibly driven out of Catholic Spain.
The narrow cobblestone streets, restored medieval stone houses and small squares of Besalú were a treat. It was a great way to end our exploration of Catalonia. We loved La Garrotxa, the ever so slightly cooler weather, the chance to relax in a charming manor house, and also to delight in one or two good meals out (dinner at Casa de Curry was yum!). Yet again, though there is so much of the world I would like to see, I hope we'll be back someday.

20 comments:

Anne Stone Sweet said...

What an amazing holiday you have had, you are so lucky, I've loved looking through your photos and hearing the story of your journeys.
#mysundaysnap

Life Images by Jillw said...

We are going to visit Spain for the first time next year. Unfortunately it is going to be a somewhat lightening trip. I would prefer much more time and much more relaxing. So thank you for taking us to places I will be missing! Happy travels. I am visiting you this week from the All Seasons linky.

Mapping The Map said...

It seems that you managed to see a lot in the Girona province! I am from there so I can say that you chose a good destination. Nice place to relax and enjoy the nature. Besalú and the city of Girona are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

Miss Val's Creations said...

Wow! The photos are so stunning! We really need to commit ourselves to going over there. I love how you went from the city to the country on your trip. That is a perfect way to go. Cities are so exciting and fun but exhausting.

We just finished up the most recent season of Game of Thrones and I was thinking they must be filming in New Zealand. I am surprised some of it was filmed in this region. I did not realize the landscape was like this here. Gorgeous!

Villrose said...

Wonderful :) I am looking forwards to go to Spain (the mountain area) in a couple of weeks!

Rhonda Albom said...

I visited Costa Brava for an extended stay and traveled around Spain for several weeks. I missed this area (was is Zaragoza, Basque area of France, Gerona). It looks like you found some lovely spots.

Anonymous said...

A beautiful summary of all the places you visited! The Pyrenees - I can imagine that that was a highlight for your family! I forgot about Salvador Dali - we each have our favorite artists, but it's good to go beyond your comfort zone:)
Yeah, I'm similar - sit or lay a whole vacation on the beach would be utterly boring to me:)Thank you so much for sharing all of this with All Seasons! Have a great week (up to Rosh Hashanah)!

Tamar SB said...

So beautiful!

Neesie said...

Wow...how perfect it all looks and I didn't even have to get out of my chair.
Thank you so much for sharing your amazing collection of photograph.
Have a great week :D

Ruth Daly said...

What an interesting place to visit. You captured it really well in your photos!

NC Sue said...

Beautiful photos - marvelous!
Thank you for sharing at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2017/09/orchids-endless-variety.html

Soma @ whimsandfancies.com said...

I really enjoyed the photos and reading about your experience. What an amazing trip.

-Soma

Jan Robinson said...

I would love to do every single thing you describe in this post. We just love spain. I would very much like the rack train up to the Pyrennes!

bettyl-NZ said...

That's some amazing scenery and wonderful activities! What a great series of photos :)

Ruth Rieckehoff said...

Barcelona is not my favorite city but I would be happy to visit the Catalan countryside and coast. These areas look very interesting and beautiful. I imagine they are very different from the big city.

Debbie Roberts - Debs Random Writings said...

Hi Lisa, how beautiful is the Catalan countryside? I'm like you and feel quite relaxed and away from it all when exploring. Sitting around doing nothing would do my head in. I know everywhere is steeped in history, but I know very little about Spanish history and didn't realise that there was so much Jewish history there. The ride on the rack railway sounds like a ride and a half!

Thank you for linking up with the #MMBC.

xx

Jibber JabberUK said...

What a difference to Barcelona! I can't say I'm a fan of Dali either but it's still interesting to see the works of other artists.

restlessjo said...

I really don't understand people who don't get out and explore! Unless perhaps you have the kind of high pressure job that leaves you needing to be comatose :) Each to his own! The countryside looks fabulous in those first shots, Lisa. I loved Girona but would have welcomed a few more days to venture further.

Quinn said...

You certainly dove right in and did a LOT in a short time! The scenery looks fantastic. Even though cities have so much to offer culturally, even when I used to travel, for every day I spent in a city (even Paris!) I could happily spend two weeks in the country :)

Aritha said...

You photos are so nice! Thanks for sharing them. Always love to see architecture.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin