My journey through Catalonia continues to Osona….
Having left the charms of Berguedà behind me, I continued on my exciting journey through Catalonia where my entire itinerary was a complete unknown. In the hands of my guides, I became accustomed to arriving in new places with no idea what was in store for me…
It happened to be one of the rare occasions that Catalonia was experiencing a very rainy day in September. The climate in Catalonia is diverse; it boasts wonderful hot, dry summers with sea breezes by the coast, however, their winters are cooler and it frequently snows in the Pyrenees and fog is not uncommon in the valleys and plains.
My next stop was in the Osona region, it was pouring with rain, as we drove to the medieval town of Vic, but even with the grey skies and the heavens opening, I was captivated by the extraordinarily beautiful landscape which still looked enchanting as the clouds hung atmospherically over the mountains.
The historical town of Vic is set among the lush green hills of the Osona region, of which it is the capital; it is located 69km from Barcelona and 60km from Girona, on the banks of the Mercer River and in the vicinity of the Sau reservoir.
Vic is a scenic town that has a renowned university and a wealth of cultural buildings and religious heritage, it is also known as the city of saints. It has 40,000 inhabitants and it is well set up for cyclists, and it is remarkably easy to get around, it’s apparent that the residents have a huge pride in their hometown.
We took a tour with the protection of an umbrella, which is probably not the best way to see this magnificent city, but I was assured these weather conditions were very unusual and no matter what the weather, I wasn’t going to let it spoil my pleasure.
The majority of Catalans, like most other people in Spain, are Roman Catholic. However, the role of religion has decreased in the lives of many people in the region. This is due to the industrialization and modernization of Catalonia, as well as to outside cultural influences. Most Catalans mark major events such as baptism and marriage with the appropriate religious ritual. However, many are not regular churchgoers.
St Peter’s Cathedral
I visited the Catedral de San Pedro Apóstol, which is a magnificent neoclassical building, with a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic and Neoclassical architecture. It includes a 14th-century cloister and the alabaster altarpiece by Pere Oller, and the chapel from the baroque period, which was dedicated to Sant Bernat Calbó, is a highlight. There is a superb mural decoration in the nave by Josep M. Sert which offers enormous artistic value to the ones visit. I was particularly struck the lovely sense of light, which filled me with a real humbling sense of serenity during my visit.
The Bell Tower
We climbed to the top the town’s statuesque Bell Tower that has 200 steps and is the highest Romanesque bell tower in Catalonia. It’s a great place to view the town from every angle and see the beautiful sea of soft hues of the red and yellow brick buildings, which spread across the town.
Museum Episcopal de Vic 2002 – MEV
The museum Episcopal de Vic is considered one of the most important museums in Catalonia; it contains some of the best collections of medieval art not only in Europe but also from all around the world. It was founded in 1891 and has been housed in various venues in the city. Its current contemporary home officially opened in 2002 and was designed by the architects Federico Correa and Alfonso Milà with made-to-measure spaces for each collection. We were taken on an informative tour to see some of its truly outstanding Gothic and Romanesque sculpture and painting collections, some of which I took great pleasure in.
It also houses some of Catalonia’s finest collections, which are devoted to archaeology, textiles and liturgical garments, wrought ironwork, and gold and silversmithing.
Vic is famous for its splendid Market Square known in Catalonia as The Mecadal or Plaça Major. Markets have been held in Vic’s town square since the 9th century, before any building had begun and when it was just a field. The lively markets are now held now every Tuesday and Saturday, and people come from across the county and beyond to shop for their wares. You can still find stalls selling local produce, flowers, crafts and poultry along with others selling clothes and accessories.
Vic has a thriving tourist industry as well as being known for leather goods, cured pork sausage and Pan de Pessic, which is a typical, rather chewy sponge cake.
I particularly enjoyed walking around the ancient quarter, in the market square and the surrounding cobbled streets. The buildings are very elegant and have a distinct Catalonian style, which I was coming to admire, had I had more time I would have liked to explored further. Vic provides a great alternative destination to one of the bigger cities for a short break.
Dinner at Cala Teresona
Dinner in Vic was a stones throw from Plaça Major at Ca la Teresona, recognised as the delicatessen of Vic, it was founded in 1837 and has been run by six generations of artisans; you can see their family portraits hung in pride along the walls.
We met with owner Santi who showed us around the shop and restaurant and explained how they started out as a delicatessen, but have had to adapt to the changing times by opening a restaurant upstairs and also running workshops in the art of sausage making, which is their specialty. Santi told us that it is still very much a family business, producing only for their own shop with the aim to provide high quality and variety of product. There is an impressive display of every kind of cured sausage you can imagine, so if you’re a meat lover, and you are visiting Vic, Cala Teresona should definitely be on your to do list and I’m sure you’ll be delighted to be able to take home a delicious Catalonian cured sausage.
The restaurant upstairs has a great view over the cobbled streets below. Dinner itself offered a fine array of different choices, we chose to start with a fabulous selection of cold meats, straight from the shop floor, I got rather a taste for one which is pale in colour and is made with egg. We also ate a delightful Tuna Carpaccio, and then I tried another Catalonian specialty recommended to me by my guide Eira – Canelone (Catelonian cannelloni ) – with minced meat filling and a delicious creamy, cheese sauce. I can imagine this must be the ultimate Catalan comfort food.
Cala Teresona www.calateresona.com – Carrer Argenters, 4, – Tel. 93 886 00 28
Festa Major plays a huge part in the social and cultural life of the Catalan people and is one of the great annual events in the Catalan calendar. Festa Major is a Catalan expression which translates to ‘big party’ and that’s exactly what these events are, local festivals in honour of the patron saints. The biggest Festa Major – La Merce is held in Barcelona but they also take place in the villages and towns all over Catalonia and run throughout the summer months from July through to September lasting for 3-4 days. The Festa Major in Vic takes place in early July, the main day of the festival is 5th July which is a local public holiday. It is held in honour of Sant Miquel dels Sants the city’s patron saint. The festivals offer a host of attractions and activities for everyone including concerts, magicians, tug of war, competitions and the famous human towers, which I will talk more about in part 3, as I was lucky enough to see one in action. There are also lots fire festivals up in the Pyrenees and festivities relating to fire and the summer solstice, where there are fire runs in which torches are lit and brought down form the mountains into the villages.
Música Viva Festival
During my visit to Vic, the Música Viva Festival was in full swing, held in Plaça Major, which provides a marvelous open air space for seeing a live band. This four-day event has been held in Vic since 1989. Music industry professionals from all over the world travel to the city to hear new music, attend forums, share expertise and buy or sell music, as well as drawing in the local people in their masses to come and enjoy the music and dance the night away.
After finishing our delicious dinner at Cala Teresona, we took a stroll down to the square, the rain had cleared and the crowds were spilling in to see acclaimed Catalonian singer/songwriter Ramon Mirabet and his large talented band of musicians playing trombone, double bass, keyboards, violin, drums and guitar. Eira was a true fan, so along with the crowd, we enjoyed the dulcet tones of this captivating artist; I have to say that his spirited and uplifting music was right up my street.
For more information about Vic check their website.
Overnight stay at Parador de Vic Hotel
After a long day I was delighted to arrive at the Parador de Vic hotel, which is located in one of the loveliest parts of the Osona district, and only 62km from Barcelona. It boasts a magnificent view with the Guillerias Mountains in the distance the Sau Reservoir at its feet. The Parador reflects the traditional style of a Catalan County house style; in fact all the Parador hotels are housed in historic buildings.
I was only too pleased to put my feet up in the tranquility of my elegant room, which was spacious and divinely comfortable and had a balcony with a superb view looking straight out over the exceptionally beautiful landscape and the inviting looking hotel pool.
After good nights sleep, we ate a hearty breakfast from the plentiful choice and set off on our travels again.
Parador de Vic
www.parador.es/es/paradores/parador-de-vic-sau Tel. 93 812 23 23
Monestir de Santander Pete de Casserres
Next morning the rain had cleared and the blues skies were slowly returning which made the wonderful walk to the monastery of Sant Pere de Casserres all the more beautiful, the views of the surrounding landscape are quite stunning.
Sant Pere de Casserres is the only Benedictine order in Osona located in the Masies de Roda. It is and one of the most important monumental groups of Catalan Romanesque architecture and gives a fascinating insight into the monastic life of the 11th century. Founded by Engúncia of Osona-Cardona in 1053. It suffered a series of small earthquakes in the 1500’s and was almost abandoned entirely in the 12th century after it became increasingly poor. It was painstakingly rebuilt in the 90’s and was declared a Bien de Interés Cultural landmark in 1931.
We were given a guided tour which enriched the legend, I got a real sense of life in the monastery all those many years ago; it houses a permanent exhibition where the life of the monks in Casserres is interpreted, through the recreation of the rooms that have preserved the same layout over the centuries. It only ever housed a maximum of 12 monks at one time, but it later it became a priory when they struggled to keep up the numbers.
The Cloister was built in the second half of 11th century, with porches with columns and a row of columns at the corners, it acts as the brain of the building, which leads to all the other areas. Life for the monks at Casserres was very simple and sedate; a visit to this impressive monastery offers a great insight into history, and a chance to experience the remarkable scenery with an unforgettable walk into the bargain.
Open every day (except Mondays)
Le Guilleries Savassona Natural Area and the Sau Reservoir
One of the highlights of my trip has to be the off road tour we took with Gerrard from Anigami Experiences, a lovely man with a wealth of knowledge and experience who has a true passion for the earth and the environment he has grown up in.
Les Guilleries Savassona Natural Area occupies an area of 8,300 hectares in the eastern region of Osona, in Central Catalonia. It’s name means “land of foxes” due to its high density of carnivores that used to inhabit the area.
We set off in a large 4 wheel drive fully equipped to drive up the steep mountain paths. We drove up to the highest point where we were able to look out over one of the most dramatic and breathtaking landscapes I have ever seen, I was quite overwhelmed by the enormity of magnificent mountains which are part of the Collsacabra region, the natural park and the Sau Reservoir that stretches below. I was quite affected by the magnitude of my surroundings and I enjoyed having a moment to experience feeling so close to nature and breath in the pure fresh mountain air.
The Sau Reservoir has quite a story behind it. In the 1960s, Franco’s government made the choice to create a reservoir on the site of San Romà de Sau, a village that had been inhabited for a millennium. Forced to leave their town, the people made their best effort to take their valuables, and even exhume their dead before the man-made flood. And now when the water levels are low you can see the bell tower of the Sant Romà de Sau Hermitage eerily rising above its waters.
Walking around in this astonishing environment, you can see plentiful wild lavender and rosemary growing, which thrive in the mountain’s arid climate. And down below is a sea of greenery and unspoiled land. We visited a viewpoint called ‘The Servant’s Jump’ which legend has it, that a servant jumped to her death in despair of her illicit love affair with her master, but was caught and saved in the trees below by her vast petticoats and went on to run away and live happily ever after with her lover. I love a happy ending!
Whilst taking in the spectacular views at the top of this very high mountain area, a cyclist arrived looking very invigorated, clearly there is the opportunity for a very fit and keen cyclist to ride up this mountain path and witness the magnificent views along with lazier folk like myself.
If you were in the Osona region I would thoroughly recommend taking a tour or a trip to this wonderful area, whether you’re a hiker, a cyclist or an average tourist like myself.
4WD tour & easy trekking- Anigami Experiences
Lunch at Fussimanya
Ravenous from the mountain air we arrived at Fussimanya, which is a traditional Catalonian restaurant up in the mountains. The weather was glorious and people were sitting outside plus the restaurant inside was full with local families and weekend celebrations in full flow. On arrival a lovely lady greeted me affectionately in true Catalan style.
Eira, who has grown up in this area of Catalonia told me how she would come here with her family on special occasions and you can see why, as it has a fabulous atmosphere, oozes Catalonian rustic charm and the food was wonderful.
The gastronomy of Catalonia is rich and varied. Principally it boasts a Mediterranean diet of fish and seafood, olives and olive oil, rice and pasta but it is also know for its veal and cured pork sausage.
We started with one of my favourite Catalan dishes – Pa Amb Tomáquet – simple rustic bread rubbed with tomato pulp and dressed with sea salt and lashings of olive oil, delicious! Catalans eat this with breakfast, lunch or dinner and is wonderfully easy to make at home, I know I’m going to try.
We were also brought a plate of traditional cured meats, which made the perfect accompaniment to the Pa Amb Tomáquet and a much appreciated cold beer.
Fo my main course I had the Moules Marinière, which were superbly cooked and just what I fancied after my rather meaty diet to date on this trip.
Leaving of course, just enough room for pudding, I had Crema Catalana – a traditional desert very similar to a creme brulee – rich, creamy and absolutely delicious!
We accompanied our meal with a local white wine that was served from a Porro – a glass wine decanter, which the Catalans have a tradition of pouring straight into their mouths. Eira demonstrated, although I didn’t try this out on this occasion, but on my last evening in Catalonia we all gave it a go… a messy business!
Restaurant Fussimanya Ctra. Parador, Km. 7, 08519 Tavèrnoles – 938 12 21 88
After lunch, we set off once more to a new region of Catalonia.
Please follow the last part of my trip to Catalonia in Part 3. And, if you are thinking of visiting Catalonia, why not pin this post for later
For more about Catalonia check www.catalunya.com