A short break to Catalonia, Spain:
Catalonia is a region of Spain that, other than from a couple of short city breaks to its capital Barcelona, has never been on my radar. Little did I know what I had been missing – read on and discover more of Catalonia with me!
I have recently returned from a very exciting trip where, along with several other influencers, I was discovering Catalonia from a new perspective. Each of us went on a very different journey, I was covering culture and lifestyle, something I am very passionate about, but what made this trip so unique was that the entire itinerary was a complete secret. I was lucky enough to be accompanied on my travels by the lovely and knowledgeable Eira who managed to keep up the element of surprise throughout my trip.
On my trip I have had some wonderful experiences; I have climbed mountains, seen some of the most spectacular and breathtaking views, ridden a horse along Good Man Trail, visited an ancient Romanesque monastery, had a gin cocktail master class, escaped from a derelict hostel in a terrifying Roomscape, tried my hand a master chef challenge, taken a sensory walk in the beautiful forest, visited a Industrial Colony, witnessed a Human Tower, attended a Festa Major and watched a live band in the Medieval City of Vic, visited Museu Episcopal De Vic, climbed the Bell Tower, flown over Barcelona in a helicopter and seeped up the wealth of cultural heritage in La Garriga, whilst regularly sampling some of the most delicious culinary delights of the region. Undoubtedly something for everyone!
Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain, It consists of four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona and Lleida, which are bordered by France and Andorra to the North and Aragon to the West and Valencia to the South. The official languages are Catalan and Spanish.
Catalonia is a country of contrast with a huge variety of different environments, it offers a whole year round destination with a Mediterranean climate, plus winter activities, including 16 ski resorts. It is famed for its wine and gastronomy, rich in culture plus has a host of festivals and lots of local events throughout the year. For adventurers, there are some incredible hiking routes, across 18 Parklands and 1 National Park, many of cycling paths, plus horse riding, climbing and Paragliding.
What most struck me about Catalonia was the extraordinary warmth of the people, no matter where I went I was cordially welcomed and regardless of my embarrassing lack Catalonian or Spanish language skills everyone I met made an enormous effort on my behalf. It is apparent that the Catalan people have a huge pride in their culture and community, which extends all over the region, and of course whilst I was there; they were in the middle of a campaign to vote for independence, which was very visible, everywhere I went. I made a point of talking to people about how they felt in the wake of current political events and it was clear that there is a dissatisfaction with the present political situation and that they feel that their rights and national identity are being eroded. Many of the Catalan people are looking for an alternative, but no one really knows what the outcome will be because of the Spanish government’s ruling that deems the vote illegal. It seems that the potential lack of choice to air their voices is fuelling the fire and the people want to be able to make their opinions heard, although it is clear that they are not conclusive and this is the beginning of a prolonged campaign.
La Garriga de Castelladral
My first night I stayed in the Bages region close to Manresa at La Garriga de Castelladral, an idyllic family-run boutique hotel, which is located at the very heart of Catalonia, only 90 km from Barcelona airport and 125 km from Girona airport, which makes it easily accessible. This charming sustainable hotel, which uses all organic materials and offers stunning views and a tranquil retreat where you can immerse yourself in country life and can reconnect to nature. They offer a variety of relaxing activities, including sensory walks in the forest, private yoga classes, there is a swimming pool, a spa which can be hired by the hour by families or couples, spa treatments and olive oil and wine tasting.
I arrived direct from city life and a day of travelling but I managed to unwind in moments of arriving in my beautiful room and the unspoiled peaceful surroundings at La Garriga, which provides a picturesque and blissful escape from the hubbub of daily life
On my first evening, I tried my hand at tasting olive oil and I took part in a Masterchef challenge, after a demonstration from the resident chef, coming second I might add.
Next morning after a fabulously healthy breakfast I went on the ‘Circuit Connection’, an enjoyable holistic experience in which you wear headphones and are guided through a walk in the surrounding forest, this allowed me a moment of contemplation and some time to ground myself before heading off on my busy tour of Catalonia.
The region of El Berguedà is situated in the foothills of the Catalan Pyrenees, which is made up mainly of tiny mountain villages and is a testament to the wide variety of landscapes to be found in Barcelona Province.
It is extraordinary that only a short journey from the thriving buzz of Barcelona City you are in such wild and unspoilt countryside, with some truly beautiful views and landscapes to discover. It’s definitely worth hiring a car to get around.
The capital of the region is Bergà, which has a population of 17,000. The only other major towns in the area are Gironella and Puigreig, both with populations of less than 5,000.
Vidal Colony Museum
My first port of call was the Cal Vidal, an industrial Colony in Puig-Reig – Berguedà. Opened by the Vidal family in 1901, one of 30 Industrial Colonies in the surrounding areas. This fascinating museum offers an extraordinary insight into how a community of textile workers lived and worked during the 1900’s.
The Cal Vidal closed in 1981 and is used today as a collective heritage museum, it is remarkable to think that people were living in communities like these less than 50 years ago.
We took a tour around the factory where you can see the looms in action and believe me, they made such a terrible racket! It is unimaginable to think of the detrimental effect this must have had on the hearing of the workers who were subjected to this horrific noise for at least 12 hours a day with no protection, apparently they developed a sign language to be able to communicate whilst working.
The houses sit in rows a short walk from the factory buildings, 130 flats provided basic accommodation, where at least 3 members of one family had to work at the factory to be able to work and live there, and a minimum of 6 people in each small flat. Life may have been hard but it wasn’t all doom and gloom, there was plenty of entertainment: a library, cafes, a theatre, a cinema, a choir and a football team. Plus of course a church, a school for boys and another for girls, the Woman’s Institute, a variety of shops and a bank.
There were some small allotments for families, communal showers and two laundries, one for the living and one for the dead as they thought if you washed the clothes of a dead person in the same place the illness would spread. Twelve people, who have lived here all their lives and didn’t want to leave, still remain in a few of the houses.
Cal Vidal is a wonderful place to absorb some of the rich history of the textile industry in the region.
Lunch at Emphasis
Emphasis is a restaurant and hotel with magnificent views over the mountains; it aims to provide a complete range of diet, leisure and personal growth options and is designed with the harmony of Feng-shui. The clean and simple decor provides a wonderful, peaceful location for travellers made all the more desirable because of the wonderful outlook.
Meals are cooked in the open plan kitchen and dining area where both local people, as well as travellers, gather. They provide simple, fresh Catalonian cuisine, with a buffet of tasty salads. In keeping with my Catalan adventure, I chose to try the traditional Catalonian sausage (Bortifarra) made with pork and spices, which was really delicious.
Emphasis Casserres C. de la Creu, 61 – Casserres – Tel. 93 822 59 07
The Good Men trail
The Good Man Trail, also known as Cathars Way is a pilgrimage route, which was taken by the Cathars in Medieval times when they exiled from France to Catalonia. The trail, which takes about 10 days on foot and crosses the Pyrenees and three countries, Spain, Andorra and France invite you to take a journey across time, a slow-paced trip, a journey to evoke the dramatic exile of the Catars, “The good men”.
The beautiful Bergà area would be a wonderful place to embark on the trail, which can also be taken on horseback.
Centre Eqüestre Vilformiu
Now I’m no adventurer in the true sense of the word, but having said that I don’t like a boring life and I’m always up for trying new things.
I haven’t ridden a horse since I was 8 years old, and even then it was a brief encounter, so to discover the next part of my trip involved riding a horse up the mountain following part of the Good Man Trail, initially filled me with fear.
But along with my companion Eira and the enormous experience and guidance of Bernard, who is known for his expertise in endurance horse riding at Hípica Vilaformiu, a riding school that is located up in the mountains, I took the bit between my teeth and mounted my horse in preparation for the ride. Having been told that horses sense your fear, I decided that it might be a good idea for me to make friends with my horse, who I had been assured was a steady and reliable steed.
We were taken up to the heady heights of the mountains, my horse carefully negotiating the mountain path, once we arrived at the top I looked out in awe at the breathtaking views overlooking the region, and my fears dissipated at once, they were truly worth overcoming.
So if you want to experience the Catalan mountains from another perspective, even if you have no riding experience like me, I can thoroughly recommend giving this a go.
For more information Hípica Vilaformiu
Overnight stay at Molí del Casó
My overnight accommodation and dinner was at Molí del Casó which is right in the valley very close to Bagà in Berguedà.
Run by a couple, one who was a successful chef, who moved away from the city life after a bout of ill health to set up an eco-friendly, sustainable hotel where they grow their all their own vegetables and herbs and make their own soaps and jams. It is aimed at providing hikers and local families with a totally organic experience, plus they welcome children who can participate in the nursery garden. We ate an excellent home cooked meal of several courses, all of which was wonderfully tasty and healthy with it.
Moli del Caso Barri Terradellas Vell, 10 – 08695 Bagà
Roomsscape, Hostal 83
The next morning we woke up to a heavy rainstorm which I am told is very unusual in Catalonia so our outdoor plans were a little scuppered. Little did I know what horrors were in store for me instead. We headed to Gironella where I was kept in suspense until we entered what was once an old youth hostel on the main street.
I have to admit I have never been in a Roomscape before but this was no ordinary Roomscape.Story has it that Hostal 83 was abandoned 50 years ago, and since then really strange things have happened, and all those who have entered have been trapped.
On arrival at the hostel, when the door slams behind you, you have 60 minutes to negotiate your way out or be trapped forevermore!
Using only your logic, strategy and intuition, without using physical force, you will have to find a way to escape, but with a terrifying ordeal into the bargain. Thankfully I was not alone in this experience but accompanied by Eira and Carlos. Together we escaped but not without a lot of teamwork, whilst clutching to each other in fear of what terrors we might encounter next.
This is not for the faint-hearted nor will it be everyone’s cup of tea, but amazingly I felt quite exhilarated by the whole experience and we laughed a lot in reflection, plus teamwork is always a good bonding experience.
Hostal 83 Av. De Catalunya, 83 – Gironella
Lunch at Destil·leria restaurant
Destil·leria restaurant is in a beautiful old distillery which is situated on the River Llobregat, which stretches all the way to Barcelona. There is a fabulous al-fresco seating area with a great view down the river and the spacious and stylish interior makes great use of the original natural materials of stone and wood.
We ate a selection of exceptionally good food, with some classic Catalonia dishes with a modern twist. This included -Tuna and rice – sushi style, a divinely fresh and creamy burrata, dry crisp bread pizza with crushed olives and jelly of orange and basil, juicy chicken skewers marinated in basil and lime, Squid with black ink and black rice. Delicious, or ‘mol bo’ as they say in Catalan! I really enjoyed both the food and atmosphere at Destil·leria, it’s well worth a visit.
Destil·leria restaurant – Av. de Catalunya, 14, 08680 Gironella
This was my last stop in the beautiful region of Berguedà before I moved on to new pastures.
Please follow part two where I will be continuing my wonderful journey through Catalonia.
Meanwhile, why not pin this post for later
For more about Catalonia check www.catalunya.com