poppy seed flowers home
Only an hour from Barcelona, Alta Anoia is a complete reality change. It sits at the heart of Catalunya, nestled in rolling green hills, overlooked by immense white wind turbines. It’s easy to miss, as it is definitely off the beaten track, but it’s simple to find: carry on past Montserrat, along the N-II, until a wind farm becomes visible on the highest ridge. What lies beyond, up a winding valley road in the direction of Andorra, is Alta Anoia.
Unspoilt by mass anything, whether tourism, construction or consumerism, Alta Anoia represents a lost world, one that many of us may well have never known. Uneven, gentle hills, like a great free-hand canvas, best describes the terrain, dotted with stone clusters of medieval towns. A total of 12 municipal areas makes up the region, surrounding the central town of Calaf, situated some 750 metres (1,200 feet) above sea level. It has a transitional Mediterranean/continental climate, which makes it freezing in the winter and scorching in the summer.
Turning into the valley, along the C-1412, the magic of the region starts to sparkle into life, with the town of Copons. The view is idyllic, set between two mountain ranges. Five mills run along the River Anoia, some dating from as far back as the 12th century. Originally 14 in total, these mills were used for grinding flour, and later oil; many of them were still functional as late as the 19th century. Copons, with a population of 313 inhabitants, is also where Tot-Circ began. Founded in 1986, Tot-Circ is a small, nature-based circus which
offers children the opportunity to take part in workshops or watch shows on the terraced hillsides surrounding the town. Skills taught at the circus include stilt walking, juggling and monocycle or trapeze
riding. The company travels to different towns throughout Spain, but regularly returns home.
Venture deeper into Alta Anoia, passing by isolated masies (farmhouses) and sloping wheat fields. La Manresana, a castle tower, rises up out of a mass of trees in the distance. Dating from the 10th century, the tower was part of a defence network for Manresa County. Restored in 1982, the tower leads visitors up a winding 23-metre ascent to extraordinary views of the whole area.
Calaf is the capital of Alta Anoia, with some 3,400 residents. Apart from its notorious fogs, Calaf has another claim to fame—a weekly Saturday market with a long and colourful history, which gave rise
to the well-known Catalan expression ‘sembla el mercat de Calaf’ (it’s like Calaf Market), used to describe a noisy location. Local food produce, including hand-crafted cheeses, bread, honey and wine, as well as a top selection of fruit and vegetables can be purchased here. The local tourist office, situated in the main square, Plaça dels Arbres, offers guided visits round the market, for visitors who feel like indulging in local legends.
A granja, or farm school, for kids can be found in Seguers, further on from Calaf. Set in a 16th-century masía, the granja runs workshops for schoolchildren, with the aim of recreating rural existence via a personalised and natural approach. Different activities include making wool, mató and marmalade, baking bread and cakes or working in the vegetable garden. Most activities are for organised school groups, although individual families can contact the granja, or the Alta Anoia tourist office to find out when family-oriented weekend visits to the farm are scheduled. Similarly, those wanting to try out the pastoral life can live a day in the life of a shepherd with local resident Josep Maria, following in his footsteps as he herds his many sheep across the valleys of the Alta Anoia. For people interested in learning about the traditional methods of cheese-making, workshops are run in the medieval hill-top town of Segur.
A description of Alta Anoia would be incomplete without mentioning Pujalt, a historical town that sports an observatory and runs a series of astronomy workshops for groups and families. It is also the location of an Army Memorial, where a military training base for the 18th corps of the Republican Popular Army was situated during the Spanish Civil War. The base was used to train soldiers that had been wounded and withdrawn from the front. Visitors to the site today can walk through the air-raid shelters, visit a hut with bunks and latrine, walk amongst Swiss tents, climb the anti-aircraft defences, visit the bunker, trench and machine gun nests, military laundry and the site of 18 barracks. Individual guided visits can be arranged by
telephone, and general guided visits take place on Sundays and bank holidays at 11am. In the pipeline for Pujalt is the installation of three wind farms, representing an investment of m114 million, forecast to
provide clean energy for some 64,000 households. This project aims to build an information centre that will provide guided visits around the wind farm, as well as setting up biking and walking paths underneath the turbines.
For many, however, the star attraction of Alta Anoia is the landscape itself and the abundant bike paths and walking paths encircling the picturesque towns dotted across the green valleys. Sant Marti Sesgueioles, accessible by train, is a good point to start walking. Wander down from the station to the allotments and look for signs in the direction of La Guardia de la Pilosa. A circular walk of two to three hours will take you up, down and around, providing splendid views over the Pyrenees. Once back in the town of Sant Marti Sesguieoles, non-smoking restaurant Llanegues offers a scrumptious Sunday menu for €20 (€13 on Saturdays). For something slightly more up-market, travel by car up to the town of Conill, where La Pedra provides exquisite cuisine, if a little more expensive. Where possible, request dishes made with cigronets (little chickpeas), which is the hand-produced speciality crop of Alta Anoia.
If travelling by car, when leaving the area take the long way round to Igualada, via Les Maiens and across the hill range, in the direction of the wind turbines. The views are dramatic, and sunsets from here can be a memorable way to finish the day.
Alta Anoia Tourist Office
Ravalet 31, Els Prats del Rei; Tel. 93 868 0366
Tot Circ (information and bookings)
Tel. 93 809 0081; firstname.lastname@example.org
Calaf Tourist Office
Pl. dels Arbres, Calaf; Tel. 93 868 0833
Els Pastorets de Calaf
Tel. 93 868 0833/93 860 8512; www.calaf.cat
Tel. 651 508 887/656 625 233;
Josep Maria (shepherd excursions)
Tel. 93 809 2138/659 839 685
Cheese workshops, Segur
Tel. 93 868 0331
Pujalt Observatory, Ctra. De l’Astor
Tel. 93 869 8022; www.pujalt.net/observatori
Tel. 637 811 427/93 869 8072; www.exercitpopular.org
Wind Farm Pujalt, Ajuntament de Pujalt
Restaurant Llanegues, Ciutadella, Sant Marti Sesgueioles 14
Tel. 93 869 8236
Bar Quebec, Pati 6, Sant Marti Sesgueioles
Tel. 93 744 4250
Restaurant La Pedra, Ctra. Cervera, 3, Cornill
Tel. 93 868 0990
Trains to Calaf and Sant Marti Sesgueioles (BCN Sants): 8.06am, 3pm or 6.45pm
Trains from Calaf and Sant Marti Sesgueioles (BCN Sants): 10.09am, 5.09pm, 8.44pm