Image courtesy Patronat de Turisme de la Cerdanya
Bellver de Cerdanya
La Cerdanya is a Pyrenean comarca in northern Catalunya. There are actually two parts to Cerdanya, a result of its division between Spain and France as part of the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees. The northern part, Alt Cerdanya, belongs to France, whereas the southern part, La Cerdanya (also known as the Baix Cerdanya), is Spanish territory. It is bordered by the Catalan comarques of Alt Urgell to the west, Solsonès and Berguedà to the south and Ripollès to the east. To cause further confusion, La Cerdanya is itself divided between the provinces of Girona and Lleida.
The landscape is typically Pyrenean, with deep valleys carved out by the area’s many rivers, such as El Segre and La Llosa. Lakes are surrounded by pine trees and overlooked by snowcapped peaks, which in the north reach heights of nearly 3,000 metres, like Tossa Plana de Lles (2,916 metres). Further south, La Cerdanya spreads into the Parc Natural del Cadí-Moixeró with its steep cliffs and the Massís de Pedraforca, an important peak of notable geological value. The park is home to some 1,500 species of plants and trees as well as hundreds of species of wildlife, including amphibians, birds and even wolves.
Humans have inhabited La Cerdanya for thousands of years and remains from the distant past include megalithic tombs, dolmens and cave paintings. Gothic churches and Romanesque hermitages predominate in terms of religious architecture and traditional stone houses with wooden balconies can still be seen in many of the mountain villages.
An economy traditionally based on agriculture is now centred around tourism, particularly during the winter months when thousands flock to the slopes of the region’s ski resorts, which in turn have generated many satellite businesses, such as hotels.
Things to see
The comarcal capital Puigcerdà is situated in the north, a couple of kilometres from the French border. The town mixes the modern with the historic, with bustling shopping streets and many monuments from the past. Noteworthy religious buildings include the Església de Sant Domènec in the heart of the town, with its Gothic murals, and a 42-square-metre belltower, the Campanar de Santa Maria. The belltower stands eerily alone, the only remaining part of a 12th-century church of the same name, which was destroyed in 1936.
In the west is the Parc Shierbeck, home to a number of 19th-century summer houses that sit on the edge of the town’s man-made lake, l’Estany, which is over six centuries old and was originally intended to provide water for the irrigation of crops.
La Cerdanya’s capital until the 12th century was Llívia, an important town in Roman times and now a Spanish enclave, situated in a boomerang-shaped municipality a few kilometres over the French border. Spain managed to hold on to Llívia after the Treaty of the Pyrenees on the basis that it was a town, whereas it was all the villages in the area that became French territory.
Llívia’s hilltop castle was destroyed in the 15th century, by Louis XI’s troops and the ruins are now being excavated. The town has the feeling of a Pyrenean village, with its small cobbled stone streets, and has some interesting sites, such as the remains of the city walls and the 15th-century Torre de Bernat de So.
Llívia is also home to what is believed to be one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe, the family-run Farmàcia Esteva, which was in operation for over five centuries between the early 15th and 20th centuries. Today it is a museum that displays bottles, jars, tins and other artefacts related to the chemist’s trade, including prescription recipes, tools and beautiful old cabinets carved with intricate designs.
Bellver de Cerdanya, located in the centre of the comarca, is worth visiting for its Barri Antic, the Catalan Gothic church of Santa Maria i Sant Jaume, the partly arcaded 14th century Plaça Major and the Ponent and Llevant parks. Parts of the old town, destroyed during wars with France, are being restored in an attempt to recapture their medieval origins.
What to do
In the months of warm weather, the valley of La Cerdanya is ideal for hiking trips through the rich local landscapes. The Parc Natural del Cadí-Moixeró and Pyrenean peaks further north offer excellent opportunities for climbing and hiking. Active tourism company Turing Cerdanya organise a number of different activities around the region including trekking, climbing, potholing and orienteering.
However, if winter sports are more your thing, La Cerdanya is the place to head for the season, particularly the downhill ski resorts of La Molina and Masella in the south of the comarca. La Molina is Spain’s oldest ski resort and, together with Masella, makes up the area known as Alp 2500, the largest skiing zone in the Pyrenees, with 100-plus slopes spread across a skiable area of just over 100 kilometres. There are also three cross-country ski resorts: Lles and Arànser in the northwest (Lleida province), and Guils-Fontanera in the northeast (Girona province).
Another regional sporting institution with a long history is the Reial Club de Golf de Cerdanya (par 71) in Bolvir, open since 1929 and one of two 18-hole courses in the region. Golf Fontanals de Cerdanya (par 72) is a much more recent edition and was designed by prestigious course architect Ramon Espinosa. Both courses are surrounded by stunning landscapes.
Puigcerdà’s Poliesportiu Municipal has a good range of facilities including tennis courts, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and an ice rink for leisure skaters, which is also used for skating competitions and ice hockey games.
What to eat
Locally grown fruit and vegetables include peres (pears) from Puigcerdà, naps (turnips) from Talltendre and col d’hivern (cabbage). The popular local plate trinxat is the Catalan equivalent of ‘bubble and squeak’—fried mashed potatoes and cabbage. It is often served with thick slices of smoked bacon in the dish trinxat amb rosta. Other local products include embotits such as pa de fetge, llonganissa and bull, the cake coca de Cerdanya and Pyrenean cheeses.
When to go
Upcoming events this summer include the Festa de l’Estany in Puigcerdà, with a spectacular firework display over the lake and Llívia’s Festival de Música, which both take place in August. Early autumn is lovely in the mountains with cool, fresh air.
Where to stay
With such a thriving winter sports industry, the region has an array of places to stay around the main ski resorts including mountain chalets, hostels and hotels, some of which are open all year round while others open only in the summer. Puigcerdà, Bellver de Cerdanya and Llívia all have a few hotels (up to three star), pensions and rural tourism establishments close by. In Puigcerdà, for example, the Hotel del Lago is situated minutes from l’Estany and has a heated indoor pool and Jacuzzi for the winter, and an outdoor summer pool. Camping is a popular accommodation option and campsites can be found near even some of the smallest villages, such as Prullans.
Hotel del Lago—Tel. 972 88 10 00, www.hotellago.com
Oficina Comarcal de Turisme de la Cerdanya—Tel. 972 14 06 65, www.cerdanya.org
Patronat Municipal de Turisme de Bellver—Tel. 973 51 02 29, www.bellver.org
Patronat Municipal de Turisme de Llívia—Tel. 972 89 60 11, www.llivia.org
Patronat Municipal de Turisme de Puigcerdà—Tel. 972 88 05 42, www.puigcerda.com
Poliesportui Municipal de Puigcerdà—Tel. 972 88 02 43
Turing Cerdanya—Tel. 972 88 06 02, www.cerdanyaturing.com