Photo by Andrea Moreno
The lake in Puigcerdà
Why wait for snow to enjoy the Pyrenees? Right now it’s all about crisp, blue skies, leaves crunching underfoot and a hot chocolate should things get nippy. Autumn is a wonderful time to beat a retreat to the hills and these friendly towns all make a great weekend destination. Steeped in culture and history and nestling in the mountains, you can just enjoy the towns themselves or take off for some nearby hiking.
Located on the river Ter in the province of Girona, Ripoll was a focal point of culture and industry between the ninth and 19th centuries. It’s considered to be the spiritual home of Guifré el Pilós (Wilfred the Hairy), Count of Barcelona and founder of the nation in the ninth century when he conquered Ripoll, freeing it from Moorish domination. He founded the town’s Romanesque-style Benedictine monastery, Santa Maria de Ripoll. Some of the original structure is still apparent, in particular the Romanesque portico, but most of the monastery and cloisters were rebuilt in the 19th century.
In the Middle Ages, due to the abundance of iron ore and coal in the region plus the water supply from the river Ter, Ripoll developed a booming metal industry that was a powerhouse until the early 19th century when French invasions destroyed the foundries. All that’s left now of the metal industry is the lovely Ruta del Ferro, a gentle 12-kilometre cycling route that forms part of the Vias Verdes, former train tracks around Catalunya that have been converted into traffic-free routes for cyclists and and walkers (www.viasverdes.com). It begins just outside Ripoll.
Museu Etnogràfic de Ripoll: www.museuderipoll.org
This museum re-opened two years ago after 10 years of closure and last year won the national Catalan culture award. It combines history and anthropology, showing how people in the area used to live. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 1.30pm and 4 to 6pm; Sunday, 10am to 2pm.
Saturday morning market: this weekly market sells mostly fruit and vegetables but also other food products and some clothes.
Getting there: you can get to Ripoll by train directly from Barcelona Sants station. On weekdays, there are up to two trains per hour and less at weekends. The journey takes approximately two hours.
The capital of the Cerdanya comarca (county) lies just two kilometres from the border with France, near the river Segre. It stands on a hill and overlooks the surrounding valley, giving it spectacular views across to the craggy peaks of the Pyrenees. The town was founded in 1178 by King Alfonso I of Aragón, then Count of Barcelona. Unfortunately, very little of its early history remains as it was bombed heavily during the Civil War, as punishment for its staunch Republican support. On the main square you’ll see the Torre de Campanar, a 12th-century Romanesque belltower, all that remains of the town church. Behind the square is the Old Hospital, one of the town’s oldest buildings, dating back to the early 12th century, although it has lost most of its original Romanesque and Gothic features.
However, Puigcerdà is blessed with much natural beauty and is surrounded by hills and farmlands. At the northern end of the town is the quiet oasis of the man-made lake and Schierbeck park, both built by a Danish businessman, German Schierbeck, who fell in love with the area and settled in Puigcerdà. He was very involved in town planning and donated some of his own land to the town.
If you come by car and have a little time on your hands take a trip to Bellver de Cerdanya, a lovely little town between Puigcerdá and Alp which was founded in the 13th century as a fortified town. The Picot Negre restaurant on Cami Rai, 1 makes for an enjoyable lunch stop with good unpretentious, Catalan food and friendly service.
Sunday market: with clothes, fruit, vegetables and local products.
Getting there: direct trains leave from Barcelona Sants and take just under three hours.
Camprodon is a busy little town of just over 2,000 inhabitants in the comarca of Ripollés. It was founded in 1118 with the construction of the Sant Pere monastery near the centre of today’s town. The impressive monastic church still stands—a simple Romanesque building in the form of a cross and with an elegant belltower. The inside reflects the exterior austerity with thick columns and bare walls.
A river winds gently through the centre of town providing plenty of idyllic spots to watch the ducks and enjoy this town’s easy-going nature. At its widest point, the river is crossed by El Pont Nou, an arched bridge that has been declared a monument of national interest. Despite its name (The New Bridge), it was actually built at the end of the 12th century, although it has undergone several restorations since then. Many people will be unwittingly familiar with this bridge as it features on the yellow biscuit tins and boxes of Galletas Birba, a Camprodon-made biscuit that is often stocked in supermarkets.
In the 19th century, Camprodon became a popular summer destination for wealthy city families who built their Modernista second homes on two of the town’s loveliest roads, the leafy cul-de-sac Passeig de Maristany and the Passeig de la Font Nou, which is a pedestrianised road that overlooks the river.
The town’s most famous son is composer and pianist Isaac Albéniz (1860—1909) and there is a foundation here in his name with a small museum that contains information about him, original manuscripts and personal belongings. www.albeniz.cat
If you’re making a weekend of it, the three-star Camprodon Hotel is located right in the centre of the town in Plaça Doctor Robert. The Modernista décor and old-fashioned feel of the place will take you back to when Camprodon was buzzing with rich Barceloneses.
Getting there: Camprodon is best reached by car, as there is no train station. However, there is a limited bus service from Barcelona (www.teisa-bus.com).
Nestling in the hills of Pallars Sobirà on the Noguera Pallars river is Sort, a town with only 2,100 inhabitants. The word sort is Catalan for ‘luck’ and this little town has become famous for being a truly lucky place to buy your lottery ticket. Thousands of people make an annual journey to Sort to buy their El Gordo (Christmas lottery) ticket from the town’s lottery shop La Bruixa d’Or (The Golden Witch), which claims to have a disproportionately high number of winners. Nowadays, you don’t actually have to make the journey there as you can also buy tickets online on the shop’s website. but if you are in the area, it still merits a stop-off.
The town’s old centre, a web of narrow streets and old houses, is built around the remains of the eighth-century Castle of Sort, which was the dwelling of the Counts of Pallars. You can still see a lot of the perimetre walls, Romanic towers and a Gothic façade. Most of the best-preserved remains of the castle date from the 11th and 12th centuries.
Sort is also well known for the rafting activities that take place in springtime on the Pallars Sobirà river.
Getting there: Sort is best reached by car although there is a limited bus service from Barcelona (www.alsa.es).