Culture, history and a special affinity for sausages, the small Catalan city of Vic makes for an excellent day trip from Barcelona by train or car, or a weekend visit to really capture the atmosphere. Sometimes written as Vich, it is the capital of Osona, a landlocked comarca (county) in central Catalunya, and is located on the banks of the river Mèder almost equidistant (approximately 70 kilometres or so) from Girona and Barcelona. A long and storied history has put Vic on the map, but it remains there, among other reasons, because of its long and fervent political history and the mythical status of its sausage. Not many other cities in the world can hang their hat on that.
Founded by an Iberian tribe in the fourth century BC, Vic—then known as Ausa—eventually fell under Roman rule, before the Visigoths arrived and then the Saracens, until it was finally destroyed in 826. It rose from the ashes, due largely to the repopulation of the region and the founding of Osona under the auspices of Wilfred the Hairy in 878. All that remained was a part of the old Roman wall, which remains visible today in the city centre near the cathedral. Since then, life has been much kinder to the city, and it continued to thrive despite the often turbulent medieval era and periods of economic crisis brought on by successive wars. The construction of the railway in 1875 connected the city to Barcelona and helped to secure it as a popular tourist destination. It also hosted the roller hockey events during the 1992 Olympics.
These days Vic is looking more festive than usual. The central square is festooned with red and yellow flags that drape vertically from balconies and a jumbo electronic timer left over from the countdown to the recent elections. Catalans often claim Vic to be one of the strongest bastions of Catalan pride in the region. Recently, it was notably the birthplace of the Association of Municipalities for Independence (Associació de Municipis per la Independència), formed in 2011, as an organisation which aims to further the national rights of Catalunya and to promote the right to self-determination.
A walk through the enchanting old town feels positively quaint. Approaching the town centre from the station, visitors will come upon the Plaça Major—a wide open, unpaved space that hosts the bi-weekly farmers’ market, as well as its famous medieval fair (see right), which the city hosts each December. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the square is filled with vendors selling all sorts of meats, cheeses, vegetables, homemade jams, local honeys and fresh flowers. On other days, it is almost regal. The farmers’ market is a visible reminder of the important crossroads between urban and rural at which the town sits. Hug Vilamala, a pianist living in Barcelona and a Vic native, loves his hometown as it offers a “mix between the country and the city”, a balance hard to find in the urban enclave he now calls home. He also appreciates that the city centre, with its small streets, is much like an old Roman centre—the perfect place for a stroll.
For others, the town’s primary merit is its long history, and the architecture—a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Modernista—stands as testament to times gone by. With the market stands gone, the arcaded facades of the old buildings in the Plaça Major are marked with the vestiges of the city’s ancient past, including the pretty clock tower with its Moorish tiles and caged bells above. Like many others, the city was invaded in the second century by the Romans who left behind the remains of a temple. It lies right in the centre of the old city, on the same site as the 11th-century Castell dels Montcada. Only ruins now remain of the castle, which reveal the Roman temple located in the inner courtyard.
The town’s cathedral is situated in the heart of the old town, and the remains of Catalan artist Josep Maria Sert, whose murals grace the central nave, are buried in the cloister. The Catedral de Sant Pere also holds a bust of Jaume Balmes, the preeminent 19th-century philosopher from Vic, but the real draw is the 11th-century tower, which offers visitors a stunning 360-degree view of the city. The cathedral, however, is only one example of the city’s exceptional place in Catholic history. The city is known to many as the ‘saint’s town’ due to the plethora of churches in the area. Thus, it’s no surprise that the Episcopal Museum of Vic (Museo Episcopal de Vic) boasts a fantastic collection of Romanesque religious art, which includes gothic painting, sculpture and adornments.
A trip to Vic is not complete, however, without sampling the beloved local sausages, fuet and llonganissa, both products of the local pig farming tradition. It is simply what’s expected, and going home empty handed is not an option. There is also no shortage of excellent restaurants in town where you can try them. It is easy enough to grab a beer and a plate of fuet at a cafe, but if you have time, it’s a good idea to splurge on a full meal. Either way, there are plenty of shops where you can purchase some of these thin cured sausages to hang in the kitchen as a token reminder of your visit. When the last one disappears, it may be a sign that it’s just about time for another trip to Vic.
- Restaurant El Caliu. A traditional Catalan eatery specialising in grilled meats. Carrer de la Riera 13.
- Restaurant D.O. Vic. Catalan dishes with a modern twist. Sant Miquel dels Sants 16.
- Restaurant El Bohemi. Tapas and main courses as well as torrades and cocas. Plaça de la Pietat 8.
- Fussimanya. Classic country food in a rural setting that also sells homemade embotits (cured meat). Ctra. Parador, Km. 7, 08519 Tavèrnoles.
- Can Jubany. Three tasting menus starting at €65, which serve up innovative versions of classic dishes. Carretera de Sant Hilari, s/n, 08506 Calldetenes.
- Seminari Allotjaments. A large hotel with a contemporary look, housed in the old seminary just a short walk from the train station and the town centre. Ronda Francesc Camprodon 2.
- El Estació de Nord. Bright, modern, family-run hotel on the top floor of the train station. Plaça Estació 4.
- La Riera. A beautiful farmhouse in the countryside very close to the city. La Guixa.
- Mas La Miranda. A large farmhouse priced for groups. Camí Antic de Muntanyola s/n, La Guixa.
Mercat Medieval de Vic
Medieval fairs are a popular highlight in the calendars of many towns in Spain and France, and there’s no better one to visit than the one in Vic. Each year in early December, the city transforms into a medieval village for four days of music, dance, theatre, food and fun, and with around 100,000 visitors, this is one of the most important events in the city. Known as the Mercat Medieval, the festival takes visitors back to the medieval period with musical parades, costumes and street theatre, accompanied by over 300 stalls selling food and handcrafted products, many of which are locally made. An exhibition of birds of prey, such as eagles, falcons, vultures and owls, is always a popular draw. Last year, a new play was introduced to the festival’s agenda—l’Assalt de l’Altarriba. Performed in eight locations throughout the city, the play is based on historical events that took place in Vic in the 15th century.
There are plenty of activities for children as well. In the Plaça dels Màrtirs, there are workshops on makeup and costumes, games, fighting knights, mule or pony rides and various children’s shows. If they tire of that, there are always jousting and archery competitions to watch.
Mercat Medieval de Vic. December 5-8th. 10am-8pm.