Photo by Regina W. Bryan
Santa Coloma de Farners
Mare de Déu de Farners monastery
Driving from Barcelona’s every-man-for-himself traffic into the drowsy La Selva region of the Catalan countryside is always a marvellous experience. And for a nearby escape from the Barcelona bustle, La Selva’s capital, Santa Coloma de Farners offers relaxation, hiking, spas, history and some sweet surprises.
Situated between leafy-green natural parks and swells of forested mountains, Santa Coloma is built over an abundance of natural springs. Just at the edge of town, Sant Salvador Park is a great place to go for a drink of the plentiful spring water. Streaked with dallying streams and an occasional picnic table, the park is a pleasant place to have lunch after downing a few glasses of ice-cold water. People from neighbouring towns, and even from Barcelona, come to the park loaded with large plastic water jugs, which they fill at the park’s aquifer. The water shoots out of a mammoth rock ready to drink: delicious and completely free of charge.
A couple of kilometres before Sant Salvador, a dirt road leads to a one-lane bridge, followed by lines of sculpted trees, gushy fountains and the tip of a white roof that peaks out from behind it all. The majestic Termes Orion balneari (spa) seems to gleam against its verdant backdrop, the Guilleries mountains. This old spa sits on top of medicinal thermal springs with mineral rich waters, believed to increase circulation and aid relaxation. Constructed in 1860, Orion’s classical structure holds court over plentiful gardens and freshly mown laws; its tall sculpted columns and wrap-around porch accentuate its comfort and peacefulness.
The spa’s healing waters were discovered around 1700 by farmers harvesting cáñamo (hemp) in the area. The spa was constructed 160 years later; the therapy system worked by cooling the 42-degree hot spring water and then piping this into individual pools for ailing guests, most of whom came from Barcelona. With such a long history, Orion has seen its good years and bad. From 1936 to 1939, Termes Orion was taken over by the Republic during the Civil War, and used as a hospital for wounded soldiers. It is said that soldiers with amputated limbs were immersed in the thermal pools, which aided in a speedier recovery.
When Domingo Campeny bought Termes Orion for sentimental reasons in 1978, the historic spa had been closed and in ruins for years. As a boy, Campeny had played in the vast gardens surrounding Orion, as his father was the grounds’ gardener. After Campeny purchased the spa, he made it his goal to restore the building and improve the springs. He has re-vamped the extensive grounds and created a bamboo-lined thermal pool surrounded by walls of windows to replace the old, outdated soaking baths of the 1800s. Though historically the balneari focused only on thermal spring water treatments, a new age demand for stress release has prompted Termes Orion to add massage, pedicures, facials and speciality bathing, ranging from hydrating milk soaks to antioxidant purple grape baths.
Not even a kilometre from Termes Orion is another spa with a new building and a family focus. Magma Spa resembles a low-key water park, with multiple indoor and outdoor pools, fountains, jets and a designated pool for kids. Both spas use the same thermal spring source, but Magma’s pools are treated while Orion’s one small pool is not. They can both be easily visited on a day-trip.
Too much spa time and thermal soaking and one’s skin begins to resemble a prune; that’s when it’s time to get out of the pool and head to Santa Coloma’s mountains to visit Farner’s Castle (12th century) and the Mare de Déu de Farners monastery (11th century). It’s a short drive from the centre of town up a dusty road that bids one to keep the car in first gear and just take it easy. Visitors arrive first at the monastery in a quiet wooded area. Mare de Déu de Farners is not very well-known, so visitors may find themselves completely alone and free to explore the monastery and the surrounding area.
From Mare de Déu de Farners, follow the footpath up a stone staircase to the castle, and stop to admire the carved cork trees scattered through the forest. Inside the castle are some new iron stairs; although they can be a difficult climb, it’s worth it as they lead to views of indigo mountains, neighbouring monasteries, and of course Santa Coloma, neat and tidy in the distance. For the more ambitious visitor, Farners castle also marks the beginning of a three-day hike that leads to 10 monasteries between the towns of L’Esparra and Anglès, as well as the castles and masies of Les Guilleries.
After seeing the outer reachers of Santa Coloma, it’s time to check out its sweeter side. Trias galetes (biscuits) is one of the town’s biggest industries and an important part of its history. Around 1900, entrepreneur Joaquim Trias and his brother had a business making biscuits from almonds, sugar and water. They were modelled after the no-spoil version of the English biscuit and were a hit. Sadly, the brothers had a falling out and decided to part ways, but both stayed in the biscuit business. Today, four generations later, there are three biscuit companies in Santa Coloma de Farners, all of which have Trias family origins.
Undoubtedly, the descendants of Joaquim Trias have been the most successful in marketing their biscuits and exporting new flavours all over the globe. Today, Maria Trias represents the company her great-great grandfather began. “These days, we are focusing on international exportation and new biscuit recipes,” said Trias, who speaks perfect English.
She listed the US, Japan, Taiwan, Central America, the UK, Germany and France as countries currently offering their biscuits. The Trias trademark is also well-known around Barcelona. Their biscuits are sold in a sturdy tin box with a picture of an elderly couple relishing a pile of almond biscuits. In the Trias factory, the scent of biscuits baking in bulk fills the air, tempting visitors to the on-site biscuit museum. Through a large window it’s possible to watch biscuit-makers at work, before heading down to the gift shop to indulge in the fruits of their labour.
After a day or so in Santa Coloma de Farners, it’s normal to leave feeling recharged and rested. For such a small town, Santa Coloma hosts many possibilities for repose. It is also advantageously located in the middle of the La Selva region, making it easy to visit interesting destinations in the area. Just a short journey up the motorway from Barcelona, Santa Coloma makes an excellent base for a couple of days’ soaking, hiking and remembering just how delicious tranquility can be.
Museu de les Galetes Trias
Carretera de Sils 36
Ajuntament de Santa Coloma de Farners
Tel. 972 84 08 08
Tel. 972 84 00 65
Hotel room: €66-€86; Massage: about €30; Spa treatments: €15—€50
Getting there: The train stops at Sils, about 8 kilometres from Santa Coloma.
By car, AP-7 motorway, exit 10, then follow signs to Santa Coloma.