The northeast region of Spain is known for its incredible history, beautiful landscapes, delicious food and wine, and, of course, its capital city of Barcelona. But a different life exists in the peaceful rural villages that you can reach easily from Barcelona by train, bus, or car. So if you’re thinking about taking a day or weekend trip outside the city, why not consider going to one of these medieval villages that still exist in Catalonia? Located out in the Catalan countryside, here are some of the most beautiful medieval villages in the region.
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Besalú, which derives from the Latin definition of a fort between two rivers, is tucked away in the La Garrotxa region. Its most notable spot is the 12th-century Romanesque bridge that stands across the Fluvià river and is often photographed for its historic beauty. Other features include Sant Pere Church which was built in 1003, a surviving synagogue for the remaining Jewish population, and the arcaded streets and squares that take you back in time to 1000 years ago. Behind the village are some natural herbal gardens where people can learn how to utilize the herbs as a remedy for indigestion called ratafía. Finally, there’s the Museu de Miniatures i Microminiatures de Besalú where 5,000 pieces of handmade jewelry are exhibited in a former textile mill right beside the old abbey of Sant Pere. Every building in Besalú has a historical significance, adding to the village’s importance.
The old fishing village in Alt Empordà has been an influential setting for artists and visitors for its undeniable charm throughout the centuries. The village’s cobblestone streets going up and down, left and right, winding their way to the fishing port and beach that serves as a popular summer getaway from jam-packed Barcelona. Cadaqués goes as far back as the 9th century and was a consistent target for conquerors of the Mediterranean. The town’s old town hall, churches, lighthouses, and large residences are must-see places. While the summer is the most popular time to visit, it’s still worth going in the off-peak months for the historical connections, especially with art, as Picasso, Lorca, Pixtot, Miro, and even Walt Disney visited and stayed there in the past. Most notably, Salvador Dalí lived there most of his life, and his home, known as Portlligat, is currently a museum for Dalí fans to visit. Plus, its location, the peninsula of Cap de Creus is such a prime spot that it’s considered Costa Brava’s jewel.
West of Barcelona is a village so small that only 300 people live there. Guimerà, a designated historic town since 1975, has stood on its own since the 11th century with the surviving castle as its centerpiece and Santa Maria de Guimerà church as its place of worship. The medieval architecture and cobblestone streets were built by the Christians reclaiming the land from the Muslims during the entire era of the Crusades. The main surviving tower, known as Saixeca, was built as part of an entire defensive complex in 1038 and remained intact until the Carlist Wars of the 1830s badly damaged it. The Guimerà Museum hosts their entire history based on multiple excavations which feature pieces of demolished monasteries, Iberian ceramics, surviving stones, and homemade doors dating back nearly a thousand years when Guimerà was a thriving village of Spain’s conquering days.
Peratallada is one of Catalonia’s most preserved medieval villages just 90 minutes outside of Barcelona. Come out of the countryside and into its historic walls and you will immediately know why its name means ‘carved stone,’ as most of the village was built from this material. Walk through the narrow roads and pass the surviving homes into the open squares where small cafes sit for the visitors to enter and take in the surroundings. The Castle of Peratallada is the main structure in the center along with the 13th-century Romanesque Sant Esteve Church. The castle itself was built in 1065, went derelict, and then was later restored as a luxury hotel in the 1960s. Peratallada is full of small galleries, restaurants, and hotels in and around the area, and its close proximity to the Costa Brava beaches adds value to its historical setting.
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Barcelona is great, but it is not all about the city here Catalonia. The surviving medieval villages are valuable gems that tell a story of a different period, long before the Spain we know today. And these are just a few of the most beautiful medieval villages outside of Barcelona. The list is long, but they are all worth the trip to see.
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