Pla de l’Estany, Catalunya

Pla de l’Estany, Catalunya

History and archaeology in the lakeside town of Banyoles

If the first day of our Live the History tour in Pla de L’Estany was all about the lake at Banyoles and food and wine, our second day was jam packed full of history.

Our first stop was at the cave complex of Serinyà.  Beginning with a short video we were given a guided tour around the caves where we learnt how the prehistoric hunters and gatherers lived and we were also told how we know so much about their lives today from the evidence which is being collected at the site.  And you get a quality tour because the guides are also the archaeologists and are passionate about the region and the history.

the prehistoric caves

A series of caverns are set into the cliff above the river (a water source close by was a necessity) and we could stand in a cave where people from the Palaeothanic period once lived, and where they stored their supplies and buried their dead.  We were invited to stand on the platform that the archaeologists work from and were shown how the area is divided up into square metres with cords and lines (imagine a game of Battleships) and then we went down to the area by the river for some demonstrations and workshops.

first you have to capture your lunch

We shot arrows at a target to replicate hunting for our lunch, we saw how to made fire from pieces of flint and also how to fashion a ‘knife’ from a piece of flint.  Maria painted on a wall with paints made from various minerals and we ate a lunch that had been cooked using food and methods from the prehistoric age.

learning how the cave dwellers lived

After lunch we drove to a nearby village.  There are 11 towns and villages in this area with 64 Romanesque churches.  The church that we visited is always locked and nobody normally is allowed to enter, but somehow, the tourist offices of Costa Brava and Pla de l’Estany had pulled it off and it had been unlocked for us.  It was a small church similar to many others, but this one had a thirteenth century fresco above the altar.  Other frescos from the other churches have been preserved but this one is special because it s the only one still in situ in its original location.

And then we went back to the town of Banyoles where we visited the Neolithic village of La Draga.  A reconstruction of some of the huts and their contents is displayed on the actual site where the remains have been unearthed.  And what makes this place special and rare is that archaeologists are unearthing actual fibrous, material remains.  The lake water flooded the site and then the chemical soup preserved the timbers, canes, thatch, ropes and everything else – all the materials which would normally decompose over time and which leave the experts guessing.  Here they don’t have to guess because they have access to building materials and items that were last used 7400 years ago!  Now that is seriously old!

the reconstructed village of La Draga

The items are being excavated and carefully preserved in damp, humid conditions which replicate the lake water, but I was allowed to hold a piece of timber which once formed a part of a Neolithic hut, thousands of years ago.  Marta was another person who was passionate about her subject of archaeology and excitedly showed us around the site.  The following day we would be meeting up with her again for a tour of Banyoles town.

an ancient house timber

Dining Out

We had dinner in the local, family run Restaurant Can Xabanet in Banyoles. We had lots of different style Catalan dishes to try, and in fact the food just didn’t seem to stop coming. We compared a picture to the owner as he was when he first opened the restaurant and we ate and we chatted and we compared travel stories.

then and now

The restaurant has a very comprehensive menu with traditional Catalan dishes and made from the finest ingredients.  They were presented in a fresh modern way in relaxing surroundings and with a fine attention to detail.


We spent 2 nights on the outskirts of Banyoles couresy of the Hotel La Sala de Camos.

The owners Vanessa, Mario and Vanessa’s dad Juan took over the existing hotel very recently but already it feels as if they have been there forever.  Their warm welcome and attention to the little details will make your stay here memorable, relaxing and very special.  There are just 8 bedrooms, all of which are individually styled and decorated and each is very different.

La Sala de Camos. The church is the building on the right

My room was tucked in the corner on the ground floor and it had views out over the lawn.  The bathroom was very unusual and stretched out behind my room and further, with a bath tub set lengthways  in an alcove and the toilet was at the furthest end and around the corner.  It was a little sanctuary and a perfect place to unwind.

my perfect bedroom

There are lots of little nooks and crannies at La Sala de Camos where you can sit and relax, with areas to read a book or watch TV.  There are balconies and mezzanine floors, verandas and in the top bedroom, a shower and a toilet with a view!  There is a lovely large swimming pool and lawns and flower beds, outdoor furniture and a little snug where you can sit and chat at one end of the veranda.

a pool with a view

The house comes complete with a well – now covered with a glass panel, holes in the wall through which the priest used to spy on who was coming and going to the church, and which is within spitting distance from the house – in fact you can almost reach out and touch it – and terracotta pots on an outside wall for birds to nest in.

a loo with a view

Just along the path is the home of a local family who live in the traditional rural way – that is – above their animals.  Goats scramble in and out of the barn to their yard in the front and you have amazing views down across the trees.

traditional living above the animals

We had a good breakfast at the Hotel La Sala de Camos and they will also prepare lunch and/or an evening meal if you let them know, and whilst it is set in the countryside, it is not far at all from the town.

The dining room with a reading space above

The following day Marta led us on a walking tour around Banyoles.  This pretty little lakeside town was founded by Benedictine monks after the French invaded the region whilst chasing the Moors out.  One quirky feature in Banyoles are the irrigation channels which were cut all through the town to bring water from the lake.  This water worked mills and provided sanitation and still runs along channels down the sides of the streets and under the roadways.  Behind the building which houses the tourist offices on the main square you can see a water wheel in what was once the House of Millmen.

The original water course from the lake

Flour was ground at this site in the 13 Century, courtesy of the water courses – and we also visited an ancient building – the Llotja del tint – that now houses the tint or dying museum.   There were once deep pits in the floor where the dying process took place and it has a high Gothic vaulted ceiling to allow the toxic fumes to escape.  The water channels brought fresh water to the dye baths and the region was famous for its coloured wool products.

Nowadays the main square is home to a bustling and colourful market on a Wednesday with stalls set among the 40 arches that line the square, much as they must have done down the centuries.  The old town walls can still be seen in places dating from the 13th Century and the town museum is situated in what was originally the first town hall dating from the 1303.

Packing up the market in the square

Carrer Nou (New Street) is actually one of the oldest streets in the town and is lined with many traditional buildings.  The old three storey houses lean inwards and you can still make out some of the symbols which have been carved over the doorways and which indicated what trade the occupants carried out – a pedagogic message for the people who were unable to read and write.  The city became wealthy from its cloth dying industry and as a result there are many old buildings and churches which were built by the emerging bourgeois class who fought the clergy for more power.

Arches surrounding the square

We were also allowed to view a magnificent silver box which was sadly stolen and damaged.  It was crafted in 1435 and as the church raised money they added intricate figures of saints and martyrs to the cover of the box, but they were broken down and sold off after the box was stolen.  Some of the figures were recovered in an auction in the Netherlands and the art thief known as Erik the Belgium was finally captured although there are still some missing elements from the piece.

The beautiful silver box

I had a wonderful time in the region of Banyoles.  The Catalan people are welcoming and friendly, the food and drink is fabulous and the countryside has plenty to keep nature lovers and history buffs entertained.  I hope to return and view the completed works by the strambotic artist Quim Hereu (click here if you missed my previous story) and explore some more of the pretty countryside.  Before this trip ended I also found time to visit Girona during the wonderful flower festival and relax at the beach resort of Platja d’Aro.  Sign up and follow me to make sure that you catch future articles.

The main square after the market has gone


I would like to thank the tourist boards of Pla de l’Estany and Catalunya for their support in making this visit possible, however all opinions and comments are, as always, my own


An introduction to the region of Pla de l’Estany

An introduction to the region of Pla de l’Estany

A small corner of Catalunya with a wealth of things to see and to do

Following the TBEX travel bloggers’ conference, I was thrilled to join a press trip with three other bloggers and Vikki our excellent organiser and host. Several detailed articles are in the pipeline but in the meantime, this is how our trip began.

Getting to know each other on the lake at Banyoles

After a walk along the coastal footpath which skirts Lloret de Mar our little group went by coach to the lake at Banyoles where we boarded a boat for a trip around the lake.  We ate lunch in the sun and we learnt a little bit more about the region of Pla de L’Estany from Txell who lives in Banyoles and who was to join us for a day or so. The boat was electric which therefore reduced both noise and fuel pollution on the water; and which happened to be the lake that was used for the rowing events when Barcelona hosted the Olympics.  As we glided around the incredibly green lake looking at the little fishing houses which were dotted around the water’s edge we could see the Pyrenees in the distance; some of which still had snow on their tops, and cyclists and joggers were riding or running around the perimeter path.

One of the little fishing houses

Some stats and facts about the lake at Banyoles

  • Banyoles is the capital of the Ple de l’Estany region
  • The lake measures 6650 metres around the perimeter,  it has an average depth of 15 metres and it is 132 metres at its deepest.
  • Rowing, canoeing, swimming, kyaking and triathlon all take place on the water.
  • Fishing is permitted but all fish must be returned live to the lake.
  • The water is incredibly clean being filtered first through the rocks and then via a series of underground caverns before bubbling back up through the lake bed
  • The little fishing houses were built as bases from which the rich could come and fish at weekends and during the holidays.
  • Bicycles can be rented in the town of Banyoles and there are 10 different routes of varying difficulties in and around the area.

After our ever so relaxing boat tour which was a lovely way to ease into the trip and to get to know each other, we went on to the quaint little town of Crespia.

Crespia siesta

Not a lot was happening when we were there, although once a year they host a honey fair when the place comes alive.  We left Crespia to its own devices basking quietly in the sun and we hiked a short way out of the village and up a hillside to a cave.  From the cave we had views down over a river which had been dammed to form a small reservoir and today, just a small speck sitting cross-legged under the dam wall was a drummer playing a kettledrum and a lady who was moving and dancing to the music.  The sounds floated gently up to us as we looked around the little shrine of Sant Miquel de la Roca with its little nativity figures arranged on a rock shelf in one corner and we peered out through the windows which had been carved out of the spiky grey rocks.

Can you spot the tiny figures down on the dam?

Leaving the village behind, dazzling yellow fields of rapeseed lined the roads, whilst in the fields that contained grass or cereals, swathes of poppies bobbed and nodded to the sun, their scarlet petals sometimes more prolific than the green grass that they had taken up residence in.

Our next stop was to visit the home and vineyard of Joaquim Reig and Montserrat Torrens.

The Baronia de Vilademuls Winery

Joaquim and Montserrat

Joaquim and Montserrat harvest the grapes manually and produce a red wine from their 2000 vines, usually producing 2200 litres annually.  The wine is mainly sold to local high end restaurants in Girona, although some makes its way to Belgium and the Netherlands.  Incidentally this is the only vineyard in the immediate region, and the oldest vine is currently about 30 years old although the farm has been producing wine for much longer than that.

I was interested to learn that the vines don’t suffer too much from fungal diseases, mildew or insect attack – due to the geography and the prevailing winds which blow from the north.  The winds are dry and cool and ‘clean’ the air, the land and the vines and prevent many problems which plague other vineyards.

Joaquim has been producing wines as a business venture for the last 12 years since his retirement, when he increased the time that he was able to dedicate to his hobby.  He joked that he could have spent the same amount of time and the same money in that time playing tennis or golf – but of course he would not have had any wine to drink!

The Baronia de Vilademuls wine sits in the barrel for a minimum of 10 months and is traditionally drawn off the sediment during March  at a time of a new moon or no moon. When it is time to bottle the wine, 4 people work side by side to fill, cork, label and pack and they can turn around an impressive 500 bottles an hour.  A large barrel sits in pride of place which predates 1957 and which once belonged to Joaquim’s grandfather and is another link to the past in a place where even the walls of the house remind you of what had gone before.

When Joaquim’s family decided to extend the cellars beneath their farmhouse they discovered old cellars which had previously been sealed up; although they already knew that  knew that their home was inextricably linked to the ancient castle which once stood in the village, because their farmhouse had been built into and around the original stone walls, incorporating the history of the village into the fabric of their lives.

down in the wine cellar

Their village was an old settlement which had a substantial castle dominating it as far back as the 10th century.  At that time, the owner of the castle killed the son of the lord who lived in the next village.  In revenge, the lord came and attacked the village, demolishing the castle and then he and his army covered the stones with salt.  This action would normally have prevented the castle from being rebuilt because the salt would ruin the stones, however, the revenging lord had not factored in that the cleansing wind would blow the salt away and clean the stones.

300 years later, in the 13th century the descendants of the villagers rebuilt their houses using the old castle stones.  Despite the dry atmosphere and the winds, to this day the villagers complain that they have problems with damp and humidity in their houses, and they believe that this is a legacy of the salt in the old castle stones.

After looking around the vineyard and the cellars it was time to taste. We sat in a room with a barrel arched ceiling made of bricks and tiles while Montserrat served us with good wholesome tomato bread, a selection of meats and ham, cheeses and olives – and of course their wine which was certainly delicious.

on the vine

Pa amb Tomote

Catalan Tomato Bread

If you want to make yourself one of the staples of the Catalan diet, it couldn’t be easier.

Lightly toast some decent rustic bread from a country loaf.  Rub liberally with a clove of garlic and then with half of a cut tomato until the juice has all been absorbed into the toast.

Serve plain with just some salt or olive oil to taste or top with chorizo, ham, cheese, roasted aubergines and/or anchovies.

…to be continued

Our trip around the Pla de l’Estany area continued for another two days when we were introduced to the sheer diversity of the region.  It is jam packed full of history, awesome scenery, wonderful hotels and food and drink to die for. Catalunya certainly has something for everyone; whether you are visiting as a family, a couple or as a solo traveller.

To discover what happens at a pairing dinner with a strambolic painter, learn where you can visit prehistoric caves and a neolithic village and to read about the hotels and the food and drink in the region, sign up and make sure that you don’t miss my future articles.



The trip around the Pla de l’Estany region was made possible courtesy of  the Costa Brava Tourist Board and the Consell Comarcal Pla de l’Estany.  All opinions formed are my own

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