Autumn is probably the loveliest time of year in Catalonia. It is mostly sunny, warm, but not too hot, and the tourists have all gone home so we can once again enjoy the beauty spots of the area in peace and tranquillity.
At this time of year we like to go inland. Just a short drive takes us into the Pyrenees, to beautiful scenery, clean, sharp air and clear waters. In a couple of hours we can reach the ski-resorts of Andorra. But one of our favourite trips takes us to Banyoles.
Banyoles lies where the Alt Emporda – the coastal plain – meets the Garotxa, the volcanic region that lies between Girona and the Pyrenees. The area has been inhabited since Neanderthal times – around 80,000 years. It was also occupied by the Romans and then developed from the ninth century. The outstanding feature of Banyoles is the Estany – the large freshwater lake. The water is crystal clear with much of it being a nature reserve. The lake is fed by underground springs coming from the volcanic Garotxa so the water is rich in minerals to the extent that it forms deposits that eventually become rocks which have been used to build the original parts of the town. Parts of the lake are extremely deep and that, combined with the mineral deposits and strong currents where the underground sources feed in, mean that much of the lake does not support life. The shallow parts on the other hand are teeming with fish and water birds.
There is a foot/cycle path around the lake that is relatively flat and gravelled most of the way, so easy walking. The circumference is about 10 kilometres and it takes about 3 hours to walk all the way round. We pick up the path by the Tourist Office which must rank as one of the prettiest I have seen, being housed in one of the delightful bath-houses perched over the lake. Turn left and walk anti-clockwise. After twenty minutes or so the route passes the small church of Santa Maria de Porqueres (Swineherds), then leaves the lakeside, passing through deciduous woods to reappear on the north shore from where there is an uninterrupted view down the lake, and even a little wooden jetty that is perfect for a picnic.
The lake was used for rowing events during the 1992 Olympics and from this angle it is easy to imagine how it must have been. Nowadays there are three major sporting events on the lake: a triathlon in July involving a 1500m swim, 40km bike ride and 10km run; a lake perimeter swim (6km) in September, and a New Year’s Day swim – brrrr!
So, picnic consumed we walk on through woodland with glimpses of the lake until we come to the municipal park and then the archaeological excavations at La Draga, an early Neolithic village discovered in 1990 when work started on the park. To the right of the path at this point is the public swimming area (free) with a small beach and a grassy area where you can relax in the sunshine – if you are here in the summer it is worth bringing a swimsuit.
Again the path leaves the lake, passing on the inside of Club Natacio de Banyoles (the local swimming club) which has two pools – one indoor and one in the lake. The Club welcomes visitors who can purchase a day ticket giving access to all the facilities. And finally we once again pick up the tree-lined lakeside promenade with its collection of exotic looking bath-houses which look as though they would be more at home in India than Catalonia, and then we are back at the Tourist Office where we started. Opposite the Tourist Office are several restaurants and a couple of hotels so, if you didn’t manage to take a picnic there are plenty of opportunities for a “menu del dia” for lunch. The daily menus are excellent value, offering three courses and usually including wine and water for about €12 – €15 (or less away from the beauty spot of the lake).
But Banyoles is not just the Estany. The old town itself is also worth wandering around. Centred on the original medieval town square surrounded by shady arcades with a selection of restaurants and bars, the town was recently extensively remodelled. The town had become somewhat run down and overtaken by cars so the decision was made to make the centre a pedestrian area so local people and tourists alike could enjoy this beautiful old town. The remodelling, completed in 2011, was undertaken sympathetically in order to retain what was good whilst getting rid of things that were, to put it bluntly, an eyesore, such as hanging electricity lines and the remains of old open sewers. But, whilst sanitised, the area has lost none of its charm with several beautiful squares, some picturesque use of refreshed waterways, old churches and some lovely shops in which to browse. All in all, a very pleasant day out.
Is the Catalonian region of Spain on your list of places you’d like to visit including, of course, the must see city of Barcelona? The region has a proud history and is one of the wealthiest regions of Spain which is why they are so keen to secede. From the coastline to the mountains there’s so much to see and experience. Register your interest with us now as we’re planning to add Catalonia to our 2017 destinations.