Spain’s north eastern region of Catalunya is overflowing with ancient medieval villages. On yet another glorious September day we took the car out to discover and explore what they had to offer.
We had been house sitting on the Costa Brava for 3 weeks and our time there was soon coming to an end. Our hosts had left a number of brochures for us about the area and one piqued our interest. It contained a series of drives with different themes. One of them navigated you through a series of medieval villages about 30 kilometres from where we were. Following our excellent visit a few days earlier to the Volcanic region of La Garroxta we decided another road trip was in order.
This has to be one of the most beautiful restored medieval villages we have ever visited. As with most of these villages, it developed around a castle and church at the top of a hill! The ancient gothic quarter had practically been abandoned until 1948 when some local figures applied for some grants to start the restoration of the medieval buildings. The restoration took took about 30 years to complete but it was well worth the wait.
The first thing that struck us about Pals was that there were many more tourists here than other places we’d visited in Catalonia. It was now getting towards the end of September and we were quite surprised, and a little disappointed, that we wouldn’t have the narrow streets to ourselves!! But we can see why this town is one the tourist trail. We wandered from the Placa Major through the Portic de la Vila (town gate) up to the Eglisia de Sant Pere (Church of St Peter). On the way we passed some medieval tombs which date from the 5th-8th century. They were basically just indentations scraped into the solid rock where the body was placed and covered with other stones. The Church was at the top of the village and dates from 994. As with most of the churches in this region there have been many additions over time to the church dating from the 10th, 15th and 18th centuries.
There are still five of the original towers of Pals as well as most of the protective wall surrounding the town. The towers are quite unique in that they are not fully enclosed. They are rectangular and open on the side facing the interior – apparently this made for quicker access when defending the town from attackers.
We circumnavigated the walls and explored the rest of the town before heading to our next destination.
The guided route took us a few km’s down the road to the village of Palau Sator – it sounded very interesting in the description but was somewhat disappointing. Most of the restaurants were closed and the village was like a ghost town. We made our way to the small castle (again on the top of a hill!) but were unable to look at it as it had been converted into a private residence. The one saving grace was that the defensive entrance to the village was very similar to the towers at Pals but this one actually had some modern stairs fitted so you could visualize how they might have been.
Our disappointment in Palau Sator was quickly forgotten when we arrived at Peratallada, another beautiful medieval town. This was much bigger than Pals and again quite touristy but just a lovely town to ramble around. We found a quiet side street for lunch and then explored the cobbled streets of the town for a good hour or two.
The castle (which is basically a palace and a keep) was built on the site of the former fortress which dates from 1065.
Outside the town walls we happened across the 12th century late romanesque Church de Santa Esteve (Saint Stephen church). This has also undergone various additions and renovations during the 14, 15th, 16th and 18th centuries.
We re-entered the town through one of the former main entrances to Peratallada – the Gate of the Virgin Mary. There was originally a medieval drawbridge here over a 20 foot deep moat that was carved vertically out of the underlying sandstone.
We really enjoyed our time visiting Peratallada and would recommend it to anyone spending time in this area of Spain and Catalunya. If you’d like to visit this extremely interesting and beautiful part of the world you can fly into either Barcelona or Girona.
Our 10 weeks in Spain had come to an all too quick conclusion. We look forward to re-visiting again next year.
We’re now heading back to where our excellent adventure began – the ‘Rose of the North’ in Thailand – Chiang Mai.