Besalú, Girona: An enchanting, medieval village near the Costa Brava
Published on July 25, 2019 by Catalan Holidays
As well as enjoying the Costa Brava’s magnificent beaches and its cuisine, Besalú makes it so there are unforgettable trips that you can enjoy too. If you like medieval villages, Besalú in Girona is one of the tourist trips or outings that we recommend you to take.
This medieval village in the county of Garrotxa gives us a daytime version, accompanied by the sun, and another one by night backed by street lights.
During the day, Besalú makes us travel back in time to medieval history: its old bridge, the so-called Call Joeu or Jewish Quarter, the 12th century mikveh, the remains of a synagogue, Liberty Square or the Monastery of Sant Pere and a Benedictine temple from the 10th century among others. By night, its peacefulness and magic of its lighting makes it even more like travelling back to another time.
- Where is Besalú and how to get there from Girona, Barcelona and the Costa Brava
- Journey to Besalu’s medieval history
- What to see in Besalú
- What to do in Besalú
- Where to eat in Besalú
- Besalú Festivals
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Where is Besalú and how to get there from Girona, Barcelona and the Costa Brava
Surrounded by a rugged landscape, with beautiful mountains and in the setting of the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. The medieval village of Besalú is located in Catalonia, in the province of Girona and in the Comarca, or county, of Garrotxa.
By road, Besalú is 38 km away from the capital city of the Girona province (Highway C-66) and 43 km from the Costa Brava, specifically Empuriabrava (by highways C-260 and N-11).
Other options are public bus or guided tours.
Journey to Besalú’s medieval history
Besalú’s Roman past is renowned for a prosperous boom facilitated by trade arriving from the Via Annia. A metalworking workshop from the 1st century A.D., discovered next to Saint Martin of Capellada’s river, is testament to this era.
Besalú is a medieval village that was an independent county, which lived through the black death and fought to keep hold of its heritage throughout history. The wear and tear from business, re-structuring, geographical and political issues, and even the Civil War have not been able to defeat this town’s population. The medieval remains and the Jewish Quarter are proof of this.
What to see in Besalú
Walking over the old bridge or along its streets filled with historical references will turn your visit into a good memory and a success. There are many things to see in Besalú or do.
Walking through Besalú’s historic centre produces a feeling of total immersion into the Middle Ages. The collection of Medieval buildings in Besalú have been declared a Site of National Artistic and Historic Interests.
However, Besalú also offers natural surroundings with routes for all types of people in the so-called green belt and walking trails through Garrotxa.
Combining staying in a holiday home on the Costa Brava with carrying out activities like visiting Besalú is certainly a winning combination.
Besalú’s symbolic bridge
There are documented references from the 11th century about the ingenious Roman bridge in Besalú, that crosses over the Fluvia River and is now a symbol of the medieval town.
Similarly, at the entrance to the village, we can see one of the Spanish medieval bridges with the most typical features of that period intact. Turrets for defence, a payment point for the pontazgo (fees for the right to cross the bridge), domes and other features that make this bridge very special.
Current reality is that the Besalú bridge has undergone several reconstructions. In 1315 it was destroyed by a great flood. It is believed that in 1881 the defence tower and gateway to the entrance had to be rebuilt due to wear and tear caused by the weight of the textile machinery that crossed the bridge. Finally, in the 50s and 60s, a new reconstruction took place to repair the damage caused in the Civil War. Nevertheless, history is at the heart of this emblematic bridge.
The Besalú Bridge has been categorised as a Point of Cultural Interest on a national level and categorised as a Point of Cultural Interest by the Catalan Parliament.
The medieval mikveh and Besalú’s Jewish Quarter
The passage of Christians and Jews led to the creation of the Jewish Quarter, The Call and several synagogues. As we wander around Besalú we will come across many architectural gems located in the Jewish Quarter of Besalú. It is a collection of streets, houses and medieval squares which form a Jewish neighbourhood. A place where we can find the magnificent Besalú mikveh, a space where they carried out the purification baths stipulated by Judaism.
Besalú’s medieval mikveh dates back to the 12th century and was discovered in 1964. It is an underground, Roman-style room. It has a swimming pool that was filled every day with water from a spring close to the Fluvia River.
Both the mikveh and the Sant Pere Monastery can only be accessed by guided tour from the tourist office or with a tourist train ticket.
Sant Pere Monastery
Upon reaching the 12th century Sant Pere Monastery of Besalú, we can appreciate what was, in its day, this Benedictine abbey dedicated to Saint Peter. This monastery, located in the town centre, made Besalú a pilgrimage destination.
It is a building with three naves and a large central apse with an ambulatory. This ambulatory consists of eight columns in groups of two which hold up the archways above them that secure the dome.
On the monastery’s façade we have a door into the archway and two small columns. Next to a window, some lions with evil faces stand out, one stamping on a snake and the other on a monkey.
Saint Vincent’s Church
We know that the current building of Besalú’s Saint Vincent’s Church dates back to the 12th century and the first mention of it goes right back to the 10th century.
In Romanesque style, the chapel of Besalú’s Saint Vincent’s Church was an important place for pilgrims as it preserved a relic of the True Cross. It was a relic given by Rome and received in 1017. Unfortunately, it disappeared in 1899 and was substituted for another one in 1923.
Another strange incident from the parish of Saint Vincent was that during the Civil War, the building was burned down and the great alter destroyed. The surprise was that, as a result of this incident, they found a glass vase full of coins inside the wall of the apse. These pieces are currently on display in the Art Museum of Girona.
What to do in Besalú
We have written about what to see in Besalú, but we can still complement our visit with a few more activities. We know what to do in Besalú; Besalú’s has many leisure offerings as well its heritage, where the streets provide a museum, open air events and local cuisine.
Besalú’s green belt
Just as we leave the town centre, we find ourselves deep inside what residents call Besalú’s green belt.
If we look on the map we can see that the Besalú medieval village has the privilege or the luck of being located in the Fluvia Valley. The green belt is recovered from the River Fluvia. It is an area for walking peacefully without having to be a great rambler.
It is an ideal leisure area for families, children, groups of friends and couples allowing you to enjoy visits to historical houses located outside Besalú’s town centre, like the ancient flour mill that depended on the San Pere Monastery.
It is also an area that brings us closer to its rural surroundings, thanks to the gardens which are obviously very well-cared for. On the other hand, if we look at the people who frequent the place, we realize that it is one of the favourite places of many inhabitants of the village of Besalú.
Hiking routes in Besalú
Garrotxa county, where Besalú is located, is an area of hiking trails. It is an area of wild and mountainous prominence, which has become a grandiose paradise for hikers and ramblers.
Garrotxa has a fabulous network of trails marked out and infinite places of interest for landscapes, nature, history and architecture. For example, the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Nature Park, Sant Aniol Valley and countless others.
El rebost del comtat de Besalú
This is a permanent exhibition of tools for making traditional food products. Tasting and sales of typical products from Garrotxa. Entrance is totally free.
Rebost Comtat de Besalú
In the exhibition of the rebost del Comtat de Besalú museum we have:
● A collection of antique weapons such as bullets, spears, guns, knives and swords used by their forebears
● Utensils used for making oil, honey, cheese, cold cuts of meat, wine and bread (typical products from the land)
● Wooden, Medieval, Roman and Eneolithic tools. Spoons, forks, ceramic items, glasses and coins among other pieces.
Where to eat in Besalú
If you ask what there is to eat in Besalú, the recommendation is to try its specialities: cold cuts and mushrooms. But if you are hoping to find out where to eat in Besalú, ask for the Besalú Gastronomic Collective.
Restaurant Cúria Reial en Besalú
It will surprise you how this collective joins together gastronomy and the history of Besalú in its tasting dishes. It is a collective of 5 restaurants in Besalú, in which you will find typical Sephardic food, medieval food and indigenous products, such as Ratafia (a local, traditional, fruit-based alcoholic drink).
● Restaurant Can Quei
● Restaurant Cúria Reial
● Restaurant Pont Vell
● Restaurant Oliveras
● Restaurant Siqués
In March, Ciutat Jueva or Besalú’s Jewish Festival is held, as a display of their Sephardi Jewish legacy and a great opportunity to eat Sephardic cuisine in Besalú.
In September the Besalú Medieval Festival is held, where you can try medieval food in Besalú.
And in winter it is ratafia’s turn, an indigenous product from the area. With a competition included.
Where to sleep in Besalu
Our recommendations are coastal accommodation near to the Village of Besalu. There are areas on the Catalan coast that allow you to be between the sea and the mountains at the same time as being near to the city of Besalu.
On the other hand, have you thought of holiday rentals of houses with private pools y holiday rentals of houses that accept dogs or other pets. Through this link you have all our holiday homes in Catalonia.