For when it is safe to travel again or for local explorers when allowed – updated September 2020
A historic gem, which is full to the brim with character, Besalu is a magnificent example of a medieval town. Cobbled streets and facades and a wonderful bridge are the trademarks of Besalu. Located in the stunning province of Girona, Catalonia, the town is within a 35 minute drive to the coast. The length of the journey will depend on which beautiful Costa Brava beach town you choose to visit.
The stone, bricks and cobbles that make up the historic town of Besalú have been there for hundreds of years and the impressive architecture draws visitors from far and wide. Situated in the La Garrotxa region in the province of Girona, Besalú is a haven for history buffs, who flock in huge numbers to admire the many constructions and facades representing Romanesque, Gothic and medieval influences.
At one point, over a thousand years ago, Besalú was the capital of an independent state and although it no longer holds this status, it’s still an extremely valuable site. It has been carefully preserved as a key historical monument, so that it can be enjoyed by visitors and residents alike for many more years to come.
This unique town is situated on the edge of the volcanic zone of La Garrotxa Nature Reserve. Come and explore Besalu and its surrounding area in our Besalu Spain Travel Guide.
Did you know that Besalu has been declared a National Historic-Artistic Ensemble because of its high architectural value? It’s one of Catalonia’s best preserved medieval towns. It is also part of the Caminos de Sefarad, which is the Jewish route in Spain. The town has also preserved a unique, valuable Jewish heritage. Don’t miss visiting the Mikve de Besalu – the ritual Jewish bathing area. Be warned however, to do so you need to do it through the tourist office.
Other must-sees are the Viejo Bridge, which would be hard to miss anyhow, and the Churches of Sant Vicente and Sant Pere. Although you may find it a little surprising to find in a place like Besalu, you should also check out the Micromundi, which is the Museum of Miniatures and Microminiatures.
These are a few of the attractions of this town that is so rich in architecture and history. Besalú is also home to some wonderful restaurants that showcase the very best of local cuisine. So you can kick back and enjoy a lovely meal and glass of wine, and – of course – you can enjoy it all al fresco. Visit the tourist office for some information about the various tours and activities around the area and arm yourself with maps and guides to stroll around the windy streets and soak up the history and ambience of this cultural gem. Besalú is on a route of areas of particular importance in Jewish history and the Jewish public baths provide a calming insight into the historical cleansing rituals.
Besalu Things To Do
Excavacions realitzades a la Plaça dels Jueus de Besalú – Excavacions at the Jewish Square of Besalu
La Sinagoga – The Synagogue
The excavations which were carried out between December 2002 and March 2005, show that the remains of the synagogue are clearly identifiable. Fortunately there are also notary documents, from the regional archives of Olot, which complemented these findings.
Within the building structure of the synagogue, there are different rooms which clearly had specific purposes. There is the prayer room, the gallery for women which is at a higher level and is separated from the men’s room. The men’s room would have been where gatherings took place to resolve not only religious issues, but issues regarding the community and taxes. In the courtyard there would have been various weddings and festivals. There is also a school, where classes would have been brought to both girls and boys, when they were young teenagers. In the bathrooms there would have been Mikveh purification, both for people and objects.
La Necrolopolis de Can Barraca – The Necrolopolis of Can Barraca
When work was being done on the A-26 motorway, this site was discovered. Within this burial site there were 4 burial complex structures, one large oval structure, as well as remains buried in ceramic containers. Since these excavations, studies are being carried out by archaeologists from the University of Girona, along with specialists from various research centres in Catalonia.
El Molí d’en Subirós – The Mill in Subiros
After the fountain fell in the south end of the historical centre, excavations took place of the old mill. The old flour mill would have been used by the force of the water which feeds into the nearby canal. Although there is mention of this mill both in the 10th and 14th centuries, the current description on the lintel of the door is 1755. The mill operated well into the 20th century.
La Vila Romana de Can Ring – The Roman Town of Can Ring
Heading north-west of the town, in a flat field are the remains of a Roman town. In 1959 there were indications that there may have been a Roman settlement in this place, so archaeological excavations were started the following year in 1960. An area of approximately 300m2 was explored.
Roman pavements and walls of rooms were discovered. Also an abundance of fragments of flat tiles were found, along with some pieces of painted as to stucco coating. Some of the findings can be dated back to the first third of the first century BC. This actually means that they may match the original time of the founding of the town.
L’excavació a Santa Maria – Excavacions at Santa Maria Besalu
Excavations were carried out between 17th June to 15th July 2005, at the land of Santa Maria Besalu. Although the remains at the site have been declared as a Historical and Artistic monument, in fact we know very little in terms of evolutionary interpretation.
Besalu Architectural Interest
Casa Cornella – Cornella House
This house dates back to the latter part of the 12th century, and is considered one of Catalonia’s finest examples of Romanesque civil architecture. The style is of amedieval manor house, with outbuildings and stables on the ground level. The structure is organised around a courtyard, letting light flow into all of the rooms. On the first floor there’s a gallery of arches, which is where Cornella would have originally lived.
La Cúria Reial – The Royal Court
The Royal Court originally dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries. For a long time a variety of Jewish and Christian families inhabited it. In the latter part of the 14th century the past to the family of Bernat Cavalle, who was the procurator of the King.
The building has three floors, and currently the ground floor is a cultural space, where the visitor can learn more about Besalu by watching a video. On the third floor, there is a Gothic room which has magnificent arches and 14th-century wood panelling.
The Viejo bridge in Besalú is a key landmark in the town. It was originally a defensive fortification and also a toll bridge. It was built and rebuilt at various points throughout the 11th to the 14th Century and links the two sides of the Fluvià river with impressive arches undulating across the water. Its two striking towers guard the entrance to the town and make up part of the imposing bridge structure. It is worth catching it on an evening stroll as it looks particularly impressive when the floodlights frame its shape against the night sky.
Sant Julià de Besalú L’església-Hospital – St. Julia of Besalu Church Hospital
Founded by Counts of Besalu, the St. Julia church hospital dates back to the 12th century. It was originally built to facilitate the people who were on pilgrimage. The Benedictine monks took care of both the pilgrims and the poor who passed through the town.
There is no doubt that the facade is one of the most beautifully preserved in this area of Catalonia. It has six arches in gradual succession, with four capitals, three with representations of animal figures and the fourth with Corinthian acanthus leaves. During the early part of the 20th century, the building was used as a hospital and today houses a cultural centre.
The monastery of St Peter shouldn’t be missed. Also notable amongst the lovely churches to be discovered in the area are the churches of Sant Pere and Santa María. These have some beautiful examples of Gothic and Romanesque architecture and make delightfully cool havens to explore and take a break from the heat of the day.
Col-legiata de Santa Maria – Collegiate of Saint Mary
The original chapel was a modest construction, built to serve the religious needs of the palace. There’s documentation that mentions its reform in 1055, which suggests to us that there was a Romanesque church on the site. In 1137 it underwent renovations to adapt it to its new use, as the seat of the Augustinian community. What you can see today are the remains of what would have been one of the most important temples of that period, in the area. Sometime in the 18th century, the central tower collapsed, and during the Spanish Civil War, in 1938, the big bell fell. Later renovations were done.
Esglesia de Sant Vicenç – Church of St. Vincent
The Church of Sant Vicente de Besalú is a firm favourite with visitors. This is the town’s parish church, and documentation traces it back to 977. The architectural style is Romanesque with some Gothic elements. This impressive church has a particularly attractive rose window, which becomes even more special when the sun is streaming through it.
Monestir de Sant Pere – Monastery of St. Peter
Originally founded in 977, by Count Bisbe Miró, this was where an original Benedictine community of 12 monks was formed. From 1111, the Abbot was the town’s main authority, and during the 12th and 13th centuries, the monastery enjoyed a great deal of political success.
A peculiarity of the church of St Peter, is a kind of corridor that was reserved for pilgrims during the middle ages. There are eight Collins which separate this walkway from the altar, which emphasise the sculptural decorations of biblical scenes, mythological animals and motifs. The church is also home to tomes where the remains of some of the most remarkable Abbots of the monastery life. There is also a mass grave with the remains of monks.
On the facade is one of the highlights of the church, which is a rather unique window, where there are the figures of two lions. The lines symbolise the power, strength and protection that the church offered against paganism and evil.
La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park
This natural park is the Iberian Peninsula’s best example of volcanic terrain. There are over 20 lava flows and 40 volcanic cones. You can choose from 28 different walking routes that will bring you through some of the park’s most interesting spots. The vast majority of these are signposted, except for a couple of the longer ones, that are easy to follow with a map of the natural park.
This area of natural beauty is home to a vast array of wildlife, from snakes to woodpeckers, you are really in with the wild animals here. They, along with their stunning natural habitat, are protected species.
Day Trips from Besalu
Banyoles Lake & Town – 13.5 km
The beautiful lake of Banyoles is a short journey away, it takes less than 20 minutes to arrive there. It’s a favourite with nature lovers, with plenty of walks around the lake, You can also visit Banyoles old town. To read more about it click here
Figueres – the birthplace of Salvador Dalí – 24 km
A car journey of between 20 to 25 minutes will take you to the fine town of Figueres. Famous as the birthplace of Dalí, it’s a fine town in its own right. Don’t miss the castle if you go there, and also there’s a Toy Museum. Read more about it in our Figueres Travel Guide.
Girona – 32 km
The gorgeous city of Girona is only a half an hour’s drive away. If you don’t know it yet, you can read about it here
Sant Pere de Pescador – 38 km
In 35 minutes you can be at the beach in Sant Pere de Pescador. More information on that coming soon …
Aiguamolls d’Emporda Natural Park – 42 km
The second largest wetlands of Catalonia has a very interesting landscape. It takes less than 45 minutes to get there by car. Find out more about it here.
Llança – 44 km
Still a relatively quiet spot, you’ll find lovely coves and beaches in Llança. Read our Llança travel guide – if you want to be tempted to make this 50 minute journey.
Cadaques – Where Dalí spent his summer holidays – 60 km
This is a magical spot, no wonder Dalí was inspired. The car journey takes around 1 hour, as the road into Cadaques is a bit interesting! Find out more here.
The Dalí Triangle – various
I’ve already mentioned both Figueres and Cadaques, so the only place missing from the Dalí Triangle is Pubol. Check out the feature about the Dalí Triangle.
Calella de Palafrugell – 65 km
The slightly over 1 hour it takes to get here, is worth it, in my humble opinion. It’s a beautiful, picturesque seaside resort. Find out more here.