Winter getaway to Berguedà
The Llobregat, the working river
The success of Sílvia Alcàntara's novel Olor de Colònia and its recent TV adaptation seems to have awakened considerable interest among a lot of people about the history of Catalonia's textile colonies. So, we'll take advantage of our winter getaway to the Berguedà region to explore some of them, but let's begin by visiting the regional capital.
Afternoon day 1: Berga from top to bottom
Have you ever been to Berga? Did you only go to enjoy the Patum fiesta? Take our advice and get to know the town in more detail. It will be well worth it. The capital of the county has lived through all the ups and downs of history since its foundation in the twelfth century. It was partially damaged in the Reapers' War, the War of the Spanish Succession and in the Carlist Wars, but has always managed to bounce back, especially since industrialization began in the late nineteenth century, when it became a dynamic neuralgic hub; features it still maintains today. There is a predesigned circular route named Un tomb per Berga, that takes in the main sights in the town centre. You can download the leaflet from internet or ask for a copy at the Tourist Information Office in Carrer dels Àngels. This street is also the starting point of the route, which then makes its way to the Medieval Plaça de Sant Pere, the Antic Hospital, the city walls, the Torre de les Hores, the Convent de Sant Francesc, and Carrer Major, among other points of interest. And if you're interested in learning more about the history of the region, go back to Carrer del Àngels number 7 and step inside the Espai d'Interpretació de Berga, an interpretive centre that is open every day from 8pm to 8pm.
Morning day 2: Olor de Colònia
Berguedá was full of industrial colonies from the second half of the nineteenth century on, and some were still in production until the late twentieth century. The power of the Llobregat river was harnessed as an energy source, and these settlements, consisting of factories, some of them very large, and in most cases dedicated to textile production, together with housing for workers and basic services like schools, churches, cafes and shops, bloomed all down its course. Nowadays, these colonies are testimony to the country's past and many are in good conditions and can be visited. We especially recommend Colònia Pons, just outside the town of Puig-reig, which stands out for the architecture and urban planning. The church is undoubtedly, the settlement's most emblematic building, and has been dubbed the Cathedral of Alt Llobregat. It currently houses the Interpretation Centre, and continues to function as a place of worship. Other noteworthy buildings include the owner's mansions, as well as the convent, where the settlement's nuns lived and which was also the site of its girls' school and a dormitory for female workers. If you have time, You can use the morning to visit other industrial colonies like Viladomiu Nou, where you can see the Torre de l'Amo -and call in at the Parc Fluvial del Llobregat Tourism Office-, and Cal Vidal, which has its own museum.
It would also be a good idea to save a little time, before or after exploring the textile colonies, to take a look around the market in Berga, which has some 75 stalls selling food products, household goods, costume jewellery and toys. It's been held in Passeig de la Indústria, known as "El Vall", every Saturday since Medieval times.
Afternoon day 2: By bike... or quad
We did warn you that there were plenty of textile colonies to visit, and no matter how great or small your interest in the history of these places, what is clear is that exploring the colonies is also a good way to discover the landscapes of Berguedà, which share the constant presence of the Llobregat river as a unifying element.
That's why this afternoon we'd like to invite you to take a mountain bike (the tour can also be done on foot, but, of course, it takes much longer ...) and follow the Ruta de les Colònies, a 32-kilometre long trail that runs from north to south from its departure point at Cal Rosal, between Gironella and Berga. Or only do a part, if you should set off after lunch and darkness begins to fall. You'll see many of the factories that were teeming with workers doing long hours among the constant deafening noise of the looms, while you cross bridges and dams, passing by chimneys and bell towers ...
If cycling just isn't for you, we can offer a less exhausting activity. Guided tours are conducted (if you prebook and your group is comprised of a minimum of six people) riding quads around the following colonies: Viladomiu Vell, Viladomiu Nou, Cal Pons, Cal Vidal and Ametlla de Merola. If this is not to your liking either, you always have the possibility of doing one of the region's many walking trails at your own speed, exploring what interests you most about the industrial past of Berguedà.
Morning day 3: A colony that’s full of life
We still have to explain that, although they no longer function as such, many of the colonies that sprang up near the Llobregat river are still inhabited today and are, in fact, fully-fledged villages with all their festivals and activities. L'Ametlla de Merola, our destination this morning, is a clear example of this. The village's factory closed down in 1998 but it still has 300 inhabitants and celebrates its fiesta mayor every September, on the Sunday nearest to the feast of Saint Matthew, along with a long list of celebrations and activities throughout the year. At the same time, new and modern business initiatives are opening that take advantage of the villages old buildings, such as Logos Berguedà, a holistic multidisciplinary project that aims to act in various fields of culture and which has set up its own school in the colony. It's true that Ametlla looks more like a proper village than other settlements: its white houses, which give it an almost maritime appearance, are striking and contrast with the grey tones of the factory and the church. The colony's founder, Mateu Serra, was born in the coastal town of Vilassar, and must have taken inspiration from the colours of his native coastline.
Afternoon day 3: Nativity plays
It's time to start to bring our trip to the capital and the industrial settlements of the region to a close. We've been travelling around quite a lot and perhaps it's time to sit a while and enjoy a traditional and seasonal performance of the Pastorets. Ametlla de Merola is a good place to see the nativity play, which has a long tradition here and features words and music by Francesc A. Picas and Josep Conangla, both born in the village. This year there will be performances on Sunday 29th December, Saturday 4th January and on Sunday 12th, 19th and 26th of January. So, if you head for Berguedà on these dates, you know what to expect!
If your visit doesn't coincide with a performance, or if you have some time left after the theatre, we'd like to propose a sweet farewell. In Berga, the Carrer Major and the surrounding streets hold many cake shops to be explored. Here you can find sweet treats like bombons de la Patum, named after the city's most famous fiesta.
Where to stay and where to eat
Cultural venues in Berguedà
The spectacular cement factory built on the orders of Eusebi Güell on the outskirts of Castellar de n'Hug started production some 100 years ago before closing down 40 years ago. Fortunately, today we can continue visiting this unique modernista-style building which is built in a staggered layout down the slope of the hillside in order to take advantage of gravity in the cement manufacturing process. The visits include a tour outside among the industrial remains; while, on the inside, the interpretive centre will help you get a better understand of how the factory was run.
- Paratge del Clot del Moro, s/n, 08696
One of the most unique and attractive tourist sites in the region, and one that will be fun for both adults and kids, since you’ll enter into a real coal mine aboard a mine train to go on a 450 metre trip through the Sant Romà gallery, gaining an understanding of what it was like to work in these mines. But first you can learn a little about the uses of coal and the lives of the miners in the permanent exhibition rooms located inside a building that was originally a convent. This is definitely a must-do visit in Berguedá.
- Colònia Sant Corneli, plaça de Sant Romà, s/n, 08698
The spirit of La Patum, the local summer festival, is always present in the town of Berga, even though the fiesta itself takes place only once a year, on the feast of Corpus Christi. If you’re unable to go to the town for the main fiesta, you can always call in at the Casa de la Patum and get a taste of what it’s like to experience the real deal. On display are the costumes and figures that take part in the processions, while the interpretation centre will give you all the information you need on what the fiesta is all about.
- Plaça del Dr. Saló, 6, 08600
The Cathars played an important role in the history of the Berguedà region, where many Cathars fled to escape persecution. That is why the Palau de Pinós in Bagà hosts a permanent exhibition in which different historical characters, such as William of Berguedà and the Mataplana family, will tell you all about the Cathars and their links to the Alt Berguedà, and especially with the village of Bagà. You can also find out what life was like here in the 7th and 8th centuries.
- Pujada de Palau, 7