Winter getaway to l’Anoia

A land of castles, fresh air and leather at the crossroads

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This region is something like Thursday. It's not in the middle of nowhere, but rather in the middle of everywhere: halfway between Barcelona and Lleida; a transition zone between the county of Penedès and Central Catalonia. In fact, it's something of a miniature country in itself, a jigsaw puzzle with three pieces: Alta Segarra (or High Anoia), the heavenly plateau that lends itself so well to aerial views; Southern Anoia, lying at the feet of Montserrat, where we will set off on a border route, and, between them, Conca d'Òdena, a low lying humid area that plays home to the incomparable metropolis of an unimaginable region. Let's explore it all together.


Afternoon day 1: Welcome to Outletland

©Josep Cano

The golden age of the leather tanning industry is over. That of the clothes industry too. It's sad but true. But the ancient Aqualata has refused to roll over and die. It's made of hewn stone. Like the rest of the region, the capital of Anoia is determined to stage an economic rebirth and has translated this determination into specific measures designed to overcome the crisis and keep its old enemy - unemployment - at bay. The spectacular, phoenix-like, almost miraculous recovery of Igualada is something you can experience for yourself this afternoon in one of its most popular forms of expression: by visiting its outlets or factory-shops.

Here, you can find good quality items at reasonable prices. Depending on the source of information there are some just under twenty or just over twenty establishments. Plenty to choose from, whichever estimate you choose to believe. There is also variety: clothes for men, for women, for kids, for babies, underwear, leather... as well as shoes and toys and more... The two roads along which most factories are grouped run in parallel to each other:  the southern stretch of Avinguda de Balmes and Carrer de Santa Caterina, just behind the enormous Plaça de Cal Font. You can find a map indicating the location of all the establishments in the link above. If you go to Igualada by car, park to the north of Passeig de Jacint Verdaguer and make your way to the centre on foot.


The yearly fiesta of the outlet stores is called REC.0, and is when, twice per year, the old factories and tanning shops in the Rec neighbourhood are transformed into 30 pop-up outlet stores for four days. If you're not put off by crowds, take note that the next edition is scheduled for June 2014.


Morning day 2: Exploring the borders

There's more to Anoia than the city of Igualada. One of the best ways to explore it is the Border Castles Trail. Why speak about borders? It's because, at the beginning of the 10th century, Anoia was on the southern border of Catalonia, which was in the process of winning territory back from the Saracens. In fact, this is a major national trail with nine sub-routes, but here we are only concerned with the Anoia stretch, which can be extended to include other Medieval buildings.


This morning, we are going to visit three of these five castles - the ones that lie closest to Igualada, following a triangular trail between (la Pobla de) Claramunt, which is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays; Òdena - of which there remains little more than the tower (get the key from the town hall), and Tossa, at Santa Margarida de Montbui, the watchtower of Igualada and the surrounding area, where visits must be prebooked, except on Sundays. Expect great views of the Conca d'Òdena river valley from all three castles.


Do you need an alternative suggestion? How about more views, but from much further up? Make an early start and go up in a hot air balloon and fly over all of Anoia with Xavi Aguilera and his Camins de Vent. To do so, head for the Aeròdrom d'Igualada-Òdena if the wind is coming from the east and to Rubió, Copons or Sant Martí de Tous (often shortened to Tous), located to the west of the region's capital city, when it's blowing from the west.


Afternoon day 2: Towards the south-west

©V Roig

We still have two frontier castles to visit in order to complete our route. They are located in the south-western part of the region, in a spur of land that penetrates the adjoining region of Penedès and Camp de Tarragona. With some walls left defiantely standing, Miralles castle sits crowning a hilltop in the Miralles-Queralt range and gave rise to the village of Santa Maria de Miralles. A paved track leads you from the village to a clearing on the hillside, where you will find a square-shaped tower and a Romanesque church. The whole site can be visited on the outside for free but if you want to go inside the chapel, you should, as always, go to the town hall to ask for the key (on weekdays). Or you could wait for one of the gatherings that take place at the castle on the Sunday after Pentecost, between May and June.

We will finish off our day's outing a little to the south, one the other side of the C-37 highway, in the town of Llacuna, where we will find Vilademàger, a castle we can approach via a mountain path. We are now in the Serra d'Ancosa mountain range, very near Alt Penedès and Alt Camp. Observe the Romanesque church of Sant Pere, the circular tower and the decapitated remains of two walls: the fort and, further out, the old town. It's worthwhile going inside the temple to see the keystone of the apse and the Gothic murals. Get the key from Vilademàger campsite but we advise you to phone the town hall or the parish council in advance (if necessary, to Monsignor Ramon's own mobile phone). Whether you go in or stay outside, enjoy the views of the wonderful, wide open Ancosa plain.


Morning day 3: The geography of leather

The third day of our winter stay in Anoia will be given over exclusively to industrial tourism. To explore the region's tanning industry, we'll head for Igualada's Rec neighborhood, a kind of eighteenth century industrial estate dedicated to leather tanning, which occupies the space between the medieval village and the river, a landscape that is unique in Catalonia and even in Europe. To help you explore the area's little lanes you have the pleasant and interesting Viatge per la pell route, a walking tour that takes you to all the sights of the historic center and the most famous tanneries in the Rec neighbourhood. The town's textile industry also has a dedicated walking route in the shape of Un passeig per la Igualada industrial.

The leather tanning tour culminates at the Museu de la Pell d'Igualada and the peculiar Museu del Traginer. The first includes the 18th century Cal Granotes tannery, where you will see how the locals of that period transformed skins into leather, a process that took a full year!  - and the 19th century Cal Boyer cotton mill, which is the headquarters for four tours on leather and the uses of water.  power. harnessing of water. Adapted especially for the blind, the Carrier Museum shows the evolution of the transport industry and includes the Antoni Ros collection, with 39 wagons and carriages and more than 2,000 pieces spread over three floors. You can have a bite to eat here at the Racó del Traginer restaurant.


Afternoon day 3: The unknown Alta Segarra

Relax after a hard morning and linger over your postprandial coffee or squeeze every drop of experience from your last few hours in Anoia. It's up to you. You can lose yourself in the streets and alleyways and passages of the historical centre of Igualada. Fans of breaking fashion and vintage folky-style footwear can buy a pair of comfortable Igualada-style espadrilles from Monday to Saturday.

If you're still willing to take the car and explore some more, you could head for the peaceful Alta Segarra (or Alta Anoia, it's really the same thing), an unofficial historical and natural region. It's a high up, flat and practically unpopulated land full of wheat fields with Calaf as its major urban centre. Breathe in the peace and tranquility, taste the exquisite cigronet de l'Alta Anoia or explore its historical heritage. You now have two good excuses thanks to the finalization of the restoration work on the Castell de Boixadors, at Sant Pere Sallavinera, and the Iberian walls discovered in Prats de Rei in 2013 which will be conserved at put on public display. You're looking at 26 centuries of history.



Cultural venues in l'Anoia

Museu de la Pell d’Igualada i Comarcal de l’Anoia

Tracing its origins back to 1949 and located in industrial heritage Rec neighbourhood, the Igualada leather museum was first opened in the 1990s in the old 19th century Cal Boyer cotton factory. It offers four circuits: Man and water, From the pit to the pumps, Leather in history and The world of leather. The other centre is set in the old 18th century Cal Granotes tannery, in which you can learn everything about the tanning process in the preindustrial era.

  1. Doctor Joan Mercader, s/n, 08700
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Museu Molí Paperer de Capellades

A popular destination for school trips and attracting more than 30,000 people every year, the Capellades Paper Mill Museum is also worth visiting for adults. Inaugurated in 196 in one of the town’s 7th century mills, the museum has a collection illustrating 7 centuries of paper production and culture through visits and workshops. The mill still generates half of its income from the sale of paper made using traditional techniques.

  1. Pau Casals, 10, 08786
More info

Castell de Claramunt

Rather than amenities, castles are monuments, and this is one of 13 castles run by the History Museum of Catalonia. With more than 1,000 years of history, Claramunt Castle is one of the icons of the region, one of the most spectacular forts in the country and the main attraction of the region’s Border Castle Trail. Access is on foot, but the 25 minute walk to the top of the hill will be well rewarded. The trail also includes the castles of Òdena, Tossa, Miralles and Vilademàger.

  1. Camí del Castell, s/n, 08787
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