Escape to the Ruta del Cister: Enjoy the beauty of dry stone buildings

The Ruta de La Capona, in Pla de Santa Maria, gives you the chance to see varied examples of these simple but pretty creations all found close together

As well as its famous monasteries, the Ruta del Cister in the Costa Daurada region, has many other interesting features and itineraries to follow. The one suggested here is located near the town of Pla de Santa Maria, and covers a flat route of around two kilometres, which will take just over an hour to complete and is suitable for all ages. The highlights of the area you'll visit are the small dry stone buildings, constructed without cement or mortar in many different forms by farmers for storing tools or food for their animals, to be used as a place of shelter during storms or even to sleep, if necessary. They also proved a useful way to use up stones cleared from local pathways.

This route, called La Capona, has been marked out since 2002, and has been the recipient of awards on various occasions, such as the Cultural Heritage Safeguarding prize from the Vallencs Institute of Studies. The start of the route can be found on a side road between kilometres 20 and 21 on the C27 road, located between Pla de Santa Maria and El Pont d'Armentera; it is indicated with a sign that says 'ruta de les barraques de pedra seca' ('route of dry stone huts'). Head down the side road and, after 2.5 kilometres, you'll find a car park. Leave your vehicle here and almost immediately, among the almond trees (which are beautiful at the end of winter when they blossom), you'll find your first buildings. This is a circular route, during which you'll see huts, shelters, hiding-places... Not to be missed is the pretty entrance to the 'cossiol' of La Capona, the 'arneres' where beehives ('arnes') were stored, the circular construction of La Figuera and the 'cossiol' of El Soleta, an amazing building used to collect rainwater that features four arcades and two entrances.

If you'd like to make sure you don't miss any of the interesting features on the route - in which you can also see many olive trees and vines - find out about the guided tours organised by the town council of Pla de Santa Maria by calling 977 63 00 06.

Cultural venues

Torre de la Mixarda

The Mixarda Tower (Torre de la Mixarda) is a circular watchtower, 10 metres high and 6 metres in diameter. It was built between the 16th and 17th centuries and has been designated a Cultural Asset of National Interest. You can visit its interior, where you’ll find a study centre on watchtowers. To get there, from Figuerola del Camp take the path towards Valls, then follow the green flags.

  1. Torre Mixarda, s/n, 43811
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Museu de la Vida Rural

The Museum of Rural Life (El Museu de la Vida Rural) in l’Espluga de Francolí, explores all the characteristics of traditional life in the towns and villages of Catalonia, with special reference to agricultural labourers as a key feature of rural life. It has a varied collection of items related to traditional life, culture, agricultural workers, arts and craft trades on permanent show. The collections are divided into various sections installed in such a way as to discover the Catalan rural world through time up to the present day.

  1. Carretera de Montblanc, 35, 43440
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J. Trepat Museum of Agricultural Machines

Take a stroll and a leap through time at the Cal Trepat factory, the main manufacturer of agricultural machinery in the whole of Spain during the middle of the 19th century.

  1. Av. de Josep Trepat Galceran, 9, 25300
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Medieval complex of Guimerà

This is a charming village with a significant historical part. Guimerà still has its medieval street layout, which climbs up to the church of Santa Maria and the remains of the local castle, from where you can enjoy magnificent views. During August, a medieval market takes place here with a privileged natural backdrop.

  1. Pl. Major, s/n, 25341
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Medieval town of Conesa

The historic town centre of Conesa has been declared a Cultural Asset of National Interest, and you can only access it through the gateway of Santa Maria or of Sant Antoni, dating from the 14th century. Stroll the streets while exploring the remains of the wall, towers and the parish church of l’Assumpció. For guided tours, you need to make a reservation in advance by calling 626 900 520.

  1. Pl. Major, 2, 43437
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Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet

One of the three monasteries that make up the Cistercian Trails and possibly the best known thanks to its grandeur, the fact that the Kings of the Crown of Aragon are interred here and because it has been inhabited by monks since they returned here in 1940. Founded in the mid-12th century, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.

  1. Plaça de la Corona d'Aragó, 11, (Poblet)
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Santa Maria de Vallbona Convent

The most important Cistercian convent in Catalonia, Santa Maria de Vallbona is still inhabited by nuns after some 850 years of history. Though more humble in appearance than the Monasteries of Poblet and Santes Creus, it’s worth visiting to see its austere but beautiful cloister, its bare chapterhouse and the single-nave church, as well as its archives that are rich with historical documents.

  1. C/ Major, s/n, (Vallbona de les monges)
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Royal Monastry of Santes Creus

Unlike the Monastery of Poblet, Santes Creus has been uninhabited for some decades now. But that does mean that visitors can enter all of its spaces, some of which have been turned into museum exhibits. This is a beautiful monastery, whose cloister is a perfect example of the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic style and which boasts exquisitely detailed capitals. The church, which contains the tombs of a number of Kings of the Crown of Aragon, is another highlight of the visit.

  1. Plaça de Jaume el Just, s/n, (Santes Creus)
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L'Espluga caves

Among the longest caves in the world formed in conglomerate rock. Part of the interior of the caves is habilitated as a museum dedicated to explaining the human imprint on this site and the geological formation of the cavity. For the more adventurous, with prior reservation, there is the possibility of doing a caving trip up the underground river.

  1. Av. Catalunya, s/n, (L'Espluga de Francolí)
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Medieval Ensemble of Montblanc

Any time of the year is good for a walk around the streets and squares of Montblanc, visiting its churches and townhouses and discovering its history and legends in the company of tourist guides.

  1. Inici a l'antiga església de Sant Francesc (Oficina de Turisme), (L'Espluga de Francolí)
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