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Getaway to Anoia: the hidden side of Montserrat

We visit three towns in the foothills of Montserrat, on the border with the wine world of Penedès and Barcelona’s doorstep

If the north of Anoia is a country of castles, plains and wide skies, in the south-east of the region, the area is sheltered by Catalonia’s sacred mountain of Montserrat and set between vineyards, mountain streams and fields. We suggest visiting three villages found at the crossroads between Central Catalonia, Penedès and Baix Llobregat. This is where rural Catalonia begins, where the plain of the Llobregat river widens to become a tranquil spot for breaks out of the city.

Day 1 – afternoon: Hostalets de Pierola, where time stands still

As soon as you arrive in Hostalets de Pierola, you feel as though you’re in a place where time has stopped, and stopped specifically at the start of the 20th century. That was when Catalonia saw the explosion of modernisme and noucentisme, just a few decades apart. These cultural movements reached a good number of towns in the region, resulting in architectural jewels scattered all along the coast and just inland. A good example of this is the series of buildings that still stand today in this small town of just 2,000 inhabitants. The train line from Barcelona to Igualada reached Piera in 1897, which allowed Hostalets to open itself up to the modern world. The arrival of the train, together with the privileged setting, with Montserrat in the background, made this village appealing to various industrialists and businessmen who chose it as their summer destination – around 15 residences were the result of their affection, many constructed during the second decade of the last century.

You can follow the modernista and noucentista footprint in Hostalets de Pierola by parking close to the centre, near the popular Placeta. This is where C/Major and C/ Isidre Vallès meet, a good place to start your tour. On the right, you’ll soon see Casa Cucurella, dating from 1924, a noucentista building paid for by the Cucurella family, important patrons in Hostalets at the time. The house, designed by the architect Josep Goday is noteworthy for the sgraffito on its façade, handiwork of the sculptor Ferran Serra Sala. Leaving behind Casa Cucurella and heading in the opposite direction down C/Major, you reach what is still one of the cultural nerve centres of the village, the Casal Català, created under the protection of the Lliga Regionalista (a Catalan political party that existed in the first third of the 20th century). Stop here for a drink then cross C/Catalunya to find two more points of interest: the Torre del Senyor Enric, a summer house built in 1903, and Cal Maristany, both of which were built for the Cucurellas. The former was for Enric Cucurella and the other for his brother Joan. Cal Maristany has been renovated and today is the location for a music school that is a source of local pride.

The Escoles Nacionals connect the houses of the Cucurella brothers and those of the brothers, Josep and Pau Pons, which are also connected. These two ‘Indians’ (Catalans who made their fortunes in the Americans, in this case they were wine merchants who worked with Uruguay), erected, respectively, a house in 1907 (Cal Josepet) and a number of modernista apartments in 1915 – after a few years, the latter were transformed into the first textile factories of Hostalets. Carry on past the houses of the Pons brothers and head to C/Anselm Clavé, which will bring you back to C/Major. Head up C/Major passing Cal Ponsa, which still has its modernista interior, and you’ll get to the beautiful façade of Torre Solanas. Originally, this unusual noble building belonged to the Solanas Pujol family. Today, it belongs to the Lloparts.

If you follow the ronda de Ponent, you’ll soon get to Can Valls, built more than 800 years ago and inhabited by the Valls family since 1432. At the start of the ’20s, this country home was renovated and decorated with modernista features, including broken tile (trencadís) mosaics and glazed ceramics. Finally, to finish your visit, go down C/Jacint Verdaguer, turn onto C/ de l’Església and stop to admire the façade of Cal Xic Carboner.

Day 2 – morning: surrounds of Piera, wild nature

Without going too far from Hostalets de Pierola, we suggest a morning enjoying the nature around Piera. The southern part of Anoia has a landscape typical of the Mediterranean inland area, characterised by pine and oak forests, and the aroma of thyme, broom and rosemary. You can find all this fauna, as well as vineyards and fields, if you go for an outing either on foot or by car. There are many options to choose from. We recommend two routes that will take you to the hermitage of Sant Nicolau del Tretzè, a Romanesque chapel from the 12th-13th centuries that is built on the site of an old castle, the earliest parts of which date from the 6th century. If you go by car, take the Bedorc road from Piera, the BV-2242. Once you reach Bedorc, park the car and head into the lushness of the Guitza mountain range. Follow the valley of the Anoia river to get to the Can Codony country house. Here, take the path that follows the course of the river until you reach the BV-2304. You don’t have to take the road, though, there is a path that runs parallel to it, which will take you to Sant Jaume Sesoliveres, about four kilometres from Bedorc. From there, after taking a look around and stopping for a drink, head back to the BV-2242 and follow it until the first turning on the left, which will take you to the hermitage. To get back, take the path that leaves the hermitage in the direction of Bedorc and walk parallel to the road until you get to the point where the path finishes, a few hundred metres from where you left the car.

However, if you want to have a less energetic morning, there is a more direct route to get to the church and, if you want, Sant Jaume Sesoliveres. Once you’ve got to Piera by car, continue driving to Bedorc then keep following the BV-2242 until you get to the turning to the Sant Nicolau hermitage. Once you’ve completed your visit – you can also walk around the surrounds of the building – head back to the car to carry on to Sant Jaume. On the way, both there and back, don’t forget to keep an eye out for the country houses that overlook the road.

Day 2 – afternoon: landmarks of Piera, the beginning of Christian civilisation

If in the surrounds of Piera, we lost ourselves in a natural paradise, the town will take us on a trip through history from the roots of Catalan culture up to the present day. To get in touch with the past, start your tour in Plaça de la Vila, where walking among the arcades is a good way to get your energy levels going again after lunch. From there, head to Plaça de Joan Orpí, where some other arcades are worth seeing: they hide the 16th-century Casa de les Voltes, built at a time of local prosperity.

Next, head through the maze of streets to Plaça de l’Església and the Santa Maria de Piera church, built in the 12th century. The church, initially Romanesque but extended in the transitional gothic style, has a chapel that can be visited. When you come out, take C/Sant Bonifaci and you will gradually reach the heart of the town, the 10th-century castle that still stands today and is open to the public the first Sunday of each month. The castle, originally the property of the Sant Cugat Monastery, was acquired by the family of the Counts of Barcelona towards the middle of the 11th century. It remained under royal protection until it was obtained by the Pedralbes Monastery in the mid-15th century. It is a construction common to this area: its prime function was to guard the border with Arab lands, which also marked the boundary of Old Catalonia. Whether you’re a medieval history buff or looking for a pleasant place to walk, the castle of Piera is just the place for you.

If you would like to discover even more history, your next stop shoould be on C/Jaume Fons – the same road that took us to the castle – to admire the façade of the 18th-century Casa Sastre. Carry on and you’ll arrive once more at C/Sant Bonifaci, where you’ll find the Creu de la Plaça, which has no practical use today but in former times marked a milestone on the Royal Way that ran from Barcelona to Madrid and passed through Piera.

To finish this exploration of history, jump in your car and head to the Can Martí estate where the hermitage of Santa Magdalena de l’Estela, constructed in the 13th century, is a great place to round off this relaxing day.

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Day 3 – morning: Masquefa, a window on the exotic

Day 3 – morning: Masquefa, a window on the exotic

Having finished our historical visit to Piera, a good way to start the morning in Masquefa is with a return to the 20th century and a visit to the study centre of the Fàbrica Rogelio Rojo, located close to C/Major. Here you’ll discover how the metallurgic industry that was established in rural Masquefa around 1910 onwards, lasted consistently as the economic driver in the town until very recently. In the collective memory of Masquefa’s residents, the siren of the factory still rings, marking, as in many other villages, the slow rhythm of daily life.

Leaving the Fàbrica Rogelio Rojo, head along C/Major, which is the backbone of the centre of town. You’ll arrive at the country house of Can Massana, which, surrounded by vineyards and fields, still has the feeling of paradise from many locals’ childhoods. In the background, Montserrat rises with all her might, and if you follow the path that runs parallel to the road in the direction of Piera, you’ll have the chance to see one of the more unusual views of the mountain.

Let’s back up a little first, and head to the cemetery. Here there is a pleasant path that leads to the church of Sant Pere i la Santa Creu, known locally as the Old Cemetery, about a kilometre out of the village. It’s a Romanesque hermitage, which, like the castle of Piera, was a military fortification that watched over the frontier of the Marca Hispànica, an eighth-century territory of the Carolingian Empire. Enjoy breakfast at the hermitage or lose yourself amongst the woods and streams that surround it, but be sure not to miss the views of Montserrat through the vineyards. 

Retrace your steps, and from the iron gate of Can Massana, which connects with C/Major, a road comes out on the left-hand side that will take you to the zone of schools. Not much further on, on C/Santa Clara, you’ll find one of the more exotic centres in Catalonia. This is the CRARC, the Centre for the Recover of Amphibians and Reptiles of Catalonia, nowadays a reference point for Catalan vets, a unique place in Spain and one of the few of its kind in Europe. Its purpose is to cure and benefit the reproduction of reptiles, abandoned or not, especially native species. Today, CRARC and COMAM, as it’s known locally, have a social and educational function for their visitors, giving them a detailed idea of this kind of native fauna.

Day 3 – afternoon: Bruc, the majesty of Montserrat

After three days of having it as a backdrop, we’ll finish this excursion by actually visiting the mountain of Montserrat. Head a few kilometres out of Masquefa, on the A-2 heading in the direction of Igualada, and you’ll soon come across the town of Bruc. The privileged location that you’ll see didn’t pass unnoticed by the Neolithic people, who established a settlement there in the year 3,000 BC, and there have been inhabitants in the area ever since. As in neighbouring towns, the border between Old Catalonia and the Arab world influenced the first Christian settlements in this zone, such as the church of Santa Maria del Bruc, from the 12th century.

In Bruc you can also see a monument to the famous Bruc battle, and the modernista complex Can Casas, created in 1899. But this isn’t only a cultural or historical visit, you can also lose yourself here, for instance by following one of the routes that will take you to the Natural Park of the Mountain of Montserrat. You’ll therefore see Montserrat from all possible angles, as the mountain stands tall, majestic and powerful, with a purple tone that is constantly changing, and which at sunset lights us with a strange reflection ­­- perhaps the result of one of the numerous legends of which it is the protagonist.

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