Getaway to La Ruta del Cister: Land of human towers and monastic heritage

Discover three Cistercian monasteries and more local places of interest
Colla Joves Xiquets de Valls
By Xavier Amat |

Some of the historic attractions along the well-known Ruta del Cister, on the Costa Daurada, include the Cistercian monasteries Poblet, Santes Creus and Vallbona de les Monges, which are part of Catalonia’s fascinating and significant heritage. This area, though, also boasts other delights, from natural caves to havens of modernisme, and we can guarantee you won’t waste a minute on this organised expedition through this historic part of the country.


Muralles Montblanc de nit

Afternoon, day 1: The Espluga caves and medieval Montblanc

If you start your getaway on Friday afternoon, we suggest you do so at the prehistoric caves in Espluga de Francolí, which are easy to get to and recommended for all ages. If you've got kids with you, they'll love them. The caves are open to the public from 4pm to 6pm on Fridays.

Afterwards, head to Montblanc, just nine kilometres away, and visit the medieval group of buildings, which surprises as the sun sets and day turns to night. Any time of the year is good for strolling around the cobblestone streets and squares full of arcades, visiting churches and palaces, and discovering the history and legends beneath the stones.

Monestir de Poblet

Morning, day 2: The Royal Monastery of Santa María de Poblet and Vimbodí

The only one of La Ruta de Cister's monasteries to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, for its majestic appearance and size and the beautiful artistry of its cloisters, as well as the tombs of the kings and queens interned there is the Royal Monastery of Santa María de Poblet, where you'll spend the morning, and which is still home to a community of nuns.

The monastery is fronted by the Plaça de la Corona d'Aragó, which opens to the impressive sight of the building itself, with its two central hexagonal towers, more suited to a castle than a monastery, that flank the Porta Reial. Once inside, you'll enter the cloister, an excellent presentation of a perfect living art-history lesson, displaying the differences between the Romanesque and the Gothic styles. The cloister leads to all the chambers where you can marvel at the beautiful architecture. The monastery was begun halfway through the 12th century when Ramón Berenguer IV conquered the land, and has witnessed both splendid and destructive times in its history. Today it is full of light. In the church you can see the magnificent 16th-century alabaster altarpiece, and the tombs of the eight kings and six queens of the Crown of Aragon who have lain here for centuries.

Afterwards, head to Vimbodí, about five kilometres away, where you can visit a glass museum and see for yourself how glass is made. The space is open from 10am to 2pm.

Columbari romà de Vila-rodona

Afternoon, day 2: The Romans in Ruta del Cister

This afternoon you'll discover the oldest monument in the region that allows visitors. The Roman Columbarium of Vila-rodona was originally built for the purpose of cremation, which was used in the Roman world until the first third of the second century AD. The remains of the deceased, placed on a pyre of firewood, were burned, and the ashes were collected and stored in mud urns. Around the fifth century BC the urns were deposited in buildings with a circular or rectangular floor and inside niches or holes in the walls.

You can take a guided tour of the Coumbarium or even of the town in general by making advance arrangementss with the Town Hall (97 763 80 06), and if you are in town in mid-May you can participate in any of the recreational activities as part of the Tarraco Viva programme.

If you'd rather, you can visit the Royal Monastery of Santes Creus as an alternative to the Roman Columbario. Of the three Cistercian monasteries, this is the one that remains most faithful to its original Bernadine construction. It's one of the biggest and best-preserved Cistercian monastic complexes you can visit nowadays. Founded in 1168, protected by nobility and royalty, it became a centre for spirituality, studies and colonization of the territory. Monastic life went on uninterrupted until 1835, and now it's uninhabited and makes up part of the monuments of the Catalan Agency of Cultural Heritage.

Celler de Nulles

Day 3: Human towers and bodegas

We suggest that in the morning you take some time to get to know the area of Querol, a typical mountain town; the route you'll take to get there is along some gorgeous countryside as well. The town is rural with houses with lintelled portals, the Santa María church, and the remains of castle walls. If you haven't had breakfast yet, we recommend you eat in the town's restaurant. Afterwards you can visit the Aixopluc dels Castells del Gaià refuge. This space that resembles a porch in Plaça de Querol has five information boards and two models that explain the key role of this area in the creation of the Catalan nation. For a hundred years, between the 10th and 11th centuries, the river Gaià formed the border between 'Catalonia Vella' and Al-Andalus, and for decades during that time, many fortifications were built around the river.

If you're interested in the world of wine, we recommend you spend some time in the modernista bodega in Nulles, where you'll find various enotourism and gastronomic experiences in one of the so-called Cathedrals of Wine.

Cultural venues


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 / 660 677 465.

Things to do, Walks and tours

Guided tours of Santa Coloma de Queralt

In Santa Coloma de Queralt you can go on three types of guided tour: the monument and historic route; the 19th-century route; and the monument route with songs and medieval languages: Gregorian, Occitan, Ancient Castilian, Sephardic... All throughout the year the Santa Coloma de Queralt tourist office organises these guided tours so you can get to know the most interesting spots in the city. For more information and bookings, get in touch with the tourist office.


Museu del Torró i la Xocolata d'Agramunt

Take a journey through history to discover the origins of 'torró' (nougat, traditional at Christmastime) and chocolate, as well as how they're made, and the Turrones Vicens company, via images, sounds and scents. Around October 12 in Agramunt they celebrate a fair dedicated to torró and chocolate.

Things to do, Event spaces

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.

Things to do, Cultural centres

Centre d’interpretació del tèxtil i Museu Agrícola La Fàbrica

La Fábrica Textile Study Centre and Agriculture Museum was an industrial complex that encompassed the factory, the chimney, the house, the pond, and the grounds of the Martí Llopart and Trenchs textile factory that was founded in El Pla in 1916, and which employed many people who lived in the town and surrounding areas. Highlights include the modernista elements and the pond, which is surprisingly large. Today in one of the naves is the Agriculture Museum, and you'll also find the textile Study Centre with three century-old looms, an interactive table and a promotional video.To arrange a visit, get in touch with the Town Hall at 97 763 00 06.


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.

Museu de la Vida Rural
© Albert Carreras
Museums, Natural history

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.

Museu de la Mecanització Agrària J. Trepat
© R. Miarnau
Museums, Science and technology

J. Trepat Factory Museum in Tàrrega

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. This museum is part of the Network of Science and Technical Museums of Catalonia.


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.

Things to do, Event spaces

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.