Spring-Summer Getaway to Bages

Salt and castles galore

Bages is a fairly extensive region, but our getaway will take us to a concrete part of it - an irregular square between Cardona, Súria, Balsareny and Sallent - where we'll find plenty of attractions that will fill up our whole weekend. Cardona and Súria are crossed by the River Cardener, and Balsereny and Sallent by the River Llobregat, and all of them are marked by their history as frontier lands dotted with forts and castles. In fact, we'll be visiting three castles, all very different, on our getaway.

Afternoon day 1: The historical centre of Cardona

© Oscar Rodbag / Fundació Cardona Històrica

A stroll around the historical centre of Cardona, considered to be a site of national cultural interest, takes us right back to the medieval era. The imposing shape of the castle is a constant presence while walking the dark streets, and the white shape of the salt mountain is also visible from many points in the town. You can see it, for example from Plaça de la Fira, where we'll begin our walk. There exists the possibility of going on a guided tour of Cardona and you'll find out all about it at the Medieval Cardona Centre, in Plaça de la Fira. But if you prefer to strike out on your own, here are some tips on sights worth seeing.

Plaça de la Fira is a large, open square, with terrace tables for drinks and a number of important buildings, including the town hall and the above-mentioned Medieval Cardona Centre, which we recommend dropping in at to get a better idea of what Cardona was like in the Middle Ages. You'll also see a monument to Count Borrell II, who is considered to be responsible for the restoration of Cardona in the year 986, which is two year before the time when he broke the treaty that bound his territory to Frankish imperial rule, thus setting the Catalan counties on the path towards independence. At that time, this square was the site of annual fairs and was located outside the town's walls. The construction of the Gothic Church of Sant Miquel led to the demolition of the walls and the square became part of the town itself and came to be considered the main square. We'll visit the church later.

Right now, we'll take Carrer de la Fira, which already has a medieval appearance, due in no small measure to the stretches of wall that remain standing, and for the place it end at, the chapel and square of Santa Eulàlia, with its beautiful gothic portals. Underneath its porches you'll find the Josep Arnau Salt Museum, with an exhibition of the work of the craftsman from which it takes its name.

We'll leave the square by way of Avinguda del Rastrillo, just in front of the tourist information office and with the castle up ahead. But we'll plunge back into the historical centre through Carrer dels Escasany, running parallel above Carrer de la Fira. A number of half-hidden alleyways link the two streets, while some houses tell us through their gothic windows and wall plaques that they have been around for half a millennium. You should now be in Plaça del Mercat, a porticoed square in which stallholders have been selling their goods since thr 10th century. There's also the Church of Sant Miquel, a notable single-naved gothic construction, which replaced the old Romanesque building in the 14th century.

An archway connects the square to Carrer Major, an ancient residential street which we'll leave on the right to take Carrer del Convent and head for a viewpoint called Mirador de les Hortes, from where you'll have a great view of the Castle of Cardona, the rooftops of the houses in the town and the surrounding countryside. There are a number of local facilities in this area, including old people's homes, schools and health centres. We'll head for the Parc del Forn de la Munició and then walk down Carrer de Francesc Moragas to Carrer Major. Standing right in front is a magnificent gothic mansion house, which is nowadays occupied by a well known bank. Heading down the street a little we'll turn right into Carrer del Teatre and walk to Plaça de la Vall, which owes its name to the fact that the ground here has the shape of a pit where water was collected in order to be used in the saltworks. We'll finish our exploration of the medieval streets of Cardona by taking Carrer de Cambres and emerging on the upper side of Plaça de la Fira, where we'll find the door to the Church of Sant Miquel and an attractive monument by sculptor Josep Campeny dedicated to Catalonia's national day, the 11th of September, and which celebrates its 100th year of existence in 2014.

Morning day 2: The castle, the collegiate church and salt

© Josep Cano /Diputació de Barcelona

If a visit to the historical centre of Cardona is worthwhile, the opportunities you have just outside the town won't disappoint you either, especially when you're heading for the Parc Cultural de la Muntanya de Sal, where you'll be able to visit a salt mine. The mine has been open to visits since 1997 and offers some spectacular sights. Some even call one of its galleries the "Sistine Chapel" because of the stalactites there. You'll also see that salt is not always white. The miners that worked here probably weren't so impressed by its beauty since the work here, like in all mines, was hard, as you'll be told during your visit. Once you have your helmet on, you'll be able to explore 500 metres through this unique environment, though you should bear in mind that the mine has a total of 300 kilometres of tunnels. The mine is still operational, though the amount of salt produced is far less than during its heydays between 1929 and 1990. Together with its open-air museum zone, the mine offers a good introduction to the history of Cardona in the 20th century and allows visitors to live a unique experience under the mountain of salt.

We'll now go from the bowels of the mountain to the top of another. The Castle of Cardona still stands in a dominant position overlooking its territory. A large part of the building is now given over to the Parador hotel, but there are plenty of spaces open to visitors, including the ducal courtyard, the cloister and the Minyona tower which proffers magnificent views. We recommend that you join a guided visit in order to visit the castle and the adjoining Collegiate Church of Sant Vicenç. Apart from the classic tour of the ensemble, there are a number of alternative visits related to 1714 and the War of the Spanish Succession. Cardona was, in fact, the last Catalan town to fall to the Bourbon troops, seven days after the fall of Barcelona. The ensemble has considerable historical, strategic and patrimonial value (the Collegiate Church of Sant Vicenç is considered to be a particularly fine example of early Catalan Romanesque architecture), as well as religious significance, since Saint Ramon Nonat died here in the year 1240.

Afternoon day 2: The old town of Súria

© Josep Cano / Diputació de Barcelona

We'll take highway C-55 in a southerly direction to the town of Súria, which we'll visit this afternoon. We suggest that you leave your car on the main road, which is called Carrer d'Àngel Guimerà when it passes through Súria), alongside the River Cardener, and, after taking a stroll along the river, starting walking up the streets that will take you to the Old Town. The going is steep but it's a short walk. You could, for example, take Carrer de Sant Jaume, then Carrer de Sant Sebastià, and you'll soon reach the top. Next to a viewpoint, you'll find the Portal de Garbona. Cross the gateway and you'll enter the heart of medieval Súria, with its cobbled streets, porches and stone houses, still bearing the names of their original owners (Cal Castilla, Cal Juliu, Cal Quim, Cal Xicana...). Stroll leisurely along Carrer de la Mura, Carrer de Sant Climent, Carrer Major... In the latter street you'll find El Casinet, one of the town's most prominent buildings, part of which lies over the ancients walls. You'll also come across Plaça Major, the town's central square and the site of the town hall (Cal Quinquer), where the pretender to the throne of Spain, Charles V, stayed in 1837 during the First Carlist War.

You'll finally come to the church, which adjoins the castle that crowns the village and is its point of origin. The Church of Roser retains some Romanesque elements, but you can clearly see the transformations it's undergone over the centuries, some of which are fairly recent. That is the case of the colorful sgraffito of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus on the main facade, above the door, which dates from the late 20th century. As we mentioned, the castle was the place where the town originated. It was first a watchtower when these lands were a buffer zone between the Christian and Islamic kingdoms. Since then, it has been home to lords and keepers and was even a school a century ago. It was restored in 1984 and nowadays houses an interpretation centre. It's a good place to finish our visit to Súria.

Morning day 3: A private castle

© Xavier Amat

Today we're going from one castle to another. Access to the one in Balsareny is by way of track in good conditions. In fact, the castle is still inhabited, on a seasonal, basis, by its owners. That means that some of the castle's dependencies are not open to visitors, though most are, and visits are on Sunday mornings and Saturday afternoons (closed in August). So, on this last morning of our getaway, we'll join one of the guided visits (which are dramatised on the first Sunday of each month), beginning in the central courtyard where, among other elements of interest, there is a cistern with the appearance of a well.

First, though, they'll lead us outdoors. The views are splendid, and we can see other fortresses nearby. For this was once a no-man's land, and castles were key to achieving military victory. We'll go to the hermitage, which is hidden away  a few metres below. It's Romanesque, but its interior is rather unique, since it exemplifies the transition from Romanesque to Gothic styles, and clashes a little with the chapel, which was built some years later, where the lords of the castle wanted to be buried.

Let's go back inside the castle-mansion house and begin to explore its dependencies. The truth is that every step we take reveals another surprise. For example, the armoury is an authentic art museum, with its walls full of paintings, and a showcase with a cap that once belonged to Pope Pious X, while the 18th century furniture includes a collection of six-legged chairs. In one corner of this room there is a library with a valuable collection of books.

In another room, we'll find a statue of the Mother of God of the Castle (this is the authentic one, of which there is a copy in the hermitage). It's made from Carrara marble and was recovered from a ditch where it had been thrown away. The kitchen is another interesting place, among the objects on display there is a drinking jug with one of the largest spouts you've ever seen.

On the ground floor there's a cellar with a 17th century wine vat and what is quite possibly the most beautiful room in the whole of the castle, the completely Gothic Tinell Hall, where concerts are frequently scheduled.
Taking one last look at the exceptional views of different shades of green that can be seen from on top of the hill, we'll say goodbye to the Castle Balsarenys.

Afternoon day 3: Sallent, a pioneer in the industrialisation of Catalonia

© Josep Alboquers / Diputació de Barcelona

And so we reach the last part of our getaway. We'd strongly advise you to visit Sallent during Les Enramades, which is considered to be a festivity of national cultural and traditional interest, and takes place from the Thursday of Corpus Christi to the following Monday. But if that's not possible, exploring Sallent is a pleasure at any time of the years.

You'll find out that Sallent was a pioneer in the industrialization of Catalonia. For example, the first mechanical loom in Spain was used here, in the factory works of the Casa Torres. The fact that the River Llobregat, which is known as 'the working river', flows through the town has a lot to do with that fact, of course, and Sallent was a hardworking textile town for a whole century. Mining also became another important activity here. The above mentioned Casa Torres is today the Torres House-Museum, and we suggest that you visit it (after booking) upon your arrival in Sallent, in order to learn about the history of one of the families that controlled one of the most important factories in the area. It's located next to the Bridge of Pere Otger, and while it's obvious, even from outside that its dimensions denote an important building, it's only when you go inside that you'll be able to see all of its luxurious details, such as art works, portraits of the family, ornaments and a number of liturgical items that once belonged to Bishop Torres.

When we leave, we can head for the nearby Plaça de la Vila, and continue along Carrer Torres, but only until we reach a pretty 16th century corner house called Cal Moliner, which nowadays houses the town's music school and an auditorium. Leave the house behind on your left and descend to a gardened area next to the river. As well as a tall chimney, you'll see a dry stone shack and an old electricity generator, along with remains of the 14th century walls. From here we can carry on walking to the Porta dels Embotits, and then head for Carrer Clos, where we'll find the old rectory and walk along Carrer de l'Església, to Plaça de la Pau. At this spot -though to find the entrance you'll have to go a few metres up Carrer d'Àngel Guimerà- there is another place of interest, the  Sant Antoni M. Claret House-Museum. Here there's the birthplace of the founded of the Claretians and one of the town's most illustrious sons (he was born in this house in 1807), and the church that bears his name, which has a very modern appearance. The permanent exhibition at Casa Claret, which is how the house-museum is also known, commemorates the life and works of the saint, and there is also a multipurpose hall at the disposal of the village. In Plaça de la Pau there are other noteworthy buildings including Casa Gran, an 11th century mansion house where, on the 29th of August 1812, the Junta Superior of the Principality swore loyalty to the Spanish Constitution.

From here we can make our way to Plaça de Sant Antoni Maria Claret, a long, agreeable square that is practically an avenue, which, once again, commemorates the local saint, not only in name, but also with the statue in the middle of the square. A short distance away you'll see the parish church of Santa Maria, which dates from the last century.

We can finish our walk around Sallent by taking Carrer d'Àngel Guimerà to Plaça d'Anselm Clavé, by way of Plaça de la Verdura, and then Carrer Nou until we find ourselves once again in front of the Torres Amat House-Museum. We can say our goodbyes to the River Llobregat and the Bages region from the bridge.

Cultural venues in Bages

Món Sant Benet

The complex cultural and recreational complex run by the Fundació Catalunya - La Pedrera near Manresa invites you to savour it slowly: the Romanesque monastery of Sant Benet de Bages, the Alicia Foundation, the ecological market gardens, the hotel with three restaurants, one with a Michelin star, and spaces for events and meetings ... In brief: art, cuisine and nature for all ages, tastes, and budget, bound together since 2007 in an aromatic sauce. How are you going to taste it?

  1. Camí de Sant Benet de Bages, s/n, 08272
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Kursaal – Espai d’arts escèniques Manresa

The Scenic Arts Centre in Manresa has a busy schedule that includes performances in various genres, as well as education in the scenic arts and a bar-restaurant. It’s set in a noucentista-style building from the 1920s that was closed in 1980 and reopened in 2007 as a theatre and concert hall. The main hall has seating for 8,000 spectators, while the smaller one seats 200. It is managed by the Galliner association and attracts some 75,000 spectators every year.

  1. Passeig de Pere III, 35, 08242
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Casa Museu Rafael Casanova

The hero of the great Catalan defeat of 1714, head councillor Rafael Casanova, was born in this house to a rich family in 1660 and it has changed very little since then. The house already existed in the 16th century, but the Casanovas family bought and renovated it in the 17th century. Look out for the Gothic window and the 18th century Ester Cycle paintings. It also houses an exhibition on Casanova’s historical period, the town, his life and his ancestry, as well as the municipal archives and the Moia county museum. The centre belongs to the Museu d’Història de Catalunya network.

  1. Rafael Casanova, 8, 08180
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Cardona Castle

This is the last bit of the Principality that succumbed to the Bourbons in 1714. A refuge for the viscounts, earls, and dukes of Cardona for seven centuries, kings uncrowned by the 'white gold' (salt), it's an imposing place with two great treasures: the divine Romanesque collegiate church of Sant Vicenç and the Minyona tower. A Gothic cloister was added, and 17th-century bulwarks. The castle also boasts a, recently made into a museum, all of which makes up the monument that is the History Museum of Catalonia, with all that entails.

  1. Castell de Cardona, s/n, 08261
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Montserrat Museum

This museum never takes a day off. It shows the cream of the crop of abbey’s heritage, gathered from the Napoleonic devastation. The museum opened in 1963, but its contents date back to 1911, with objects from the monk Bonaventura Ubach’s expedition to the Middle East. The modernist rooms from Puig i Cadalfalch feature, over two floors, both old and contemporary paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries paintings, Byzantine icons, jewellery, archaeological pieces from the biblical world, and Nigra Sum, about the adventures of the Virgin of Montserrat.

  1. Muntanya de Montserrat, 08691
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GeoParc de la Catalunya Central

Something new and difficult to explain. Abstract, but palpable. And very wide: covering a whole region. But what on earth is a Geopark? A Geological and Mining Park. An outdoor museum covers almost all the municipalities in Bages, as well as Collbató (Baix Llobregat Nord), with five information points and nine centers: the Salpetre caves, the Toll caves, Montserrat, Sant Llorenç, La Culla, Súria, the Valentí Masachs Geology Museum, Sallent and Cardona. It is covered by two routes: from Moià to Cardona and from Moià to Collbató.

  1. Muralla de Sant Domènec, 24, 08241
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