Winter getaway to Bages
The colours of the core of Catalonia
The heart of the country, an honour it shares with the Sanctuary de Pinós; it even has the shape of a heart! Catalonia's seventh biggest region, covering some 1,300 square kilometres, offers the visitor seven different landscapes to explore, including the plain of Moianès, which lies to the east. The region features so many contrasts that it's almost impossible to condense its main attractions in a two-day itinerary, but we think we've managed it.
Afternoon day 1: Hello Manresa
An i-shaped town, surrounded by the mountains carved out by the Cardoner and Llobregat rivers that cut like furrows across the wide Bages plain - the Pla de Bages - which, incidentally, is not only the name of the certified guarantee of origin of its great wines, but also home to almost 80,000 residents, Manresa, head region of Bages and undisputed regional capital of Central Catalonia (along with its rival Vic). Since it is crossed by two major north-south and east-west highways, the Llobregat route and the Eix Transversal, you will probably have passed by the town on a number of occasions. Today, we'll stop to pay a visit.
La i grega vorejada de muntanyes que dibuixen el Cardener i el Llobregat solca l'ample pla de Bages, que, per cert, no és, només, la dels seus grans vins; enmig, la mare de quasi 80.000 manresans, cap de comarca indiscutible del Bages i capital regional de la Catalunya Central (amb el permís de Vic). Com que s'hi encreuen els eixos del Llobregat i Transversal, és improbable no haver passat mai per la quinzena ciutat del país. Avui ens hi aturem.
Exploring Manresa is as easy as following one of the introductory routes grouped together as Descoberta de Manresa. The city's historical centre is, if you look closely, the very heart of Catalonia. The unhurried afternoon walk we suggest will reveal all of its major charms, from the middle ages to modernisme. Unhurried? Yes, because there are basically six sights to see and visit: the imposing Gothic Santa Maria Basilica Collegiate of Manresa, called a see even though the Bishop resides in Vic, and which we will come back to tomorrow to call in at its interpretive centre; the Plaça Major, with its Baroque town hall, which was the scenario of the historic Bases de Manresa; The Plana de l'Om, one of the most characteristic places in the city; the Catalan modernist Casa Torrents, also known as La Buresa; and finally, the casino, the city's main example of Catalan modernist style architecture, which is now a cultural centre and library.
Morning day 2: The time machine
So, you wake up in the capital of Bages full of energy and wanting to get to know it a little more thoroughly. It's time to hit the museums. First of all, we have a visit pending to the medieval interpretation centre in Carrer del Balç. What you will find there? A multimedia montage that will take you seven centuries back in time, when the street was, more or less, like it is today. We are in feudal Manresa. Whereas museums were once places to accumulate objects, now thanks to the miracle of advanced technology, King Pere III himself can take you on a journey through daily life in the Manresa of his time.
The second museum, also well worth visiting, is the Technical Museum, which forms part of the Parc de la Sèquia, which grew up around the 26-kilometre-long medieval canal, which still brings water to the city from Balsareny. This waterway in itself is worth a whole day's visit. The museum is located in the Dipòsits Vells, where water was once stored. In its day, it could hold no more and no less than 12,000 cubic metres. Nowadays, it hosts two permanent exhibitions on local economic history: one focussing on the canal as a major work of medieval engineering; and the other on ribbon manufacturing.
Afternoon day 2: Sunset at Parc de l’Agulla
To the north of Manresa, the long linear canal park ends at a large reservoir lake in the middle of the Parc de l'Agulla, the city's main green zone. Since it was built almost 40 years ago, the reservoir has stored some 200,000 cubic metres of water - enough to supply Manresa for a week. The lake has been surrounded by a leisure area since 1987 with 628 trees representing 20 species. Here you can walk, rest, eat, run, pedal... Or go fishing in the reserved area... or do one of the regulated nautical activities on offer including canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing and rowing. The area is also equipped with a bar, a restaurant and a visitor's centre.
Morning day 3: One day, one monastery, a world
To the east of Manresa, in Sant Fruitós de Bages, though very near Navarcles, and within the Valls del Montcau, is Món Sant Benet (MSB), an aggiornamento-a radically modernized Romanesque monastery with pre-Romanesque, baroque and even Catalan modernist elements, which was opened in 2007. A melange of nuances and multifaceted (culture, tourism, leisure), this ambitious complex was one of the great projects promoted by the Caixa de Manresa savings banks and is now managed by the Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera. What will you find there?
Let's go step by step beginning with the centre's patrimony: Sant Benet de Bages, is a powerful Benedictine abbey founded more than 1,000 years ago, towards the end of the 10th century, which is now a museum. It was inhabited by monks until 1835, when the ecclesiastical confiscation policies promoted by Juan Álvarez Mendizába forced them to abandon it. It was then privatized in a piecemeal way. An adjoining factory was built there in 1853 and, in 1907, it was bought by the family of painter Ramon Casas, who commissioned architect Puig i Cadafalch to restore and rehabilitate it as a residence. The Casas family sold the monastery to the Caixa de Manresa savings bank in the year 2000.
Afternoon day 3: Five stars (four plus one)
MSB is also the Fundació Alícia, a foundation dedicated to innovation and education in the world of gastronomy. It also offers a four star hotel, where you can stay the night, and three restaurants, with chef Jordi Llobet at the helm: L'Ó, offering creative cuisine, which was awarded a Michelin star; Món, the restaurant of the hotel, featuring simpler cuisine; and La Fonda, which reinterprets classic Catalan dishes.
Education, work, commerce... MSB is also La Fàbrica, a kind of headquarters that houses the reception office, La Fonda, meeting rooms for congresses and conventions, and a shop.
The surrounding area is very interesting, with the mountains of Montcau and Montserrat in the background, you are surrounded by woods, meadows and gardens. MSB is also nature and agriculture; it has a number of ecological vegetable gardens: one of which is used for educational purposes while the others are dedicated to the recovery of rare varieties of vegetables and fruit, which you can buy and taste at the centre.
Bicycles on rails and the rest of Bages
Our time here is over but there is still plenty to see in Bages. Apart from what we have seen (Manresa, Valls del Montcau and the Cardener), there is Cardona with its salt mountain to the north-west, the region of Moianès to the north-east, the Llobregat and the Gavarresa to the north, as well as southern Bages, which lies between the mountains of Montserrat and Sant Llorenç del Munt. That will be for another getaway. And another. And another...
Where to stay and where to eat
Cultural venues in Bages
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?
- Camí de Sant Benet de Bages, s/n, 08272
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.
- Passeig de Pere III, 35, 08242
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.
- Rafael Casanova, 8, 08180
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.
- Castell de Cardona, s/n, 08261
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.
- Muntanya de Montserrat, 08691
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.
- Muralla de Sant Domènec, 24, 08241