The region of Girona is home to numerous churches, and we've selected some of the prettiest, most historic and most special. These are churches that more than merit a detour.
The cathedral of Girona, which is dedicated to Saint Mary, is one of the city's most representative landmarks. Strategically located at the centre of the Old Town, which is known as the Força Vella, it coincides with the urban layout of Roman Girona (Gerunda), and it's still possible to see the remains of a Roman wall in the modern-day square. The cathedral was built during various eras and periods of differing architectural styles, in the main, Romanesque and Gothic. During the Muslim occupation of the area, between 715 and 785 AD, the cathedral was converted into a mosque. Its greatest feature is the Gothic nave, which is the largest in the world; at 22.98m it's just a little smaller than the basilica of Saint Peter's in the Vatican, which measures 25m. And to finish, an interesting fact - in the cathedral you'll find a unique gargoyle with a human figure: the Stone Witch.
The monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes, located in Port de la Selva, was once a Benedictine monastery in the former county of Empúries. It's a large-scale monastic site, made up of a church (built in the Romanesque style and influenced by late Roman architecture), cloister and various dependencies in its surrounds. The first document that mentions the monastery comes from 878, in which it appears as a simple monastic cell dedicated to Sant Pere (Saint Peter). It wasn't until 945 that it was considered an independent Benedictine monastery, governed by an abbot. Its true origins are, however, as yet unknown.
If you're heading to Figueres, make sure you make a stop in Vilabertran. The Canònica de Santa Maria de Vilabertran is an old Romanesque Augustinian monastery that was consecrated in the 12th century. The church, which in 1295 was the setting for the marriage between Jaume II of Aragó and Blanca d'Anjoy of Naples, is crowned with an imposing Lombardy-style tower; in the interior the standout feature is the gold and silver cross that is almost two metres high and dates from the 14th century. What's more, Santa Maria de Vilabertran is one of Catalonia's best-preserved examples of a medieval monastery.
This monastery, founded around 880 by the count Guifré el Pilós (Wilfred the Hairy) on a site that may have had a Visigoth-era religious building already on it, became the burial place for the counts of Barcelona and Besalú; it was also an important cultural centre and scriptorium in medieval Catalonia. A little later, the town of Ripoll was transformed into one of the national symbols of the Catalan Renaissance, and in the monastery's restoration (a project promoted by bishop Josep Morgades), it's possible to find the most vivid example of the discovery and recovery of Catalonia's first artistic style: Romanesque. If you get the chance to visit Santa Maria de Ripoll, you'll see one of the most beautiful and evocative buildings in Catalonia. The portal, the basilica and the cloister together make a unique construction, and an unmissable sight for art and history lovers.
The church of Santa Maria sits on the highest point in Cadaqués. The building has a single nave, a polygonal tower and lateral chapels, and dates from the 13th century. However, due to pirate attacks in the 16th century, it was later reconstructed in the Gothic style. Its artistic jewel in the crown, however, isn't the building but rather the incredible Baroque altarpiece, which features sea-themed iconography and was created with gilded wood. You can also get amazing vistas of the surrounding area from the southern viewing-point.
The monastery of Porta Ferrada is one of the most important Romanesque monasteries in the world, dating originally from the ninth century, even though a large part of the Baroque style visible today is from the 18th century. It owes its name to the characteristic horseshoe arches on the façade ('ferradura' in Catalan means 'horseshoe', 'porta' means 'gate' or 'door'). The church is formed of a grand Gothic-style nave with three polygonal apses. Another highlight are the clearly visible defensive towers: the Tower of Smoke (Torre del Fum) and the Tower of the Horn (Torre del Corn).
This is a large church built in the neo-Romanesque style, located near a hill and attached to a construction that looks like a 'masia' (traditional Catalan country house). The origins of the Sant Grau hermitage are based round about the 13th century; its beginnings are connected to a legend related to Maria de Montpellier (mother of king Jaume I). It's situated 360m above sea level, in the beautiful heart of the Ardenyes and Cadiretes mountains, an amazing natural setting that, in addition, provides an incredible view of the coast. If you get there from the Camí de Ronda coastal path, don't forget your camera!
Lloret de Mar knows how to make the most of its assets, especially when it comes to appealing to tourists. This place is the perfect spot for going for a daytime walk through the forest, where you can admire one of the more eccentric projects of modernista architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch: Sant Pere del Bosc. There's been a building on this site for a thousand years: alternatively a monastery, asylum and home of a self-made man from the 19th century who went by the name of count of Jaruco. But now it's become the symbol of Lloret's more chic side, which is trying to escape the stigma of the town's reputation as a low-cost tourist destination. The building hosts a luxury hotel and renowned restaurant that serves avant-garde cooking.
The Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants is one of the most important Catalan Romanesque landmarks. It was built close to the northern wall of Girona, on the left bank of the Galligants river. Even though the foundation date of the monastery isn't known, there is documentation about it that dates from the end of the 10th century. It's also known that in 1131, Ramón Berenguer the Great (who was count of Barcelona) made an important donation to the cost of the construction work. It has a basilica with three naves, the middle of which is covered with barrel vault and the other two with quadrant vaults. The layout of the apse on the north side and the archaic portal - which are both quite unusual - has given rise to the belief that they come from a different building that was previously on the site.
There are churches on this list because they're stunning, because they're authentic architectural achievements or because, like this one, they're actual time machines. The centre of Santa Pellaia dates from the Middle Ages and the church was first documented in the 13th century. From its height of 350m, it's possible to enjoy an extensive view of the surrounding area, from the Cap de Creus to the sierra of Les Guilleries. It's also a place to enjoy a deep, medieval calm in a part of Catalonia that is almost untouched.