Strolling around l’Empordà 3. Medieval sites (Pals - Peratallada)

Discussion in 'Global Trip Reports' started by Jurgen, Oct 5, 2014.

  1. Jurgen

    Jurgen Moderator

    Oct 23, 2009
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    Excerpt: The tiny Baix Empurdà’s territory offers a unique diversity, with coastal and mountainous landscapes, historical roots back to the iron age, Greek, Roman and medieval remains, and modern achievements in arts and gastronomy. Discovering the land on two wheels and at a slow pace allows to fully savor the richness of this region.

    Strolling around l’Empordà

    3. Medieval sites (Pals - Peratallada)

    Complete story – 5 trip reports:

    1. The Coastal Paths (Pals - Palafrugell):

    2. A Greek Legacy (L’Estartit - L’ Escala):

    3. Medieval Sites (Pals - Peratallada)
    4. From the Indigetes to Salvador Dali’s castle - to be published
    4. The Megaliths Trail (around the mountain - Les Gavarres) – to be published

    The Baix Empordà’s roads are a dense maze of appealing trails where travel improvisation is part of the fun. My rambling stories are stitched together in coherent circuits, but these itineraries, despite the short distances involved, are not meant to be completed in one day, if enough time is reserved to take pictures, visit old towns, enjoy the region’s unique environment and taste local food products. [1]

    Beginning an Emporda’s medieval tour in Pals is like starting a meal with the desert. This superbly renovated town is certainly the region’s feudal apex, a model and enticement for the other villages. Its touristic success, however, has drawbacks; only early morning and low season visitors will enjoy some quietude and many renovated buildings now serve as souvenir shops or eateries. These inconveniences leave some space to equally appreciate the district’s other dwellings, each place showcasing subtle variations in construction, layout, style and ancient atmosphere.

    Pals medieval village is built on a hill (Puig Aspre), a promontory visible from all directions, and easily accessible; even so the center’s visit itself is made on foot, or, alternatively and periodically, by mean of a small tourist train.




    The effort and vision of local promoters to reconstruct the town’s historical center was recognized with several national awards and honors. I particularly enjoy the timeless atmosphere of narrow passages, when rambling up and down the hill, through a maze of cobbled streets.










    Pals’ old center, the Gothic quarter known as ‘El Pedro’, is host to buildings mostly made out of big stones. This includes the old walls, the castle, the church of Sant Pere and some large houses.



    Torre de les Hores

    Josep Pla, the Empurdà’s portrayer, used to take visitors to Pals, sharing its love for a grandiose panorama reaching to the Pyrenees, over waste fertile agricultural plains, toward the rocky Medes islands and over the Montgri mountain range. A promontory (Mirador) wears the name of this regional writer with plaques quoting his poetic description of the scenery.




    The name ‘Pals’ originates from the Latin word palus: a swamp. In ancient times, the region’s alluvial plain was covered with lakes and marshlands and, despite its draining, there is still plenty of water available. This environment is adequate for wet rice farming, which was introduced in the 15th Century. After an interruption in the 19th Century the rice crop is still flourishing, producing an important staple for the local cuisine.

    Agriculture, in general, is thriving in the region, with all sorts of cultivations. Various crops color the landscape in hues ranging from the tender green rice samplings to light yellow of the mature wheat, contrasting, here and there, with red poppy and shiny sunflower fields, and an azure backdrop.






    People acquainted with the manpower intensive farming in the Asian rice fields, will miss the crowds in the now mostly mechanized Emporda’s cultivation.However, as a reminder of the ancient methods, planting demonstrations are organized every year; the work starts with a traditional Catalan breakfast, a feast open to the public.


    Seedlings transplantation is a popular and effective, but labor intensive, way to cultivate rice. Seeds are germinated and grown in a ‘nursery’, before being planted, in small bunches, in their final muddy bed.






    As a part of the learning process, kids are allowed to participate in planting activities.


    Moors from Valencia introduced the rice cultivation to Pals, back in medieval times. The concession for the first mill was allocated in1452 and this exploitation: ‘Moli de Pals’, is still operating today. Different rice varieties are cultivated in the region, all benefiting from the particular Empordà’s climate, where grains mature longer and, when cooked, do not become pasty.

    Moli de Pals is the oldest working rice mill in Europe (





    After a short drive north, on highway C-31, a branch out leads to the Empurdà’s medieval hinterland, a region punctuated with numerous Middle Age dwellings, most of them nicely restored, sometime in a too shiny way, but this is the price of assets conservation.

    Besides modern sealed roads, a maze of agricultural and dilapidated trails link the regions points of interest. Many itineraries are well strolled by bicyclers and provide equally great promenades for slow pace motorcycle ridings.

    The scenic country road GI-651 affords delightful views, through inundated rice fields, toward the Montgri mountain chain; I followed this link to start my ramble to the hinterland.



    My first stop along this itinerary was in Palau Sator, a small walled village with remaining ancient structures and roads drawing the typical map of a medieval dwelling. Narrow streets lead to the ‘Time Tower’ (Torre de las Hores) a 14th century edifice and to the central “Castel Place”. As always, my favorite sights are the tight, arched passages, where Clair-obscur lights enhance the old stones’ patterns.

    Several eateries and a basic rural museum can also be enjoyed in renovated buildings.







    From the Carolingian epoch, the Baix Empurda has inherited numerous tightly built medieval villages. They are laid out in similar ways, usually located on a hill, built around a castle and a church, surrounded by stony walls protecting, side by side placed, pastel colored residences. There is, however, no monotony in this pattern’s repetition; every town adds its own flavor and charm of renovation and preservation, with subtle and enjoyable nuances in its character. The construction styles are sometimes Romanic, sometimes Gothic but often interlaced or built on top of each other.

    A rural road leads back from Palau Sator to Route G-651 and to Peratallada, another most important medieval dwelling. Here, as an exception to the usual layout, the Romanesque church of Sant Esteve is located outside the city’s walls.

    Leaving my motorcycle in a supervised parking, I walked to the center through the north entrance. The town’s name is linked to the huge carved rocks, which serve as its base, as construction materials, and are part of its defense walls. They give an impressive feeling of rugged strength and durability, smoothed by the erosion of time.

    The largest buildings are an important castle (a national protected monument) and a dungeon-tower, the Torre del Homenaje.





    Peratallada’s main square (Plaza Major) is lined with arcades and restaurants, which, as usual in Spain, do not open early morning, but serve guest till late evening hours.







    Olive cultivation is important in Empurdà and exists since Roman times. The remains of an old community mill can be seen here; the fruits were pressed and decanted, a process, which has not changed a lot in modern days.


    Rambling along narrow cobblestoned roads, lined with monochrome stone buildings, in this well-preserved medieval gem, provides a unique journey into an immovable past.




    After Peratallada Route GI-651 leads to Canapost, the intersection with Route GI-644, a straight trail toward the North. Ullastret, my next destination, is located just three kilometers away along this road.

    The small medieval town is, as usual, located on a hill overlooking a former pond, recently dried up (L'estany d'Ullastret). It is worth to ramble around its well conserved and impressive walls and to visit the church of Sant Pere, an interesting 11th Century Romanesque building.








    Besides the medieval city, Ullastret is also host to an important Iberian site from the Indigetes. The ruins of this antic settlement are worth a longer visit, and I decided to come back, on another trip, and to continue, on the straight Route GI-644.


    The next intersection is in Serra de Darò where I took GI-643 to Parlavà and Route C-252 to Ultramort, my next destination. This town has a fun name, which could mean “more than dead”, but its uncertain etymology might derivate from “Vulture Mortuo” (dead vulture).


    The small Ultramort municipality is located in the alluvial plain between the Ter and Darò rivers, on a low hill, once enclosed by inundated plains and pounds which, nowadays, are fertile agricultural land.



    Most of Ultramort’s houses are agglutinated around the central place. This is where the parish church of Santa Eulàlia in located, a Romanesque temple dating back to the 12th Century.







    After Ultramort, Route C-252 drives straight to Verges and to the river Ter’s bank, a region to be visited during my next trip.


    Back South, on Route C-252, I marveled at the yellow hues of a large sunflower field, illuminating the landscape, with Parlava’s profile cut out on a blue sky. These plantations are part of the crop rotation and might be found at another location every year.





    Leaving Parlavà aside, for another visit, I took Route GI-642 toward Rupia, my last medieval stopover for this trip.

    The unique character and atmosphere of this little town, contributes to making the ramble through several Empurdàs Middle-Age dwelling an enjoyable experience. Approaching the city from afar the Gothic San Vincent church stands out in the middle of high protective walls.




    An old bakery is worth a visit in itself; one of its specialties is a Catalonian flatbread (coca de forner), produced in a wood-fired oven.



    The church, the former episcopal palace and the strong city walls are notable, but my thrill is the old times atmosphere found along narrow streets where life seems to go on at an unlikely pace for the modern ages.






    Rupia was my last visit on this journey; to drive back, however, I choose to follow rural roads, some rocky, some paved, but narrow, never far from a larger highway, but a lot more interesting to observe the countryside.

    I passed Parlava, els Masos del Moli, Casavells, Matajudaica, and finally closed the loop with Ullastret, and Palau-Sator. The Empurdà’s road network is dense and it takes hours to ramble all around, with many opportunities to visit interesting sites.



    Next trip report: A visit to the historic Indigetes compound of Ullastret, a ramble along the Tar River and a call at the Dali castle in Pujol.


    [1] My rented bike, for the trips, was a small Honda Marauder 125. It is available together with scooters and larger bikes, at “Big Moto Shop”, Torroella de Montgri, .

    Intersting Empurdà websites:
  2. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    Jan 16, 2003
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    Whoa there Jurgen, another beautiful post with stunning photos & first class info.
    Thank you very much.

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