Castells de Catalunya

With all the excitement around Game of Thrones returning to our screens for its final season and tourists flocking to Girona to see the filming locations, we thought now would be a good time to remind you that there are plenty of other castles throughout the province of Girona that are well worth visiting.

In fact, there too many to try and fit them all into one blog so we have selected nine of those closest to us here on the Costa Brava, starting at the French border and working our way south. We have deliberately left out the cities of Girona and Figueres as they deserve a blog of their own.

Castell de Requesens
Perched atop a hill with spectacular views over the surrounding valleys, this 11th century castle is about a 13km drive east of La Jonquera, the last 6km of which is on a gravel road – an adventure in itself, but well worth it! The castle was rebuilt in the late 1800s but parts of the original castle dating back to the 12th century still remain. It changed hands a number of times during the last century but hasn’t been inhabited for some decades now and most of the interior has been removed, although the castle itself is very well preserved. During the low season it is only open to visitors at the weekend so check before you go – although even when closed it is still full of charm!

Castell de Perelada
Built in the mid-14th century to replace the original 9th century castle that was destroyed in 1285, this beauty was renovated and enlarged in the 19th century. Today it remains under private ownership and so parts of the castle cannot be visited by the public (most notably the wine cellar, damn it!) but there is a restaurant and even a casino here and the gardens are open during the summer months. They also host an international music festival here between 4 July and 17 August. As festivals settings go this one is tough to beat!

Castell de Verdera
Although this supposedly haunted castle is now in ruins, at 670m above sea level, a visit here is an absolute must for the incredible views in every direction – of the coastline up into France, the plains of the Alt Empordà, the mountainous Cap de Creus peninsula and the Bay of Roses. That, and the fact that you can combine it with a visit to the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes. In fact, access is only by foot, but the shortest route is an easy 10-minute “hike” from the monastery. On one side is a cliff known as Salt de la Reina (Queen’s Leap) off which, depending on which version of the legend you read, a Moorish queen jumped to her death on horseback after her husband had been killed in battle; or it was a count’s daughter who was being forced her to marry another noble when she was really in love with a shepherd. Either way, it didn’t end well for the poor lady and supposedly her anguished wailing can still be heard on occasion. But mostly you should go for the views!

Besalú
We’re heading inland a bit now, but with good reason. Today’s town of Besalú has its origins in the Castle of Besalú, the existence of which was already documented as far back as the 10th century, and its ancient city walls which date back to the 12th century. Although most of the original castle is no longer there, the layout of the town and its architecture are straight from medieval times. The most emblematic structure is undoubtedly the bridge, with its seven arches and two towers. Inside the old town, you’ll find the old Jewish quarter with its narrow streets, synagogue and purification baths, a monastery and a church, making Besalú one of the best-preserved examples of a medieval Catalan town.

Castell de Montgrí
Construction began on what was to be a military fortress in 1292 during a local confrontation between rival local nobles. It was never finished however as the dispute in question came to an end in 1301 and construction ceased. The shell of the castle (i.e. the 13m walls and the four towers) is complete and if you visit here you’ll wonder why they never finished the rest, war or no war, as the views are only breathtaking from its altitude of 315m. You can drive almost all the way to the top but there are some lovely walks up that are worth considering too.

Castell de Begur
Built on the site of an ancient pre-Roman town, all that’s left of this 11th century castle are the battlements and the ruins of what was once a tower. Begur Castle is worth a visit mostly for (you’ve guessed it) the stunning views from the hill it is situated on. It’s no coincidence that these medieval lords built their castles on high ground – they had no drones then! Begur is a destination in itself too but we won’t go into detail here as you can have a read of our previous blog (if you’re interested) in which we go into some of the history of this beautiful wee town.

Castell de Sant Esteve
Situated right on the coast at beautiful La Fosca beach in Palamós, this castle was built on the site of a Roman villa, which itself was built on what had been an Iberian settlement. It changed hands many times over the centuries until it was mostly destroyed during the Remences Wars in the late 1400s and was abandoned until the 16th century when it became a farmhouse. It also doubled as a lookout post at a time when raids by North African pirates were a constant threat. It remained a farmhouse until the middle of last century when it was abandoned again (hard to understand why in such a gorgeous location!) and fell into disrepair until restoration work began in 2011. A visit here doesn’t take long and is ideally combined with a day at the beach.

Castell de Calonge
Even closer to home in the village of Calonge, this castle was built in stages over the centuries and was also damaged during the War of Remences but was restored almost immediately. It has been put to various uses during its history, including a theatre and a casino but now belongs to the Generalitat de Catalunya. For 50 years, from 1968 until last year, the castle hosted the Music Festival of Calonge making it one of the oldest festivals of Catalunya. Apparently, the plan from now on is to offer concerts at various times throughout the year rather than one big festival, so keep an eye on the calendar. You never know who might show up!

Tossa de Mar
The area around Tossa has been inhabited since at the least the Neolithic period (which began about 12,000 years ago) but it wasn’t until the 12th century that the medieval walled town was built with a castle on its highest point. The castle was later replaced, first by a windmill and then by a still-operational lighthouse. Situated at one end of a beach with views over the bay, Tossa de Mar is the only example of a fortified medieval village that still exists on the Catalan coast and it too played its role in defending against pirates. Perfectly preserved since the 14th century this walled medieval town (although strictly speaking not a castle) makes for the perfect day trip with its battlements, parapets and towers and its cobblestone streets – and the beach!

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