Sipping some tea with our wonderful Airbnb host in the rustic neighborhood of Salt in Girona, she asked us what we intended to do during our time in the area. As the trip was totally impromptu, thanks to some super cheap flights from London to Girona that we couldn't resist, we naively answered 'nowhere specific, we will just explore'. Like all locals anywhere in the world she suggested that to see the best of the region we had to leave the city, and gave Castellfollit de la Roca as a suggestion. We had looked up a few day trip options and we're interested in visiting Besalú because of it's medieval architecture. We didn't know at the time, but these two towns would make our trip to Catalonia one I could never forget.
As neither of us can speak/read anything more than very basic Spanish or Catalan, and without any guides on how to get to these little-known places, we relied heavily on google to translate Catalan bus websites for us. This guide will get you to Castellfollit de la Roca and Besalú while skipping the hours of searching and guessing at translations that we had to struggle through.
We took the bus that runs from Girona to Olot. You can find timetables here. There are three possible stops where you can get the bus in Girona. The starting point and one that ended up being the closest to our accommodation is simply named "Girona" on the timetable. It leaves from the main Girona bus station. When we entered the station at ground level, we had to go downstairs to the bus loading area. We also purchased our tickets from an attendant here.
There were several buses throughout the day on this route. We got up bright and early to take the 7:30 am bus to make sure we could see both destinations in a day. It took about 45 minutes to reach Besalú and the tickets were 4 euro per person for each journey. The same bus line will take you to Castellfollit de la Roca (4 stops after Besalú). We purchased tickets from the driver for this trip and for the one back to Girona. Note: make sure you plan your full return journey before you leave as there is only a bus every 2 hours from Castellfollit de la Roca to Girona.
What we did:
Only a short walk from the bus stop in Besalú is a main square that holds beautiful medieval monastery called Sant Pere. It was closed to the public when we arrived but you can put a euro into a slot and the inside of the church will illuminate. It was interesting for us as we are both history dorks. Past the monastery walking further into the town, we were amazed by the stone alley ways, it was like stepping into another time.
It was in late April that we visited, and we has the whole town just to ourselves, it was so peaceful. After enjoying a while relaxing in the town plaza, we walked to the river and found the main bridge which offers amazing photo opportunities of the town. The gatehouse of the bridge was adorned with the Catalonian flag, a sign that even the most isolated and sparsely populated places couldn’t hide from the political strife of the region. At the river’s edge of the main town, there are the remains of a Jewish ritual bath house. While little remains of the bath house, it was a good place to sit for a while and watch ducks and herons jostling in the river below.
After having lunch at a small cafe in Besalú (10 del pont) we caught the same bus to Castellfollit de la Roca on recommendation of our Airbnb host. Coming up to this medieval town teetering atop of a basalt cliff was truly awe-inspiring. It sits between the rivers Fluvia and Toronell and is lush in the spring. It is on the edge of the Garrotxa Volcanic Area Natural Park if you have more time to explore! Through narrow paths and volcanic rock homes, everywhere you look is picture perfect. A 15 minute walk from the bus stop towards the pinnacle of the town got us to a walkway on the right that took us down to the bottom of the cliff. The path itself is, again, cobblestone (at its beginning) and has family owned tenant farms either side of it protected by homemade wooden fences and gates.
The path leading from the town center to the bridges
After about 10 minutes of slowly walking the winding path, we passed the broken bridge of Castellfollit de la Roca or Pont Trencat. The history of this bridge is troubled, being first built on unstable ground in 1908, to being strategically knocked down in the Spanish civil war and finally destroyed in a storm in 1940, the ruins of the bridge consist of a basic metal frame. From there, we came up to a brown wooden bridge where we could see the town perfectly. It is a beautiful walk and will give you amazing views of the city. Many of the most beautiful pictures of the town you will find online are taken from this bridge, a viewpoint of paramount importance for the would be travel photographer.
After climbing back up the 50m cliff, we checked out square-Josep Pla at the very end of the cliff before catching the bus back to Girona. Our biggest regret was not climbing up the Sant Salvador church at the square because it offers amazing view of the narrow town. We will definitely need to visit there next time!
Other than the beautiful medieval Catalan architecture and natural beauty of the area, the thing that stands out most about the towns has to be how warm and friendly the local people are. As we walked the streets of both towns, gawping as tourists so often do, locals always greeted us with a smile and a friendly ‘Hola’ or ‘Bon Dia’. The Catalan people made us feel so welcome at every possible occasion, which only served to make our trip even more special.