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Home to Catalonia’s largest natural lake, Banyoles is the capital of the county, Pla de l’Estany, and has plenty to offer to visitors. Located around half an hour’s drive from both Girona and Dalí’s hometown of Figueres, although it’s best known for its wonderful lake, Banyoles is also an interesting historic and cultural town, with good quality gastronomic offerings. There’s also quite a bit to see and do in this area, that you can read about in our Banyoles Travel Guide.
Banyoles is a favourite with nature lovers, with a range of walks around the lake, on the Puda, the Can Morgat, Puig Clara, the Estunes, the water canals, and also in Banyoles old town. Of course you also get up close and personal to the water, whether you go swimming, canoeing, kayaking or fishing. You can take a boat trip on the lake, either by going on the Tirona boat, which costs €7 per person, or you can rent a rowing boat for €5 per hour, per person. Back on dry land, there’s bike and Segway hire available, and a choice of mountain biking routes.
For further information on the above, you can contact the tourist office by the lake:
Estany Tourist Information Office (lake) (pesquera)
Passeig Darder, pesquera no. 10
Tel. (0034) 972 58 34 70
However it’s not all about the lake and its surrounds, as lovely as they are! This area is actually very rich from an archaeological perspective, with a Neolithic Village, in Banyoles itself, and a bit further away, there’s the Roman Town of Vilauba and the prehistoric caves in Serinya.
In Banyoles town, the historic centre is built around the Saint Stephen (Sant Esteve) monastery, and you can enjoy wandering around cobbled streets and squares, while you see the various buildings and the magical flow of water, that comes in the canals that originate in the famous lake. There’s also an archaeological museum in Banyoles, as well as the Darder Museum.
Banyoles has a strong sporting tradition, which has been encouraged and supported by its excellent natural surroundings and great facilities. The Catalan Government Department for Tourism have certified it as a Detinació Turística Esportiva, or DTE – which translates into a Sporting Tourism Destination.
In fact it has been certified for five different sports, which are:
However apart from these, the area also has a strong tradition in equestrianism, due to its rural diversity, but also if you check out some of the town’s festivals, like Saint Anthony Abbott and Saint Martiria, you’ll appreciate the connection with horses has been running deeply for centuries.
Next to the lake, you can see the only lakeside prehistoric site in all of the Iberian Peninsula. The remains lead experts to believe that the site dates back to between 5000 205,000 BC, during the ancient Catalan Neolithic period. These days new life has been breathed into the archaeological site, by a number of information huts, as well is guided visits, demonstrations and workshops for schools.
This Roman town, or Villa, is believed to go back to between 200 BC up until 700 to 800 AD. This time period spans both the Roman and Visigothic euros. The site was discovered in 1932 and good range of objects having found over the years, such as paintings, coins jewellery and pottery. The Roman town is divided up into two distinctly separate areas, one for work and the other for a living. It’s located in the nearby village of Camós, around 3 km away.
7 km away, heading to the north, is the Serinya Prehistoric Cavesthe Park. This is the place to go if you want to get a feel for prehistoric hunter gatherer lifestyle. It’s also an excellent place to find out about the transition between the at Neanderthal man and modern man.
Banyoles also has an archaeological museum which you can read more about in our museum section.
The historical part of the town is built under the shade of the St Stephen monastery (Monasterio de Sant Esteve). It blends together its medieval origins along with the town itself. As you wander around you’ll discover little squares, cobbled streets and religious and civil buildings. The variety of art and culture is enhanced by the canals which flow from the lake.
The main square has been protected as a Cultural Property of National interest since 1999. Records show that it dates back as far as 1275. It’s a really pretty quadrangular protocol to square, embraced by 40 arches. The arches are of a range of different types, pointed, semicircular, and diminished.
The Rec Major, which originates from the lake, crosses the square. In the centre there are plane trees, which were planted to be aligned with the beautiful pillars. The squares centre has coarse sand, as was the tradition in Mediterranean squares.
This is the 15th century Gothic civil building, which tells the story of how the town profited from the textile sector during that period. As the name of the building suggests, its purpose was the dyeing of fabrics. Wool merchants brought in the fabrics, which would then be dyed in the Dyeing Market. The finished product was known as fabric from Banyoles (tejidos de Banyoles), which was exported all over the Mediterranean by the wool merchants.
In the 20th century the Dyeing Market was refurbished and modern art displays were hosted there. This initiative was set up by highly motivated local artists.
It was from the beginning of the 13th century that the town began to be protected by its wall. This continued until the 15th century. Originally the gates of this town wall were closed at dusk, only to be opened again the next morning at prayer time. Between 1462 and 1472, during the time of the Catalan Civil War, the wall was quite badly damaged. However in the 16th century restoration work commenced. This work continued right up until the 18th century, even though at that stage the wall was not so important from a defensive perspective. Today there was only a fragment of the wall to be seen, but it does show how it was constructed on travertine ashlar blocks.
Records first mention this church in 1017. It’s thought that most likely the original church was constructed in Romanesque style, by the order of the Abbot of St Stephen’s monastery. However as the population was growing, towards the latter part of the 13th century, the Bishop gave the go-ahead to demolish the old church. Work on the new building finished around 1333.
This is a Gothic church, which originally had one central nave, although at some stage between the 17th century and the 19th century two side naves were built. The original central nave marks one of the very first interpretations of Gothic architecture in this region of Catalonia.
Records first mention this monastery, which is considered to be Catalonia’s first Benedictine monastic settlement, in the year 822. It was around the monastery that the town was built. Since 1973 it has been protected by the Parliament as a Cultural Property of Natural Interest.
Over the centuries it has been through arrange building phases, reconstruction and destruction. It has also been affected by numerous earthquakes during the 15th century. Today the building that you can see is the neoclassical church, its cloister and some other rooms that surround it.
This is a fascinating museum for anybody interested in archaeology. It brings together collections which feature Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Calcolithic, Roman and Medieval exhibits.
One of the highlights of the Museum is a human jawbone. One of Catalonia’s oldest pieces of humans remains, this was found in 1887 by a pharmacist from the town. Even more fascinating is the fact that studies show that the jawbone was from a woman of around 40 years old, whose teeth had been worn, because she chewed on leather. The specimen belongs somewhere between the years 80,000 and 45,000 BC.
This is a new generation museum which gives the visitor a sense of being, and it is actually one of Catalonia’s oldest active museums. It originally opened in 1916, and didn’t change very much up until it’s more recent renovation which happened between 2003 and 2007. It includes natural history collections, some of which explain the phenomenon of the lake’s hydrological basin.
This Gothic palace was originally a place where a charity would give out clothing and bread to those of the poorest in the town. Its foundations lay in various medieval houses, which dates to the ninth to the 12th centuries. These days it is home to the Regional Archaeological Museum, as well as the Centre for Regional Study. It’s a fine building, that’s definitely worth a visit.
Ctra. Circumval·lació de l’Estany, 17820 – Phone: 972 570 305
If you happen to speak any Catalan, you’ll realise that the name of this camping gives the location away….a little bit. El Llac means the lake in Catalan. The campsite is situated close to the beautiful lake, and 15 minutes or so walk from the town itself.
There are a variety of accommodations on offer, including bungalows for those who wish to bring their pets, other types of bungalows and mobile homes. The pitches that are available are generally wide and flat, and set up so that they can be sunny in the winter and with some shade during the hot summer months.
It’s an idyllic location for those who enjoy the great outdoors, yet at the same time it’s only 15 minutes walk away from the town itself, and also in a good location for visiting cultural spots such as Girona and Figueres.
On a Saturday you can take the Pinxo train to the local market, and during the summer seasonal months you can just hang out on the campsite and have the daily menu.
On-site you’ll find a playground for the children, a swimming pool, supermarket, bar and restaurant, some sports activities and animations. There is also a barbecue area.
Read more at the Banyoles Camping El Llac website
Crta. Banyoles-Figueres km. 8 – Phone: 972 597 074
This campsite is open all year long, and it is a small, family friendly site. It’s around 8 km away from the Lake, and just beside the river Fluvia, where you can enjoy kayaking and great fishing.
Facilities include an indoor heated pool, and outdoor pool, laundry, free Wi-Fi, a restaurant and a barbecue area.
To find out more go to the Camping-Esponella website.
The area has its own gastronomy group. The slogan will give you an idea of what it’s all about: “The Pleasure of Eating Naturally”. Six restaurants from the area have teamed up with 11 local producers to form this Pla de l’Estany group. These forward-thinking restaurant owners realised around 2011 that there was a need to share suppliers and ideas, with the common theme of using and promoting high-quality local products.
Some examples of the quality products that are used as part of this can gastronomy group are:
Lambs which originate from local herds
Coldpressed extra virgin olive oil
Cow’s milk cheeses which are traditionally made
Duroc and Iberico pigs from local pastures
Tortada de Banyoles – the famous sweet
Below is a list of the restaurants who are part of this group:
Restaurant Can Roca (Esponellà)
Restaurant la Masia (Porqueres)
Restaurant La Banyeta (Palol de Revardit)
Restaurant La Barretina (Orfes – Vilademuls)
Restaurant La Cisterna (Banyoles)
Restaurant La Formiga (Porqueres)
Did you know that the famous rowing team from Cambridge University, come each year to train at the facilities here? The length of the lake at 2134 metres makes it absolutely ideal for rowing. Also in 1992 Banyoles was elected to be the deputy headquarters for rowing during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. If you would like to learn to roll while on holiday in the area the Banyoles swimming club offers lessons.
Although a more recent sport than rowing in Banyoles, canoeing has become very popular in the area. The lake is perfectly suitable for an average person who just wants to enjoy the natural environment by canoe, just as much as it is for those who are training on Olympic regatta courses.
The driving force for over 80 years has been the local swimming club, and this is meant that both women and men from Banyoles have won a number of important titles, even including an Olympic medal. The area is great swing Festival happens each September, ever since 1944. Around 2000 swimmers who come from Catalonia and other parts of Europe take part, and competitors have to swim lengthwise across the Banyoles Lake.
The mountains and woods offer the perfect location for those who like mountain biking. The Pla de l’Estany and Banyoles are generally ideal for cycling and Mountain biking. For road cycling you’ll find that there is not too much traffic on the roads are in pretty good condition. There are different routes available, some which have steeper gradients and some which are more flat.
The first mountain biking centre in Catalonia is in this region. This is the starting point for 10 different routes which go through the region, and make up a total of 252 km of routes marked especially for cyclists. The centre also offers technical assistance and information.
El Vilar colonial house
Ctra. Circumval·lació de l’Estany, s/n
Phone: (0034) 686 385 797
Estany Tourist Information Office (lake) (pesquera)
Passeig Darder, pesquera no. 10
Phone – 972 58 34 70
Pg. de la Indústria 25
Phone: 972 57 00 50