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The Ruta del Císter (the Cistercian route) is a spectacular religious route located inland from the Costa Daurada, in the region of Tarragona in Catalonia. It spans over 105 kilometres and links three breathtaking monasteries which date back to the Cistercian order in the 12th century. The Cistercian order was established in the French region of Burgundy in 1098 by a group of monks loyal to the “Rules of St. Benedict”. The order eventually established an important foothold in Europe and Spain, giving it a great influence over Christianity, economy and culture in Spain during the Middle ages. This influence and power eventually joined the regions of Alt Camp, Conca de Barberà and Urgell, which now have a Cistercian monastery each. The Cistercian Route has been one of the most spiritual routes since 1989 which can be followed in Catalonia, but it also provides the perfect opportunity to experience the culture, history, gastronomy and nature of the region.

 

The Monasteries

Santès Creus Monastery

This fascinating route begins in the region of Alt Camp, where you will find the Santès Creus Monastery. Situated on the banks of the river Gaià, the Monastery of Santa María de Santes Creus is a Cistercian abbey that was built in 1168 and today is one of the largest and best preserved in Spain. It is also the only one of the monasteries of the Cistercian Route in which there is no monastic life. During construction of the monastery, the monks followed the Rules of St. Benedict which meant that the church has to be oriented to the north and the cloister to the south. The church also had to have very austere decoration. The central part of the monastery includes the four basic pieces of the monastic life: the church, the cloister, the chapter hall and the residential areas.

Don’t miss the opportunity to take the tour of the monastery and explore the spaces from architectural and artistic points of view. Immerse yourself in the surroundings and let the medieval legends of this wonderful monastery be your guide. Guided and group tours are also available.

Highlights include the church, which contains a Romanesque portal from the 12th century and an imposing Gothic window with stained glass windows. The Gothic cloister, notable for the artistic quality of the ornamentation of the capitals. The monumental tombs, belonging to the royal family or to members of the Catalan nobility and the Royal Palace, built in several phases (XIII-XVI centuries) and has Gothic, Plateresque and Renaissance elements.

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Santès Creus Monastery inside

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Santès Creus Monastery outside

 

Santa María de Poblet

The Royal Abbey of Santa María de Poblet was founded in 1551 in the region of Conca de Barbèra in Catalonia. Founded by Cistercian monks from France on land conquered from the Moors, it is one of the largest and most complete Cisterian monasteries in the world and in 1991 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its majestic architecture is what makes this monastery so impressive, which includes a fortified royal residence as well as the tombs for the kings and queens of Catalonia and Aragon. Santa María de Poblet consists of three enclosures and is surrounded by a defensive wall. The first outer enclosure contains 16th century buildings, which would have been storehouses, workshops, housing for lay workers and other premises which were connected with the financial life of the community.

Poblet Monastery also holds extraordinary importance in terms of art, history, spirituality and culture. It played a key party in the repopulation and agricultural exploitation of New Catalonia under the crown of Aragon. The monastery’s library and scriptorium were also recognised from the 13th century onwards for their contribution to law and history.

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Poblet Monastery outside

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Poblet Monastery inside

 

Santa María de Vallbona

The Monastery of Santa Maria de Vallbona is a Cistercian monastery located in the town of Vallbona in the region of Urgell, Catalonia, Spain. Founded in the early 12th century, it is one of the most important monasteries in Catalonia and is the only female monastery that has been preserved for over 800 years of uninterrupted monastic life. First news date from 1153, but it was not until 1176 when it got completely integrated in the Cistercian order. It began with several groups of hermits that later became nuns and monks, a sort of double community that lived under the crozier of their founder, Ramon de Vallbona. It was declared a historic-artistic monument in 1931. The monastery offers guided and group tours to find out about all the details of the monuments and of the monastic life that has taken place there.

Although small in size, Vallbona de les Monges is a beautiful monastery which contains exponents of the importance of women in medieval times. The monastery’s church is a fine example of a Romanesque-Gothic blend, and each of the cloister’s splendid galleries are is a different style: Gothic, Arabic and Romanesque. Highlights of the monastery’s incredible architecture also include two gothic domes, and its well looked after inn where guests have the opportunity to stay overnight.

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Santa María Vallbona de les Monges Monastery outside

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Santa María Vallbona de les Monges Monastery inside

 

Tips for the route

On foot, it will take approximately 5 days to complete the route, or you could complete the route by bike in approximately 2 and a half days. However, if you have children or more elderly travellers, it is advised that you follow the route by car along the GR175 Trail.

The Cistercian Route can be done by anyone who is used to hiking, as it does not entail anything harder than some moderate slopes and the distance itself. You can also do it in as many stages as you like, depending on how much time you have and how fit you are.

 

Other Places to Visit

The Cistercian Route can involve so much more than just simply visiting the monasteries. Although they do not form part of the Cistercian Route, the towns of Montblanc and Valls are the perfect places to visit during your trip to discover the Catalonian culture.

Montblanc: a picturesque Catalonian village. Behind its walls you can enjoy a walk through its Midde Age streets. It is also worth visiting the Rock Art Interpretation Centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998 situated in the Prades Mountains just 45 minutes away from Montblanc.

Valls: known for both its gastronomic and folkloric traditions. Known for its tradition of “human castles”, a 200 year old event which was even declared Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010.

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Rock Art Interpretation Centre in Prades Mountains

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Human Castle in Valls

 

Other Activities to Include

There are also plenty of gastronomic, cultural, historical and artistic activities which can be incorporated into the trip:

  • Winery visits
    • Agrícola de Barberà de la Conca (approx. 17 min. from Poblet Monastery)
    • Celler Mas Bella (approx. 20 mins. from Santès Creus Monastery)
  • Museums
    • Alabaster Museum and “Touch Alabaster” Workshop (approx. 22 min. from Poblet Monastery)
    • Frederic Marès Art Museum (approx. 14 min. from Poblet Monastery)
  • Tasting local gastronomy

Prized local delicacies include: DOP les Garrigues extra virgin olive oil, calçots (tender onions) from Valls; torró (almond and honey nougat) and xocolata a la pedra (“stone chocolate”) from Agramunt, coques de recapte, (sausages, fish, and braised vegetables presented on a think pizza-like base); homemade cured sausages; and traditionally produced local cheeses, meat, dairy and vegetable preserves, and both sweet and dried fruits.

  • Catalonian UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  • Roman Archaeological Ensemble of Tarragona – Tarragona
  • Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boí – Vall de Boí
  • Works of Antoni Gaudí (e.g. Park Güell, Casa Milà, Casa Battlò) – Barcelona, 1984

*distances measured by car

 

Airports

If you are coming from abroad to take part in the Cistercian Route, Barcelona El Prat Airport is the largest international airport in Catalonia, operating hundreds of international flights. It is located approximately 1 hour away by car from Tarragona and the Santès Creus Monastery. Another option is Reus Airport, which is just 34 minutes by car to the Santès Creus Monastery, however it is a smaller airport with fewer connections.

 

Map

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Map of la Ruta del Císter

 

If you enjoyed this article, please don’t forget to follow Across Spain Travel Chronicles for more information about Spain’s rich culture and history.

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Did you know that Spain is home to some of the most beautiful parks and gardens in the world? In fact, it holds more than 8,000 of the 9,000 European species of plants, making it a popular place for botanists and tourists. Below are five of the most famous:

  1. The Royal Palace Gardens, Aranjuez
  2. Park Guell, Barcelona
  3. Parque del Clot, Barcelona
  4. Gardens at the Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos, Burgos
  5. Maria Luisa Park, Seville

The Royal Palace Gardens

The Royal Palace Gardens of Aranjuez surround the old Spanish Royal Residence which was built in the 1380s. The gardens are famous for their uniqueness, with more than 400 species of trees and bushes which are over 260 years old.

There are 3 main gardens surrounding the palace, each of them unique:

  1. The Parterre Garden

The flower beds, hedges and paths in this garden are beautifully constructed and well-trimmed forming an exquisite pattern in the garden. This intimate garden is perfect for a short stroll in the evening if you don’t enjoy long hikes!

  1. The Island Garden

What makes this garden unique is that it is located on an island in the Tagus River connected by a small bridge.

  1. The Prince’s Garden

Situated on 150 hectares of land, the Prince’s Garden is the largest of the three and nearly impossible to see in one day. One of the main attractions in the garden is the exquisite Chinese Pond.

 

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The Royal Palace Gardens of Aranjuez, Madrid. Source: revistadearte.com

Park Guell Barcelona

Built in the 20th century by one of Spain’s most famous architects Antoni Gaudi, the modern architecture of Park Guell is masked in mosaic patterns and bright colours, which makes it an attractive spot for tourists who enjoy taking picturesque photographs. When you enter the park, you are greeted by the famous Park Guell dragon which leads you to the rest of the park.

In the beginning, the plan was to create a housing estate with the land on which Park Guell is built, however this plan was not successful as no one wanted to invest, therefore Gaudi bought the model house and lived there until he died in 1926.

It is hard to believe that before Gaudi designed this magnificent park, it was only composed of dry land with hardly any greenery. Now, not only can you enjoy the beautiful buildings but at the back of the monumental area, you can take a walk amongst native trees and plants whilst enjoying a spectacular view of the city.

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View from the highest point of Park Guell. Source: rondalia.com

Parque del Clot, Barcelona

The Parque Del Clot is situated on 3.5 hectares of land with high bridges connecting either side of the park for pedestrians to cross. The chimney, arches and walls located in the Clot’s new green area, which was built in 1986, give evidence to the old mechanic workshops that were once there.

The park implements pre-existing architectural elements in a green space which makes it stand out. There are 4 different parts of the park: a long walk and three areas with a different purpose, making it perfect for all ages!

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Parque del Clot in Barcelona. Photo by josemanuel

Gardens at the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos

The monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos is one of the most characteristic monasteries in Spain, located next to the River Mataviejas on the land of Visigothic monastic establishments from the 7th century.

The Benedictine monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos demonstrates some of the most impressive work of European Medieval Art; whilst the cloisters of Santo Domingo represent one of the best examples of Roman Spain. Furthermore, they have become famous for their cypress which is thought to have been planted by one of the French Benedictine monks in 1882.

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Gardens at the Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silo. Source: lasimagenesqueyoveo.com

Maria Luisa Park, Sevilla

Located in Seville’s historic center along the Guadalquivir River, is one of Europe’s finest greeneries known as Maria Luisa Park. A walk through here is an ideal way to cool down in the summer whilst allowing you to take advantage of the beautiful sights and cultural activities in the fresh air.

The highlight of the park is the Plaza de España, the monumental legacy of the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929, which symbolized a crucial memory for Seville and the rest of the world.

If you visit the park today you will see numerous monuments, fountains, ponds, flowers and impressive buildings that were re-designed by the French landscape architect Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier in 1911 which adds character to the park.

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The Maria Luisa Park in Sevilla. Source: pegnrope.com

If you enjoyed reading this post, please follow across spain Travel Chronicles for even more articles about Spain and its rich culture.

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Camino de Santiago, internationally known as The Way of St. James, is one of the most important pilgrimage places worldwide. The big interest in the route of St. James Way, to Santiago de Compostela, started with the discovery of the remains of the apostle Saint James the Greater. The final destination is located in the northwest of Spain, in the region of Galicia.

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Source: TripSavvy

Santiago de Compostela

The capital of Galicia lies in the northwest of the region. Santiago de Compostela is one of the most important and most famous pilgrimage places in Europe, receiving nowadays more than 300.000 international pilgrims every year.

One of the most popular rituals of the pilgrims is getting inside the crypt to see the coffin or to pray to St. James. Due to the high number of people visiting the sight, there is a problem of capacity and sometimes you have to wait for hours to access the interior.

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Source: pbase

History

The reason why Santiago de Compostela is such an important pilgrimage site dates back to the 9th century. In 814, when the tomb with the remains of the apostle James the Great was discovered for the first time. A chapel was constructed and years later the huge Catedral Santiago de Compostela should mark the place of discovery. This was the beginning of a big boom of pilgrimage to this place.

Nowadays many non-Christian tourists discovered the routes of Camino de Santiago. There is currently a trend of people following these routes just for enjoyment, sightseeing in combination with nature, sports, or seeking for a new challenge or as a way of self-discovery.

The routes of Camino de Santiago

Various places in Spain, as well as in Europe are known as starting points for the St. James Way. Even though no official way exist, there are some main routes, followed by pilgrims. All ways heading the same final destination – Santiago de Compostela. Below find the most popular ways starting in Spain and Portugal:

The French Way (Camino Francés)

The most popular way, one with some of the deepest historical roots starts in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees and stretches over 780km until Santiago de Compostela. Over 60% of all pilgrims choose this route, which includes the major cities Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and León.

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Source: Schatz & Schatz

The Northern Route (Camino del Norte)

Stretching alone the northern coast of Spain, this route begins in the Basque country in Irún. It is a rather less popular route compared to others. Several parts of the way require hiking, which makes it more difficult for some people. It follows the old Roman way and passes by some important cities like San Sebastian, Gernika, Bilbao, and Oviedo.

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Source: Camino Ways

The Portuguese Way (Camino Portugués)

It is the second most popular path after the French Way. This route has 3 possible starting points. The farthest one is Lisbon, followed by Porto and then by Tui, a city next to the Spanish – Portuguese border at the north.

Proof of walking

The very first pilgrims who walked the whole route proofed their accomplishment by taking scallop shell as sign with them. Nowadays, pilgrims can buy a special passport and afterwards a certificate, proofing you went by foot or by bike. The passport is used to show evidence of either walking at least 100 km or of the way or going by bike for at least 200 km. To proof the walk/ride with your passport, you have to get a stamp from churches, town halls or other official establishments on your way to Santiago. Arrived at the final destination, people can get their certificate at the Pilgrims Office. The Compostela certificate is an original religious certificate written in Latin.

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Source: Keen on Asuncion

For whatever reason you want to accomplish the walking of the route, we put together the best packages for the New Year for you. Just contact us and ask for more information. We are happy to serve you with all kind of questions you might have about our Camino de Santiago packages.

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Do you like classical music? How about combining top-level international orchestras and soloists with subtropical weather, beautiful beaches and idyllic volcanic landscapes? From 7 January to 6 February 2017, the 33rd International Music Festival of the Canary Islands will be held on the Canary archipelago, considered to be the most important music event of the Canary Islands.

The festival is aimed to enrich the islanders’ cultural life as well as to promote high-level cultural tourism. Due to the islands’ favourable weather, the festival is celebrated during the winter months, being the only European festival to be held in winter. During the months of January and February the average maximum temperature on the Canary Islands is 22ºC and the average minimum temperature is 14ºC, with sunny and clear skies. The perfect weather to go for a hike or take a walk along the beach.

The festival has become a relevant event on the winter agenda, counting with the presence of renowned soloists and artists. The 2017 festival is specially aimed to diffuse the Spanish and South American musical heritage. It will count with about 650 musicians from around the world, 89 concerts and 78 works to be performed. One of the highlights of this edition will be the historical union of the two greatest symphonic orchestras of the archipelago. The Philharmonic Orchestra of Gran Canaria and the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra will be performing together Schoenberg´s “Gurre – Lieder” on 13 and 14 January.

 

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Symphony Orchestra of Tenerife (source: Gobierno de Canarias)

The main venues of the festival are definitely worth a visit, even without events taking place. The Auditorio Alfredo Kraus on Gran Canaria, named after the most international Canary Island tenor, is located at the end of Las Canteras Beach and is one of the most representative and outstanding constructions of the island. You shouldn’t miss to see some highlights of the auditorium: On the one hand, you can enjoy stunning views over the sea from its enormous panoramic window in the Auditorium Symphonic Hall. On the other hand, this hall houses a spectacular organ with 2.750 pipes, one of the largest of the Canary Islands.

Another main venue is the Auditorio de Tenerife Adán Martin. It is located in the Canarian capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife, next to the Atlantic Ocean. The majestic profile of the building has become an architectural symbol of the city and the archipelago. It is especially famous for its great arc, with its tip not being supported. Seen from the sea it is often compard to the Sydney Opera House. Inside, the auditorium also differs from traditional designs, as it attempts to surround the listener with sound sources.

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Auditorio de Tenerife Adán Martín (source: Turespaña)

To know more about both venues, you could participate in one of the guided visits that are organized to introduce visitors into the history and show the architectural highlights the buildings have to offer.

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Olive oil is deeply rooted in the Spanish history and culture. It is known that the olive tree was brought to the Peninsula by the Phoenicians and the Greeks. Later, the Romans and Arabs improved the techniques of production. As a result of a stable, thousand-year-old tradition, today Spain is the major producer and exporter of olive oil in the world.

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extra virgin olive oil (source: Diario ABC) 

The olive harvesting season starts around the end of November and the olive oil production mainly takes place during the winter months, from November to March. If you decide to visit Spain during these months, it is the perfect opportunity to learn about the world of olive oil.

Andalusia is the largest olive oil producer in Spain as well as full of cultural heritage sites. So why not combine a cultural and gastronomic tour?

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olive harvesting (source: Junta de Andalucia)

Visit Sevilla, the artistic, cultural and financial capital of Andalucia. The city is a historical hub, well known for its Muslim heritage and its gastronomy. Spend some time visiting the ancient “El Vinculo” mill and taste the olive oil that is produced there in a guided tasting tour. This olive oil mill was built in 1755 and until today it produces extra virgin olive oil in the traditional way.

Granada, once the capital of the Moorish kingdom, houses the most known Spanish monument: Alhambra Palace and the Generalife Gardens. While visiting this historical city, step by the Almazara Nuñez de Prado olive oil mill. This mill is run by the 7th generation of the Nuñez Prado family and it is housed in a traditional Andalusian farmstead building. It counts with an oil storage room that keeps the oil in the original jars from the 18th century.

Finally, Jaen is the olive oil region by excellence. Its landscape is marked by olive oil trees and as soon as you enter the province, you can smell the characteristic smell of them. the extremely fine quality of extra virgin olive oil produced in Jaén, results from practices passed down through generations of olive farmers, refining the art of virgin oil extraction. In Jaen, you can visit the olive oil visitor centre. it offers tours to introduce visitors to every aspect of olive oil production. the itinerary takes in everything, from the olive groves through to the actual production process of the olive oil, and explores its history, its relation with local gastronomy and its numerous health benefits.

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castle, Jáen Province (source: Junta de Andalucia)

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