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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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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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Forget everything you’ve ever heard about how to celebrate the beginning of summer and imagine yourself on an endless beach lighted up by thousands of bonfires under the moonlight. Imagine how it must feel like dancing and drinking through the shortest night of the year together with good friends and completely strangers. Pure magic! What sounds like building castles in the sky is a wide-spread tradition throughout Spain’s coastline.

The Bonfire of San Juan is one of the biggest festivals in Spain and takes place in dozens of towns of the country. What most people don’t know: this celebration does not only start the summer off bright but is also the official beginning of local festivals in Spain. While the festivity of bonfires of San Juan is getting more important the closer to the sea you get, the celebrations are nowhere bigger than around Alicante which is during these days full of bonfires, fireworks, music, dancing and great food.

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source: donquijote.org

The “Hogueras de San Juan” are celebrated from the 21st to the 24th of June, reaching its peak on the 23rd of June, the day before the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist. While Christians honor Saint John the Baptist during this festival, many others believe in the protection against evil spirits and witches through the bonfires. Having its origin hundreds of years ago, the celebrations were formally constituted in 1928 and are nowadays Alicante’s biggest festival.

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source: Magek Spa

Although, Hogueras de San Juan is not starting before the 21st of June, preparations for the awe-inspiring bonfires begin on the 19th of June to ensure the greatest festival of the year. The days from the 21st to the 24th of June are packed with events: every morning at 8 AM, the streets are full of noise and clamoring, continuing with incredible loud firecrackers at 2 PM and bullfights at 7 PM. True to the slogan “sleep when you’re dead”, party animals celebrate every night from 11 PM to 6 AM in the morning. Outstanding parades (Street Band Parade on the 21st and International Folklore Parade on the 23rd of June), dressed up women called Beauty or queen of the festival and exuberant atmosphere make the festival to one of the most amazing festivals to visit.

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source: Veoapartment

All major traditions during this festival like jumping over the bonfire three times, running into the sea at midnight and washing your face with perfumed water carry basically the same message: to be cleansed and purified for the upcoming year and to burn/wash problems away. Beside these leading customs, regional traditions such as placing three potatoes (peeled, un-peeled and half peeled) underneath the bed and hoping to pull out the un-peeled one as it means good health and prosperity, sharing hot chocolate and throwing dolls into fire are of great importance for Spaniards. Probably the most curious tradition is the so called fire walk where young men try to cross the hot coals at midnight without getting burned.

No place is more exciting and spectacular during La Fiesta de San Juan than Alicante. Reserve your spot NOW with Across Spain and ask for our festival programs, to experience how traditional Christian, Catholic and Pagan rituals and beliefs can make up a remarkable festival!

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100 years ago, the little town Fatima, not far away from Lisbon, became known worldwide for the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Three children claimed to experience the present of Our Lady on several days between the 13th May and the 13th October 1917 at a place called Cova da Iria. Starting on 13th of May 1917 with the order to pray the rosary for world peace, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared every 13th of a month for six months.

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Jacinta and Francisco Marto and Lucia dos Santos, (source: speramus-hope)

Our Lady of Fatima prophesied the so called three secrets of Fatima on the 13th of July which are interpreted by many people according to events which happened in Europe. The last apparition was watched by hundreds of bystanders and if you can believe in the sayings of witnesses, a sun phenomenon which is still a miracle to the science could be watched on the 13th October 1917.

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the last apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (source: the Catholic Company)

Although, it took the church a while to officially approve the events happened in Cova da Iria, Fatima is nowadays one of the most important places of pilgrimage for Catholics. People from all over the world come together in the little town to repent and ask the Blessed Virgin Mary for forgiveness. The supernatural and preternatural phenomena on the 13th October 1917 made people believe in the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, however, the church backs out of this statement and highlights instead the significant role of the content and meaning of the message communicated to the children. According to the three kids, the Lady of Fatima gave three tasks to not only bring peace to the world but remain peaceful with each other.

Be sorry for what you’ve done wrong; put God first in your life.

Pray the Rosary each day for peace.

Make sacrifices for sinners so they will know and love God.

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Our Lady of Fatima, (source: Turismo Centro de Portugal)

Normally, celebrations of the apparition are reduced to the 12th of May with a candlelight procession to pray the rosary and the 13th of May where the so called farewell procession is held. However, due to the 100th anniversary, celebrations will be held throughout the year 2017. The highlight will be the visit of Pope Francis to Fatima in May. Coming to Portugal as pilgrim, his program is dominated mainly by moments of prayers. The only scheduled meetings are the ones with the President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and the Prime Minister António Costa.

While the Pope mainly focus on visiting the Basilica, Fatima offers way more to tourists including the incredible Batalha monastery which is a wonder to experience. Other holy sites such as Nazaré and wonderful medieval villages such as Obidos are very close to Fatima. Moreover, the town offers the perfect one day trip from Lisbon!

Don’t miss to join the wide-ranging program including exhibitions, concerts, performances, conferences and summer courses throughout the year! Experience the special place Fatima by booking your trip with us now!

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