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Archive for the ‘sightseeing’ Category

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

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While culinary culture was always there as a side benefit, it has developed to the new reason why we’re traveling. And where can you have better food holidays than in the food mecca Spain – a country full with different flavors, delicious food, great restaurants and the famous local markets?

Gastronomy markets in Spain have always been the epicenter of civic life and a labyrinth of the freshest fruits, vegetable, meat and fishes. Hosted in historic buildings in the heart of the cities, some markets are no longer only offering local products but have developed to outstanding culinary experiences with a great variety of gourmet and crafts options and sometimes even live music. With their great culinary diversity, they are also the perfect food supplier for better restaurants in Spain.

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La Boqueria Market in Barcelona, (source: SuiteLife)

Gastronomy markets are a great way to get an insight into the food traditions of Spain. Sip a beer at the market of San Miguel, explore the wonderful market of Chamberí or stand around at the trendy food market San Anton to experience Madrid’s most popular and unique markets.

Market of San Miguel belongs to the gastronome of San Miguel society whose aim is to improve the traditional activity. La Boquería of Barcelona used as inspiration, the market focuses on high quality products, seasonal food and offering samples.

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Market of San Miguel in Madrid, (source: Spain Attractions)

The traditional market Chamberí, which has been operating for almost 70 years, is one of Madrid’s best known markets due to its great quality and variety of products. While it started as a food market, it has been modernized and features now also other services.

The biggest market in Madrid Maravillas is known for its fresh products which are great presented and of high quality. Maravillas is not only outstanding because of its architecture, numerous facilities and professional treatments by its merchant but also because the focus lays on developing eco-sustainable products.

The recently inaugurated San Antón Market in the heart of Chueca represents a new generation of markets with its recycling system. Spreading across three floors and focusing on perishable goods, wine, takeaway services and restaurant areas, the market is an absolute highlight.

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San Antón Market, (source: Pinterest)

Covered in high quality and well known markets, Barcelona is the perfect city to get back to basics and shop the old fashioned way at gastronomy markets. With markets such as Fira Artesana, Santa Caterina market and the famous La Boqueria market, the city offers a great variety and something for everybody.

Fira Artesana opens its doors on the first Friday and Saturday of every month and is specialized in homegrown and homemade products. With its nickname “the honey market”, it has turned into a small jewel of Barcelona.

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Santa Caterina Market, (source: BarcelonaHome)

As the first permanent covered market in Barcelona, Santa Caterina market is not only of great historic importance but also the perfect place to shop fresh fish, meat and delicious pastries. Moreover, the market features several restaurants to enjoy a beer with tapas, a perfect activity for a Sunday afternoon.

La Boqueria market, one of the most prestigious markets in the world, is an official landmark of Barcelona with over 800 years of history. The famous market is always busy and a hotspot for tourists as it offers everything a heart desires.

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La Boqueria Market, (source: Suites Life)

Known as the centers of gastronomy markets, Barcelona and Madrid feature the most famous food markets in Spain. However, other markets such as the central market in Valencia, the famous La Bretxa in San Sebastian and the gourmet market Lonja del Barranco in Sevilla are also must-see’s for food lovers. Experience a culinary journey through Spain and learn why Spanish food markets are treats for everybody when booking a gastronomy tour with us!

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Due to its amazing culture and stunning nature, Spain is the perfect destination for student trips. The country provides numerous possibilities to organize educative student trips for schools and universities, focusing on specific thematic areas. There are visits and activities available for every age group, with special attention to education or amusement.

Due to its various cultural influences throughout times, and buildings of different architectural style, Spain is a popular destination to be visited by architecture students. A special emphasize for those visits is often put on cities like Barcelona or Madrid, but also the La Rioja region is very suitable.

Barcelona’s architectural highlight is without doubt the still unfinished Sagrada Familia, a masterpiece of Catalan Modernism, designed by Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi also contributed other works to the city, like Park Güell, Casa Batlló or Casa Mila, which are well worth a visit, too.

A different kind of architecture can be visited in La Rioja. This region is becoming more and more famous for its avant-garde winery architecture. Some highlights are unique wineries, like Marques de Riscal, Ysios and Lopez Heredia, all designed by innovative, international architects: Frank Ghery, Santiago Calatrava and Zaha Hadid. What they have in common is incredible architecture, beautifully merged with the rural countryside.

A different thematic field that is interesting for student trips to Spain, is renewable energy. There are options to organize visits to internationally renowned and important sites, like solar energy facilities or wind energy plants, where students can get insight into the operation and talk to experts on these areas.

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solar power plant in Sevilla (source: Diario ABC)

Another reason for student groups to visit Spain is to participate in Spanish classes. It is always the best option to learn a language in a country where it is spoken. In this way, students can not only learn the language, but also become familiar with the respective culture and traditions. A stay in Spain enables students who study the Spanish language to apply their language skills in interactions with locals. It might also be a good option to combine the Spanish lessons with other activities, like cooking classes or gymkhanas, during the stay.

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Spanish cooking class

If a school class with younger students is visiting Spain, it is always possible to organize educational trips with a more playful approach. Many museums and theme parks offer group activities where students can learn about topics like nature, art or science, during fun activities. In addition, team building activities are a nice possibility for student trips to enhance social relations in the class, on the basis of collaborative tasks.

Send your request to info@across-spain.es and we will be pleased to send you our tailor made proposal for your student group.

 

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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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