Santa Pau was the starting point of what turned out to be a 27.6 kilometre hike to Besalú. But as soon as I arrived into this picturesque town located at the heart of the volcanic Garrotxa Natural Park in Catalonia, I knew immediately that it was somewhere I didn’t want to leave. At least not before necessity dictated that I had to.
It was around 10am when my taxi driver dropped me off in Santa Pau. All I had to do was make it to Besalú before sundown and I had around 20 kilometres of ground to cover. Even allowing for photo stops, rest breaks, and wrong turns, I had an ample amount of time at my disposal. So I decided that I could definitely spare at least an hour out of my day for an aimless wander through Santa Pau’s tranquil streets.
Reminiscent of the Italian hill town of San Gimignano (but with only one tower instead of seven), Santa Pau is like a living museum of monuments. The castle here was first mentioned in documents dating back to the 10th century, and the historic centre (“Vila Vella” in Catalan), charming square (“Plaça de la Arqueria”), and elegant church (“Església de Santa Maria”) all date back to the 14th century. In fact, as a result of much of the town retaining its original medieval buildings, Santa Pau was granted protected heritage and artistic status in 1971.
I was actually quite surprised that – considering how beautiful this town is, how well-preserved its buildings are, and what a stunning setting it occupies – I wasn’t sharing its streets with hoards of other tourists. I expected a few tour groups milling around at least. However, aside from the odd hiker or cyclist who was passing through town (much like I was), there was just me and a few locals out for a morning stroll.
Apart from visiting its church and castle, there’s not a lot to do in town, but that’s a large part of Santa Pau’s appeal. It’s somewhere that’s made for aimless wandering and photograph taking.
Make sure you turn every corner, peer through every arch and walk down every alleyway, and always remember to pay attention to the details.
If you’re particularly observant you might spot this tiny little figure pictured in the middle photo below. I had to almost lie flat on my stomach on the ground to take this shot; she stands probably no higher than 40 centimetres tall.
From reading a little plaque on the wall not far from where she stood, I learned that the statue above was part of the Sculptures of the Artists Meeting in Santa Pau (1992) – an artistic venture promoted by the Provincia de Frosinone (Italy), with the support of the Diputació de Girona as well as the Olot and Santa Pau city councils. There were 16 works made; others can be found in Olot and Girona.
Inside the fortified walls narrow cobbled streets weave their way in between tall, often crooked stone buildings with wrought iron balconies and shuttered windows.
But take a walk through one of the archways cut into the walls and you’ll be greeted with one of the reasons the area is known for its gastronomy: rolling green hills and acres and acres of of fertile, nutrient-rich farmland.
Whilst it may not be an ideal time of year for hiking or cycling, if you want to sample some of Santa Pau’s local delicacies then make sure you visit in January. The town hosts two separate medieval themed festivals – one dedicated to olives and the other to to a peculiar variety of bean, known locally as “fesols.”
If, like me, you love seeking out unique and authentic experiences and have a penchant for the quirky and unusual, you should definitely add Santa Pau’s bean festival to your bucket list.
Practical info for visiting Santa Pau
Although I didn’t stay in Santa Pau, I absolutely would if I ever visited the area again. Many of the hotels and apartments here are housed within original 15th century buildings and offer balconies or terraces with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. You can check availability and prices below.
I got a taxi from Olot to Santa Pau, but the town is easily accessible by bus from Olot, Besalú and Girona. Timetables are available at http://www.teisa-bus.com/
If you’re in the area to do a bit of hiking then there are a few trails (of varying length and difficulty) available for download at https://www.wikiloc.com/trails/hiking/spain/catalonia/santa-pau
Alternatively, if you’d rather have everything organised for you, head over to Viator and take a look. You can even book a balloon flight over Catalonia’s volcanoes, which looks AMAZING!
Where have you visited on your travels that you instantly fell in love with? And tell me why I should go there 🙂
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And here are some pretty images for your Pinterest boards 🙂