Spain, Europe

Falling a Little Bit in Love with the Medieval Town of Santa Pau

April 17, 2018

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.

The medieval village of Santa Pau (viewed from the newer part of town on the opposite side of the valley)

Main Square, Santa Pau

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.

Santa Pau, Catalonia

Flowers, Santa Pau

Streets of Santa Pau

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.

Balcony goals

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.

Santa Pau, Catalonia

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.

Streets of Santa Pau

Santa Pau, Catalonia

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.

Beyond the fortified walls of Santa Pau

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.

Santa Pau, Catalonia

Santa Pau, Catalonia

Santa Pau

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.

Hotels in Santa Pau

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

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

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 🙂

Santa Pau, Catalonia_ A Perfectly Preserved Medieval Town | Gallop Around The Globe-2

Santa Pau, Catalonia_ A Perfectly Preserved Medieval Town | Gallop Around The Globe

Santa Pau, Catalonia_ A Perfectly Preserved Medieval Town | Gallop Around The Globe-3

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  • Reply Emily April 21, 2018 at 8:54 AM

    The curly cactus in the window is my favourite shot 🙂 I could spend weeks walking around a little town like this… I’ve fallen in love with so many all around the world. I think Sos Del Rey was my favourite village in Spain. There’s a little mud village in Oman called Misfat Al Abriyeen that also has beautiful houses like these… And so many small towns in the Caucasus that have a similar feel!

    • Reply Kiara Gallop April 21, 2018 at 6:55 PM

      I’m a huge fan of cacti as well 🙂 I’ve just Googled Sos del Rey actually – it looks lovely and not far from Zaragoza (although a good 450kms from where I was trekking). Oman is currently on the list to visit in the next year or so, after flying over it on my way to India (with Oman Air) and being wowed by the landscapes. And, speaking of the Caucasus, I’m visiting Georgia in June. Can’t wait!

  • Reply Portia April 21, 2018 at 9:37 AM

    What stunning photographs, it certainly looks like a gorgeous place to visit. I really like the sound of the Santa Pau’s bean festival, I love quirky events and unusual experiences on my travels!

    • Reply Kiara Gallop April 21, 2018 at 7:07 PM

      Thanks Pip 🙂 and yes, I’m all for quirky and unusual events and experiences too! I’m curious to know what happens at the bean festival…I imagine muchos fesols are cooked and consumed but I wonder if they distil the beans to make liquor as well and then start throwing them at each other La Tomantina style! 😉

  • Reply Mirela April 21, 2018 at 2:08 PM

    Santa Pau looks a little bit like San Gimignano and Sienna as a matter of fact. And other beautiful Medieval Citadels. Is lovely gotta visit place while in Calatonia. And is so close to Girona airport (Ryanair flies there). Great tip!

    • Reply Kiara Gallop April 21, 2018 at 7:11 PM

      Yes it is a bit reminiscent of Siena too, isn’t it? But on a much smaller scale 🙂 And yes, although I hate Ryanair (they seem to be the ones that started this whole paying to sit together/random seat allocation thing, as well as charging you if you want to keep your hand baggage with you), they do run very cheap flights to Girona!

  • Reply Brooke April 21, 2018 at 5:19 PM

    Wow (and I really do mean this wow), Santa Pau looks…beautiful. Love a good aimless wander myself…and it’s clear you got plenty of time and space to take these lovely photos! I’m curious – how did you find out about this place? Would like to read more about your hike too 🙂
    Brooke recently posted…Spirited Away, for One Afternoon in JiufenMy Profile

    • Reply Kiara Gallop April 21, 2018 at 7:13 PM

      I only found out about it because it was the starting point of the hike I chose to do to Besalú. I’ve actually just started writing about my hike now, so hopefully I’ll be able to publish the post in time for next week’s #blogpostsaturday 🙂

  • Reply Anita April 21, 2018 at 6:05 PM

    I love Spain. It seems to be a great feeling just wondering around and have a feel of the place. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply Kiara Gallop April 21, 2018 at 7:14 PM

      Spain is one of my faves! The more I visit, the more I love it 🙂

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