Area Focus Banyoles

Eighteen kilometres away form Girona, in the vicinity of the Volcanic Zone of La Garrotxa Nature Reserve, we find the town of Banyoles. Between Sierra Rocacorba and the Fluvià and Terri rivers, this town enjoys an incomparable natural setting.

Surrounded by green hills, on the shore of Banyoles lake, the city centre was arranged around two points: Vila Vella, where we find the church of Santa María del Turers (14th century) and the Neoclassical monastery of Sant Esteve; and Vila Nova, whose most interesting site is its arcaded square, where we find numerous ancient buildings. The historic heritage of this town also includes Pia Almoina, a medieval, 14th-century construction, and Llotja del Tint, from the 15th century. Also, the traveller should not miss the Regional Archaeological Museum, which exhibits, among other things, a Neanderthal jawbone. The lake is also a great choice to visit. At different points along its six-kilometre-long perimeter we can hire small vessels to go rowing, fishing, or canoeing.

Source from: Spain.info

The City

There are studies that say that Banyoles is one of the towns with most quality of life in Catalonia, but we do not need any survey to confirm that our town is a good place to be. In fact, it would seem that people have been thinking the same at least for the last 80,000 years, to judge from the oldest archaeological remains that have been found here, the famous jaw of Banyoles. The next people to come to the same conclusion were the farmers and livestock breeders who settled at La Draga, close to the Lake, about 7,000 years ago, during the Neolithic. They left lots of objects there that allow us to travel back in time and imagine how people lived in the swampy terrain created by the Lake of Banyoles and the smaller pools around it. It is not very likely that those early inhabitants were aware that they were living in a special place.

That unique pride that the inhabitants of Banyoles feel about their town would not emerge for some time to come. The foundations of present-day Banyoles were not built until the 9th century: the monastery of Sant Esteve and the irrigation canals, built by a community of Benedictine monks who settled there, drawn by the Lake. Those canals would later give rise to Banyoles’ unique urban layout and its distinctive character, with mills, vegetable gardens and factories that would use the water they provide. The town continued to grow around the monastery and within the walls, which were completed in the 15th century. One stretch with Gothic reminiscences style still remains. The arcaded main square and narrow streets formed a compact urban core criss-crossed with canals of varying length.

With such a powerful natural feature as the Lake and its unique layout, when could we say that the inhabitants of Banyoles started to realise that their town was something special? Today, Banyoles is a bustling town where a local pride is clearly perceptible, the pride of living in Banyoles. As Jaume Farriol says in Banyoles vora el llac, “Everybody thinks that their town is the best place to live. The people from Banyoles are no exception, obviously. However, in our case, there’s a difference that stands out immediately: Banyoles really is the best place to live”.

Banyoles is neither on the coast nor in the mountains; it doesn’t aspire to be like Girona, the provincial capital; it doesn’t envy the attractions of neighbouring regions. The people of Banyoles know that they hold the jewel in the crown, the Lake, but they also know that their town is much more than this magnet that draws sportspeople, strollers, tourists and families by the hundreds to row, walk, run and swim in the Lake. If you want proof, you only have to look at the long list of sports professionals who have chosen our town to live here all year round, and also those who visit it to take part in the many sports events that are organised during the year.

What makes us different is the combination of a unique natural area and a culturally vibrant, car-free centre, packed with iconic shops, historic buildings, vegetable gardens, canals and washing places. In short, what makes us different is a very particular combination of words: of Banyoles, which is applied not only to all those tangible aspects –the pesqueres or fisheries of Banyoles, the regattas of Banyoles, the market of Banyoles, the Main Square of Banyoles, the xuixo (cream-filled pastry) of Banyoles, the shops of Banyoles, the bicycles of Banyoles–, but also the intangible aspects –the monster of Banyoles, the mist of Banyoles, the traditions of Banyoles or the accent of Banyoles, among others.

And of all the intangibles of Banyoles, there is one that runs through all the others. Yes, it’s true, Banyoles has sport, health, peace and quiet, and history, but above all it has a special talent, that sometimes verges on eccentricity. Professional, artistic, craft and personal talents that have produced a list of people with some well-known names, but also anonymous people who help give Banyoles that distinctive character: the character of Banyoles.

The Banyoles Lake

Living rocks and moving water: the origin of the Lake

It’s hard to imagine that under our feet there is water that has come from the Alta Garrotxa, 20 kilometres away, which is gradually dissolving the limestone and gypsum that form the subsoil, in a journey that can take up to 11 months to complete. For hundreds of thousands of years, the pressure exerted by this water has been eating away the karstic rocks to form caves or sinkholes. And eventually a pool appears –or even a lake!– if there is an underground spring (up to thirteen have been found underneath the Lake!). If we look at the soil, we can see another sign that these limestone rocks are constantly changing: travertine, or “Banyoles stone”, formed by the accumulation of layers of lime deposited by the water gushing from the karstic system. Travertine is a malleable but firm material; in its natural state, it is found in abundance in the Lake or close by, but it is also found in the streets and buildings of Banyoles. 

Fauna and flora to see and hear

Here’s something you can try: while you’re walking beside the Lake, stop for a moment. Observe and listen. Look on the ground, among the plants. Count how many different insects, birds, trees and smells you can detect. You’ll never be able to count them all. The animal and plant diversity linked to a lake basin such as the Lake of Banyoles includes a long list of species: from birds such as mallards, moorhens or kingfishers to mammals such as the otter, reptiles like the viperine snake, fish like the eels and barbels, more than 300 species of butterflies, or flora such as weeping willows, white poplars, alders, bulrushes, water lilies or horsetail.

The most photographed buildings of the Lake: the fisheries.
We won’t find many promotional photographs of Banyoles without these picturesque buildings built on pillars driven into the bottom of the Lake. Over more than a century –from 1818 to 1931– up to 20 fisheries were built on the east and south banks, most of which are privately owned. Single-storey buildings sporting a variety of architectural styles, originally intended to store fishing gear, were used by the well-to-do of Banyoles and summer visitors in the early 20th century for recreation, drawn by the new tree-lined avenues that led there. As well as photographing them from a distance, you can also visit a few, such as the one that houses the Tourist Information Office and the Gimferrer fishery.

Domesticated water: irrigation canals and washing places.

Banyoles owes its existence to the domestication of water, from those early monks in the 9th century who built canals to connect the Lake to the river Terri, drain the marshes and make use of the water. Over time, the uses have varied: agricultural –with urban and periurban vegetable gardens that are still tilled tirelessly–, industrial –flour mills, cloth mills, paper mills, copper foundry– and domestic –water for drinking, irrigating, washing. It was precisely the last use that gave rise to another architectural feature that is characteristic of Banyoles, the public and private washing places, of which about 60 still remain along the irrigation canals. Reclaimed and restored after a period when they were heavily polluted, the canals run through the town, sometimes underground, sometimes visible on the surface, canalised in travertine, among vegetable gardens and parks, or alongside streets. The Route of the Rec Major allows you to follow its course from the Banys Vells (or Old Baths), beside the Lake, to the Molí de la Farga (or Foundry Mill).

Doing the circuit of the Lake is a daily activity for many people

Every town has a place where people gather to stroll and socialise, but the people of Banyoles don’t go in for half measures: our basic walk is a circular, flat, figure-of-eight-shaped itinerary that takes you round Catalonia’s largest continental water body. In terms of health, socialisation, and aesthetic and natural enjoyment, it has a head start on the rest of the world. In the course of the slightly less than 7 kilometres, which you can do by walking, running or cycling, there are countless opportunities for mingling, observing the scenery, fauna and flora, or simply gazing mesmerised at the changes of colour in the Lake. For those who want more, the itinerary can be lengthened with pauses at the pools, springs, vantage points or the Romanesque church of Porqueres, among others.

Who can resist taking a dip?

Such a large body of water awakens an irresistible desire to plunge head first into it. But take note! Bathing is restricted to three spots, all on the east bank of the Lake: the Caseta de Fusta, open to the public free of charge and with a lifeguard onsite; the Old Baths, a bar and terrace that also offers the possibility of bathing; and the Club Natació Banyoles, which sells tickets that allow entrance to non-members. If what you want to do is swim across the Lake, you can take part in the Cross-Lake Race (Travessia de l’Estany), held every September when hundreds of swimmers cross the full length of the Lake, 2,115 m. With such illustrious winners as Mireia Belmonte, this competition celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2018, with 2,700 entrants.

Banyoles Gastronomy

Why go anywhere else if you can find all you need here in Banyoles?

It’s difficult for small high street shops to compete with the retail giants and mass merchandising establishments but Banyoles’ secret is its pedestrian-only streets and shops full of character. Beyond the urban layout that invites people to come and stroll, another strength of Banyoles’ local shops is their variety: you can find all you want right here in Banyoles. And the shops aren’t confined just to the centre; they also enliven other parts of the town such as the Olympic Village, the district of Sant Pere, the Passeig de Mossèn Constans, the Passeig de la Indústria, the Carrer de la Llibertat or the Avinguda dels Països Catalans. And the cherry on the cake is the weekly market, which fills the Main Square and adjoining locations in the centre of Banyoles every Wednesday.

Shopping in Banyoles

So much to choose from:
local cuisine and products

Artistic talent can also be found in Banyoles’ cuisine; whether traditional or innovative, the variety of choice is enormous: from family restaurants that offer time-proven recipes to establishments that are rewriting traditional cuisine.

The gastronomic proposals also feature products that we have grown and harvested since time immemorial, such as chicory, black turnip or purple garlic, and also locally made pastries and sweetmeats such as the tortadas, the cansalada, the xuixo or the rocs de l’Estany.

Check out the local market for a range of fresh fruit and vegetables and artesan products.


Source from: turisme.banyoles.cat – Gastronomy – Shopping

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