France, Bagà and Andorra
If, you have already spent time in Barcelona and visited the usual points of interest in the Catalonia region. Now your cruise has you back in Barcelona and you are ready to step further afield. Here are a few suggestions for your consideration. Take a quick trip to France, or engage in a little more Spanish exploration with visits to Bagà or Andorra. The three destinations can be combined in a day trip or you can select one location and spend the day in that area.
You have three basic transportation options. The first is to rent a vehicle and drive yourself. The second is to book a car and driver and the third is to take an organized excursion with a tour company. All three options have pros and cons. I usually prefer to drive myself but it really will depend on your comfort level with driving in unfamiliar territory. Having a car and driver is the more relaxing option but it is also the most expensive. Taking an organized tour is the least flexible but often the most economical choice. Evaluate what suits you best and make arrangements in advance to ensure your choice is available and plan your day.
You can take local public transportation but due to logistical considerations such as transfers and scheduling, it is not viable for a day trip. In my opinion, local transportation to some of the points furthest from the port of Barcelona is an option to only be used if you plan on staying overnight. For example, taking the train from Barcelona into France may involve transferring trains for a total one-way travel time of 5 ½ hours. Eleven hours of your day dedicated only to your transportation is clearly not a day trip friendly option. Even taking a direct train from Barcelona to Latour De Carol Enveitg (at a cost of around 50 euros), can involve a combined total of almost 7 hours spent on the train and that does not include platform waiting times or scheduling delays. That leaves little time for sightseeing.
France - Ax-les-Thermes and Lorat
Let us start with a quick entry into France. Most tours heading to France from Barcelona, go to the border town of Ax-les-Thermes. Known as a spa town, it boasts the hottest thermal water in the region. It is very much a tourist town offering up sodium sulphide water treatments and other assorted wellness therapies. A friend described her time there as the ultimate spa day. But a little pampering, attractive as it is, could not match my interest in castles and historical battle sites and about 5 miles away is the historic castle ruin of Lordat.
If you opt to skip Ax-les-Thermes and go directly to the Castle of Lordat, you will find the drive takes you about three hours from Barcelona. Built around the 9th century, it is one of the oldest and largest feudal castles in the county of Foix and for those castle buffs, a noteworthy point of interest in the region. In 1244 the castle was captured by the Cathars during the Crusade. The Cathars were a break away religion that did not embrace the sacraments of the Catholic church which earned them the animosity of the pope. They also rejected the old testament which in staunchly Catholic medieval Europe, meant they were considered heretics. The knights of the castle of Lordat were eventually charged with the crime of heresy and burnt at the stake.
At the end of the XIII century, the castle passed into the hands of the King of Aragon, who ordered it to be destroyed. The ruins command a great view of the valley bellow but as for an interesting "castle" to tour, the ruins have little to offer. The walls were stabilized, and some outline restoration work was done in 2016 so you can envision the shape and size of the castle.
There are some interesting and highly photographic buildings in the village just below the castle.
Spain - Andorra
I decided to visit Andorra, Spain because it is the smallest state in Europe, and I considered it to be easily included in my day trip from Barcelona when I was heading to France. Because of its unique designation, and its location on the border between Spain and France, this independent European co-principality was my choice for a quick photo stop at its capital; Andorra la Vella. I spent longer than intended as there are some interesting stone buildings and shops. The place is not that large, so I simply parked and walked around, stopping for an enjoyable coffee at one of the cafes. While there, I learned of a historic church nearby. Consequently, I was soon off to the village of Canillo to see Sant Joan de Caselles (Església de Sant Joan de Caselles). Dating from the 11th century, this stone and mortar church is built in the Romanesque style and has an interior decorated with frescoes. One of the devotional paintings, dates from 1525 and is titled St. John and the Apocalypse.
Spain - Bagà
I had not heard of Bagà until I came across a pamphlet for a day trip from Barcelona and this village was included as one of the stops on a tour. I believe one way to discover the most popular sites in an area is to research them and part of that research is having a look at what tour operators are offering. They generally have an excellent handle on places people like to tour.
Bagà is located in the northern half of the comarca and it is considered the capital of Alt Berguedà. Set within mountainous terrain, the trip to arrive at the village will offer up some great scenery and outstanding views. Spain has a plethora of roman and medieval era villages and the Spanish village of Bagà is one of them. Built in the 9th century, there are narrow alleys, plenty of little stone steps and stone buildings. The church is called St. Esteve de Bagà and is built in the early gothic style with a later addition of an offset corner, square bell tower. It was built in the 13th century.
I believe that the church is a must see stop in the village but due to the size and limited opening hours, you will not be spending a great deal of time there.
If you are a student of architecture, visiting both Bagà.and Canillo will allow you to enjoy touring two distinctly different architectural styles of churches that are the focal points of their respective villages.
This ends my series on Barcelona as a port stop. As always, if you have any comments or questions, please feel free to post them against this blog or contact me directly. Photos that you want to share are always welcome and appreciated. I am using shutter stock photos for this blog as I dropped my camera on a stone walkway as I was loading my rental car and that was the sad ending to the short life of my camera. No photos were taken by me that day,