Besalú is designated as a National Historic Property but it is rather small and as we were staying here for a couple of nights we thought it best not to rush around and see everything straight away. This plan suited me just fine because it was exceptionally hot by mid-afternoon so the best place to be was in the main square under a parasol with a big glass of cool Estrella beer in a frozen glass and several plates of local specialities for lunch.
Eventually the bars and restaurants began to close down as the owners and staff cleared the tables and started to think about the afternoon siesta so we took the hint and moved off to go and explore the streets of Besalú.
The town descended into a tranquillity like a triple dose of valium, away from the medieval main square we melted into narrow alleys with cobbled streets with weathered stone buildings and balconies with terracotta pots hosting effervescent flower displays, wooden doors with several coats of hastily applied paint covering up the damage of hundreds of years and heavy metal hinges and rusty locks.
In the forty degree heat this was a wonderfully lazy place where shopkeepers sat outside without worrying about customers or sales targets and tourist shops acted like a magnet for Kim who was considered this the perfect place to find the holiday souvenir in the craft and pottery shops that lined the streets.
The cool narrow alleys started to drop now as we approached the river Fluvià where fat carp swam lazily close to the surface in the sunshine and mocked the fishermen who were valiantly trying their luck and then we reached the twelfth century Romanesque bridge which is the principal feature of the town. Before the adjacent new road bridge was built this was the only way of crossing the river and it is heavily fortified in a redundant sort of way and was once so important that it was blown up and partially destroyed during the Spanish civil war.
Walking across the bridge to the other side of the river but transported us from the medieval to the modern world and so we stayed just long enough to look back and admire the view, the stone houses rising vertically from the banks of the river, the bridge, designed to repel hostile attacks and the intense blue sky that framed the whole town and full of swifts and house martins that came in waves and waves like Nazi Stuka dive bombers.
After we were certain that we had seen what there was to see in Besalú we returned to the main square and the shade of the pavement café parasols and as we watched guests arriving for a wedding in the church we agreed that this was one of the most attractive places that we had visited in Spain and excluding cities we started to compile a top ten and in no particular order this is it:
The fishing village of Cudillero in Asturias with its tiered buildings wedged into a wooded rocky cove and staying on the northern coast the stone built village of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria and then dashing south to Andalusia and the immaculate white-washed villages of Ronda and, close to Seville, the town of Carmona. I think we are happy to declare Extremadura as among our favourite places in Spain and from here the conquistador town of Trujillo must surely have a place in our top ten. Next I had to squeeze in the historic town of Ciudad Rodrigo in Castilla y Leon and finally four places in the centre of the country and all quite close to Madrid, Chinchon of course with its delightful Plaza Mayor and nearby Almagro and then the delightful town of Siquenza and finally, and this just might be the best of all, the mountain village of Pedro Bernardo once again in Castilla y Leon.
This is a personal top ten and we have barely visited enough places in Spain to be qualified to compile this list so I have left out your favourite then I apologise and invite you to comment and add a suggestion.
Gradually the wedding guests all made their way inside the church and Kim slipped back to the hotel to rest so I took the opportunity to enter the church that had previously been locked and gatecrash the wedding but I wasn’t the only one and no one seemed especially bothered by that as they concentrated on the ceremony as we poked about the side chapels and watched the happy couple nervously exchanging vows and rings.
Later as the sun dipped, the shadows grew longer and the temperature dropped we went back out into the square and selected a restaurant for evening meal and enjoyed a slow service menu del dia for only a few euro as we watched the town slip effortlessly from evening to night time and before we returned to the hotel for the last time today we repeated this afternoon’s walk and completed another circuit of the town this time under floodlights rather than a blistering sun.
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