Tag Archives: Masalbereda

Weekly Photo Challenge: Scale, Catalan National Costume

Catalan National Dress and Independence

I pose with two life size figures dressed in Catalan National Costume.

I was interested in the issue of Catalan independence and tried when I could to speak to people about where they stood on the issue because polls reveal that almost 60% of the population support independence.  Everywhere there are Catalan flags and symbols, Catalan always comes first in guide books and menus, shops don’t sell King Juan Carlos souvenirs, on official guides the flag of Spain is almost always defaced and the away team colours of FC Barcelona are the red and gold of Catalonia.

It is the sixth largest region in Spain, has the sixth largest coastline and is sixth largest by population density (second overall after Andalusia).  If it were to achieve independence it would be the twelfth smallest state in Europe just slightly larger than Belgium but a bit smaller than the Netherlands.

Read the full story…

Catalonia, A Referendum, Independence and Language

Caldes de Malavella Catalonia Spain

“… Spain, so long obsessed with the unity of authority, will loosen itself one day into a federal state… this redistribution of its powers will prove to be the most distinctly Spanish contribution to the progress of the nation states.” –  Jan Morris – ‘Spain

If the evening meal at the Masalbereda hotel had been good then breakfast was even better.  It was served in the smart restaurant on a balcony overlooking the gardens and consisted of local cheese and sausages.  Sausages are a speciailty of Vic on account of the fact that the mountain valley is well known for its pig farming.  There were at least eight varieties to select and sample and although I am sometimes wary about sausage there wasn’t one here that wasn’t delicious – even the vegetarian one made from potato!

Today we were moving on from Vic to the nearby town of Ripoll and soon after breakfast we took the short thirty minute drive to the neighbouring town back in the Province of Girona and arrived at our next stop in the village of Campdevànol at eleven o’clock where we simply wanted to leave our luggage but luckily our room was prepared and ready so we were able to check in to the Hotel Sèquia Molinar.

Our plan today was to take a railway journey into the Pyrenees and the timetable showed a convenient train at half past one so that gave us an hour or so to walk into the village to take a look around.

It was an unremarkable little place but just as everywhere else a lot of the buildings were draped with the red and gold flag of Catalonia, some already anticipating a successful transition to independence and rather prematurely announcing themselves as ‘A New State for Europe’. To achieve this they are planning a referendum in 2014 and are in a race with Scotland to get there first.  The two parallel campaigns have been described as similar but Catalans reject this comparison and point out that Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom by contract in the Acts of Union of 1707 (someone should tell Alex Salmond) whereas they are more like Wales and consider their inclusion in the Kingdom of Spain to be as a result of conquest and subjugation.

I have to conclude that Catalonia certainly doesn’t feel like the classic Spain of Castile but then again Andalusia doesn’t actually feel like the classic Spain of Castile either. I have now visited fourteen of the seventeen Autonomous Communities and I would find it very difficult to choose one that I might then suggest is most representative of the usual English vision and expectation of Spain.  Castile must come close, or perhaps Valencia or even Extremadura, certainly not Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria or the Basque Country and I am yet to travel to Aragon or Navarre so cannot offer an opinion on these.

Catalonia Steeple of People

I was interested in the issue of Catalan independence and tried when I could to speak to people about where they stood on the issue because polls reveal that almost 60% of the population support independence which, if you believe polls, is much greater support for independence than in Scotland.  Everywhere there are Catalan flags and symbols, Catalan always comes first in guide books and menus, shops don’t sell King Juan Carlos souvenirs, on official guides the flag of Spain is almost always defaced and the away team colours of FC Barcelona are the red and gold of Catalonia. Here in Campdevànol the hotel staff told me that they considered themselves to be Catalan first and Spanish second although they feared that the referendum for independence would ultimately fail because of the inherent conservatism of the older generation and because, whatever the outcome of a referendum, Madrid would simply never allow it.

As well as history, economics is a major driving force behind the movement because Catalonia is one of the most prosperous of the Spanish Communities and although it enjoys considerable autonomy it resents contributing almost 20% of revenues paid to Madrid and feels hard done by in terms of inward investment in their region in return.

It is the sixth largest region, has the sixth largest coastline and is sixth largest by population density (second overall after Andalusia).  If it were to achieve independence it would be the twelfth smallest state in Europe just slightly larger than Belgium but a bit smaller than the Netherlands, it would have ninety of Spain’s five hundred and fifty blue flag beaches (16%) and six of its forty-four World Heritage sites (14%).

It didn’t take long to see everything that there was to see in Campdevànol so we returned to the hotel and then drove the short distance to Ribes de Freser and the train station where I was surprised to see the mountain railway just leaving the station at one o’clock.  Beyond buying beer or ordering a meal I don’t understand a lot of Spanish and I certainly don’t speak Catalan and I offer this as the reason why I had misread the train timetable and was working on the weekend schedule when this was only Friday.

The next train now wasn’t for a couple of hours so accepting the consequences of our unfortunate timing we now had time to spend some time in the little town.

Catalan National Dress and Independence

This is me with two life size figures dressed in Catalan National Costume.

Catalonia, The Town of Vic and a Boutique Hotel

Balneario Prats Caldes de Malavella Catalonia

Before leaving The Balneari Prats Hotel we went in search of improved health and swam for a last time in the rejuvenating waters of the swimming pool but after half an hour I was still running out of breath and joints were still creaking so we gave up on the whimsical notion of eternal youth, packed our bags and left for a short journey into the mountains to the west.

There was a fast new road from Girona to Vic with almost no traffic to share it with as we soon started climbing, climbing, climbing through a succession of long tunnels bored directly through the mountains which I presume the old roads had to negotiate in long difficult raking loops.  As we climbed we left the Province of Girona and entered Barcelona but in contrast to that city we passed through vast green forests spreading in every direction and punctuated here and there with terracotta villages hiding in the folds of the hills and only given away by their church towers that peaked above the tree tops.

Masalbereda hotel…

Eventually the climb levelled out and there in front of us was a vast agricultural plain surrounded on all sides by a ring of mountains and in the centre of this was the town of Vic spreading from its centre like wine spilt on a table cloth.  We would visit Vic later but first we needed to find our hotel in nearby Sant Julià de Vilatorta so that we could drop off our bags.  It was quite early and we didn’t really expect to be able to check in but we were lucky and even at mid morning the room at the five hundred year old farmhouse now the up-market boutique Masalbereda hotel was ready so we explored the hotel and then the village before driving back into the hills.

There were no new roads here and we had to take the traditional way of reaching the top by a narrow country road full of hairpin bends, hard climbs and the occasional crazy local drivers who were prepared it seems to take extraordinary risks to overtake an inconvenient tourist in a Volkswagen Cabby!

We were driving to see a reservoir at the top and this was another vertiginous road that went up, up, up and then down, down, down until we reached the languid green waters of the reservoir under the shadow of a tall red mountain top which felt suddenly as though we had been transported to Utah or Arizona and we were on the set of a John Ford western movie.

It was hot and it was humid so after we had walked for a while around the machinery of the massive dam we returned down the same road and stopped for a very expensive beer in the highly manicured village of Vilanova de Sau before driving the short distance to Vic.

Vic Catalonia Spain

Vic, Catalonia…

Mid afternoon and in the heat of the day was not the best time to visit Vic because most of the town was closed and the sensible residents were resting in the shade behind closed shutters because the dusty Plaza Mayor inside its ring of high stone buildings the sign on a chemist shop claimed that it was a sweltering thirty-five degrees centigrade.  Undeterred by this we followed the tourist trail through the town through narrow stone streets, past the cathedral (closed for the afternoon) and the Roman Temple (also closed for the afternoon) and then along the disappointingly concrete Las Ramblas where a few hardy folks were sitting out at the occasional pavement bar.

We declared it too hot for the full sun so we darted back into the shade of the side streets and after being turned away from an air conditioned restaurant because we only wanted a beer found a bar in a small square with tables under the shade of some leafy plane trees stopped for a while to cool down with a more sensibly priced drink.

I have to say that I don’t think Vic is worth making a special journey to visit but it is a nice enough regional town to spend an hour or two.  It turns out that Vic has a long history but my favourite story is that after it was destroyed by the Moors in 788 most people abandoned the town for the safety of the hills until it was made safe again and repopulated by the magnificently named William the Hairy a hundred years later. (There is a story that William was so named because hair grew on a part of his body where it normally doesn’t but I cannot find any further details – my guess is the palms of the hands?)

A little bit disappointed by Vic we returned to Sant Julià de Vilatorta and because we suspected that the hotel restaurant might be rather expensive we walked the streets to find somewhere suitable for evening meal.  We found three good places but on enquiry they all told us that they were closed tonight on account of an important football tournament in the village and all recommended the Masalbereda, so it looked as though we had no option.

This turned out to be rather lucky because although we have a preference for a noisy bodega or a lively tapas bar to the crisp white table cloths and whispered conversations of a silver service restaurant the menu turned out to be quite reasonable and the food was excellent and we enjoyed our short stay at a smart hotel that was unusually expensive for us and before I went to sleep I tried as hard as I could to remember just why I had booked something so far out of our usual price range.

Vic Catalonia Spain