Catalunya is a historic territory, whose vast chronicle contains all the words from the Middle Ages that excite the curious princes and princesses within us: kingdom and crown, counts, troubadours and castles. While there are many ways for your family to discover this region’s rich cultural heritage, none are as enchanting as castle hunting!
From the peaks of the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Sea, medieval castles dot the land of Catalunya, all at one time or another populated by feudal lords, beautiful maidens and valiant soldiers—those characters who now only exist in storybooks and our imaginations.
Here are our favourite castles in Catalunya that we think the whole family will enjoy exploring.
Nestled in the southern tip of Catalunya, between mountains, the River Ebro and a leafy forest along its banks, is the village and castle of Miravet. To reach the largest fortified complex in the region, you have to board a ferry. Although a medieval tax is no longer charged for the crossing, the journey—powered by the river’s current alone—is an experience in and of itself.
Miravet was founded by the Moors, who made great use of the crag, and then was rebuilt by the Knights Templar, who transformed it into a fortress-monastery after the conquest of 1153. It remains one of the best examples of Romanesque, religious and military architecture of the Templar order in the whole Western world.
Another draw for visitors is the conserved clay pottery now housed in Miravet, which is tangible affirmation of the area’s most ancestral tradition. The shapes such as jars, pitchers, vats, etc. and the glazes have Islamic influences. There are still eight running workshops in the ‘Raval’ quarter where you can see masters of the craft at work, making pieces by hand using potter’s wheels.
More information in order to plan your visit here.
A little over an hour’s drive from Barcelona, the centuries-old castle and fortress, now home to the state-run, four-star Parador de Cardona, sits high upon a hilltop overlooking the river valley of the Cardener. Originally constructed by Wilfred the Hairy in 886, in both the Romanesque and Gothic styles, Cardona Castle is one of the most well-preserved remnants of Spanish antiquity in the whole country. This is due in part to a still-standing decree from centuries ago that requires the citizens of Cardona to take one day each year to work on the maintenance and preservation of the grand ruin.
While the Castle of Cardona has borne witness to bloody war and brutal conflict over the years, inciting many legends and ghost stories, perhaps the most well-known involves the tragic 11th-century love affair between Adalés, the daughter of a viscount and viscountess, and the Moorish jailer of nearby Maldà Castle.
Having fallen head over heels for Adalés, the Moor renounced his Muslim faith and converted to Christianity so that they could be together, but to no avail. It was a time of intense conflict between the Moors, who occupied much of the area that would later become modern-day Spain, and various Christian kingdoms fighting to retake the land. Adalés was forbidden to continue her relationship. The young woman’s parents and brothers assured her obedience by condemning her to live inside the castle’s Torre de la Minyona (Minyona Tower).
Imprisoned in a space no more than 10 metres across, with a mute servant as her only human contact, Adalés withered away and soon died.
The tower remains intact, and from its roof, guests can see until the early foothills of the Catalan Pyrenees, the very same landscape that served as the backdrop for Adalés and the Moor’s doomed love affair.
More information on opening hours and ticket prices here.
Sant Ferran Castle
Following the negotiation of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, the Fort de Bellegarde in Le Perthus passed into the hands of the French state. To replace the lost bastion and protect the Spanish region of l’Empordà from possible future invasions by foreign troops, it was decided that Sant Ferran Castle would be built on a hill in Figueres. The first stone was placed on December 13, 1753.
Today Sant Ferran Castle is considered the largest bastion fortress in Europe, covering a total area of 550,000 square metres. The parade ground is one of the main attractions, below which are four large cisterns that can be visited in inflatable boats—together they are able to hold up to 40 million litres of water. The grounds also include stables housed in an imposing hangar with space for 450 horses.
Situated in the breathtakingly beautiful natural landscape of the Montseny massif—one hour from Barcelona by car—is what some have deemed ‘the greatest Gothic castle in Catalunya’. A visit to Castell de Montsoriu gives you and your family the chance to journey back in time to the 14th century when, thanks to its unbeatable vantage point at the top of a 600-metre-high hill, the castle became the military headquarters of the viscounts of the House of Cabrera during a period when the dynasty was one of the most powerful in the country. With a guide, learn firsthand what military and civilian life was like in one of the most impressive fortresses of the Crown of Aragon.
Much like the Castle of Cardona, Montsoriu Castle has amassed a number of legends pertaining to its history. They say that at exactly midnight, the ‘Red Lady’ of the castle peeks her unkempt head out of the top of the ivy tower. In her right hand she carries a burning lamp, and in her left hand, a hunting horn. After she blows the horn three times, a call from the band of coll de Castellar answers her. A little while later a knight dressed in all black appears, riding a horse of fire. He climbs up the tower, whisks the Red Lady onto his horse, and they disappear back into the darkness of the night.
Outside the castle walls, in one of the caves of Montsoriu, it’s also believed that there live three snakes. Each snake carries a diamond in its mouth. They only set the sparkling jewels down when they drink from the nearby spring. The lucky individual who can snatch one away at this precise moment would be richer than he or she ever imagined was possible.
Access to Montsoriu Castle is by tour only. More information here.
Like a movie set, but real, Tamarit Castle once kept an eye out for pirates near the shores of Tarragona.
The first written records of this structure, which contains both defensive and residential elements, date from the 11th century. From 1681 until the turn of the 20th century, when it was bought and restored by a private American collector, the castle belonged to the Archbishop of Tarragona and the Marquises of Tamarit. In 1950, Tarragona city limits were extended to include the compound.
Today, happy couples can tie the knot at Tamarit Castle, celebrating their union in either the charming main square of the old town or the breezy pool area overlooking the Mediterranean.
No matter the purpose of your visit, this castle on the water is sure to provide a memorable experience for everyone. More information about the castle itself here.