About an hour outside of Barcelona is the authentically romantic town of Besalu. This is a tiny village and the birthplace of Raimon Vidal - a medieval troubadour (a composer of Old Occitan lyric poetry in the high middle ages),. Today, Besalu serves as an excellent day trip from Barcelona, especially for those looking to delve into the rich Jewish history found within.
Designated as a historical national property in 1966, Besalu's significant feature is it's 12th-century Romanesque bridge, which sits above the Fluvia river. The bridge acts as the main access into the town and can be seen from the riverbed, area churches and pretty much anywhere in the village.
Besalu Bridge — Photo courtesy of Bobbi Laufer
As you walk across the bridge and enter the town, you feel like you’ve been taken back hundreds of years. Old men sit in the city’s main plaza, smoking their pipes and eating their morning jamon y queso bocadillos (ham and cheese sandwiches), while enjoying the calm.
If you're looking for a relaxing day trip and a slice of Catalonian life, then Besalu is an excellent option. The cobblestone streets, charming little squares and narrow alleyways provide for a serene experience and a chance to learn about the city's history, especially that of the Jews in the 11th and 12th centuries.
Sporting one of the oldest and recently restored mikvehs (Jewish ritual baths) in the world, as well as the remains of a medieval synagogue, Besalu is a chance to delve into a part of Catalunya that you can’t discover in Barcelona. The city also hosts the Museum of Miniatures, created by jeweler and art collector Lluís Carreras.
Mikveh Besalu — Photo courtesy of Sam Mednick
About 25, 000 people come through Besalu each year to experience the combination of medieval history mixed with cultural and musical activities. During the town’s fiestas, which takes place several times a year, there are plenty of games for the kids, as well as parades and ceremonies frequented by its 2,000 local residents.
Once you've finished strolling through the streets and inhaling the history, if you're in the mood for a slightly bigger city, then head to Girona. It's about 15 to 20 minutes away by car. The two together provide for an exciting day trip, one rich in culture and education.
Although Besalu has a few tasty restaurants, many with cute outdoor patios, their hours are erratic. It's best to make a reservation in advance or perhaps spend the morning there and then head to Girona to dine and continue touring in the afternoon.