NW of Figueres, accessible by a back road that takes you over the autopista, Llers is famous for its old castle and legendary witches, an unusual tradition in levelheaded Catalunya. The old part of the village was seriously bombed towards the end of the Spanish Civil War. There is a charming casino bar and a couple of good restaurants, notably Ca la Francisqueta, where on any weekday you’ll eat what’s put in front of you and no nonsense about it!! To be avoided on Sundays, when having to offer a choice confuses the poor dears.
Ian Gibson mentions Llers in this excellent article in the New York Times on his book The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí.
The remains of the little Catalan town of Llers stand on a hill overlooking the plain of the Upper Emporda region in north-east Spain. They are a gaunt reminder of the ferocious civil war that unleashed itself in July 1936 and raged for almost three years. In February 1939 Llers was bursting at the seams with Republican soldiers and thousands of refugees fleeing from General Franco. When it became obvious that all was lost, the military ordered the civilians out and fused the magazine, installed in the parish church, before hurrying off to cross the French frontier at Le Perthus, an hour’s march away. Behind them, the terrific explosion blew most of the town sky-high.
Llers was once reputed to be infested with witches. Perhaps, some locals today will hint ironically, their malign influence was responsible for the place’s terrible fate, hardly mitigated by the construction, after the war, of a new quarter further down the hill. Today the town is only a shadow of its former self.
Salvador Dali’s ancestors on his father’s side were agricultural labourers from Llers, although the painter never mentions the fact in his misleadingly titled autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, or anywhere else in his work. That he knew about his background there can be no doubt, however; and in 1925 he illustrated a book called The Witches of Llers by his friend, the Empordanese poet Carles Fages de Climent.
The Llers parish registers, which fortunately survived the civil war, enable us to trace these Dali forbears back step-by-step to the late seventeenth century, but no further. Some earlier documentation has come to light in the Historical Archive at Girona, the provincial capital. It shows that, while a census carried out in 1497 mentions no Dalis in Llers, a notarial protocol dated 12 April 1558 lists among its inhabitants a certain Pere Dali. This man may have been the father of the Joan Dali who, according to a seventeenth-century Latin document preserved in the same archive, bought an inner courtyard in Llers in 1591 which was in turn inherited by his son, Gregori, and then by his grandson of the same name. The latter, who sold the courtyard in 1699, is the first Dali to appear in the surviving Llers records.
See also Página web del Ayuntamiento de Llers (Catalan)
Beyond Llers the road climbs steeply to Palau-Surroca, where there is a well-preserved castle overlooking the Muga river valley. Panoramic views of the Boedella reservoir can be seen from the mountain sanctuaries of Mare de Deu de la Salut and Santa Magdalena. Sant Llorenç de la Muga is a wonderful walled medieval village with a charming old bridge, ruined castle and interesting Romanesque church with a tall bell tower.
Here is where the real Pyrenees commence to climb inland. My favourite route goes up the river Muga from Pont de Molins through beautiful orchards to Les Escaules (hippieville; excellent fonda beside a waterfall before the weird little village with ruined castle), and then to the beautiful reservoir above Boedella, an old walled town with a waterfall. Biure has an interesting castle in some great surroundings. Priorat features the ruined priory of la Mare de Deu del Om. Nearby Darnius is attractive, with two old palaces, a little church apparently dedicated to a werewolf (Sant Esteve del Llop) and beautiful views. Maçanet de Cabenys is a delightful village, well worth an overnight stay in any one of its charming hostelries. The local casino bar is friendly. A hike past the talc mines up to the French border at Las Salinas at the foot of the Roc de Fraussa (1,410 metres) is healthy and instructive. The Festa Major is, unusually, in early November. Nearby La Vajol has an interesting ruined castle, several great restaurants full of French people, and a monument to Lluis Companys. Be careful not to drive into France by mistake here. Agullana is also attractive, with a magnificent Romanesque church, several modernista houses and an iron gate allegedly designed by Gaudi.
West of Figueres, but still on the almost flat plain, Avinyonet de Puigventós has a hotel/restaurant, Mas Pau, renowned for its inventive cuisine. Two km from Avinyonet is Mas de la Torre, a fortified masia dating from 1541 with a long history of putting down serf rebellions. Beyond Avinyonet is the medieval nucleus of Cistella and an enormous 15th century castle at Vilarig, from where I once tried to drive to the Boadella reservoir valley but gave up because the road was just too steep.
The increasingly mountainous roads off the main drag to Besalú feature some spectacular Roman and Medieval bridges over chasms and narrow valleys, notably the one over the Algama river gorge near Taravaus. Navata has ruined walls and a castle. Further west lies the well-preserved village of Lladó, where the fine Augustinian canonry of Santa Maria with its striking doorway can be admired in a very pleasant setting. Above Santa Maria is 17th century Sant Feliu, restored in 1998. A German ex-pat has set up a jazz bar called el Pesol on the Plaça Major in this most unlikely place. Also on Lladó’s Plaça Major is the restaurant Kan Kiku, highly recommended. Festa Major on Sant Lambert’s Day, September 11th, also Catalonia’s national day.
Above and beyond Lladó is Albanyà, which has a pretty church door. Here you can gain access to the sanctuary of Mare de Deu del Fau, commonly known as “de les Formigues” – “of the ants”, and continue through Carbonils to Pincaró and the French border. Alternatively, you can either turn right to attack the Muga valley with the Boedella reservoir, or left to Corsavell and Bassegoda, Puig de Bassegoda (I316 metres) and Ribelles, about as far West as you can get within the Ampurdan. With virtually nobody between you and France, this is real maqui country. Visit the little church of Mare de Deu de les Agujes. Llorona (“cry-baby”) is also worth a look.
For a particularly spectacular view that, on clear days – and best in the early mornings – encompasses all the eastern Pyrenees from Canigó to Cap de Creus and the Gulf of Roses, go through Cabanyelles to la Mare de Déu del Mont and the little chapel at Sous. The well-paved 12 km climb is easy, making it truly worth the effort.
Due south of Figueres, the belltower of the Barroque church of Borassà is visible for miles. Ordis has interesting ruins of an old hospital. There are medieval ruins at Pontós and Romanya d’Empordà. Tonyà has a nice old church, and the road through Garrigas to Arenys d’Empordà (Romanesque church), toVilaür and Camallera is pretty. Llampaies has a fortified Romanesque church. Orriols has an interesting residential castle. Bàscara has a splendid medieval tower. Calebuig has a fortified Romanesque church and superb views of the whole region.
To the SE, El Far d’Empordà is a tiny hamlet within easy walking distance of Figueres, a pleasant stroll along a quiet road that starts beside the mildly interesting municipal cemetery. El Far has a good example of a fortified Romanesque church, with a barbican and a few gothic gargoyles added later, and ruins of an interesting castle built by Count Ponç-Hug IV of Empuriés in 1229. There is at least one good restaurant, and some pretty views. Fortia and Riumors are also pleasant villages to walk or cycle to, with lovely old masias en route. La Bomba is not as exciting as it sounds. Vilamalla has a very unusual Romanesque church with a daring nave. Vilamacolum is a strange little place full of cats. A few years ago it had a 20-year-old mayor who was a member of the radical Catalan nationalist Terra Lliure movement and a student of English at a certain Figueres academy. He was a nice boy, but his Spanish flag-burning antics made the village a national laughing stock.
Torroella de Fluvià is an attractive village on the river Fluvià (the Romans really racked their brains to name this one!), and has an excellent hostal / restaurant which particularly welcomes cyclists. There are also some exceptionally friendly shopkeepers. A pleasant riverside road leads inland to the village of Sant Miquel de Fluvià, with a ruined Roman / Medieval bridge and a fine Romanesque church belonging to a former Benedictine abbey consecrated in 1066, but with a 16th century decadent Gothic façade. If you find the church closed, ask for the key at the shop in front of the church tower. Close-by are other villages with interesting medieval buildings: Sant Tomás de Fluvià (old Romanesque priory), and Sant Mori (Gothic- Renaissance palace). Just south of the river, Ventalló is a particularly charming village with an excellent music-bar / restaurant called La Bassa on its outskirts. The road to l’Armentera is pretty. Viladomat has a complicated junction that is difficult to avoid, although at least there is a handy petrol station. There are some nice walks to be had through and beyond the village itself.
This article was written by Francis Barrett. See also Francis' excellent guide to Ireland irelandbyways.com
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