Banyoles is best approached from Besalú (or from. Palol, with its ruined castle and a fortified precinct). This lakeside town is well worth a visit, but I advise against staying overnight – negative vibes, and a lot of bad things have happened here. Despite some modern touristy development, with new hotels etc. much in evidence, Banyoles is attractive looking, with a well-kept old town and shaded footpaths around the lake.
See also nature guide to Lake Banyoles
Originally founded by Benedictines in 812 AD, the Monestir de Sant Esteve is still the biggest structure in the old town, with a 1437 Gothic altarpiece and cloisters containing tombs of local Abbots. The 13th century church of Santa Maria dels Turers is one of the earliest examples of Catalan Gothic, with fine stained-glass windows The 12th-14th century almshouse, Pia Almoina, with a fine cloister, is now the site of the Museu Arqueològic Comarcal. The old dye market, la Llotja del Tint, is good example of 15th century industrial architecture. The Museu Darder d’Història Natural contains the collection of the renowned early 20th century explorer, naturalist and taxidermist Francesc Darder, and the rooms dedicated to Man have been controversial, to say the least: after a huge row of international dimensions over several years, the Spanish government forced Banyoles to repatriate a stuffed African warrior to his native Mali for decent burial in 1997. All streets lead to the central Plaça Major, a lovely tree-lined, arcaded square with several cafés and a Wednesday market that had been held here since the 11th century. El Café de la Plaça has delicious sandwiches made with especially soft doughy rolls. But many of the better local restaurants have closed down or are in decline, and the best meals are to be had in the surrounding countryside. I am told there is a really good workman’s midday menu to be had at restaurant les Estunes, just behind the Dallas Discoteque on the outskirts of town. Festa Major on August 15th, fiestas also on October 24-26th. Sardanas are danced on Thursday nights in summer at the Plaça Major
Bicycle rentals provide an excellent way to see the lake and also to travel farther afield. The lake, with a surface of one square km and 8 km perimeter, is unique in the world in that it is fed by the confluence of two subterranean rivers, where 600 litres of water are pumped in per second. It was the site of the 1992 Olympic rowing events. It is environmentally protected, and only boats with electric-powered motors may ply its waters. There is a whole series of boating options – cruises, rowing boats and pedaloes. About 20 French pensioners were drowned on a cruise here in 1999. Take some bread along to feed the waterfowl and enormous carp, one of whom claims to be the oldest fish or indeed animal in the world. They call him El Anciano. There is a grassy esplanade for swimmers and sunbathers and a few wooden piers where you can dive in. From the Club Natació de Banyoles, which has its own esplanade, walk a few hundred meters along a footpath going through the park to the north.
This article was written by Francis Barrett. See also Francis' excellent guide to Ireland irelandbyways.com
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