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When it comes to stunning settings, Besalú in Costa Brava steals a march on most. Not only is the medieval town sited amidst Constable-esque countryside on the banks of the Fluvia River, but its main access is via a magnificent, 12th century, Romanesque bridge whose arches make stone circles on the river’s surface.
Located in the region of Garrotxa, some 30 kilometres from Girona and standing sentry at the meeting point of three regions, Besalú had its heyday in the 9th and 10th centuries when it was the capital of this region of Catalán and its town market was a hub of substantial economic influence. Multiculturalism flourished in medieval Besalú with a large Jewish quarter existing peacefully alongside Roman Catholic churches while in its narrow streets and picturesque plazas, tradesmen of every calling found work and a market for their products.
Today, the once vibrant town is still an important cog in the economic wheels of Costa Brava, a thriving tourist centre whose streets are still lined with the shop windows of artisans. Besalú’s buildings are amongst some of the finest medieval architecture in the region and the remains of its 13th century sunken mikvah give an insight into the lives of its Jewish settlers.
Crossing the bridge beneath the portal at which medieval travellers would have paid a toll, you enter the narrow, cobbled streets of Besalú where quaint tea shops and antiquarian restaurants straight from the pages of a Dickens novel sit cheek by jowl with ironmongers, basket-weavers and greengrocers. Tall, narrow houses with wrought iron balconies cast shadows across the maze of streets and throw the open, sunlit plaza and the 11th century Church of San Pere into greater relief.
Wander the streets with an eye to a bargain in heraldic souvenirs, or take to the river bank for a lazy stroll before being drawn to one of its pretty plazas for a coffee or a beer. In summer, the ranks of the 2000 or so inhabitants are swelled with a daily influx of visitors but the portico verandahs and plaza restaurants seem to absorb them effortlessly.
Bargain hunters should aim to visit on a Tuesday when the weekly market in the central Plaza Mayor takes place. For a glimpse of how Besalú must have looked in its prime, make a date to visit in the first weekend of September when the town reverts to its medieval roots, its streets filled with minstrels, musicians and jugglers.
Our visit to Besalú was kindly arranged by Costa Brava Tourism
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+