Medieval Villages
of El Baix Empordà

🕔 11 mins (total)
Some local “fauna” in the medieval village of Madremanya
Some local “fauna” in the medieval village of Madremanya

The Baix Empordà countryside is just littered with charming medieval villages, and nowhere more so than the area around the county’s capital, La Bisbal d’Empordà. For this article, we headed 4km north from La Bisbal on Route 66 (well, okay… Route C66!) to the village of Corça. We worked our way back the long – and very scenic – way around!

We have written a separate article about La Bisbal d’Empordà, the capital of our comarca (county), so we didn’t include it in this article. We also have other blogs on probably the best-known medieval villages in the area, Pals and Peratallada & Palau-sator. We visited the medieval villages in this particular blog in a couple of separate excursions with a mix of walking, cycling and driving. They can all be done in one day by car, although what we enjoyed most was parking the car once there, and walking or cycling between some of the villages. The scenery along the way makes it well worth the extra little bit of effort.

Click on the name of the village to find it on a map.


Corça

Although there is evidence of Roman settlement in and around Corça, the first documented mention of the town was in the year 878, at a time when the Franks ruled the land. In Latin its name was given as Quertiano as it was recorded as belonging to a Bishop of Girona named Quariantum, and throughout the Middle Ages the town was governed by the sitting Bishop of Girona. The name evolved over time to Quarciano in the 11th century and finally, by the 17th century, Corciano in Latin and Corsa in Catalan. Nowadays around 1200 people live here, making it the most populous of the villages we visited. Also in Corça is the wonderful double-Michelin-starred Bo.TiC Restaurant.

Corça is just full of medieval character
Corça is just full of medieval character

Parlavà and Ultramort

Heading north from Corça the C252 brings you to the villages of Parlavà and then Ultramort. These are two pretty quiet villages; so quiet in fact that you could be forgiven for thinking that the name “Ultramort” comes from the Latin for “ultra-dead”! Of course, it doesn’t really mean that at all, but is rather made up of two words, ultra and murta. “Ultra” is a prefix from Latin meaning “beyond”, while “murta” is of pre-Roman origin and meant “pond” or “lake”. In the Middle Ages the town of Ultramort depended on the larger towns of Rupià, Parlavà and Foixà, which were on the other side of a lake at the time, and so “Ultramort” got its name which meant “beyond the lake”. Parlavà is mentioned in documentation from the year 1018 and in 1314 it came under the territory of the Castle of Rupià that belonged to the Bishop of Girona. The largest population it has ever had was 547 dwellers in the year of the census of 1860 and today only numbers 413 inhabitants as of 2021.

“Ultramort” doesn’t mean “extra dead” or anything like that, but rather “beyond the lake”
“Ultramort” doesn’t mean “extra dead” or anything like that, but rather “beyond the lake”

Rupià

The village of Rupià lies a short distance to the west of Parlavà and, although nowadays its population is even smaller than that of its neighbour with only 296, it gives the feeling of having more life to it. For one thing, it has a pleasant square with a bar – which always helps – that serves, along with the usual brews, craft beers brewed by DosKiwis Brewing, a craft brewery on the edge of town which was established in 2019. Artifacts have been found at Rupià that confirm that there was once an indigenous Iberian settlement here until the 1st century and there is documentary mention of Rupià from the year 1128. As mentioned above, Rupià belonged to the Bishop of Girona during medieval times and the remains of the walls built at the end of the 15th century that surrounded the town center are still visible today. Even today there are only two access roads to the old town, through the gateways called Portal d’Amunt and Portal d’Avall, bearing witness to the defenses that once protected the town.

A street just off the square in Rupià
A street just off the square in Rupià
An arch with a book exchange leading onto the square in the village of Rupià
An archway with a book exchange leading onto the square in the village of Rupià

Púbol and La Pera

West again, and on the other side of “Route 66” is another even smaller village – in terms of population that is, not in terms of fame. Púbol is home to the Castell Gala-Dalí, purchased and restored in 1968/9 by the world-famous and very eccentric (maybe completely bonkers?) Catalan artist, Salvador Dalí. He bought the castle for his Russian wife, Gala (short for Galarina), hence the castle’s name. They had an unusual relationship and Dalí himself was only allowed to visit Gala at the castle by prior arrangement. After she died in 1982, Dalí lived there himself for a couple of years until a fire in 1984, in which he received serious burns, caused him to move to Figueres. The castle, originally built in the 11th century, is nowadays a museum and attracts thousands of visitors every year to this tiny village. There is also the Gothic-style church of St Pere built in the 1300s and most of the houses are Gothic-Renaissance style from the 16th to 18th centuries.

A field of sunflowers just outside Púbol
A field of sunflowers just outside Púbol
L’Església de Sant Pere in Púbol
L’Església de Sant Pere in Púbol
Does this house in Púbol remind you a little of “the Spaniard’s” house en Spain in Gladiator?
Does this house in Púbol remind you a little of “the Spaniard’s” house in Trujillo in Gladiator?

A stone’s throw away from Púbol is La Pera, a village whose existence was first documented in 982. Its name comes from the Latin word “petra”, which means “rock”, and it is so called as it was built on a rocky hill. Its 17th-century Church of St Isidor de la Pera is also of Gothic-Renaissance style.

An aerial view of La Pera
An aerial view of La Pera
The church in La Pera in el Baix Empordà
The church in La Pera in el Baix Empordà

Madremanya

Another small village with a population of just under 300, Madremanya is almost more impressive from outside the town than from within. The old town of Madremanya is located on a small hill with its fortified church of Sant Esteve de Madremanya overlooking the surrounding countryside. The houses are situated to form a defensive urban structure typical of medieval times, although the ones we see today are mostly from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The current church was built around the year 1300 in a late Romanesque style and was built on an existing temple previously documented in 1078 and is a Catalan Cultural Asset of National Interest. It still preserves two of the main ancient entrances to the walled town, the west gate and the north gate. There is also a bicycle rental place here, making it maybe the perfect spot to start from and finish in if you want to ditch the car and get closer to nature.

On the road leading into Madremanya
On the road leading into Madremanya
You can rent a bicycle and make Madremanya your base for the day’s exploration.
You can rent a bicycle and make Madremanya your base for the day’s exploration.
A beautiful Catalan meadow near Monells
A beautiful Catalan meadow near Monells

Monells

One of our favourite villages that we visited was Monells, with its Plaça Major, the main square, being particularly impressive for such a small village. And they seem to really love their arches here, as you can see from some of the photos below. The first recorded documentary reference to Monells dates from 889-890 when the “Villa Mulinnensis” was mentioned as part of the region of Girona that belonged to King Odo of the Franks at that time. It is also mentioned in 922, as Munells, as one of the properties of King Charles III of France, also known as “Charles the Simple”. By 1019 the church of Sant Genís de Monells is documented as part of the Diocese of Girona. Those old names from which “Monells” derives referred to the mills that were to be found along the banks of the Rissec River, whose tributaries still drain the area.

A view of Monells from a hill behind the town
A view of Monells from a hill behind the town
The main square in Monells with its characteristic arches
The main square in Monells with its characteristic arches
The church of St Genís in Monells
The church of St Genís in Monells
Farmlands between Corça and Monells
Farmlands between Corça and Monells

In 1103 the main market, which had been located up until then in Corça, was moved to Monells, making it the most important town in the region and it remained so until the end of the 17th century when the market of La Bisbal d’Empordà superseded it in terms of importance. The castle on the main square changed hands a number of times over the years and many figures important in local history lived in the town at different times. The arches we mentioned above are typical of a medieval market town.

Leaving Monells we decided to walk the old “road” to the next of our day’s hamlets: Sant Sadurní. The paved road now connecting the two towns was only built in the 1980s – but we figured we’d take the old trail anyway. There have been vineyards and olive groves along this path since time immemorial although other crops and livestock are more prevalent today.

Fields of crops along the old road between Monells and St Sadurní
Fields of crops along the old road between Monells and St Sadurní

Sant Sadurní de l’Heura

The town of Sant Sadurní de l’Heura, to give it its full name, is actually the administrative centre of the municipality of Cruïlles, Monells & Sant Sadurní but in the interests of brevity (too late?) the “de l’Heura” part is often left out of the name. The municipality was formed in 1973 when the three villages were administratively merged into one. Maybe they located the seat of the municipality here out of sympathy because, in terms of population, Sant Sadurní is the smallest of the three – although there’s not much in the difference between them: Cruïlles had just over 200 residents the last time they counted, and the other two villages, just under. There has been a church here since at least 1034, owned by the Bishop of Girona (yes, him again!), but the current church building was built in the 18th century. Although today’s church tower building may have once been part of the castle’s defences, nothing now remains of the original castle.

The church of St Sadurní de l’Heura
The church of St Sadurní de l’Heura
Views of the church tower in St Sadurní de l’Heura from two different angles
Views of the church tower in St Sadurní de l’Heura from two different angles
An old street and the square in St Sadurní
An old street and the square in St Sadurní

The walk to Cruïlles is only a short one, even when taking a small detour via the even tinier village of Sant Miquel de Cruïlles en route.

The old road from St Sadurní de l’Heura to Cruïlles
The old road from St Sadurní de l’Heura to Cruïlles

Cruïlles

This wee hamlet once used to be the “capital” of the Barony of Cruïlles which, back in the 13th century also included another medieval town, Peratallada. The earliest documented mention of the village dates back to 991 and it is recorded again in 1136 when the local lord made a donation of some sort to – and eventually, in 1148, signed an accord with – our old friend, the Bishop of Girona. Those bishops seemed to have a finger in every pie! The Cruïlles lords later became involved in various wars on the side of the king of the time and spent very little time actually living in their home due to being mostly away on military campaigns. At one point Cruïlles became incorporated into the County of Barcelona for a period and later, in the Catalan Civil War (1462-72), the Cruïlles nobles even ended up on opposite sides of the conflict. Things are a lot calmer today and there hasn’t been a battle around these parts for a long time now. The main features of the village nowadays are the 22.5m tall tower of the old castle, and the church, with its own tower, both to be found on the town square. The square was given a facelift in 1993 and restoration work was carried out on the tower in 2005.

Cruïlles as seen from a short distance away
Cruïlles as seen from a short distance away
A view of the church tower from the castle tower in Cruïlles
A view of the church tower from the castle tower in Cruïlles

Leaving Cruïlles it’s only just over 2km through more farmland back to where we started in La Bisbal to close the circuit. While you’re there, give La Bisbal d’Empordà a little bit of your time as well. After all, it is the comarca’s capital!

A farm between Cruïlles and La Bisbal
Some farmland between Cruïlles and La Bisbal

So there you have it folks; a lovely way to spend an afternoon in the country. Starting from La Bisbal and then taking in each of the villages in the above (or reverse) order makes for a nice easy circuit. As we mentioned at the beginning, we walked a lot of it because we just felt like walking, and it took us a couple of outings to visit all the villages, but covering all the above villages by car could be done in one day, including time spent exploring and taking photos. Unless you spend too much time drinking beer in DosKiwis!

If you think you, or any of your friends, might like to spend a bit more time in the area and get a feel for some rustic, medieval living – but with all modern comforts –  have a look at these two links:

Spacious Medieval Village Home

Stylish Cottage Medieval Village

Both of these vacation rental houses in Cruïlles are managed by callCarlos who guarantee their quality, and, of course, who are on hand to look after your every need during your stay. It’s truly an experience that will live long in your memory.


Bonus feature: Ullastret

If you still have some time on your hands when you’re done with the above circuit and you’re still in the mood, you could do worse than drive the less than ten minutes it takes from La Bisbal to another historical medieval village: Ullastret. The Church of St Pere (St Peter) here dates all the way back to the year 899 (with parts added in the 10th and 11th centuries) and the castle was first documented in 1225 – but there were people living here long before even the Romans arrived.

The square in front of the church of St Pere, Ullastret
The square in front of the church of St Pere, Ullastret

Situated on the hill of Sant Andreu less than 2km outside medieval Ullastret is the archaeological site of the original ancient Iberian settlement of Indika. The settlement overlooked a 200-hectare swamp in its day, but in the 19th century, this swamp was dried up to create agricultural land, although it is still prone to flooding today in the event of heavy or prolonged rainfall. If the ancient history of the area interests you can delve deeper into it in the Museu d’Arquelogia de Catalunya – Ullastret (no need to translate that, right?!), which is open every day except Mondays (and some public holidays) all year long. The entry fee includes entry to the museum and grounds, a map, an audio guide (in multiple languages) that works by scanning a barcode with your smartphone, and parking. It’s well worth it!

The Iberian ruined city just outside Ullastret
The remains of the ancient Iberian city of Indika, just outside Ullastret

If you found the above of interest, you might like to read our articles about other medieval villages in the area: Pals and Peratallada & Palau-Sator. We also have a piece on the not-medieval but equally interesting colonial town of Begur with its links to the Caribbean, and another on Palafrugell and its seaside towns.

There is absolutely no excuse for anyone to say they’re bored when on our beloved Costa Brava!

Get out there and get medieval!

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