A great day trip no matter what time of year it is. With picturesque walks and a charming town to match, Banyoles should be at the top of your list if you’re looking to get out of the city and enjoy the great outdoors.
A slightly less glamorous Venice but a slightly more glamorous Birmingham
Banyoles is a town located just north of Girona and within easy reach of Barcelona. The main attraction at Banyoles is the lake, but don’t dismiss the town itself.
Little canals flow down from the lake, known as recs, which originally date from the ninth century. They were built to irrigate farmland and later on used for the factories in the area. Think of it as a slightly less glamorous Venice but a slightly more glamorous Birmingham in the UK. Recent development work in the town have revealed more of the canals particularly in the main square to show more of the town’s history as you wander through its streets.
Start your day off by having breakfast in the main square before heading off to the St Stephen Monastery (Monasterio de Sant Esteve). The monastery is considered to be the first Benedictine monastic settlement in Catalonia, dating all the way back to 822 AD. The town of Banyoles then developed and built up around the monastery.
Then head over to the Banyoles Regional Archaeology Museum (MACB) which is set in the Gothic palace Pia Almoina. It contains three spaces – the palaeontology room, the prehistoric rooms and the history room all containing intriguing objects including the skull of a sabre toothed tiger and the jaw bone of a Neanderthal. Entrance charge is €3.
After exploring the town, it’s off to the main attraction…
L’Estany de Banyoles AKA Banyoles Lake AKA a Rather Large Lake
L’Estany de Banyoles is the biggest natural lake in Catalonia and the second biggest in Spain at approx. 2,200 metres in length and 750 metres wide.
Whether you fancy an autumn stroll or a summer bike ride, you will definitely want to visit more than once to see it in all seasons.
As you walk round the lake there’s always a hive of activity taking place. A group of photographers honing their skills, a family enjoying a bike ride, some friends cautiously getting into the rowing boats, dogs chasing after the ducks whilst their owners chase after the dogs and a local painter capturing the entire scene unfolding before him.
As you walk from the centre of Banyoles to the lake (about 10 minutes) there is the tourist information centre straight ahead of you with a host of information on all the activities available in the area. To your left is a hotel, a restaurant and a bike hire shop. Further round is a camping site and sports centre. Turning back the other way to the right of the tourist information centre is the Banyoles Swimming Club (CNB) which welcomes top national and international athletes to train at their facilities.
Cycling is a great way to explore the lake and the area, for the more adventurous there are mountain bikes or you can choose to take an easy cycle round the lake.
In the warmer months, you can go swimming in a section of the lake which is specially designated for swimmers. This is the perfect alternative to the beach in summer. It’s less busy and you don’t get sand everywhere! If you’re going swimming, there is a bar and toilets close by. Although there are only two toilets so you may find a bit of a wait.
There are also rowing boats for hire or take a 40 minute tour of the lake on the boat La Tirona which costs around €7.
Hiking is another great way to explore the area. A visit to the tourist information centre is useful to pick up maps of the hiking routes. Most of the routes are easy and each route is numbered and very clearly signposted. I’d recommend walking round the lake (approx. 2 hours) or if you’d like to get a higher perspective on the lake and town of Banyoles, you can walk up to Puig Clara (approx. 2 hours).
Surprisingly, this isn’t a difficult walk and a gentle climb rewards you with some great views (see below). Please note that I wouldn’t recommend going if it is raining or has rained the night before as the path up would be a bit slippery and remember to wear a good pair of walking shoes or trainers at the very least. Oh and of course a picnic to enjoy that lovely view!
How to get there
By car it takes about 1 hour and 30 mins from Barcelona or just 30 mins from Girona. There are different car parking spaces near the lake and in the town. It helps to get there earlier on Saturdays or in the summer.
Teisa bus company offers buses from Barcelona (1 hour and 30 mins) and Girona (30-45 minutes). If you are returning within the day make sure you ask for a return ticket as it is cheaper than two singles.