The legend most widespread all over Catalonia recounts the exploits of the infamous Count Arnau, whose spirit has haunted the area after a lifetime spent ill-treating his vassals, seducing the village maidens and cheating his soldiers of their rightful pay. The route leads on into the age-old town of Gombrèn, where we can visit Mataplana Castle and a museum dedicated to the legendary figure of Count Arnau, Sant Joan de les Abadesses, Campdevànol and the Montgrony sanctuary.
Head out from Ripoll, the origins of the town are closely linked to Count Guifré el Pelós (840-897) and the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria, which played a major role in the history of Catalonia.
The most important feature is the 12th century portal, one of the major examples of Romanesque art in the world. One of the highlights for visitors to the monastery is the tomb of Count Guifré el Pelós, to whom legends attribute the origin of the four red stripes on the heraldic shields of Catalonia.
The Scriptorium is also interesting, a permanent exhibition on the world of the medieval copyists.
Take the C-26 for 10 km to Sant Joan de les Abadesses, following the course of the River Ter.
Carrying on along the route:
Like Ripoll, the history of the town of Sant Joan de les Abadesses is closely linked to that of its monastery, also founded by Count Guifré el Pelós. The monastery houses a group of sculptures composed of seven life-sized figures, considered a unique example of the 13th century transition period from Romanesque to Gothic-style sculpture. A stroll around the town centre is highly recommended to see a rare example of medieval town planning and interesting sights such as the Old Bridge, the remains of the ramparts and the porticoed Main Square surrounded by baroque-style buildings. A large market is held on the square every week.
Go along the Gi-521 over the Collada de Sentigosa pass until the N-260, and from there head towards Vallfogona de Ripollès. Situated in a wooded, mountain area of great natural beauty, Vallfogona boasts an interesting cultural heritage that includes La Sala Castle, with a rectangular floor plan and a seven storied tower; the church of Mare de Déu del Pòpul, a very well conserved medieval centre with a noteworthy Main Square, a medieval bridge and a church of Sant Julià de Vallfogona.
Go back to Ripoll on the N-260 and continue the N-152 towards Ribes de Freser, stopping at Campdevànol on the way. Right beside the main road just beyond Campdevànol we find a Romanesque bridge popularly known as Pont d’en Cabreta (Bridge of the Little Goat), a name that also designates the figure of the devil. According to the legend, Count Arnau used this bridge to cross the River Freser on the road between Campdevànol and Ribes de Freser. Go back into Campdevànol and visit the Romanesque church of Sant Pere d’Auira.
Take the GI-401 to Gombrèn and 2.5 km after the village turn right to Mataplana Castle. This Castle was a Romanesque-style fortified manor-palace used less as a fortress than as a residence and centre of troubadour culture in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Mataplana lineage played an important role in forging the national identity of Catalonia and Andorra. Go down the track until you see signposts for Montgrony sanctuary.
Sanctuary of Montgrony.
The Romanesque sanctuary of Montgrony
dates from the late 9th century and today is a hostel for visitors. beside the hostel are the steps that Count Arnau ordered his serfs to carve out of the living rock, and then refused to pay them the agreed price. There is also the Romanesque church of Sant Pere
, consecrated in 1138. the spot has lovely panoramic views over the surrounding countryside.
Go back to Gombrèn, where we can visit Count Arnau Museum, which is in fact the municipal museum containing information on the archaeology and history of the town and castle. The museum also contains panels on the mythology and literature surrounding the legend of Count Arnau.