Poblet Monastery. Vimbodí i Poblet
Santes Creus Royal Monastery. Aiguamúrcia
Santa María Convent in Vallbona de Les Monges
Sober and imposing architecture in the monasteries
On this route we will discover three important buildings erected by the Cistercian order, which was founded by the French abbot Bernard of Clairvaux. These monasteries are Santes Creus, Santa María de Poblet and Vallbona de les Monges (in the provinces of Tarragona and Lleida). The austere spirit of this order is reflected in its architecture, with its own style, which is a transition between Romanesque and Gothic.
It is interesting to know that in the 12th century, after it was created in France, this order spread all over Europe. The Crown of Aragón had just conquered the so-called "New Catalonia" back from the Moors of Al-Andalus at the same time. The monarchs of Aragón allowed the Cistercian monks to repopulate the new lands with the foundation of monasteries.
We will choose the Santes Creus monastery (Aiguamúrcia) as the starting point. The church, the cloister and the chapter room (13th-14th centuries) are the three basic elements for the Cistercian rule and the life of the monks, as we find in Santes Creus. We can also visit the other rooms, such as the monks' dormitory and refectory; rear buildings such as the Puerta Real doorway and the Abbatial Palace and its small Baroque cloister (17th century), or the tombs of the kings Peter III and James II of Aragón.
Moving on to our next destination, we will cross the region of Alt Camp to its capital, the town of Valls, which is worth stopping at. It has a rich architectural and artistic heritage including particularly the Roser Chapel and the group of Modernist and 19th-century buildings. If we go on this route at the end of January or beginning of February, we will be able to go to one of the typical calçotades, which are gatherings where people eat char-grilled onions (calçots). In fact, Valls is known as the capital of calçots.
Afterwards we will head towards the next region, Conca de Barberà, to visit its two main towns. Montblanc, the capital, has the best preserved medieval urban area in Catalonia, and it is surrounded by splendid walls, with seventeen towers and four gates. Near there we will stop at L'Espluga de Francolí, to visit the old church of San Miguel and the cooperative winery, currently the Wine Museum, a splendid Modernist and 19-century building.
From here there is a road that takes us to the second Cistercian monastery on the route: Santa María de Poblet (in Vimbodí), just over 30 kilometres from the first one.
Situated at the foot of Prades mountains and Poblet forest, it is the largest of the three Cistercian monasteries. It has an early church (with several royal tombs) and cloister (12th-14th centuries), with the rooms around it (chapter room, refectory, library, dormitory, lavatory, cellar), and several buildings from different periods up to the 18th century: the Abbatial Palace, the chapels of Sant Jordi and Santa Caterina, the Royal Palace, the old cloister of Sant Esteve and the new vestry, amongst others. In the municipality of Vimbodí we will be able to discover the Glass Museum.
The last stage of this route takes us about 25 kilometres away, approximately, to the monastery of Vallbona de les Monges (in this case of nuns), situated in the centre of the town of Vallbona de les Monges. Here the church stands out (it has important features such as its dome-belfry and the tomb of Queen Yolande of Hungary, wife of James I of Aragón), the cloister and the chapter room, with a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic elements. It also has other monastic rooms (library, scriptorium, refectory, kitchen), as well as a guesthouse and a museum.
This is one of the most traditional tourist routes in Catalonia. It can be made any time during the year and it is possible to purchase a combined ticket to visit all three monasteries at any of them.