Located just 60 miles from Barcelona, Berga is a historic county town lying at the foot of the first line of mountains that form the Pre-Pyrenees. Small (15,000 inhabitants) but having all the services of a county capital, Berga is strategically located at the junction of communication routes leading in all directions. An inseparable part of Berga is the Queralt range right behind the town, with its church and nature walks, offering magnificent views over central Catalonia.
History and Tradition
Although basically a rural county, its recent past boasted thriving coal mining and textile industries. Now closed, the old mines, factories and mills have become the sites of museum projects that attract many thousands of visitors each year. However, the county’s history goes back much further and the countryside is dotted with medieval churches, monasteries, fortified houses and castles, some restored, others in ruins, and many of which can be visited. And going even further back, there are sites dating to Roman and Neolithic times.
The area is also famed for its many festivities, in particular, the Patum in Berga, held during Corpus Christi and now part of the UNESCO Heritage of Mankind.
Scenery to take your breath away
The Pre-Pyrenees are limestone folds running parallel from West to East, bisected in this county by the Llobregat River which runs south from its source near the village of Castellar de N’Hug to the sea near Barcelona Airport, with the attractive La Baells Reservoir just north of Berga. The result is a succession of valleys and peaks rising ever higher to reach 2,500 metres in the Cadí-Moixeró range before falling to the Cerdanya Depression in front of the Axial Pyrenees that form the border with France. Once intensely exploited for its timber and subsistence farming, it now shows unspoilt, varied scenery ranging from forested slopes, high mountain pastures, deep valleys and craggy peaks, with the twin-peaked Pedraforca as the jewel in the crown.
A walker’s paradise
Because of the difficulties of the terrain, roads are a relatively recent development here, dating back little more than a century. Before that, everyone travelled by foot or mule and with a dispersed population, there were literally thousands of paths that connected villages and isolated farmhouses, and crossed the mountain ranges towards France and other parts of Catalonia. The remains of many of these paths can still be seen today, forming in some cases long and short-distance trekking routes such as the Cathar Route from Berga to Montsegur, together with the recent development of the Slow Movement Network designed to connect population centres using paths and untarmacked roads.
Birds and more
With its varied habitats, a great variety of wildlife and flora can be found. It is relatively easy to see the chamois grazing in the high mountain pastures, but marmots, wild boar, red deer, roe deer, foxes and badgers are common and sometimes let themselves be seen.
For birds, the stars are no doubt the large birds of prey: Griffon vultures, lammergeiers, Egyptian vultures, golden eagles, buzzards, smaller eagles, harriers, hawks and falcons can all be seen. Among the smaller birds not found in the UK and fairly common here are the black woodpecker, Alpine chough, Alpine accentor, rock bunting, Bonelli’s warbler, subalpine warbler, citril finch, serin, among many more.
Butterfly enthusiasts also will not be disappointed. Swallowtails, scarce swallowtails and cleopatras are easy to see. Apollos are not difficult to find above 1,700 metres. Admirals, yellows, tortoiseshells are common, together with fritillaries, blues, and ringlets not found in the UK.
During the summer months, the meadows and woods are ablaze with the colour of wild flowers, with hepatica, wild daffodils and primroses in spring. But perhaps the best time is from late May to early July, with saxifrages and houseleeks on the rocks, orchids in damp meadows, including the rare black vanilla orchid, asphodels, bellflowers, gentians, the purple and gold ramonda – a relic from the Ice Age – on shady rocks, the extremely poisonous monkshood in high pastures, and a myriad of small alpine flowers.
In autumn, the area is famous for its variety of edible mushrooms which are highly sought after in the pine woods, but there are also innumerable non-edible mushrooms, including the spectacular Amanita muscaria or fly agaric.
Located just 10 minutes’ walking from the centre of Berga, Hotel Estel is a comfortable, modern, family-run hotel with a very reasonably-priced restaurant. Its manager, Carles Figols, will be pleased to advise you on all the activities available in the area and can arrange bookings. With his extensive local knowledge, he can also help you plan self-guided walks or arrange outings with the town’s resident English guide.
Fotos i texte: Steve Pepper