Finding Medieval History in Costa Brava, Spain

Location: ,

Leaving my splendid seaside home in Cadaqués was no easy task, and it wasn’t because of the one mountainous road out. I simply wanted to stay in the stunning Costa Brava town. Nonetheless, it was time to depart; Castelló d’Empúries was waiting and I was searching for Medieval history in Costa Brava.

Finding Medieval History in Costa Brava, Spain

Located near Empuriabrava and its beautiful marina, Castelló d’Empúries is a village dating to the 9th century. Established as the capital of Empúries in the Middle Ages, this historical place has retained much of its original design, including the Jewish Quarter, squares, and perhaps most importantly, the Minor Basilica of Saint Maria of Castelló.

Basilica of Saint Maria of Castelló

Costa Brava Spain

Although the church was closed, a man from the community was kind enough to open it and show me around. His knowledge was vast and English excellent, certainly better than my Catalan. Construction began in the 13th century and wasn’t completed until the beginning of the 15th century. With its qualifying dimensions, Saint Maria has not been named a cathedral, much to the dismay of those from Empúries. The front of the basilica is framed by accordion-like arches with inset statues and imposing metal riveted doors.

Costa Brava Spain church carvings

The Gothic Mediterranean interior is full of stained glass windows, stone carvings, and painted frescoes. Its main alter is surrounded by an iron gate, but I was let in for a closer look. At first glance, the ornate alabaster alter reminded me of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia with its tall, narrow spindles.

Within the basilica is a small museum containing various Catholic artifacts. From art depicting stories in the Bible to various gold and silver objects to robes worn by priests, I’m glad I took the time to walk through. There were some very special pieces.

Costa Brava Spain church museum art

Prison of Castelló d’Empúries

About a five-minute walk from the basilica along narrow alleys and cobblestone paths, is the Prison of Castelló d’Empúries. This Gothic building built around 1336 served both as the court {curia} and the prison. On my tour, I was led through several floors and multiple cells. With stone walls, metal bars, limited light, and dank conditions, it’s no wonder some of the prisoners were crazy. This place was no cushy country club prison, that’s for sure. Graffiti from those imprisoned between the 17th and 19th centuries can still be seen.

Costa Brava Spain prison

The prison tour ended in a room filled with relics from the medieval Jewish quarter. Here headstones from the ancient Jewish cemetery in Empúries can be seen. There’s also a huge model depicting what the town looked like in the 14th century, as well as a short film called, Between the Crown and the Sword, that explains the history of Empúries.

Castell de Rocaberti

Since I like to fashion myself as a princess {however delusional that might be}, my ears perk up when I hear the word castle, specifically when combined with the words, you’re staying in. Visions of soaring ceilings, ornate artwork, secret passages, damp dungeons, ghosts, and quite frankly, Downton Abbey, come to mind. Obviously I couldn’t wait to see my vision come to life in Costa Brava.

Castle Costa Brava Spain

I’ve stayed in exactly one castle before: a fancy-schmancy one in Ireland called Dromoland Castle. It dates back the 5th century and was once the Gaelic ancestral home of the direct descendants of Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland. Although it was totally awesome in regard to luxury and the aforementioned ceilings, artwork, and Downton Abbey-esque feeling, I found it a little white washed for my castle fantasy. Enter Castell de Rocaberti.

Castle Living Room Costa Brava Spain

In a tiny village somewhere between Girona, Figueres, the Costa Brava beaches, and France, lies Castell de Rocaberti. This 11th century medieval castle is monstrous–I’m talking HUGE! Seeing it for the first time, I thought it might have at least one secret passage and maybe a dungeon. With four floors, 15 bedrooms, and 13 bathrooms, two dining rooms, and two kitchens, how could it not?

Castle Bedroom Costa Brava

In the same family since the 14th century, everything about the castle is grand, and very well it should be; it’s welcomed kings, queens, and one travel writer from Texas. There’s something to be said about being in someone’s home as opposed to a hotel. I felt free to roam around as I pleased without getting any crazy looks. I went from room to room and floor to floor inspecting every square foot, but no dungeon or secret passage did I find.

Deciding on an en suite room on the main floor, I settled in for my two nights in Castell de Rocaberti. My room wasn’t the most grand with the fanciest furnishings in the castle; that’s not why I chose it. Instead, it was what I found outside the window. Behind the heavy drapes and shear curtains were the most gorgeous green rolling hills and a sunset that set the sky ablaze. Later that evening over a home-cooked paella dinner, the owner of the castle, Mariano Sanz, which room I’d chosen. When I told him, a smile came across Mariano’s face and he said, “That was my room when I lived in the house. It has the best view. Great choice.

So maybe Castell de Rocaberti didn’t have a medieval dungeon, and I never found any secret passage, but it did have a view that would make Downton Abbey envious. And it had paella. I mustn’t forget the paella.

I was an invited guest of Charming Villas Catalonia, however the opinions expressed here are truly my own. Charming Villas Catalonia specializes in the rental of high-quality homes and villas in Catalonia, Spain. They are located in Besalu, and as locals, they are able to share first-hand knowledge of Catalonia with their clients.

Sign up to receive news and updates!

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

27 Comments
  • Anita Mac
    June 17, 2013

    The more I read about your adventures in Costa Brava, the more I know I must make my way there! Looks stunning. I would have totally chosen the room with the view too! Looks great.

    • Leah Walker
      June 17, 2013

      I loved this trip, Anita. It helped that I had a local that planned everything out for me, but I think even on my own all would be great. I really want to go back and see the beaches this summer. It was always a tad cool when I’ve visited.

      • Anita Mac
        June 18, 2013

        A locally planned trip is the way to go….they know all the best stuff! Hope to make it there myself someday soon! Summer or even early fall would be awesome!

        • Leah Walker
          June 26, 2013

          I’d be happy to go back in the summer with you, Anita. Just tell me when.

  • Nicole from Pass the Ham
    June 17, 2013

    I can’t believe I’ve been in Spain for seven years without visiting Costa Brava. Your photos are yet another reminder I need to fix that soon!

    Thanks!

    • Leah Walker
      June 17, 2013

      That’s funny, Nicole, because I’ve been to Spain three times in less than a year and ONLY visited Costa Brava. I’ll show you my Spain if you’ll show me yours. Deal?

  • Sanja
    June 17, 2013

    I’ve been to Girona and Figueres, but never in this castle. I have to visit it next time. Nicely written article, I enjoyed reading it. The only thing is that I have no idea about Downtown Abby 🙂

    • Leah Walker
      June 17, 2013

      The castle and the little village it’s in is certainly something to see. I loved my time there and wish I could have stayed longer. By the way, Downton Abby is a very popular TV show on PBS that set in England.

  • fotoeins | Henry
    June 17, 2013

    Leah, oh how I wish I could show you parts of Granada, Sevilla, and Madrid! That’d be a great trade for Costa Brava, and I’m enjoying greatly reading about seeing and experiencing Costa Brava through your eyes. I have to say: that black-and-white shot of you and Lola “down in the dumps” is absolute gold. 😉 Thanks for your post!

    • Leah Walker
      June 18, 2013

      I PROMISE I am going to explore more of Spain. I just have to! My friend, Nellie, lives in Granada and I adore seeing her photos. And don’t get me started on Madrid. I’ve coveted that place for years. You let me know when you’re going next. As for the prison shot of Lola and me, it wasn’t much of a stretch, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy. 😉

  • @mrsoaroundworld
    June 19, 2013

    The more I read about the costa brava, the more I know I need to get myself there! So much to see and do – and sooo diverse!!

    • Leah Walker
      June 26, 2013

      You’re so close. I have no idea why you haven’t visited yet!

  • Scott - Quirky Travel Guy
    June 19, 2013

    I love historic architecture. To me, a couple hundred years is old. Medieval times is ancient!

    • Leah Walker
      June 26, 2013

      Isn’t it wild being from North America how we think that. Going to Jordan and Rome really blew my mind. CRAZY!

  • lola dimarco
    June 20, 2013

    i miss Costa Brava soooo much. i bet it is spectacular this time of year. (without the Tramuntana winds!!)

    • Leah Walker
      June 26, 2013

      I’m kind of thinking we should return as a guest of the mayor. I’m sure he’d be happy to see us again.

  • Erin at The World Wanderer
    June 24, 2013

    Gorgeous photos! I really must get to Costa Brava soon. I’m also obsessed with the photo of you and Lola, haha, classic. 🙂

    • Leah Walker
      June 26, 2013

      Don’t tell anyone, but this isn’t the first prison we’ve been in together.

  • the lazy travelers
    June 25, 2013

    that picture of you and lola is amazing. annnd so is your castle home. we wants it.

    • Leah Walker
      June 26, 2013

      Next time you’re in Spain, I’ll see if the castle is available. You may have to be chambermaids, but I’m sure you’re both ok with that.

  • Nicole
    June 26, 2013

    Those pictures are so beautiful. I’ve never been to Spain, or Europe for that matter, but it is definitely on my list of places to visit. Thanks for sharing!

    • Leah Walker
      September 13, 2013

      Costa Brava is my favorite part of Spain. I’d totally recommend your visiting. The food is great, too!

  • Gran Canaria Local
    July 29, 2014

    We loved this blog post when we saw this for the first time, Leah. Thanks for resharing. Beautiful part of the world.

    • Leah Walker
      July 31, 2014

      Thank you very much. I need to get back soon.

  • Rachel
    June 25, 2017

    Even though I’ve lived in Andalucia for over twenty years I haven’t been to the Costa Brava. And that castle… any thing Downton or Darcy is good!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers

Have the world delivered to your inbox
Well, maybe not the whole world, but some of it. Either way, subscribe to my newsletter for news from Paris and wherever else the road takes me.