The Pyrenees are best known for the iconic cols of the Tour de France where epic battles are played out between the best riders of the pro peloton. The headline climbs such as the Tourmalet steal the show and are on many cyclist’s bucket lists. But some of best riding and more in the Pyrenees is off the beaten track, hidden amongst the tiny towns and villages dotted in the mountains.
Culture and History Meet Epic Riding
The Catalan Pyrenees are a perfect example of this and one such place is La Pobla de Lillet. A picturesque village in the comarca of Berguedà around 114km north-west of Girona with a rich artistic and industrial history; La Pobla is home to the Artigas Gardens designed by Antoni Gaudí in the 1900s as well as a cement train – a remnant of the industrial revolution in the area which still runs today.
La Pobla de Lillet is also surrounded by some fantastic riding including climbs to test even the strongest of riders such as the killer Vallter 2000 – a climb up to a ski station at 2,000m consisting of 11km at an average gradient of 7%. Col de la Crueta is also a must-climb for the amazing views from where you can see the mountain of Pedraforca, named as such because its three points resemble a fork.
And that’s just on the road – hidden amongst the forest are some fantastic mountain bike trails too as well as plenty of trails for running or hiking.
A Guest House with a Story
Located in La Pobla de Lillet is an incredible guesthouse with a long and interesting history. El Castell, run by couple Alvaro & Montse, was originally built in 1927 and they have transformed it into a stunning place to stay with an open kitchen, spa and beautiful mountain views. We sat down with them to learn more about both them and El Castell.
Montse, tell us about the history of El Castell? When was it built and how long has it been a hotel?
The original Castell dates back to 1297. At the beginning of the ’90s, my parents bought the building of El Castell, which was absolutely in ruins.. After almost 4 years of work, we finally have the finished result! A hotel of 9 rooms, a spa area with massage service and a show-cooking service for the foodies. We think it’s a perfect spot for groups (to celebrate or just to come together) or even for businesses who want to make a retreat to do team building, meetings, etc. But when there’s no group bookings, it’s a perfect place for those couples who want to relax and enjoy a few days in nature.
Alvaro, where are you both from?
I am from the south of Spain and Montse is from the Berguedà region. In 2015 we got married here in the Artigas Garden and started a new phase at El Castell as managers.
Why did you choose to live & Pobla de Lillet and run El Castell?
Montse: For 7 years my parents were in charge of managing el Castell, but when they retired we took over and dedicated ourselves exclusively to renovate it and spread the word about this fantastic place that deserves to be discovered!
Alvaro: I studied gastronomy and cooking has always been his passion. I loved that the kitchen was open to the public meaning that showcasing the cooking was inevitable which would mean a transparency and communication between the cook and the guests.
Montse: I love the Berguedà area and discovering new corners of it to recommend to guests. Making the change to come and live in La Pobla de Lillet is one of the best decisions we have ever made!
Alvaro, you are the chef, tell us about your inspiration to cook? Describe your food…
The combinations and concoctions that are possible with cooking are infinite! I love to discover new products and to cook from different points of view.
Our objective is to make sure that the food we serve in el Castell is kilometre zero – so from local producers, growers, farmers and cooked with love!
But without doubt the best aspect is seeing the faces of pleasure and surprise from our guests when they try our taster menu of seasonal products and our surprise menu!
Montse, you are the hostess, tell us about how you like to welcome your guests & the experience you want them to have at El Castell?
We like to receive our guests like family or friends when they visit us. We make sure they know about all of the unmissable places in our area. If they like walking we can give then routes on the Catllaràs. If they like romanesque architecture there are plenty of churches, monasteries and sanctuaries in the area. If they would like to learn about the industrial history of the area then the Cement Museum is unmissable – a factory that began the industrial revolution here! It’s amazing how much there is to discover here!
Thanks to Alvaro & Montse for the insight into their guesthouse and their home town!
Inspired to explore the Secret Pyrenees? Our Pyrenees Mini-Break is a three day trip from Girona to La Pobla de Lillet with two nights in El Castell. La Pobla de Lillet is also the first stop on our Trans Pyrenees Challenge and our Gourmet Tour of Catalunya!