The Secret of SANT JOAN DE LES ABADESSES – A town of legends

In the town of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, located in the River Ter valley at the foothills of the Pyrenees, history, landscape and art are woven together. Linked to its nunnery from the time of Count Wilfred the Hairy, Sant Joan de les Abadesses was built on the foundations of the first women’s monastery in Catalonia, led by Abbess Emma. Thanks to the protection afforded by the nunnery, a village with narrow streets converging on the Plaça Major began to be built around it. The nucleus was encircled by a solid wall of which some fragments, and part of one of the towers, still remain.


Sant Joan de les Abadesses boasts outstanding natural scenery. It is surrounded by the hills of Sant Antoni, Les Tres Creus, Santa Llúcia de Puigmal, and Bac del Covilar and the slender Cavallera mountain range, which can be admired from the Iron and Coal Route greenway. The abundance of water is another of Sant Joan de les Abadesses’ highlights. Indeed, the fact that the River Ter passes through the town has been put to different uses over time. Firstly, it was used to work the mills pertaining to the agricultural societies of the past. By the end of the 19th century, the riverbank set the scene for the industrialisation process in Sant Joan de les Abadesses. Thanks to the arrival of the railway, textile production came to the town and factories like Espona and Llaudet boosted demographic, urban and economic growth. Nowadays, the water of the River Ter is used on crops and the river is used as a tourist attraction.


Kilometers 1,3 km

Slope Variable according to section. Accessible.

Difficulty Minimum

Pavement Asphalt chipboard

Services Stations WC / Tourism Offices / Sant Joan de les Abadesses Picnic Zone

A town with history, full of legends

The very name of the town, Sant Joan de les Abadesses, shows us how closely its history is linked to that of its Abadesses, Catalan for ‘abesses’, and thereby its nunnery. The old part of the town preserves its medieval urban layout with streets that converge in a porticoed square, the Plaça Major, and locations like the Parc de la Muralla, where you can see a stretch of a rampart and the remains of one of the defence towers. Another outstanding feature of Sant Joan de les Abadesses is the old bridge: it was originally Romanesque with a Gothic central arch, which was incorporated in the 1428 reconstruction after the earthquake.

To enjoy its surroundings, you can follow the many routes converging at Sant Joan de les Abadesses, a town of crossroads. One of the most remarkable routes is the Iron and Coal Route greenway, which offers unique views of the plain of the Serra del Cadell farmhouse and the entire Cavallera mountain range; Taga and Sant Amand are the main peaks that can be seen from the path leading away from the greenway, a few metres from Mas Guit.

Sant Joan de les Abadesses’ unique location has set the scene for a number of legends; one deals with Count Arnau and refers to the nunnery and the Abbot’s Palace, another talks of the witches of the Malatosca pool. Moreover, the town hides pockets of history. Following the Iron and Coal Route greenway, for example, you find the bridge where the writer Raimon Casellas (1855-1910) killed himself. Casellas was the author of Els sots feréstecs (‘Dark Vales’), considered the first Art Nouveau novel. To reach this location, you have to descend slightly along the greenway leading to Ripoll. At the first bend, after passing the spectacular views by the Mas Guit turn off, the path crosses a small bridge over the Ginebrosa stream, from which Casellas jumped to the train on the day of his death.

In this vein, you can follow a route through Sant Joan focusing on places that trace the memory of the figure of Casellas. After visiting the bridge, you walk to the Tourist Office, located in the Abbot’s Palace building. There, in the shop, there is a display case containing the Art Nouveau writer’s hat and a reproduction of the engraving depicting his burial by the painter Ramon Casas. At the end of the tour, you can visit the town cemetery where the remains of Raimon Casellas rest in niche number 34.


El Pont Vell (the Old Bridge). Built between 1128 and 1138, the Pont Vell linked the village of Sant Joan de les Abadesses with the road to France. Destroyed by the earthquake of 1482 and the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), it was repaired at various times before taking on its present architectural form.

Església de Sant Pol (the Church of Sant Pol). The Romanesque church of Sant Pol, documented in 1142, was the parish church for the original village centre. Damaged in the Duke of Noailles’ attack (1690), the nave was later remodelled in the baroque style, although it is now in ruins.

Monument del Comte Arnau (monument). The Plaça d’Anselm Clavé houses the fountain designed by Josep Camps, topped with a statue of Count Arnau, who had close ties with the town, one of the main settings in the legend.

Monestir (monastery). Founded in 887 by Count Wilfred the Hairy, the monastery of Sant Joan was home to a Benedictine community led by his daughter Emma, the first abbess, until 1017 when Bernat Tallaferro expelled them, supposedly for moral laxity.

Palau de l’Abadia (the Abbot’s Palace). Together with the church and the cloister, the Palau de l’Abadia is one of the best preserved parts of the Sant Joan de les Abadesses monastery, used as the abbot’s residence as well as for administrative matters.

Sant Miquel de la Infermeria (chapel). This is the monastery’s infirmary chapel, built in the 12th century, where mass was given for sick monks who were unable to attend services in the monastery.

Plaça Major (main square). From the 12th century, the town of Sant Joan began to take shape as a population centre and, with a concession granted by Pedro I, the market was held in the Plaça Major, built with arcades for displaying a range of products, the most important of which was woollen cloth.

Muralles (town walls). The old town of Sant Joan de les Abadesses was surrounded by a wall featuring 24 towers, 6 gates, and houses built up against it, as well as the monastery. Today, part of the wall still stands near the D’en Roca fountain.



Iron and Coal Route Map
Sant Joan de les Abadesses Secrets Map

How to get there


L’Hospitalet de Llobregat-Puigcerdà Line (Ripoll Station)
C. del Progrés, 49 – 17500 Ripoll, Girona
Tiquets: Tel. 900 41 00 41


Tel. +34 972 20 48 68



C-26, C-17, N-152


Tourist Office: Tel. +34 972 186708
Flight Information: Tel. +34 972 18 66 00
Tel. +34 972 20 48 68

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