Living rocks and moving water: the origin of the Lake

It’s hard to imagine that under our feet there is water that has come from the Alta Garrotxa, 20 kilometres away, which is gradually dissolving the limestone and gypsum that form the subsoil, in a journey that can take up to 11 months to complete. For hundreds of thousands of years, the pressure exerted by this water has been eating away the karstic rocks to form caves or sinkholes. And eventually a pool appears –or even a lake!– if there is an underground spring (up to thirteen have been found underneath the Lake!). If we look at the soil, we can see another sign that these limestone rocks are constantly changing: travertine, or “Banyoles stone”, formed by the accumulation of layers of lime deposited by the water gushing from the karstic system. Travertine is a malleable but firm material; in its natural state, it is found in abundance in the Lake or close by, but it is also found in the streets and buildings of Banyoles. 

  1. The Estanyol de la Cendra (Ash Pool) can be visited as part of the Route of La Puda and Les Estunes.
  2. Travertine, also known as the stone of Banyoles, is used in construction
  3. Travertine in formation within the waters of the lake.
Fauna and flora to see and hear

Here’s something you can try: while you’re walking beside the Lake, stop for a moment. Observe and listen. Look on the ground, among the plants. Count how many different insects, birds, trees and smells you can detect. You’ll never be able to count them all. The animal and plant diversity linked to a lake basin such as the Lake of Banyoles includes a long list of species: from birds such as mallards, moorhens or kingfishers to mammals such as the otter, reptiles like the viperine snake, fish like the eels and barbels, more than 300 species of butterflies, or flora such as weeping willows, white poplars, alders, bulrushes, water lilies or horsetail.

The most photographed buildings of the Lake: the fisheries.
We won’t find many promotional photographs of Banyoles without these picturesque buildings built on pillars driven into the bottom of the Lake. Over more than a century –from 1818 to 1931– up to 20 fisheries were built on the east and south banks, most of which are privately owned. Single-storey buildings sporting a variety of architectural styles, originally intended to store fishing gear, were used by the well-to-do of Banyoles and summer visitors in the early 20th century for recreation, drawn by the new tree-lined avenues that led there. As well as photographing them from a distance, you can also visit a few, such as the one that houses the Tourist Information Office and the Gimferrer fishery.

The animal and plant diversity linked to a lake basin such as the Lake of Banyoles includes a long list of species.
  1. Mallards, water lilies and bulrushes at the Lake, close to the Passeig de Lluís Marià Vidal.
  2. The Gimferrer fishery, close to La Draga Park.
  3. The fishing boat La Carpa d'Or, one of the most photographed and emblematic.

Domesticated water: irrigation canals and washing places.

Banyoles owes its existence to the domestication of water, from those early monks in the 9th century who built canals to connect the Lake to the river Terri, drain the marshes and make use of the water. Over time, the uses have varied: agricultural –with urban and periurban vegetable gardens that are still tilled tirelessly–, industrial –flour mills, cloth mills, paper mills, copper foundry– and domestic –water for drinking, irrigating, washing. It was precisely the last use that gave rise to another architectural feature that is characteristic of Banyoles, the public and private washing places, of which about 60 still remain along the irrigation canals. Reclaimed and restored after a period when they were heavily polluted, the canals run through the town, sometimes underground, sometimes visible on the surface, canalised in travertine, among vegetable gardens and parks, or alongside streets. The Route of the Rec Major allows you to follow its course from the Banys Vells (or Old Baths), beside the Lake, to the Molí de la Farga (or Foundry Mill).

  1. The Rec d’en Teixidor beside the old flour mill at the Ronda de Fortià.
  2. Rec Major. Waterfall at Cal Nocaire, one of the highlights of the Route of the Rec Major.
  3. Rec Major. The Limit is a construction that served to regulate the flow of water.
Doing the circuit of the Lake is a daily activity for many people

Every town has a place where people gather to stroll and socialise, but the people of Banyoles don’t go in for half measures: our basic walk is a circular, flat, figure-of-eight-shaped itinerary that takes you round Catalonia’s largest continental water body. In terms of health, socialisation, and aesthetic and natural enjoyment, it has a head start on the rest of the world. In the course of the slightly less than 7 kilometres, which you can do by walking, running or cycling, there are countless opportunities for mingling, observing the scenery, fauna and flora, or simply gazing mesmerised at the changes of colour in the Lake. For those who want more, the itinerary can be lengthened with pauses at the pools, springs, vantage points or the Romanesque church of Porqueres, among others.

Who can resist taking a dip?

Such a large body of water awakens an irresistible desire to plunge head first into it. But take note! Bathing is restricted to three spots, all on the east bank of the Lake: the Caseta de Fusta, open to the public free of charge and with a lifeguard onsite; the Old Baths, a bar and terrace that also offers the possibility of bathing; and the Club Natació Banyoles, which sells tickets that allow entrance to non-members. If what you want to do is swim across the Lake, you can take part in the Cross-Lake Race (Travessia de l’Estany), held every September when hundreds of swimmers cross the full length of the Lake, 2,115 m. With such illustrious winners as Mireia Belmonte, this competition celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2018, with 2,700 entrants.

All towns have a space for walking and socialization par excellence.
  1. Doing the circuit of the Lake is a daily activity for many people.
  2. The bathing area at the Caseta de Fusta.
  3. The return to the lake is done through a pleasant walk with incomparable landscapes.
App Banyoles