The province of Tarragona is well-known for its Roman ancient remains, the beach resorts of the Costa Daurada (Golden Coast) and for being a great family holiday destination. Nevertheless, the region is also famous for having some of the most impressive monasteries in Europe. Places that have been declared World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO and where any tourist seeking some peace and adventure can feel the spirituality of the High Middle Ages.
Take one of our trains and explore this part of the past.
The Cistercian Order
The Cistercian Order came from France and is a religious order composed by monks and nuns. They are also known as the Bernardines or the White Monks, in reference to the color of the choir robe that they wore over their habits. In the 12th century, the Cistercians founded three of the most outstanding monasteries in Catalonia.
Exterior and interior of the Monastery of Poblet
The Royal Abbey of Santa Maria de Poblet was founded in 1151, at the foot of the Prades Mountains, in the village of Vimbodí y Poblet. The village was handed by the Barcelona’s Count Ramón de Berenguer to the Cistercian monks.
The monastery is located in a beautiful setting, surrounded by the forest of Poblet, a Natural Area of National Interest with a wide variety of vegetation. In addition to the magnificent church, almost all the buildings in the architectural complex have been preserved.
The Royal Pantheon of the kings of the Crown of Aragon and their beautifully decorated sepulchers can still be visited. The visitor can discover if the tomb is from a king or a queen very easily, thanks to this tip: the kings have lion sculptures at their feet, while the queens have dogs.
Monastery of Santes Creus
Views of the Monastery of Santes Creus
On the banks of the river Gaià, we find the monastery of Santes Creus, which was the centre of one of the most extensive and influential monastic domains in the Kingdom. The monastery's origins date to 1158, when the Lords of Montagut y de Albá donated the village of Santes Creus to the monks of Valldaura. The monastery has a solid and austere architecture, reflecting the canonical model of the Cistercian monasteries. It contrasts with the splendour of the cloister, dating from the 14th century, the first of the Gothic style of the Crown of Aragon.
King Peter III of Aragon chose to be buried in the Monastery of Santes Creus, as did his son James II (1276–1285) and his wife, Blanche of Anjou. All of them were patrons of the monastery. Their Gothic mausoleums are at the sides of the high altar.
Vallbona de les Monges
Outside of the Monastery of Vallbona de les Monges
Leaving the Tarragona province but not far from there, in the Lleida province, we find Santa Maria de Vallbona. Founded around the 1153, it is a unique place with almost 850 years of uninterrupted monastic life. It is one of the least known Cistercian monasteries and yet one of the most surprising. It is the only female monastery and besides being small in size, it has a unique and medieval beauty. Many daughters of Catalan medieval nobles lived here and prayed in the Romanesque-Gothic church, with its two impressive gothic domes. If you want to stay overnight, the monastery features a nice-looking inn.
The Cistercian Route
La Ruta del Cister (The Cistercian Route) is part of the European network of signposted footpaths. A circular route with a total of 105 km and 108 km for cyclists. But it is more than just a footpath that links the three monasteries, it is a walk through the history of its towns, the close-up to some man-modelled lands and some pristine natural features, the taste of an original local cuisine, rooted as firmly to the landscape as the people who live and love the area.
You can now visit all three monasteries with a single admission pass. The combined ticket, which is valid for a full year, also allows you to visit other museums and monuments in the region. Tackling all three in a single day-trip from Tarragona is doable if you start early, but it requires careful timing. Start with Santa Maria de Poblet, before heading to Reial Monestir de Santes Creus. Finish with Santa Maria de Vallbona de les Monges, the latest closing of the trio.
Book your train tickets and discover the best of the Cistercian route of Santes Creus, Poblet and Vallbona de les Monges. Do not miss anything from Tarragona and its surroundings thanks to Renfe-SNCF's high-speed trains!