Just to the north of Casa Cal Domino and close to the old Roman walled city of Girona, lies the biggest natural fresh water lake in the Catalan region of Spain. Banyoles has been declared a Space of National Interest and is on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. The lake is near the town of Banyoles with some 19,000 inhabitants and although there are some nice older parts to the town such as a central square dotted with bars and cafés, it’s not really worth the effort to walk 10 minutes to the centre when you have the lake and all the facilities associated with it to enjoy.
The lake itself formed about 250,000 years ago due to tectonic movements in the Pyrenees mountain range to the north and covers about 107 Ha. It has a total length of some 2128 x 750 mts. and the shoreline extends 9.13 km giving you a comfortable flat hike around its perimiter. The lake was the location for the junior rowing championships of 1990, the rowing events in the 1992 Bareclona Olympics and the World Rowing Championships in 2004. Today, there is an active rowing club based on the lake as well as fishing, canooing and swimming clubs. The Lake exists due to a few natural springs which originate in the high Pyrenees. Snowmelt journeys from the mountains and over a period of hundreds of thousands of years, filters down to the Empordá basin giving rise to the exceptionally clear water in the Banyoles lake.
The fishing is tightly controlled by permit and the lake is naturally stocked with carp, rudd, bleny, sunfish, tench, bass and eel. One of the most peculiar aspects to the lake are the little Pesqueres (fishing huts) dotted around the shoreline. There are 20 of them dating from the mid 19 Century and most are still privately owned by local families and they have been declared Cultural Property of National Interest. Over time, improvements have been made and due to friendly family rivalry, this has produced the elaborate floating huts that exist today. Further contruction was prohibited in the 1930’s and apart from maintenence, no further extension or modification is allowed. The pesqueres are private and guest permit fishing is only allowed from the shoreline unless you happen to know one of the families.
We recommend coming for the day. If you are feeling energetic, there are some nearby hikes to the tops of the local hills which give some good views over the lake and the town, or for the less agile, a more relaxed wander around the shoreline of about 2 hours which is also perfect for children. The path wanders through woodland and the shoreline offers lovely views of the lake from various decked viewing platforms.
You can rent rowing boats from the southern shore if you feel the need to explore the water more closely or for those less energetic, there is an electric boat that offers guided tours of the whole lake with an interesting commentary in various languages explaining the geology of the lake and why it is so important to the local flora and fauna. One thing to note is that the water quality is stricly protected and there are no petrol or deisel engines allowed on the lake. You’ll not be bothered by speed-boats or jetskis and the only thing that you will hear is the water lapping against the shoreline, birds chirping, ducks quacking and if you follow our advice below, happy people chatting and the occassional glasses clinking together.
When you feel like sitting down, there are a few dozen restaurants dotted around the south and eastern shorelines, but we highly recommend the Banys Vells Restaurant. They have two decks jutting out into the lake and a lovely shady terrace where you can sit down and enjoy a long lazy lunch or just a beer and an ice cream. They are open from 10.00 until 20.00 and there is an area set aside where you can swim from one of the decks.
If you want to take a picnic, then just to the north of the Banys Vells restaurant and close by the Parque de Draga where you can find a mock-up of a neolithic village, there is an open grassy park where you will find large flat areas perfect for a picnic and to play football / french cricket / crocket with the kids (bring your own equipment). There is also a pretty good children’s play area with slides and swings for children of all ages and with mature trees dotted around, you can find plenty of shade should you wish or wide open spaces to top up the tan. What better way to spend the day in style and keep the kids entertained at the same time….
The lake is open all through the year and is a good location for a gentle hike and some warm winter sun out of season. You’ll find ample parking right next to the lake and the whole area is good for those with reduced mobility. Dogs are welcome, but they are not permitted off-lead nor to swim in the lake itself due to the native wildlife.