A man who dallied with nuns from Sant Joan de les Abadesses, defended the droit du seigneur, and cheated his own vassals: Count Arnau committed so many sins during his lifetime that tradition has condemned him to inhabit the scenes of his escapades for all eternity. From the legends (popularised by a 16th-century ballad), let us try to imagine the character of the count who was variously described as a tight-fisted philanderer or a brave noble loved by the people. Some claim that his ghost reappears from time to time, galloping a fiery horse amidst a pack of mad dogs. Fact or fiction? Come and discover the territory that gave rise to the legends surrounding the fearless Count Arnau. 

Start the route in the Museum of Count Arnau, located in the centre of the village of Gombrèn, and examine the collection of objects found during the excavations at nearby Mataplana Castle, home of the legendary count. From Gombrèn, a narrow road leads up to Montgrony, one of the finest Romanesque ensembles in Catalonia, with its outstanding church of Sant Pere de Montgrony, sanctuary of Santa Maria de Montgrony, hostelry, and chapel of the Nursing Madonna. Apart from its historical and artistic interest, the ensemble is located in a place of astounding natural beauty, with lush woodlands surrounded by mountains. From the sanctuary, a path leads down to Sant Ou cave, allegedly used by Count Arnau to conduct a romance with the abbess of the convent of Sant Joan de les Abadesses. 

The next stop along the route is Ripoll, where you will find out about the exploits of Count Guifré el Pilós and Abbot Oliva. Visit the Romanesque monastery of Santa Maria in the middle of the town, and admire the superb 12th-century portal (known as the “Bible in Stone”), one of the most impressive of its kind in the world, and the magnificently sculpted capitals in the cloister. Afterwards, the monastery almoner, Brother Benet, will take you on an interesting dramatized tour through the town centre to discover historical and architectural features evoking the time when Ripoll was the cultural cradle of the emerging Catalonia. Visit the Palau Forge, an example of one of the industrial activities that made Ripoll a pioneer centre for the iron industry.

The last stop is the convent of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, located in the centre of the town of the same name. Count Arnau is said to have engaged in affairs with several of the nuns, including Abbess Emma, the daughter of Count Guifré el Pilós, which goes to explain why, in the 11th century, the community was actually banished from the convent on the grounds of bad behaviour. Stroll around the cloister, admire the Sacred Mystery group of seven 13th-century wooden sculptures in the central apse behind the altar, and visit the museum. Continue to the Interpretation Centre of the Myth of Count Arnau in the Abbot’s Palace (part of the same architectural ensemble), where an interactive exhibition on local folklore, music, literature and history reveals more about this mysterious personage.


1. Santuari Montgrony

2. Sant Joan de les Abadesses

3. Monestir de Santa Maria

4. Santa Maria de Ripoll