Marc Guinjoan, a former teacher from Barcelona, knew an ancient castle in Catalonia, Spain, deserved a fresh lease of life when he came across the advertisement.The enormous property, also known as Castell de Llaés, is set among the mountains in the Ripollès region and dates back to the 10th century, according to a website dedicated to the castle.
Guinjoan told Insider that he had been the property’s custodian since 2013 and was in charge of its maintenance and day-to-day operations. In 2017, he was joined on the project by his wife, Ginny Martens, a former high-school teacher from Holland.The castle is owned by an old Catalan couple who purchased the dilapidated structure from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vic in 1994.
After spending 16 years repairing the castle, retired engineer Joan Tarrida i Miquel and former designer Esther Capdevila were hunting for new guardians when Guinjoan appeared. Instead of purchasing the property, he offered to rent it to them and convert it into a rural lodging, with the earnings going back into the grounds. Guinjoan did not reveal how much rent he owes the owners.
“I felt an internal call, but I was afraid the owners would refuse because the castle was for sale,” Guinjoan explained. “The surprise was when they called me to accept the proposal, and that’s where the adventure began.”The surrounding territory was possessed by a feudal ruler named Count Guifré el Pilós in the late 9th century, according to Tarrida: “He erected castles and, among them, the Castle of Llaés was built.”
According to Tarrida, the earliest known document mentioning the fortress dates from 919. The property was owned at the time by Countess Elo, a Spanish noblewoman. According to Tarrida, she donated the castle to the convent of Sant Joan de les Abadesses in 955, which owned it until 1017. Three centuries later, the fortress was once again in the hands of the abbot of Sant Joan de les Abadesses.
Until 1971, the castle hosted a rectory and a municipal school, according to Tarrida. Tarrida and his wife purchased the castle from the Bishopric of Vic in 1994 after it had been abandoned for more than 20 years. He did not reveal how much they paid for the castle. “The Castle and its surroundings seduced us from the start, and this seduction, combined with our love for the territory and its history, led us to embark on the great adventure of its acquisition and restoration,” Tarrida explained.
However, restoring the old castle was no easy task: the stone walls were crumbling from years of neglect, and the structures lacked both water and electricity.The castle was not only exposed to the weather for more than two decades, but it was also vandalized. “The fact that a historic building is still abandoned and open to the public puts it in a vulnerable position, because some visitors were not very respectful of the building,” Tarrida explained,
adding that vandals had scrawled on the walls and even stolen bits of stone. Fortunately, the building’s essential features, including walls, vaults, and a water cistern, were in decent condition, he said. “Because there are no graphic documents, we don’t know what it looked like at first,” Tarrida remarked. “However, considering the significant portions of the building that have been preserved, we believe it must have been very similar to how it is now.”Tarrida added that the couple also hired a local skilled mason to repair the stone walls.
However, he said that the main roof was the most difficult aspect of the restoration effort. He claimed that even putting up the wooden framing studs needed to hold the roof was difficult due to the sheer scale of the space that needed to be covered.According to the Castell de Llaés website, the castle is located on top of the Sant Bartomeu mountain, 998 meters (3261 ft) above sea level.
“It is nestled on a rocky hill at the end of a staggered, zig-zag ramp that cannot be accessed by any type of vehicle,” Tarrida explained. He explained that the couple had to build a freight elevator at the bottom of the slope since that was the farthest the cars transporting the various materials could travel.
He stated that all of the goods would subsequently be loaded onto the elevator and transported to the summit.Guinjoan stated that it was difficult to choose a favorite element of the structure because each corner of the castle has a story to tell.
But the most valuable moments are when he loses himself in appreciating the environment and the castle’s stones, which were laid by humans who lived years ago, according to Guinjoan. “It overwhelms us and makes us feel like a small part of the castle’s long history, but it also reminds me that I’m in the present, to leave a legacy for others in the future,” Guinjoan explained.