Catalonia

Golden shores, towering Pyrenean peaks, rural villages and cosmopolitan culture

Overview

Good things come in small packages and this triangular shaped region in Spain’s north eastern corner is no exception. The whole of the autonomous community of Catalonia is crossable in just 4 hours by car, but offers tons of diverse and exciting opportunities whether you’re after culture, sports, nature or just good old fashioned relaxation.  Proudly patriotic, Catalans are protective of their distinct heritage, language, flag and food, but beyond the politics are a people keen to show you their beautiful year-round destination.

Summer is the most popular time for visitors, drawn to the warm climate when hiking trails are well-trodden and long days enjoying Catalonia’s 580km of coastline are on the agenda. Low season travellers should opt for an October to March adventure. You’ll find plenty to do, at reasonable costs without the hordes. Temperatures remain mild and while you might experience the odd shower, there’s also plenty of sunshine.

Sea & Mountain

Nature lovers rejoice.  Head to the magnificent Pyrenees where things move slowly and villages exist in the same timeless way they have for hundreds of years. Expect winters to be cold but beautiful with snowy landscapes, while spring brings a stunning array of wildflowers. Hike the network of trails passing forests, rivers, alpine meadows and hidden corners with plenty of opportunities for wild swimming as temperatures rise.  Then for a complete change of scene, continue to the Catalan coast on the Mediterranean Sea to explore secret coves, long stretches of sandy beach, steep cliffs and a wide range of water sports. This juxtaposition of waves and peaks is beloved by locals who embrace ingredients from both elements in their traditional Catalan cuisine.

Urban Life

In contrast to rural life and charming villages, the cities of Catalonia each offer vibrant design and an individual heritage founded on more than two millennia of history. Experience the unique appeal of medieval Girona; Lleida’s hilltop fortress; and Tarragona’s Roman amphitheatre. However, it is doubtless the regional capital of Barcelona which is the best known centre. A perfect all-season city break, you can explore on foot. Take in the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia, the mesmerising modernist Casa Batlló, unusual Parc Güell, and the Gothic Quarter and still have time for dinner at one of the city’s 22 (yes 22) Michelin starred eateries.

 

Land of Geniuses

These lands have produced some truly inspiring individuals. Indeed, numerous artists who have shaped the colours and textures of the 20th century hail from these parts.  The fundació of surrealist Joan Miró was established in his home city of Barcelona in 1975; Salvador Dalí of celebrated moustache fame was born and died in Figueres; and the great Catalan creator and architect Antoni Gaudí left many projects for visitors to admire, including his famously unfinished Sagrada Familia. Other notable Catalans include soprano Monserrat Caballé who recorded the resounding duet ‘Barcelona’ with Freddie Mercury, renowned celebrity chef Ferran Adrià, and Pep Guardiola, hero or villain, depending which side you’re on.


Low Season Saving

Up to 40% off versus peak season prices


Major Airport

Barcelonal El Prat Airport BCN, Reus Airport REU, Girona Costa Brava Airport GRO

Low Season Months

Jan
10°C
33mm
5hrs
Feb
10°C
41mm
7hrs
Mar
12°C
33mm
7hrs
Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct
18°C
87mm
6hrs
Nov
13°C
34mm
5hrs
Dec
11°C
35mm
4hrs

Hotels

Coming online very soon

Top Experiences

Human Tower Contest, Tarragona

In a bizarre 18th century tradition, groups of Catalans form themselves into huge human castells. Every two years in October Tarragona hosts a contest but you can see teams practising throughout the region at all times. Castells have, since 2010, been declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Grand Festival of the Calçotada, Valls

The leek-like veggie, calçot, is served up in local restaurants during the winter, and their popularity has grown to such an extent that ‘calçotades' or calçot feasts are commonplace. Join locals on the last Sunday of January in L’Alt Camp region when calçots are flame grilled and dipped into romesco sauce.

Carnival of Sitges and Vilanova i la Geltrú

February visitors should don their costumes and join revellers to celebrate the carnival period, with each town offering its own differing activities. The best of the parties take place in the region of El Garraf. In Sitges feathers and sequins dominate, while Vilanova is famous for parading groups and sweets wars.

Insider Tips

  • Catalan and Castilian Spanish are completely different languages. Catalan, also spoken in Valencia and the Balearics, was banned under Franco. Nowadays 98% of Catalans do also speak Spanish, however learning a few words of Catalan will go down well with locals.
  • Catalonia is a paradise for ecotourism and connecting to the land. Listen to deer bellowing in the Pyrenean ranges, look for cetaceans in the Cap de Creus Natural Park, kayak the rivers, try bird-watching in the Biosphere Reserves of Terres de l’Ebre and Montseny.
  • Don’t miss the Fira de Santa Llúcia held each December. Selling typical Christmas fare, this fair has been an institution in the square in front of Barcelona Cathedral since 1786. As well as shopping, it’s a chance to experience some unusual Catalan festive traditions.

Good To Know

  • Ask around for the dates of local festivals. Small towns enjoy celebrations to coincide with their particular patron saint’s feast day complete with music, dancing, fireworks, street parades and papier-mâché figures. Religious ceremonies also form part of the programme.
  • Fancy sleeping in a vineyard? Although mainly a summer activity, warm climate means shoulder season months April and October remain possible options. Glamping at Llopart Estate offers luxury under the stars complete with tour, wine tasting and sunrise over the valley.
  • In Val d’Aran, you can find some of the best caviar in Europe, with March known as ‘caviar month’. Take a Nacarii caviar treatment, the signature offering of the Termes Baronia de Les Spa Resort. Treatments include facials and body massages using freshly collected caviar.

Food & Drink

Cava Tasting in Penedès

£££

Just one of Catalonia’s winery regions, Penedès holds its own Denominación de Origen and is one of Europe’s oldest wine growing sites. It’s a beautiful place to test your palate with a range of home grown cavas while exploring charming bodegas and village bars.

Steamed Mussels, Terres de l’Ebre

££

The delta of the Ebro in Tarragona province is a major producer of mussels and oysters. At the fishing town of Sant Carles de La Ràpita, you can visit rafts used to fish mussels and taste the molluscs with wine or cava. The area is also a wildlife reserve.

Pyrenean Cheese from la Cerdanya and Alt Urgell

££

Forget the diet. The mountainous districts of la Cerdanya and Alt Urgell produce a distinctive artisan cheese made from pasteurised Friesian cows’ milk. Matured for at least 45 days, it has a sweet nutty flavour and is delicious served with a fruity white wine.

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