Steeped in tradition, with its own language and pride in its identity, Catalonia is rich in both cultural heritage and physical beauty. It is not hyperbole to say that Catalonia has everything. The coastline has beautiful sandy beaches, intimate rocky coves and clear waters, while to the north are the 3,000-m (9,840-ft) Pyrenean peaks. These natural treasures are complemented by fabulous churches and monasteries in stunning mountain settings. The cuisine is rewarding, while the local cava holds its own against its French champagne counterparts.


1. Montserrat

prac_info Tourist Information: Pl de la Creu • 93 877 77 01 •

The dramatic Montserrat mountain, with its remote Benedictine monastery (dating from 1025), is a religious symbol and a place of pilgrimage for the Catalan people. The basilica houses a statue of the patron saint of Catalonia, La Moreneta, also known as the “Black Virgin” (see Virgin of Montserrat). Some legends date the statue to AD 50, but research suggests it was carved in the 12th century. The monastery was largely destroyed in 1811, during the War of Independence, and rebuilt some 30 years later. Montserrat – Catalan for “jagged mountain” – forms part of a ridge that rises suddenly from the plains. Take the funicular up to the peaks, where paths run alongside spectacular gorges to numerous hermitages.


The monastery at Montserrat

2. Teatre-Museu Dalí, Figueres

prac_info Pl Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres • 97 267 75 00 • Open Mar–Jun & Oct: 9:30am–6pm Tue–Sun (Jun: daily); Jul–Sep: 9am–8pm daily (Aug: also 10pm–12:30am); Nov–Feb: 10:30am–6pm Tue–Sun • Adm • Casa-Museu Salvador Dalí: Portlligat, Cadaqués • 97 225 10 15 • Open Tue–Sun (mid-Jun to mid-Sep: daily) for guided visits only, by reservation; closed mid-Jan to mid-Feb • Adm •

Salvador Dalí was born in the town of Figueres in 1904. Paying tribute to the artist is the fantastic Teatre-Museu Dalí, which is full of his eccentric works. Housed in a former theatre, the country’s second-most-visited museum (after the Prado in Madrid) provides a unique insight into the artist’s extraordinary creations, from La Cesta de Pan (1926) to El Torero Alucinógeno (1970). A 30-minute drive away, near the beach town of Cadaqués, the Dalí connection continues. Here, you can visit the Casa-Museu Salvador Dalí, which served as the artist’s summer home for nearly 60 years until his death in 1989.


Teatre-Museu Dalí

3. Costa Brava

The Costa Brava is a beautiful stretch of Mediterranean coastline, which runs from Blanes (about 60 km (37 miles) north of Barcelona) all the way to the French border. There are a few big resorts, including Lloret de Mar and Roses, but many of the towns and resorts here, such as Calella de Palfrugell and Tamariu, have remained refreshingly low-key. Cultural highlights include the medieval citadel that crowns Tossa de Mar, and the Thyssen Museum in Sant Feliu de Guíxols. The area also has some excellent seafront hiking paths, the Camins de Ronda.

4. Alt Penedès

prac_info Tourist Information: C/Hermengild Ciascar 2, Vilafranca del Penedès • 93 818 12 54 • Contact the tourist office for details on all winery visits in the region •

Catalonia’s most famous wine region is the cava-producing area of the Penedès. The cava brands of Cordoníu and Freixenet have become house-hold names worldwide. Many of the area’s wineries and bodegas are open to the public. Cordoníu’s is one of the most spectacular, housed in a Modernista building designed by Puig i Cadafalch, with a phenomenal 26 km (16 miles) of cellars on five floors.

5. Begur and around

prac_info Tourist Information: Av Onze de Setembre 5 • 97 262 45 20 •

The elegant hilltop town of Begur, with its ruined 14th-century castle, looks down over pristine wetlands and some of the prettiest coves on the Costa Brava. The town’s population quadruples in summer as visitors make this their base for exploring nearby beaches and small, isolated coves. Many of the area’s beaches stage jazz concerts during the summer. This is perhaps the best stretch of coastline in Catalonia.

6. Tarragona

prac_info Tourist Information: C/Major 39 • 97 725 07 95 •

Now a huge industrial port, Tarragona was once the capital of Roman Catalonia, and the city’s main attractions are from this era. Archaeological treasures include an impressive amphitheatre and well-preserved Roman walls that lead past the Museu Nacional Arqueològic and the Torre de Pilatos, where Christians were supposedly imprisoned before being thrown to the lions. The Catedral de Santa Tecla is also in Tarragona.


Ruins of Tarragona’s Roman wall

7. Girona

prac_info Tourist Information: Rambla de la Llibertat 1 • 972 01 00 01 •

Girona is a beautiful town surrounded by lush green hills. Hidden away in the old town, the atmospheric Jewish quarter, known as El Call, is one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval enclaves. Visiting Girona’s cathedral is a must.


Statue, El Call

8. Empúries

prac_info C/Puig i Cadafalch s/n, Empúries • 97 277 02 08 • Open 10am–5pm (June–Sep: to 8pm, Oct–mid-Nov & mid-Feb–May: to 6pm) • Adm; free last Tue of month Oct–Jun

After Tarragona, Empúries is Catalonia’s second most important Roman site. Occupying an impressive position by the sea, it comprises more than 40 ha (99 acres) scattered with Greek and Roman ruins, the highlights of which are the remains of a market street, various temples and a Roman amphitheatre. It’s an ideal spot for those looking to mix a bit of history with a dip in the sea.

9. PortAventura World

prac_info Av Pere Molas, Vila-seca, Tarragona • 0808 234 33 99 • For opening times see website • Adm •

This theme park is divided into six areas, including the Far West and Polynesia, and has some of Europe’s biggest rollercoasters, as well as a thrilling Ferrari Land.

10. Costa Daurada and Sitges

prac_info Tourist Information: Pl Eduard Maristany 2, Sitges • 93 894 42 51 •

With its wide sandy beaches and shallow waters, the Costa Daurada differs from the northern Catalonian coastline. Sleepy Torredembarra is a pleasant family resort, but the jewel in the crown is Sitges, the summer home to Barcelona’s chic crowd, and a popular gay destination. Despite its frenetic feel, Sitges never reaches the tacky excesses of some of the Costa Brava’s towns.


Sitges, as seen from the beach




This drive should take about 5 hours for the round trip. From Barcelona take the AP7 motorway until exit 4, then take the C260 to Cadaqués. Just before dropping down to the town, stop at the viewpoint and take in the azure coastline and the whitewashed houses of this former fishing village. Once in Cadaqués, now one of Catalonia’s trendiest beach towns, wander the charming boutique-filled streets. After a splash in the sea and a coffee at one of the chic terrace cafés, take the road leaving Port Lligat and head for the lighthouse in Cap de Creus. Drive through the desolately beautiful landscape of this rocky headland before doubling back and heading off to Port de la Selva. The road twists and winds interminably, but the picture-perfect scenery will leave you speechless.


Enjoy a seafood lunch at Ca l’Herminda (C/Illa 7), in the small, mountain-enclosed Port de la Selva. Then drive to the neighbouring village of Selva del Mar, with its tiny river, for a post-prandial coffee on the terrace of the Bar Stop (C/Port de la Selva 1), before continuing up to the Monestir de Sant Pere de Rodes. You’ll be tempted to stop frequently on the way up to take in the views. Don’t, because the best is to be had from the monastery itself – a sweeping vista of the whole area. There are plenty of well-signposted walks around the mountain top, and it is worth sticking around to see the sun set slowly over the bay.

Churches and Monasteries

1. Monestir de Montserrat

prac_info Montserrat • 93 877 77 01 • Adm to museums, basilica free •

Catalonia’s holiest place and its most visited monastery (see Montserrat) boasts beautiful Romanesque art and a statue of the “Black Virgin”.

2. Monestir de Poblet

prac_info Off N240, 10 km W of Montblanc • Adm •

This busy working monastery contains the Gothic Capella de Sant Jordi, a Romanesque church, and the Porta Daurada, a doorway that was gilded for Felipe II’s visit in 1564.

3. Monestir de Ripoll

prac_info Ripoll • 97 270 42 03 • • Adm

The west portal of this monastery (879) has reputedly the finest Romanesque carvings in Spain. Of the original buildings, only the doorway and cloister remain.

4. Monestir de Santes Creus

prac_info Santes Creus, 25 km NW of Montblanc • 97 763 83 29 • Closed Mon • Adm •

The cloister at this Gothic treasure (1150) is notable for the beautifully sculpted capitals by English artist Reinard Funoll.

5. Sant Joan de les Abadesses

prac_info Sant Joan de les Abadesses • 97 272 05 99 • • Adm

This monastery, established in the 9th century, boasts a magnificent Romanesque sculpture representing the Descent from the Cross.

6. Sant Climent i Santa Maria de Taüll

prac_info 138 km N of Lleida • 97 369 67 15 •

These two Romanesque churches, dating from 1123, are perfect examples of those that pepper the Pyrenees. The frescoes are reproductions of the originals, now in Barcelona’s MNAC (see Frescoes: Sant Climent de Taüll).

7. Catedral de La Seu d’Urgell

prac_info La Seu d’Urgell • 97 335 32 42 • Adm •

Dating from around 1040, this cathedral is one of the most elegant in Catalonia.

8. Catedral de Girona

prac_info Plaça de la Catedral s/n, Girona • 97 242 71 89 • Adm; Mass free •

This cathedral possesses the widest Gothic nave in Europe and the second widest after the basilica in the Vatican.

9. Catedral de Santa Tecla

prac_info Old Town, Tarragona • Closed Sun • Adm • Guided tours •

At 104 m (340 ft) long, Tarragona’s cathedral is the largest in the region. Its architecture is a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque.

10. Monestir de Sant Pere de Rodes

prac_info 22 km E of Figueres • Closed Mon • Adm •

The dilapidated charm of this UNESCO World Heritage Site may have dwindled since its face-lift, but its views over Cap de Creus and Port de la Selva are still breathtaking.


Monestir de Sant Pere de Rodes

National Parks and Nature Reserves

1. Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici

prac_info 148 km N of Lleida

The magnificent peaks of Catalonia’s only national park are accessible from the village of Espot. You’ll find waterfalls, lakes and glacial tarns 2,000 m (6,560 ft) up.

2. Delta de l’Ebre

prac_info 28 km SE of Tortosa

This giant delta is a patchwork of paddy fields. The wide expanse of the River Ebre is a nature reserve for migratory birds and has scores of bird-watching stations.


Purple heron, Delta de l’Ebre

3. Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa

prac_info 40 km NW of Girona

La Garrotxa last erupted 10,000 years ago and the zone’s other volcanoes are long since extinct. The largest crater is the Santa Margalida, at 500 m (1,640 ft) wide. It is best to visit in spring, when thousands of butterflies emerge.

4. Cap de Creus

prac_info 36 km E of Figueres

As the Pyrenees tumble into the Mediterranean, they create a rocky headland, jutting out 10 km (6.25 miles). This forms Catalonia’s most easterly point and offers spectacular views of the craggy coastline.

5. Parc Natural del Cadí-Moixeró

prac_info 20 km E of La Seu d’Urgell

Covered in a carpet of conifers and oaks, this mountain range is overgrown with lush vegetation. Several of the peaks here are over 2,000 m (6,560 ft) high.

6. Parc Natural del Montseny

prac_info 48 km NW of Barcelona

Forming Catalonia’s most accessible natural park, these woodland hills are well-equipped for walkers and mountain bikers, with a vast network of trails. Take the popular and well-signposted climb up Turó de l’Home, which is the highest peak.

7. Massís de Pedraforca

prac_info 64 km N of Manresa

A nature reserve surrounds this huge outcrop of mountains, a favourite of rock climbers with peaks rising to 2,500 m (8,200 ft).

8. Serra de l’Albera

prac_info 15 km N of Figueres

On the eastern part of the border between Spain and France, the tree-covered slopes of the Albera Massif are dotted with about 20 Romanesque churches in different states of preservation.

9. Parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de l’Empordà

prac_info 15 km E of Figueres

This nature reserve hides a number of birdwatching towers. Those in the Laguna de Vilalt and La Bassa de Gall Mari allow the observation of herons, moorhens and other bird species nesting in spring.

10. Parc Natural de Sant Llorenç del Munt

prac_info 12 km E of Manresa

Surrounded by industry and within easy reach of Barcelona, this untamed park is inhabited by large numbers of wild boar. Walk up Cerro de la Mola to see the Romanesque monastery, which is now a restaurant.

Outdoor Activities

1. Rafting and Kayaking

prac_info Noguera Aventura: Lleida; 97 329 01 76;

One of Europe’s best rivers for whitewater sports is La Noguera Pallaresa in the Pyrenees. Late spring is the best time to go, as the mountain snow begins to thaw.


Rafting on La Noguera Pallaresa

2. Scuba Diving

prac_info Aquàtica: L’Estartit; 97 275 06 56;

The Reserva Natural de les Illes Medes has thousands of species of fish and red coral reefs. Glass-bottom boats cater to non-divers.

3. Water Sports and Sailing

prac_info Club de Mar Sitges: Pg Marítim, Sitges; 93 894 09 05;

Good sailing can be found in Sitges, along with yachts for rent and classes for novices. Canoeing and windsurfing are also available.

4. Skiing

prac_info La Molina: 25 km S of Puigcerdà; 97 289 20 31; • Baqueira-Beret: 14 km E of Vielha; 90 241 54 15;

La Molina is the most accessible Pyrenean ski-resort from Barcelona, but Baqueira-Beret is where the jet-set goes. Both offer all levels of skiing (including off-piste) from December onwards.

5. Golf

prac_info Santa Cristina d’Aro: 97 283 70 55 • Platja d’Aro: 97 281 67 27

The Costa Brava is one of Europe’s top golf destinations; the best courses are around Platja d’Aro.

6. Horse Riding

prac_info Hípica Can Tramp: Ctra Cànoves; 93 871 16 08;

Montseny Natural Park is ideal for horse riding, with a number of stables.

7. Ballooning

prac_info Vol de Coloms: 97 268 02 55, 68 9471 872;

A balloon journey over the volcanic area of La Garrotxa is an unbeatable way to get a bird’s-eye view of the beautiful Catalonian landscape.

8. Boat Trips

prac_info Dofi Jet Boats: Blanes; 97 235 20 21; Boats every hour daily from Blanes and Lloret de Mar (twice daily from Calella); closed Nov–Mar;

Take a cruise from Calella and Blanes along the Costa Brava, stopping at the old town and medieval castle of Tossa de Mar.

9. Activities at the Canal Olímpic

prac_info Canal Olímpic: Av Canal Olímpic, Castelldefels; 93 636 28 96;

Used for rowing competitions in the 1992 Olympics, the huge Canal Olímpic is now a leisure complex offering a host of activities.

10. Foraging for Mushrooms

prac_info Diputació de Barcelona:

From late September to late October, Catalans flock to the hills in search of the highly-prized rovelló mushrooms. Some are poisonous, so amateurs should make sure they get a guide through the Diputació de Barcelona.

Places to Eat

1. Tragamar

prac_info Platja de Canadell s/n, Callella de Palafrugell • 97 261 43 36 • €€€

Book ahead for a table on the terrace or by one of the bay windows at this beachside restaurant, and enjoy stellar seafood dishes such as tuna carpaccio or lobster paella.

2. Les Cols

prac_info Mas les Cols, Ctra de la Canya s/n, Olot • 97 226 92 09 • • Closed Sun D, Mon & Tue • €€€

Two-Michelin-starred Les Cols prepares contemporary Spanish cuisine with home-grown vegetables and local seasonal produce in a stunning modern setting.

3. La Torre del Remei

prac_info Camí del Remei 3, Bolvir, Cerdanya, 3 km SW of Puigcerdà • 97 214 01 82 • €€

A Modernista palace provides an elegant setting for wonderfully presented Catalan food.

4. Cal Ticus

prac_info C/Raval 19, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia • 93 818 41 60 • Closed Mon; Sun–Thu D • €

This modern restaurant serves traditional cuisine using seasonal products from nearby suppliers. A good selection of Penedès wines are on the list and for sale in their shop.

5. Fonda Europa

prac_info C/Anselm Clavé 1, Granollers • 93 870 03 12 • €€

Established in 1771, Fonda Europa was the first in a line of successful Catalan restaurants. Dishes include pig’s trotters and a Catalan stockpot with meat and vegetables.

6. Lasal de Varador

prac_info Pg Marítim 1, Mataró • 93 114 05 80 • Closed mid-Oct–May: D daily, Mon & Tue • €€

This beachfront restaurant serves tasty paellas, seafood and a range of other dishes, using organic and sustainably sourced ingredients.

7. Els Pescadors

prac_info Muelle Pesquero s/n, Arenys de Mar • 937 92 3304 • Closed Sun D • €

Set inside the local llotja (wholesale fish market), you can be sure that the seafood served here is as fresh as can be. There are a few tables outside on the port overlooking the boats. Book ahead on the weekends.

8. Can Roura

prac_info C/Major 10, Sant Martí d’Empúries, l’Escala • 97 277 33 80 • Closed mid-Sep–May; call for opening times • €

Opened in 1958 and now run by the founder’s grandson. Sample some of the best traditional cuisine in the area, including the freshest local fish.

9. El Celler de Can Roca

prac_info C/Can Sunyer 48, Girona • 97 222 21 57 • Book online well in advance • • €€€

The Roca brothers’ exciting Catalan cuisine is complemented by great wines. The restaurant has three Michelin stars and an 11-month waiting list.


Dessert, El Celler de Can Roca

10. Cal Ton

prac_info C/Casal 8, Vilafranca del Penedès • 93 890 37 41 • Closed Mon, Sun D, Easter, 3 weeks Aug • €€

Contemporary cuisine in the heart of Catalonia’s biggest wine region. Order the menu degustació.

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