Barcelona’s old city is, without doubt, one of the nicest and most romantic of Europe. Its small streets, shops, the air you breathe, everything invites you to wander around, getting to know every place of this charming area. Even if we propose you a route, our best tip is to walk haphazardly around, without rushing, guided by what you see.
The rugged Costa Brava stretches from Blanes (about 60km northeast of Barcelona) up to the French border. Although parts of the coast are truly awful holiday resorts that are jam-packed with the cheap charter-airfare crowd in search of sand, sun and drinks (Lloret de Mar is a prime example of what to avoid), there are some equally spectacular locations. If you’re driving, it is quite possible to choose a spot anywhere along the coast for a day trip. Those relying on public transport will find it a stretch and should plan on staying over at least one night. In the peak months of July and August, finding some lodgings can be difficult.
Montserrat, only 40 kilometres (30 miles) inland from Barcelona, is a very powerful symbol for the Catalan people, and you would be hard pressed to find a Catalan who hadn’t, at some point in time, visited Montserrat.
The mountain of Montserrat, which means “sawed mountain”, is a unique geological formation of such unique beauty that it has long captured the imagination of both local and foreign artists. Richard Wagner stayed there for some time and his opera Parsifal uses Montserrat as its backdrop. The cult of the Virgin of Montserrat, popularly known as “La Moreneta” because of the dark material of which she is sculpted, is the most popular cult in Catalonia. The “moreneta”, whose full title is “Mare de Deu de Montserrat”, is housed in the benedictine abbey that has become world famous because of its boy’s choir and school of music.
You can reach this magnificent site by car, by train (from Pl. Espanya station, every 2 hours from 9:11am), or by bus (ask your hotel concierge for bus information). There is a spectacular funicular ride straight up the steep mountain side when you get there.
The province of Girona in the northeast of Spain, border, France and the provinces of Barcelona and Lleida. It covers an area of 5,886km2 and has a population of about half a million inhabitants.
The capital is Girona, and the entire province is divided up into six judicial districts, eight regions (El Gironés, La Garrotxa, El Baix Empordá, El Alt Empordá, Pla de I’Estany, Selva, Ripollés and Cerdanya), and 235 municipal districts.
During the summer the temperature ranges from 23º to 25ºC, but the constant sea breezes help maintain a cool atmosphere. The winters are always mild. Other characteristics of the climate of Girona are fairly low rainfall throughout the year, and an extraordinarily large number of bright, sunny days during any season of the year.
The 12 century was characterised by the building of many outstanding Romanesque constructions. And during the Gothic period the city began to expand and enlarge its walled sections, which spread towards the districts that had grown up around the Roman part. Even during the 16C and 17C there was an increase in the of defenses construction, including fortresses, military barracks and other such buildings. The magnificent walled area, which is preserved in almost its entirety, was last put to the test during the famous sieges of 1808-09 when it faced Napoleon’s troops.
In spite of everything, the strategic and defensive roles of the city did in no way impede the development of an historic centre of exceptional value. One fine example is the Cathedral, an enormous construction that was painstakingly built over many centuries. The cloisters and the so-called Carlemany Tower contain some fine examples of Romanesque art. The Gothic nave, measuring 22.98m in width and 35.2m in height, is unique of its kind, while the main façade shows clearly Baroque influences. Inside, we find the Chapter Museum, containing such outstanding exhibits as a manuscript of the Apocalypse (10C) and the famous tapestry known as ‘The Creation’ ( 12C ).
Another 40km north from Girona along the A-7 autopista, or by train, is Figueres (Figueras), a bit of a dive with a one-man show – Salvador Dali. In the 1960s and ’70s he created the extraordinary Teatre-Museu Dali here, the town of his birth.
Sitges attracts everyone from jet-setters to young travellers, honeymooners to weekending families, Barcelona night owls to an international gay crowd – anyone after a good time. The beach is long and sandy, the nightlife thumps until breakfast and there are lots of groovy boutiques if you need to spruce up your wardrobe. In winter, Sitges can be quite dead but it wakes up with a vengeance for carnaval, when the gay crowd puts on an outrageous show. Sitges has been fashionable in one way or another since the 1890s, when it became an avant-garde, art-world hang-out. It has been one of Spain’s most anticonventional, anything-goes resorts since the 1960s.
Tarragona, located on the Mediterranean coast in the northeast of Spain, is the most southern of the Catalan provinces. From a geographical and a climatological point of view it can be divided into two sections: the coastal area, stretching some 212 km.
During the summer the temperature ranges from 23º to 25ºC, but the constant sea breezes help maintain a cool atmosphere. The winters are always mild. Other characteristics of the climate of Tarragona are fairly low rainfall throughout the year, and an extraordinarily large number of bright, sunny days during any season of the year.
As a result of its coastal position the local cooking in this area is centred around fish. The most typical dish from Tarragona is “el romesco” sauce. The excellent olive oil from El Camp and the locally grown peppers, as well as the secret ingredient handed down from generation to generation of fishermen, are the essential components of this sauce. It can be found in the area of El Camp de Tarragona and the Prades mountains. Other typical dishes include fish soup, “el rossejat”, “la musola”, tunny fish, “los suquets” (spiced with saffron and paprika), octopus with potatoes and garlic, the springtime delicacy known as “chanquete” omelette (made of small, succulent fish), mussels in a garlic sauce, “las telinas” and “la calçotada”. This last dish is made using “calçots”, a kind of soft, sweet, white onion which, when grilled, is good enough to satisfy the most discerning palate.
The traditional menu for a “calçotada” consists of grilled “calçots” with an original sauce called “salvitxada”, lamb and grilled long pork sausage with a garlic sauce and typical local bread, red wine, oranges, sweet dishes or a kind of custard, sparkling wine, coffee and liqueurs. The usual time of the year for a “calçotada” is during the winter, from December to March.
Conca de Barbera
This hilly, green back-country district comes as a refreshing surprise in the otherwise drab flatlands of southwestern Catalunya. Vineyards and woods succeed one another across rolling green hills, studded with occasional medieval villages and monasteries. The main attraction of the area, however, is the Monestir de Poblet. If you have time, you should explore the surrounding area, particularly the walled town of Montblanc, 8km southeast of the monastery.