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Catalonia

Photo © margaretm

Travel Guide Europe Spain Catalonia

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Introduction

Santa Maria Church, Taull, Boi Valley

Santa Maria Church, Taull, Boi Valley

© All Rights Reserved davidx

Catalonia, Cataluña (in Spanish) or Catalunya in its native Catalan language is noted for many features and rivals Andalusia for attracting visitors. The city of Barcelona is simply wonderful but is by no means alone. There are numerous places that justify a visit.

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Geography

Catalonia has a marked geographical diversity, if we consider the relatively small size of its territory. The geography is conditioned by the Mediterranean coast, with 580 kilometres of coastline, and large relief units of the Pyrenees to the north. The Catalan territory is divided into three main geomorphological units:

  • The Pyrenees - mountainous formation that connects the Iberian Peninsula with the European continental territory, and located in the north of Catalonia;
  • The Catalan Coastal mountain ranges or the Catalan Mediterranean System - an alternating delevacions and planes parallel to the Mediterranean coast;
  • The Catalan Central Depression - structural unit which forms the eastern sector of the Valley of the Ebre.

The Catalan Pyrenees represent almost half in length of the Pyrenees, as it extends more than 200 kilometres. Traditionally differentiated the Axial Pyrenees (the main part) and the Pre-Pyrenees (southern from the Axial) which are mountainous formations parallel to the main mountain ranges but with lower altitudes, less steep and a different geological formation. The highest mountain of Catalonia, located north of the comarca of Pallars Sobirà is the Pica d'Estats (3,143 metres), followed by the Puigpedrós (2,914 metres). On the Pre-Pyrenees is located the Serra del Cadí, that separates the valley of Cerdanya from the Central Depression.

Central Catalan Depression is a plain located between the Pyrenees and Pre-Coastal Mountains. The Depression lands are located between 200 and 600 metres. The plains and the water that descend from the Pyrenees have made it fertile territory for agriculture and there are built numerous irrigation canals. Other important plain is the Empordà, located on the northeast.

The Catalan Mediterranean system is based on two (more or less) parallel ranges to the coast, in a Northwest direction towards the Southwest. These two mountain ranges are the Coastal and the Pre-Coastal. The Coastal Range is minor extent and it has lower altitudes, while the Pre-Coastal is larger in both length and height. The most relevant mountains of this area are Montserrat and the Montseny. Within the ranges are a series of plains, the entities over which form the Coastal and the Pre-Coastal Depressions. The Coastal Depression is located on the east of the Coastal Range towards the coast. The Pre-Coastal, on the other hand, is located in the interior, between the two mountain ranges, and constitutes the basis of the plains of Vallès and Penedès.

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Provinces

  • Barcelona (Barcelona city, Mataró) - The most urban province around the beautiful capital.
  • Girona (Blanes, Figueres, Girona city, Lloret de Mar) - Charming old cities, Pyrenees mountains and small grained sand coves between mountains of the Costa Brava.
  • Lleida (Lleida city) - Rural towns, the Pyrenees mountains and the romanesque churches on the Val d'Aran.
  • Tarragona (Reus, Salou, Tarragona city, Terres de l'Ebre) - Fine grained sand beach on the Costa Daurada resorts and Terres de l'Ebre river course and delta.

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Cities, towns and villages

Coastal

  • Barcelona - see the wiki guide for the city of Barcelona.
  • Tarragona - Historical interest from Roman and medieval times - including an excellent Roman aqueduct a short bus ride out and a cathedral dating from the tradition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture.
  • Castelldefels - Nondescript town but with kilometres of fine beach served by a decent selection of restaurants and bars & a point of access to the Parque Natural De Garraf for walking - half an hour by train from Barcelona, next stop Sitges.
  • Sitges - Characterful town with some fine architecture and a heady mix of traditional Catalan family life and its role as one of the predominant European gay holiday destinations. Good spot to experience carnival in February, well worth a visit at any time of year.
  • Blanes
  • Lloret de Mar
  • Calella
  • Pineda de Mar
  • Tossa de Mar
  • Malgrat de Mar
  • Rosas
  • Cadaqués
  • Salou

Inland

  • Girona - A fine old town with an old Jewish area as well as a cathedral with the remarkable Creation Tapestry and some interesting churches.
  • Figueres - site of the Salvador Dalí museum.
  • Vic - museum of high quality for Romanesque church pictures, removed when Napoleonic armies were advancing.
  • Poblet - monastery open to public
  • Ripoll - 9th century monastery.
  • Ribes de Fréser - Start of the rack railway to the mountain manastery of Nuria and cable-car from Nuria to start of mountain walks.
  • La Pobla de Segur - good railway journey from Lerida
  • El Pont de Suert - start of bus to Boi Valley
  • Boi - one of several villages in the Boi Valley with dramatically picturesque Romanesque churches. Minibuses to the Aiguetortes national park.
  • Taull - Above Boi and with not one but two Romanesque churches.
  • Lleida
  • Besalu - bus ride from Girona - village with significant medieval element and very unusual fortified bridge.

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Sights and Activities

Barcelona Beaches

Barceloneta beach

Barceloneta beach

© All Rights Reserved alejandra9

Barcelona is listed number one in the top 10 list of beach cities, according to National Geographic. Barcelona has no less than seven beaches, totalling 4.5 kilometres. Sant Sebastià and Barceloneta beaches are the most popular ones and also the biggest at around 1,100 metres in length. These two beaches are separated by The Olympic Port from the five other city beaches: Nova Icària, Bogatell, Mar Bella, Nova Mar Bella and Llevant. These beaches average around 500 metres and were opened as a result of the city restructuring to host the 1992 Summer Olympics. Barceloneta Beach was voted in 2005 as the best urban beach in the world and the third best beach overall, according to the docu-film "Worlds Best Beaches" by Discovery Channel. It's located in the Barceloneta neighbourhood, also famous for its many restaurants and nightclubs along the boardwalk.

Other Sights and Activities

  • Costa Brava - rocky cliffs and a mix of pebble beaches and sandy beaches
  • Costa Daurada - lots of sandy beaches, near Salou and Tarragona. Also, you can visit Port Aventura
  • Girona Pyrenees - monumental mountain towns and skying resorts
  • Montserrat - an unusual rock mountain with a sanctuary on top, very popular among Catalans
  • Terres de l'Ebre - with two national parks and a river delta, it's a quiet place with traditions and nature

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Weather

The climate of Catalonia is diverse. The populated areas lying by the coast in Tarragona, Barcelona and Girona provinces feature a Hot-summer Mediterranean climate (Köppen Csa). The inland part (including the Lleida province and the inner part of Barcelona province) show a mostly Mediterranean climate (Köppen Csa). The Pyrenean peaks have a continental (Köppen D) or even Alpine climate (Köppen ET) at the highest summits, while the valleys have a maritime or oceanic climate sub-type (Köppen Cfb).

In the Mediterranean area, summers are dry and hot with sea breezes, and the maximum temperature is around 26-31 °C. Winter is cool or slightly cold depending on the location. It snows frequently in the Pyrenees, and it occasionally snows at lower altitudes, even by the coastline. Spring and autumn are typically the rainiest seasons, except for the Pyrenean valleys, where summer is typically stormy.

The inland part of Catalonia is hotter and drier in summer. Temperature may reach 35 °C, some days even 40 °C. Nights are cooler there than at the coast, with the temperature of around 14-17 °C. Fog is not uncommon in valleys and plains; it can be especially persistent, with freezing drizzle episodes and subzero temperatures during winter (record from -36 °C), along the Segre and in other river valleys.

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Getting There

By Plane

1. Barcelona Airport (BCN) is the second biggest airport in Spain and the 9th biggest airport in Europe. It handles over 30 million of passengers every year and it is perfectly connected to the other main European airports by direct flights operated by either low cost airlines or regular ones.

To/from the airport

  • Rail: It is located a few kilometres away from the city, but it is easy to reach by train with RENFE. The trip lasts 30 minutes and it costs around €2. Trains leave from Terminal 2 and run from the Maçanet-Massanes station, with major stops at Barcelona Sants railway station and the fairly central Passeig de Gràcia railway station to provide transfer to the Barcelona Metro system. Passengers for Terminal 1 must take a connecting bus from the train station to T1. As part of the major expansion above, a new railway station will be built nearby, connecting the airport to the Spanish AVE network, and Line 9 of the Barcelona Metro.
  • Bus: The Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB) public bus on line 46 runs every 16 minutes from Plaça Espanya. A scheduled private bus line (Aerobús) from Plaça Catalunya, stops at Urgell and Plaça d'Espanya.
  • Car/Taxi: Another alternative are taxis, which tend to be more expensive. If you leave from Sants Station the trip will last 20 minutes and cost around €22. Taxi stops are available at each terminal. The C-32B highway connects the airport to a main traffic interchange between Barcelona's Ronda de Dalt beltway and major motorways. There are around 25,000 parking spaces available, equally divided among both terminals.

2. The Girona - Costa Brava International Airport (international code: GRO) is located about 10 kilometers south of the city centre and is getting more and more popular as a start of a trip in the region as there are quite a few low-cost airlines serving the city. Ryanair serves dozens of cities in Europe, including London, Brussels and Rome. A few others include Jetairfly, Transavia and Star1.

To/from the airport

  • Car: The airport can be reached by the E-15/AP-7 toll road (Perpignan, France - south of Spain), C-25 (Lleida - Girona) and N-11, (Madrid - Barcelona - Perpignan, France).
  • Bus: Buses go to Barcelona (1 hour 10 minutes, departure times depending on flights. On Sunday the last bus leaves Barcelona at 7:15pm), Costa Brava/Maresme (Stops at Tossa de Mar, Lloret de Mar, Blanes, Malgrat de Mar, Santa Susanna, Pineda de Mar and Calella de la Costa), North Costa Brava (Stops at Figueres, Roses, Pineda de Mar, Calella de Palafrugell and Tossa de Mar), Girona city centre(25 minutes, one every hour) and Perpignan in France (6 times daily).

3. A third airport can be found near the town of Reus. This airport is also being used by lowcost airlines that have charters to the Costa Brava.

By Train

Getting there from other parts of Spain is quite easy: there are several trains every day between Catalonian cities like Barcelona and Girona and main Spanish cities such as Valencia, Madrid, Zaragoza and Bilbao. Check the RENFE website, Spain's national railway company.

By Bus

Buses and coaches connect the principal cities to many national and international locations, and it's the only public transport to get to many local places in Catalonia.

The most important bus stations are: Estació de Sants (Barcelona), mainly for international routes, is next to the train station and very well connected. 'The Estació del Nord (also in Barcelona), close to Passeig de Sant Joan, is the main bus station for medium and long routes - the nearest metro (Line 1) and RENFE station is Arc de Triomf.

The routes inside Catalonia are held by different companies, which leave from different places. Every town has normally only one company, so you should ask at some information point.

By Boat

Barcelona is the main gateway to travel to Catalonia by sea:

Italy

Morocco

  • GNV operates services from Barcelona to Tanger.

Algeria

  • Chan Maghreb Lines (website under construction) has boats between Barcelona and Oran and Algiers.

Acciona Trasmediterránea is the main ferry operator with boats from Barcelona to the Balearic Islands. Other ferry operators include Balearia between Barcelona and the Balearic islands of Menorca, Mallorca and Ibiza. Iscomar offers roughly the same connections as well.

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Eat

Usually announced as Cuina Casolana, based on the purposes of the Mediterranean diet: Soups, salads, meats, fish and seafood, snails (especially in Lleida during "L'Aplec del Cargol" by early May), desserts ("Crema catalana" or Catalan cream, "Braç de gitano" which is a long roll made of whipped cream and sponge cake) pastries.

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Drink

Don't miss the good Catalan wines and Caves. Catalonia has had a very rich tradition of wine makers through history, and nowadays is a credited producer of world famous wines. "Penedès", "Priorat", "Costers del Segre", "Alella" and "Terra Alta" are good "D.O."s ("Denominació d'Origen" or designation of origin, the Spanish administrative division to control and preserve wine producing areas). Sangría is also served in most restaurants, with large variations in quality.

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Sleep

Xanascat is the National Network of Youth Hostels for all of Catalonia. They have 46 different installations throughout the region. The best option for low priced accommodations.

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Contributors

as well as Herr Bert (7%), davidx (3%), TJC (2%), JulesDeb (1%), Lavafalls (1%)

Catalonia Travel Helpers

  • jepmaria

    I am an expert in Catalonia.
    I work in catalan cultura and tourism for about 30 years.
    I can offer free info and, also, can offer customized programs for visits (to pay). I am an expert in industrial tourism, food, festivities and folklore.
    I am licensed professional guide in catalan, spanish, french and italian language.
    josepmariapey@gmail.com

    Ask jepmaria a question about Catalonia

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