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