Catalonia

Photo © margaretm

Travel Guide Europe Spain Catalonia

edit

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.

Catalonia is today an autonomous region within Spain, but in fact was part of the Crown of Aragon which historically predates Spain itself (the Crown of Catalonia-Aragon and the Crown of Castile-León united to form Spain). In 1714, after the war of Sucession, Catalonia had all its institutions, language and rights suppressed. The region gained its current autonomous status first during the era of the Second Spanish Republic (1930s) and then again after dictator Franco's death in 1975. It continues to press for more political and economic autonomy, mainly in defence of its culture and language and in the form of the right of the Catalan government to collect its own taxes and spend them as it sees fit.

Catalonia has seen many demonstrations in favour of its independence from Spain; such as the 2013 Catalan Way, 400km long. A consultation on independence was deemed illegal by Madrid on 2014. A referendum in 2017 got 90% vote in favor of independence on a low voter turnout, but this was again declared illegal by the Spanish government, which attempted to suppress it with police violence at various polling places, and by blocking access to websites with referendum information. After the referendum, the Catalan Parliament declared an independent republic, and on the same day the Spanish Senate voted to enforce direct rule over the region, suspending the regional government. The future political status of Catalonia is uncertain, but so far the pro-independence movement poses no threat to any tourist, and should not discourage travel to the region.

Top

edit

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.

Top

edit

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.

Top

edit

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 - botanical gardens, beaches and modernisme buildings
  • Lloret de Mar - millions of visitors come to this beach resort each year
  • Calella
  • Pineda de Mar
  • Tossa de Mar
  • Malgrat de Mar
  • Rosas
  • Cadaqués
  • Salou - another popular beach resort in Catalonia

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 - door to the west Pyrenees mountains, has a Cathedral
  • Besalu - bus ride from Girona - village with significant medieval element and very unusual fortified bridge.

Top

edit

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

Top

edit

Events and Festivals

Festes de la Merce, Barcelona

The Festes de la Merce is Barcelona’s major event, held in September to celebrate the birthday of the Vergin de la Merce, the city’s patron saint. Highlights include the Parade of the Giants, huge wooden figures and the Human Tower contest. Locals in traditional costume climb onto each others’ shoulders, with eight levels the norm before collapsing. Musical performances, sports, fabulous fireworks displays, endless glasses of cava (Catalonia’s champagne-style wine), and parties make this a fiesta not to miss.

Top

edit

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.

Top

edit

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

The main train station in Barcelona is called Estació de Sants, but the most central ones are Plaça de Catalunya (most local and regional trains) and Passeig de Gràcia (serving some local and most long-distance lines). The Spanish train company is called RENFE. Barcelona is very well connected by train with Madrid, Valencia (City), Zaragoza and the Basque Country in particular and with the whole country in general. Inside Catalonia, there are frequent trains from the other three provincial capitals (Lleida, Tarragona and Girona). A few trains travel across the Pyrenees, but it's possible to reach the eastern part using the train to Tour de Carol (France). Going by train to the Costa Daurada beaches is the best choice, using the line to Tarragona. The Costa Brava isn't well connected by train. There's also a Catalan train company Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC), which serves destinations near Barcelona, and some tourist routes. It also operates a funicular service in the Pyrenees.

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.

Top

edit

Language

The main languages of Catalonia are Catalan, Spanish and Occitan (Aranese), official language in the Aran Valley.

Catalan (català) is the own language of Catalonia, co-official with Spanish (and since 2006 with Aranese). Catalan is also spoken in Andorra, the Balearics, Valencia, La Franja (the eastern strip of Aragon), L'Alguer-Alghero (a small coastal city on the Italian island of Sardinia), and Roussillon (an area in the south of France sometimes called Catalunya Nord that corresponds roughly with the department of Pyrénées-Orientales). In everyday use, 11.95% of the population claim to use both Spanish and Catalan equally, while 35.54% mainly use Spanish and 45.92% mainly use Catalan. There is a significant difference between the Barcelona metropolitan area (and, to a lesser extent, the Tarragona area), where Spanish is more spoken than Catalan, and the rest of Catalonia, where Catalan clearly prevails over Spanish.

Visitors who speak Spanish should note that it is called castellano (Catalan castellà) and that while most people in Catalonia are bilingual in Catalan and Spanish, and are required to learn both languages in school, some people may be reluctant to answer in Spanish, due to the fact that speaking Catalan was strongly discouraged during many eras, not least the Franco era and speaking Catalan is something of a statement of Catalan identity. Even Antoni Gaudi, the world-famous architect of Sagrada Familia, was arrested for demonstrating for Catalan linguistic and cultural rights under the Primo de Rivera dictatorship. Nevertheless, most locals would be willing to speak to foreigners in Spanish. Replying in Catalan to a question asked in Spanish is the way to inform the other party that the conversation may continue in Catalan if desired. If you do not speak Catalan, just politely say that you do not understand, and there will be no problem in most cases. Spanish is the first language of almost half of Catalonia's population and virtually all Catalans speak the language fluently. At any rate avoid disparaging comments towards the Catalan language or even insinuating it might be a "dialect" rather than a language. Learning a few words of Catalan will certainly endear you to Catalan speakers.

Aranese, a subdialect of Gascon (Occitan), is a minority language and only spoken by a couple of thousand people in Val d'Aran in northwest Catalonia. In 2006, it gained official status.

As in the rest of Spain, English is not widely spoken, though staff working at major hotels and the main tourist attractions know enough English to communicate. French is widely spoken as a second or third language in the areas near the border with France. By necessity, Catalan speakers tend to be more multilingual than their peers in most of Spain which tends to show even in languages other than Castilian or Catalan. Don't be surprised to hear some light Andaluz tinge to the Spanish of some, especially those working in tourism. Catalonia has attracted economic migrants from the rest of Spain ever since it industrialized and continues to do so to this day.

Top

edit

Eat

There are lots of good places to eat. At lunch time (13-15:00 approx.), a lot of Restaurants and Bars offer Menú del dia (Menu of the day - Prix Fixe), usually consisting of a choice of four starters, four main courses, wine and bread for at a reasonable price. Some bars also offer "Plats Combinats" which are a few items served together at reasonable prices - e.g. Hamburger, egg and chips. At dinner time (20-23:00 approx), a Menú is not so frequent.

In all the medium sized cities, you can expect to find a large range of possibilities. 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.

  • Pa amb tomàquet: "bread with tomato". Many people in Spain are surprised when discover the Catalan way to prepare "pa amb tomàquet", because instead of being sliced tomato with bread, the tomato (sometimes with garlic) is squashed and spread in the bread slice, dressed with extra virgin olive oil and small cuts of a very Catalan specialty: cured pork meat, that is, the famous Iberian ham (Spanish jamón, Catalan pernil), fuet, chorizo (xoriço), botifarra (spicy cured sausages), sobrassada, or other stuff like cheese or larger pieces of cooked meat. "Pa amb tomàquet" is a very deeply rooted meal in Catalan houses.
  • Paella - Typical rice dish from the Catalan Lands. Catalan paella is with seafood, while Valencian paella is without seafood. There's also a variant of paella which is made up with little noodles called "fideuà". In addition, paella and fideuà can be prepared with black squid ink, then it's called "fideuà negra" or "arròs negre" (black fideuà and black rice respectively).

Top

edit

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.

Top

edit

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.

Top

Contributors

as well as Herr Bert (4%), davidx (2%), TJC (2%), JulesDeb (1%), Lavafalls (1%)

Catalonia Travel Helpers

We don't currently have any Travel Helpers for Catalonia

This is version 44. Last edited at 10:31 on Mar 6, 19 by Utrecht. 32 articles link to this page.

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, content of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License