From mountain to city and sea, hidden coves to crystalline waters, urban streets to green valleys and glacial lakes, there is always something to discover in Catalunya. Plumped pretty on the North-East coast, Catalunya is an autonomous region of Spain made up of four provinces – Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona. Perhaps most well-known is its lively capital, Barcelona – one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the Mediterranean, this coastal hub is brimming with arts, culture, food and fashion. Girona, Lleida and Tarragona steal hearts for their past-meets-present way of life, combining charming old squares, villages and vineyards with avant-garde art and innovation. Wherever you go, whatever your whim, there promises to be something to suit your mood…
1. NATURAL BEAUTY
To say Catalunya is a region of contrasts rings ever true when you look at its stunning geography, which allows you to experience a diverse array of landscapes in just one trip. From the steep and snowy peaks of Aiguestortes to the lush bucolic greenery of Estany de Sant Maurici National Park, or the volcanic lands of La Garrotxa to the long, golden sandy beaches of Costa Daurada, Catalunya really has it all.
To experience something naturally unique to the country, you can ski the Pyrenees, take a riverboat along mountain rivers, venture inside a volcano, kayak along the coast of Terres de l’Ebre, get a bird’s eye view of Lleida from a hot air balloon or hang-glider, or simply kick back and stargaze under one of the best skies in Europe.
2. HEART, HISTORY & HERITAGE
The perfect blend of past and present, Catalunya’s unique spirit is the driving force between both its cosmopolitan undertones and celebration of its history and heritage. It’s home to an eclectic celebration of international artists, such as Salvador Dali, Miro and Antonio Gaudi, and is home to over 400 museums, 1,800 monuments of national interest and events on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
For an unforgettable experience, have your cultural excursion mapped out for you with a themed-trail – on foot or by bike – and soak up the region’s most exciting cultural hot-spots and interesting pilgrimage routes all in a day.
3. FEEDING THE SOUL
Catalunya has a long-standing association with gastronomy, so eating your way around the country is one of the best ways to experience its rich culture, tradition and climate. Chefs such as Ferran Adria, Carme Ruscalleda and the Roca brothers helped place Catalunya cuisine on a world stage, and Catalunya’s restaurant industry proudly lays claim to 60 Michelin stars. With such a diverse landscape at its fingertips, the industry thrives on producing excellent produce, from cheese and sausages to cava, fish and vegetables.
To eat somewhere truly special, try the three-starred Celler de Can Roca in Girona and ABaC in Barcelona. Or, if you want a more hands-on experience, you can venture away from the dining table and source your food yourself with a day at Palamos Fishing Museum, where you’ll spend a day with a professional fisherman, catch your own shrimp, and eat them right there on the boat! There are also food markets, cheese producers, oil mills and over 300 wineries to visit too, allowing you to experience Catalan cuisine up close.
4. BOUTIQUE BITES
The Spanish are known for their style and you can’t really leave Catalunya with a little retail therapy in our book. International brands sit side-by-side with more local boutiques and up-and-coming regional designers, allowing for a more nuanced immersion into Spanish style. Also unique to Catalunya is its miles and miles of walkable shopping districts, making for a far more relaxed retail experience.
In Barcelona alone, five kilometres of shops await along the Barcelona Shopping Line – positioned along Avinguda Diagonal and Passeig de Gracia – with over 160 luxury boutiques that can be visited on foot. You can also enjoy a fabulous shopping day in La Roca Village, just 30 minutes away from Barcelona city.
From luxury fashion to eclectic cuisine, next make a pit-stop at La Boqueria food market on Las Ramblas to refuel. This open-air market is an absolute must-visit, where seasonal produce and rainbow-coloured sweets tumble out of rows and rows of baskets, restaurants send out plates of tapas and seafood, and champagne bars help quench thirsts.
5. WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN
Something perhaps a little less known about Catalunya is its night-life scene. If you don’t want the day to end, a whole new side to Catalunya will reveal itself once the sun has set. Terraces teem with party people; the streets are alive with conversation; and bars bustle with night-owls. But beyond the more typical night of cocktail bars and clubs, there is another side to Catalunya that weaves culture into the after-dark experience.
Open-air music festivals are incredibly popular, especially when in surprising places, such as Castell de Peralada or with the beaches of Vilanova i la Geltru as a backdrop. There are also night tours of cultural monuments and establishments and local festivals in places such as La Patum de Berga, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Barcelona definitely steals the crown for the province with the strongest after-dark pulse. Then venture to El Liceu Opera House or Palau de la Musica Catalana to soak up some culture or sip rooftop aperitifs at La Pedrera before taking in a late-night art tour.