Greentraveller's Guide to Catalonia, Spain
Written by Paul Bloomfield
Artwork for Greentraveller's Guides by Tina Smith and Mark Edwards
This video shows highlights from our 12-day winter trip to Catalonia, from the sandy beaches and coastal towns of Costa Brava to the snowy forests and towering peaks of Val d’Aran.
Foreword by the Catalan Tourist Office
Catalonia is a Mediterranean destination in north-eastern Spain with a millenary history, a wealthy natural heritage, its own culture and language, as well as outstanding gastronomy throughout, including more than 65 Michelin stars. Thanks to its scenic variety, Catalonia has become an appealing destination for many travellers.
While the Pyrenees are an ideal place for skiing, winter tourism, hiking and active and adventure tourism, the Catalan coastline combines steep cliffs with hidden coves, long sandy beaches, protected coastal areas and a wide range of water sports.
The hinterland between the Pyrenees and the sea boasts numerous attractions, such as countless Romanesque churches and monasteries, Montseny, Montserrat and Sant Llorenç del Munt i l’Obac natural parks, plus pedestrianised old towns featuring heritage sites and traditional products.
Over a third of Catalonia’s territory enjoys some degree of special protection, including 14 Natural Parks and one National Park, as well as marine and natural reserves, natural sites of national interest and natural protected areas. The region also boasts two International Biosphere Reserves and five CETS certified Natural Parks.
During the past few years Catalonia has been highly committed towards a responsible tourist model, and in 2015, it was labelled the world’s first Biosphere Responsible Tourism Destination as a territory beyond specific cities or destinations. This certification ensures visitors a sustainable experience while protecting the culture, improving the local economy and reducing the environmental footprint.
Greentraveller’s Guide to Catalonia provides a fantastic opportunity to showcase the diversity of one of Europe’s premier destinations.
What our writers discovered in Catalonia
The Catalans are a proud people. Proud of their language, history, cuisine, wine, their natural and cultural heritage. It’s no surprise: there’s so much to be proud of in this extraordinarily diverse land. That love of the region translates not just into a warm welcome for visitors, encouraged to explore the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of the cities, mountains and coasts. It’s also reflected in a respect for the environment: Catalonia has been designated the first whole-region Unesco Biosphere Destination, reflecting its dedication to sustainable tourism, along with sites including Barcelona, Sitges and the Terres de l’Ebre. From the Pyrenees in the north to bird-bustling wetlands in the south, dramatic gorges and vine-striped highlands and sandy shores, the range of activities, culture and cuisine is astonishing.
Paul Bloomfield has a bird-watching bonanza while kayaking in Terres de l'Ebre, tries out rice planting and visits the remarkable Cathedral of Wine
Paul Bloomfield explores the stunning Montsec mountains and waterways on foot and by kayak in the heart of Catalonia
Richard Hammond and Holly Rooke travel from the sandy beaches and coastal towns of Costa Brava to the snowy forests and towering peaks of Val d’Aran
Stay, Eat, See & Do
Our pick of places across Catalonia
Written by Paul Bloomfield and Holly Rooke
Google Map Key:
Click on the coloured icons for more information about each listing
Green = Places to stay
Blue = Places to eat
Yellow = Attractions
Purple = Activities
Click on the square brackets top right of map to reveal expanded map
- Catalan is one of three official languages in Catalonia, the other two are Spanish and Aranese
- Catalonia has 580 kilometres of coastline
- Over a third of Catalonia is protected, including 14 Natural Parks and one National Park
- Barcelona has 4.5 kilometres of beaches and 235,000 trees
- 100% of the buses in Barcelona are accessible for wheelchairs
- Catalonia has been designated the first whole-region Unesco Biosphere Destination
- There are 9 areas of Catalonia (see map below): Barcelona, Costa Barcelona, Paisatges Barcelona, Costa Daurada, Terres de l’Ebre, Terres de Lleida, Pirineus, Costa Brava, and Val D’Aran
Map supplied by Catalonia Tourist Board.
How to travel to Catalonia
Catalonia's main hub is its capital Barcelona, whose international airport (Barcelona–El Prat Airport) is about 14 miles southwest of the city - there are metro, bus and train connections to the city centre. There is also Reus airport (close to Tarragona), as well as Girona Airport (also known as Costa Brava airport), about 13 kilometres from Girona city centre - there are bus and train services to both Girona and Barcelona (about 100 kilometres from Girona airport).
By train: It is possible to travel from London to Barcelona by train in a day. Take the Eurostar to Paris, then cross Paris (just two stops on the RER-D line) to Gare de Lyon and board the TGV Duplex to Barcelona Sants railway station in the heart of the city. For example, you could leave London on the 9.24am Eurostar and arrive in to Barcelona at 8.34pm.
You can now buy a 'through-fare' ticket from over 300 UK rail stations to London that connect with Eurostar departures to Europe. These tickets cut the cost of the journey from your local station to London when used in conjunction with a Eurostar ticket.
By coach: Eurolines run coach services to several destinations in Catalonia, including Figueres, Girona, Lloret de Mar and Tarragona.
By ferry: Brittany Ferries run ferry services from Portsmouth and Plymouth to Santander and Bilbao from where you can drive or take the train across to Catalonia.
All photos in this Greentraveller's Guide to Catalonia are by Christopher Willan.