As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Catalonia, Paul Bloomfield picks out a selection of activities from the coast to the mountains of the Pyrenees.
Mountain high, river deep… not to mention delta, beach, sea and cycle path – Catalonia's roster of venues and activities is nearly endless. So in the Pyrenees you might try skiing, mountain-biking, hiking or canyoning, or simply immerse yourself in traditional farming life.
Along the coast the beaches lure sun-soakers, but there’s also stand-up paddleboarding, cycling, hiking, scuba-diving, fishing, bird-watching – even punting and rice-planting – to be enjoyed. And in the highlands of Lleida and the Terres de l’Ebre, sheer escarpments and dramatic gorges provide playgrounds for rock-climbers, paragliders, trekkers and kayakers – or, for something less energetic, the chance to soar above dormant volcanoes in a hot-air balloon.
Wine Tasting at Vins & Co, Barcelona
Vins & Co specializes in a wide but carefully selected range of Catalan wines, vermouth and Catalan cava, including wine appellations from Alella, Conca de Barberà, Costers del Segre, Pla del Bages, Priorat, Monsant, and Tarragona.
It provides pairings, tasting courses (there’s capacity for up to 40) and training for both amateurs and experts at its smart shop in the heart of Barcelona city centre. It also offers a ‘Personal Wine Shopper’ advisory service on how to choose wine according to your specific requirements, such as for a dinner or establishing a private cellar. barcelonanavaltours.com
Wine Tasting at the Catedral del Vi, Terres de l’Ebre
The magnificent modernist Wine Cathedral in the small town of El Pinell de Brai is a suitable venue for a veneration of vines and their fruits. A cooperative formed by 14 local families in the early 20th century commissioned renowned architect Cèsar Martinell, a disciple and friend of the great Antoni Gaudí (author of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia) to create this masterpiece, with its bold and confident exterior, its cavernous interior supported by sinuous parabolic arches and packed with vast wine vats. catedralsdelvi.cat
Wine Tasting at Mas Igneus, Costa Daurada
An exemplary multi award-winning vineyard, certified organic, whose cellar is in a stunning setting at the solar-powered Costers de l’Ermita estate among the slate terraces and hillsides of Gratallops. It has two other estates (Finca Comellars in Poboleda and Finca La Salanca in Torroja) and also works will a small group of independent growers. masigneus.com
Accessible Walking Tour, Barcelona
Barcelona is one of the most accessible-friendly cities in the world. The city’s commitment to barrier-free travel is typified by Barcelona Zero Limits, a travel agency that specialises in inclusive travel. Its accessible walking tours through the city are specially designed for people with reduced mobility. Tours include Stories and Legends of the Gothic Quarter, Ghost Tour, and Literary tour of the city. barcelonazerolimits.com
Hiking at Montserrat Natural Park, Paisatges de Barcelona
The mountain of Montserrat, 50km north-west of Barcelona, is best known as the site of the historic Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria, founded in 1025, home to the 12th-century statue of Our Lady of Montserrat (the so-called ‘Black Virgin’) that still attracts countless pilgrims today. But though the extensive main monastery complex is the big draw, the striking rock outcrops of the surrounding natural park provide a dramatic backdrop for hikes including the testing climb up to the highest peak, San Jeroni.
Numerous paths offer walks for a range of levels of experience and ability; the easy Tebes Trail visits the ruins of the ancient churches of San Juan, San Onofre and Santa Magdalena. Via ferrata and rock-climbing tours are also available. montserratvisita.com
Hiking the Camí de Ronda, Costa Brava
The Costa Brava (‘wild coast’) on the far-eastern region of Catalonia has beautiful craggy, forested shores, hidden coves, traditional fishing towns and wonderful flora and fauna. The 560km GR92 (Sender del Mediterrani) traces the entire Catalan coastline between the French and Valencian borders, but for a more compact hike try the stretch in the Costa Brava. camideronda.com
Hiking or Mountain Biking the Camin Reiau, Val d’Aran
The long-isolated Pyrenean region of the Val d’Aran has a unique character and heritage (and language, more closely related to Occitan dialects of south-west France than to Catalan). The historic ‘royal road’ that linked the 33 villages of the region has now been waymarked as a wonderful and challenging hiking trail, the Camin Reiau, covering 150km and with ample ups and downs totalling some 12,000m altitude gain. caminreiau.cat
Cycling the Greenway with Esgambi, Terres de l’Ebre
Nearly half a century ago, the train line between Arnes, on the Aragon border, and Tortosa on the lower Ebro closed. But the failure of the railway has been a boon for bikers – the route has now been converted into a wonderful Green Way cycle trail, looping 49km around the dramatic rock outcrops of Els Ports Natural Park and past charming and historic towns and villages such as Horta de Sant Joan, where Picasso spent some years during his youth (“Everything I know, I learned in Horta”, he once said). esgambi.com
Cycling in Catalonia - self-guided
This gentle cycling holiday explores a culturally rich yet remote-feeling corner of Catalonia which is blessed by a truly Mediterranean climate. Mostly mainly along traffic-free vía verde (dedicated cycle paths) and includes a tour of Girona. inntravel.co.uk
Ecological sailing tour, Moll de les Drassanes, Barcelona
An eco-catamaran that runs 40-minute tours throughout the day from Barcelona’s Port Vell harbour. With a carrying capacity for 150 people, a lightweight, aerodynamic design that's powered by renewable energy, it is reputedly the largest ecological passenger catamaran in Europe, and a great way to see the city’s skyline from the sea. barcelonanavaltours.com
Birdwatching by Kayak on the Ebro River, Terres de l’Ebre
The Ebro is Spain’s longest river, flowing 910km south from the Cantabrian Mountains to the Mediterranean at the shimmering delta south-west of Tarragona. It’s also thriving with life, and a guided kayak trip with En Blau offers a wonderful opportunity to admire the colourful and charismatic species that throng its banks. enblau.cat
Climbing in Siurana, Costa Daurada
The tiny medieval stone village of Siurana north-west of Tarragona, perched precariously on the edge of a vertiginous cliff overlooking the eponymous snaking river and marsh far below, is one of the most picturesque in all Catalonia – against stiff competition. turismesiurana.org
Canyoning around Llavorsí, Lleida Pyrenees
If you want an inkling of what a river feels like, try canyoning – hurling yourself down rocky gorges, leaping off high rocks into deep pools, abseiling down cliffs and waterfalls, and sliding down smooth riverbeds… all in the name of fun. The Lleida Pyrenees offer an extensive menu of gorges to tackle, each with its own personality and level of challenge, but all ruggedly beautiful. rocroi.com
Discovering Traditional Farming at Mas la Coromina, Girona Pyrenees
Farming has changed enormously over recent decades – but at this bucolic spot in the volcanic region of La Garrotxa, the same family has been raising dairy cattle for over half a century, maintaining traditional methods and high standards of animal welfare. maslacoromina.cat
Vol de Coloms Hot Air Ballons, Girona Pyrenees
Get a novel perspective on the dormant volcanoes of La Garrotxa – float high above in a hot-air balloon, with far-reaching views across the Pyrenees and south over Montserrat to the Mediterranean, sipping a glass of pink sparkling cava and munching on coca de llardons, a traditional savoury cake. voldecoloms.cat
Paragliding at Montsec, Lands of Lleida
The sheer, southerly rock face of the Montsec massif isn’t just awe-inspiring – it’s also ideal for paragliding and hang-gliding, with reliable updrafts and thermals creating perfect conditions for aerial adventures above the long ridge and the turquoise waters of Carelles Lake and the Congost de Mont-Rebei gorge. zenithaventura.com
Rice Planting on the Ebro Delta, Terres de l’Ebre
As well as seafood, the wide wetlands of the Ebro Delta are famed for rice – since the late 17th century the flat lands flooded by the river’s freshwater have produced some of the highest-quality grains, as well as providing welcoming habitat for a variety of birds. deltapolet.com
For information on characterful places to stay, local food and drink, nearby visitor attractions, see our Green Traveller's Guide to Catalonia