Local Attractions in Catalonia

As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Catalonia, Paul Bloomfield picks out a selection of local attractions, from the coast to the mountains of the Pyrenees.

Catalonia's history stretches back thousands of years, the evidence still visible in Neolithic dolmens, cave paintings and rock-carvings across the region. Since then, castles and cathedrals, monasteries and medieval villages have risen and fallen, not to mention modernist masterpieces by the likes of Antoni Gaudí and Cèsar Martinell. So there’s an array of cultural gems to admire in the form of fine Romanesque churches, Roman and Greek ruins and contemporary galleries and museums.

But it’s the landscape that’s the real star in Catalonia. The Costas will be familiar, their shores lined with sandy beaches lapped by the temptingly turquoise Mediterranean – but you’ll also find national and natural parks of spectacular beauty and variety. There’s the volcanic cones and lava flows of La Garrotxa, the limestone cliffs of Montsant, the Pyrenean lakes of Aigüestortes, and the shimmering wetlands of the Ebro Delta, to name just a few. All are best appreciated on foot, by bike or with paddle in hand.

La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park, Girona Pyrenees

This unique region in far north-eastern Catalunya was created by dramatic volcanic ructions, and some 40 cones and more than 20 lava flows are still evident in the natural park. Thanks to the fertile volcanic soil and climate it’s a natural wonderland, much forested and scattered with historic villages. turismegarrotxa.com

Serra de Montsant and Siurana Natural Park, Costa Daurada

The limestone cliffs of the Montsant loom from the plains like the rock walls of an mighty ancient fortress; no surprise that medieval hermits chose this forbidding place to live in isolation, lending it the name ‘Holy Mountain’ (Montsant). turismepriorat.org

Parc Natural de Sant Llorenç de Munt i l'Obac, Paisatges Barcelona

Linking two eponymous mountain ranges some 30km north-west of Barcelona is this enticing natural park, its slopes patched with holm oak and Aleppo pine forest, and studded with historic gems – notably the 10th-century Benedictine monastery of Sant Llorenç del Munt on the summit of La Mola, at 1,104m the park’s highest peak. parcs.diba.cat/web/SantLlorenc

Montseny Natural Park, Costa Barcelona & Costa Brava

This UNESCO Biosphere Reserve between Barcelona and Girona is a delightfully varied mountainous landscape of woods and dappled streams, high summits and old farmsteads. turisme-montseny.com

Sitges Biosphere Destination, Costa Barcelona

This attractive coastal town is best known for its lively atmosphere and year-round fine weather – protected by the Garraf mountains, its microclimate ensures mild winters and warm summers, making it a popular beach resort. A packed calendar includes film, music, theatre and traditional cultural festivals, concerts, sports events and the boisterous Carnival. It’s also a family-friendly Biosphere Destination, where activities include cycling in nearby Garraf Natural Park, soaking up the sun on the 4km-long beach or simply strolling the seafront promenade and admiring the fin-de-siècle colonial ‘Indiano’ mansions. biospheretourism.com

Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park, Lleida Pyrenees

Catalunya has the one national park – and it’s a beauty. Look at a map of the far north of Catalunya and you’ll see a verdant carpet speckled with blue – a craggy region clad with ancient fir and black pine forests, and studded with hundreds of jewel-like mountain lakes. lleidatur.com

Montsec Starlight Reserve and Astronomical Park, Lands of Lleida

The vertiginous Montsec Massif is, unsurprisingly, sparsely populated, and with low light pollution and clear air it’s a perfect spot for stargazing – it’s now designated a UNESCO Starlight Reserve. parcastronomic.cat

Val d’Aran Biosphere Destination, Val d’Aran

The spectacular Pyrenean landscapes, dominated by mountains, forests, lakes and the Garona River are the main scenic attractions of this long-isolated highland valley, and key reasons why it became the first mountain tourist destination to receive UNESCO Biosphere Responsible Tourism Certification. biospheretourism.com

Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau, Barcelona

After eight decades as a hospital, the extraordinary modernist edifice of Sant Pau, built in the early 20th century by famed architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner in Barcelona’s l'Eixample district, was retired in 2009. Today, it’s been reborn as a multi-purpose complex that’s a treat to explore. santpaubarcelona.org

Romanesque churches of the Boí Valley, Lleida Pyrenees

The eight Romanesque churches and hermitage retreat of the Boí Valley are collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They were built during the 11th and 12th Century, based on an architectural style imported from northern Italy of iconic slim bell-towers and rounded arcading and pilaster strips. centreromanic.com

Hort de la Sínia – Costa Daurada

Part organic allotment cooperative and part eco health retreat, Hort de la Sínia is a place to work the land and relax among nature in the great outdoors. hortdelasinia.com


For information on characterful places to stay, local food and drink, and nearby low-impact activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to Catalonia


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