Map of Catalonia showing Barcelona Province

Catalonia’s Historic Heartland

Barcelona province is, as you might expect, the most densely populated of the four regional Catalan provinces. Home to more than 300 cities, towns and villages, plus mountains, forests, monasteries, vineyards and beaches, it offers a spectacularly diverse range of things to see and do – many accessible as a day trips from the vibrant capital.

The City

Barcelona city, famously described as ‘The Great Enchantress’ by Eduardo Mendoza, seduces its visitors with its fabulous Modernista buildings, world-class cuisine and relaxed beach city vibe. From humble beginnings as the Roman settlement of Barcino, it expanded to become the heart of a mercantile empire that stretched across the Mediterranean as far as Sicily, Naples and even Athens. Barcelona remains Spain’s most vibrant, outward-looking and dynamic city, and its plethora of ancient ruins and historic monuments are matched by spectacular contemporary architecture, and a world-class reputation for innovation, fashion and design. Its best known attractions – Gaudí’s Sagrada Família, the haunting alleys of the Gothic Quarter, and the Camp Nou stadium – are familiar sights to everyone, but we can guide you to the sights, sounds, tastes and experiences that will connect you to the real soul of the Catalan capital.

The stone arches of the walkway in Parc Guell

Parc Guell walkway by Gaudi, who was one of many of Barcelona's Modernist architects

This is a city that likes to celebrate culture, whether at traditional festivals, or at major music events like Sonar, or at theatre and dance festivals such as the Grec. The biggest event on the local calendar is the exuberant Festes de le Mercé, held in honour of the city’s patron saint at the end of September. These provide the perfect opportunity to see all the Catalan folkloric traditions in action, from the fire and drama of the correfoc, in which fire-spitting dragons career madly through the city as demons dance under the sparks, to the remarkable feats of the castellers (human towers), or the processions of giants and cap grossos (big heads) through the streets.

Out of town

Within a short drive of the city are a host of superb attractions that you can visit either as a day trip, or a longer break. These include the mountain of Montserrat, the spiritual heart of Catalonia, where a statue of the Virgin discovered by shepherds in 880 presides over a beautiful basilica. Now the sanctuary complex is home to an outstanding art museum, a world-famous choir school, and the surrounding peaks have become a nature reserve where you can hike, bike and climb.

Montserrat is just one of 12 such nature reserves in the province of Barcelona. These reserves encompass every imaginable type of landscape, from the verdant hills and woods of Montseny, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, to the elegant gardens and forests around Montesquiu Castle or the magnificent waterfalls and streams of the Guilleries-Savassona reserve.

Vineyards of the Penedes with an old wine barrel and Montserrat in the background

Montserrat mountain presides over the Penedes region

Cava country

Wine lovers and foodies will be drawn to the wine country of the Penedès, probably the best known of the 12 Catalan wine-producing areas with D.O. (Denominació d’Origen) status. Wine has been made here for two thousand years, making it one of the world’s oldest viticultural regions. The Penedès region is recoginsed as part of the Spanish wine revival and produces award-winning reds whites and rosés, but is best known for cava, Catalonia’s very own sparking wine. This area had been the main supplier of corks to the wine-producers of Champagne from the 18th century, but it wasn’t until the early 19th century that locals began to experiment with making their own wines using the French méthode champenoise. We can arrange guided visits to the regions most historic bodegas, as well as some of the exciting new boutique wineries.

One of Catalonia’s newest D.O. regions (established in 1995) is also located in the province of Barcelona: the Pla de Bages. The wines in this beautiful area of the pre-Pyrenees may not enjoy the international renown of those of the Penedès, but they are still high quality wines, most produced by families who have made wines for generations.

Monserrat abbey seen from the mountain above

Monserrat nestled in its mountain top home

Culture and Tradition

This region of Catalonia is strewn with historic monuments – churches, monasteries, castles – that recall its strategic location on the front line of the struggle between the armies of Christianity and Islam more than a thousand years ago. Hundreds of castles, scattered across the hilltops, still survive in various states of repair, a reminder that nascent Catalonia was chosen by Charlemagne as a Christian buffer zone—‘the Spanish marches’—to keep the Moors at bay. Churches and monasteries, erected to remind the invaders of the all-seeing power of the Christian church, are thickly scattered throughout the region: the monasteries of Sant Cugat and L’Estany are two of the finest, each remarkable examples of Romanesque architecture.

The province of Barcelona is also richly endowed with fascinating towns and villages. To the north, the handsome market town of Vic is famously home to a superb weekly market, held on the expansive and arcaded Plaça Major. The Mercat del Ram (Palm Market), a tradition that dates back more than a millennium, has grown to become the largest annual event held in the city, and takes place in the week before Palm Sunday. It showcases the fresh produce and livestock grown and reared on the surrounding plains, with a whole host of complementary activities, from displays of horsemanship to concerts. Beyond Vic is the enchanting, rural region of Les Guilleries, where winding roads connect minuscule stone-built villages like Tavertet and Rupit, and waterfalls and streams tumble from rocky cliffs.

To the south, sunny Sitges, a whitewashed former fishing village that was long beloved by artists, has become a busy tourist resort but has lost none of its charm. Its sinuous lanes are filled with stylish shops, galleries and bars, and its glorious beaches are some of the finest in the region. Every spring, the narrow streets and picturesque squares carpeted with flowers every spring during the feast of Corpus Christi, and the town explodes for Carnival, which it celebrates with intoxicating abandon. Long a mecca for gay travellers, particularly during the summer months, Sitges is also a popular day trip destination for trendy young Barcelonins who come for the vibrant nightlife and stylish eateries. Nearby Garraf boasts a picture-postcard bay backed with wooden beach huts and fringed with cliffs. It backs on to the Garraf nature reserve, a sunbaked natural paradise of scrubland and woods that are crisscrossed with hiking paths and scattered with caves.

Heading west, Cardona is a dignified country town occupying a hilltop that commands stunning views over the surrounding plains. Thanks to its strategic location in the heart of Catalonia, it became an affluent and influential city that was ruled by the prominent Dukes of Cardona, and retains a charming historic quarter dotted with handsome Gothic churches and fine mansions. The town is crowned by a castle (now a parador), but its most curious monument is the Muntanya de Sal – a ‘salt mountain’ that has been mined since Roman times.

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