Apart from the fierce patriotism and character of the people of Catalonia what is most striking about the region is it’s diversity. It officially holds the status of a nationality and most inhabits are Catalans first and Spanish second if at all.
The great cities of Girona, Tarragona and the capital Barcelona which is Spain’s second largest city are all well known and popular with travellers. Along with Lleida they comprise the four provinces of this nation within a nation.
The architecture of Barcelona and it’s many attractions does not need any promotion, it is amongst the most popular cities in Europe if not the World. Tarragona offers more medieval style architecture and even a Roman amphitheatre close to the city centre. Girona also displays an easy to discover Roman influence, in fact the wall which surrounds the old town is of Roman construction. The importance of religious architecture is a common denominator throughout all the provinces, Gothic Cathedrals and Romanesque churches are plentiful here.
Amongst the impressive buildings there are museums, galleries and markets ideal for exploring. There are numerous coffee shops providing café culture Spanish style and a break from ambling through the modern and ancient city areas. Visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to dining out in the evening. Restaurants, tapas bars and bistros offer a choice of excellent Catalan cuisine and late night bars or clubs are available for those that need their nightlife fix.
Outside the main cities there are countless smaller towns and attractive villages, close-knit communities built on the foundations of local stone buildings which are decorated with vibrant and fragrant flowers. Catalans are deeply proud of their heritage, celebrating their national spirit with flags flying and banners. Well attended, colourful festivals are held in the streets and squares, apparently it is good to be a Catalan!
They have a great deal to be proud of too; the region possesses miles of coastline with a blend of sandy beaches, rugged shores and clean seas. There are mountainous regions with a number ranges including the mighty Pyrénées offering, skiing, hiking and other outdoor activities along with stunning scenery. Amongst the summits hide a number of national parks such as the Aigüestortes i Estanys de Sant Maurici, a true wilderness which is surrounded by impressive peaks and punctuated with glacial lakes often still covered in ice even in late spring.
Further wilderness can be discovered in the Núria Valley and sanctuary which is depicted in this image. This is the hotel in the sanctuary which can only be reached by a single track railway (Ribes-Queralbs-Núria) or a steep walk. The luxury accommodation lies in the shadow of the surrounding peaks where marmots and chamois roam freely between the oak, birch and pine trees and golden eagles soar overhead. It is good horse riding terrain though the tiny Sant Gil chapel which houses the carved image of the Virgin of Núria is possibly the most common reason for visiting.
A precious eco-system is located in the huge wetland area of Delta de L’Ebre, which is one of the most important in the Mediterranean. It is a major producer of oysters and mussels, the shellfish are recognised as some of the best in the World, in fact they are even exported to France! Rice is another major export, first introduced here in 1860, there are now 14 different varieties grown in miles of rice paddies, annually producing over 45 million kilos.
A visit to the region would not be complete without the opportunity to see the building of castells. The human towers which UNESCO declared “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” and are a symbol of the Catalan spirit. They are traditionally built at festivals, where competition can be intense but good humoured. There also seem to be spontaneous displays in most of the major cities, see one if you can.
There is little scope for boredom in the varied landscape of Catalonia, there is plenty to keep most couples with even the most diverse interests occupied and I never get tired of exploring this beautiful region of Spain.