Want to see the real Catalonia? Then look beyond Barcelona

1 year ago 202

On a hushed, constrictive thoroughfare decorated with wrought-iron balconies successful the tiny Catalonian metropolis of Solsona, section usher Ivan Viladrich has conscionable pushed unfastened the unassuming woody doorway of an 18th-century building. Hidden wrong are 2 pairs of intricately sculpted gegants (Catalan dancing giants) whose past goes backmost to the precocious 17th century. In the adjacent room, there’s a 330-year-old woody dragon (the Drac de Solsona), weighing astir 100kg, surrounded by each kinds of different mythological carnal figures. They person each conscionable been twirled and paraded astir municipality during the Festa Major, held each September successful Solsona.


“Solsona mightiness not person large sights similar Barcelona but it does person galore tiny points of large interest, particularly the aged municipality with its intriguing architecture and Romanesque-origin cathedral,” says Ivan, who has been starring tours present with Solsona Experience since 2016. He explains however the city’s taste practice is 1 of its cardinal tourism attractions, earlier pointing retired gurgling gothic fountains, steeply sloping squares, curiously carved woody beams and the play marketplace arsenic we stroll done the cobbled centre.

Solsona, superior of Solsonès county, which lies betwixt Barcelona and the Pyrenees, is 1 of galore lesser-known determination stops connected the just-launched Grand Tour of Catalonia, a task devised by the Catalan tourer board. Covering 2,200km, the Grand Tour aims to decentralise the region’s Barcelona-focused tourism industry, promote visitors to research during quieter seasons and radiance a airy connected its cultural, earthy and gastronomic diversity.

Aigüestortes nationalist  park.
Aigüestortes nationalist park. Photograph: Quico Gómez/Getty Images

In the lead-up to the pandemic, Barcelona’s conflict with overtourism was reaching situation point. Local efforts to tackle it already included clamping down connected amerciable tourer apartments, a ban connected caller hotels successful the metropolis centre and a special preservation status for 220 accepted shops and 11 emblematic bars successful information of being pushed retired by rising rents. In 2019, Catalonia’s superior (population: 1.6 million) received astir 32 cardinal tourists – and lone 13.9 cardinal of them stayed for 1 nighttime oregon longer (still a grounds number). There were besides increasing concerns astir irresponsible tourism (particularly vessel parties) damaging the Costa Brava’s fragile earthy environment. Then everything came to a abrupt standstill.

Now, arsenic tourism begins to instrumentality (Barcelona saw 1.9 cardinal overnight visitors this summer, portion the Costa Brava returned to pre-pandemic levels), Catalonia’s authorities are keen to proceed moving successful a much sustainable absorption and combat overtourism, with plans besides precocious unveiled to alteration Barcelona’s overrun La Rambla into an immersive arts hub.

“Before the pandemic, astir 90% of planetary tourists to Catalonia headed for Barcelona, the Costa Brava and/or the Costa Daurada, and lone 10% explored the interior,” says Aicard Guinovart, manager of the Catalan Tourist Board successful the UK, implicit meal astatine Hotel 1882 Barcelona 1882. “If visitors keen to spot Montserrat, for example, enactment connected for a fewer nights exploring adjacent Solsona and Cardona (rather than day-tripping from Barcelona), the taste and economical benefits of tourism volition beryllium felt much wide crossed this cardinal portion of Catalonia. This benignant of longer, much in-depth travel is what radical are looking for arsenic we look from the pandemic.”

Vilassar de Mar.
Vilassar de Mar connected the Costa Maresme. Photograph: agefotostock/Alamy

The Grand Tour loops each astir Catalonia and is divided into 5 main sections, with a absorption connected liable tourism, small-scale businesses and section civilization and traditions. If you fancy tackling the afloat trip, you’ll request astatine slightest 2 weeks, but it tin besides beryllium chopped down oregon built astir a peculiar taxable (gastronomy, outdoors, galleries). Soon to travel are electric-vehicle guides (with mapped charging points and recommended car-hire collaborators), tips connected sustainably tally accommodation, and options for enjoying the assorted itineraries wholly by nationalist transport.

Top of my database among Catalonia’s lesser-visited corners is the secluded, rice-growing Delta de l’Ebre, which is astir 80km south-west from Tarragona and borders the Valencia portion to the south. At the rima of Spain’s second-longest river, waterways ripple among electric-green atom fields, windswept Mediterranean dunes and marshes wherever flamingos splash about.

Much of this country has been a protected parc earthy since 1983. I’ve stayed successful peaceful agrarian hotels here, wandered unsocial on wild, sandy-gold beaches, hopped connected a vessel down to the Balearic Sea, and devoured paellas astatine laid-back riverside restaurants. You tin besides sail retired to a floating mussel workplace for lunch, rhythm and hike done the fields, effort kitesurfing and kayaking oregon stone climbing, spot immoderate of the delta’s 330 vertebrate taxon (especially during the autumn migration season), and adjacent articulation a section household to larn astir rice-farming.

Delta de l’Ebre
Delta de l’Ebre. Photograph: Ignacio Ruiz Casanellas/Alamy

Up successful the Pyrenees, connected the borderline with Aragón and France, Lleida province’s distant Val d’Aran is different surprise. Until the precocious 1940s, erstwhile a passageway was carved done the mountains southbound from Vielha town, it wasn’t adjacent imaginable to get present by roadworthy from the remainder of Spain. While the area’s upmarket skis resorts present buzz successful winter, determination is plentifulness much to bask done the year, including elevated hikes, a wealthiness of escapade activities, wide-open upland views, bubbling blistery springs, French-influenced restaurants and beauteous chromatic villages filled with geraniums, specified arsenic Arties, Bagergue and Salardú.

Spinning south, you’ll scope the Pyrenees’ beauteous Vall de Boí, which I person fond memories of stumbling down into aft hiking much than 20km from the not-so-neighbouring municipality of Espot. This mountainous pouch reveals immoderate of the astir important Catalan Romanesque churches inactive lasting – slender, multistorey, Unesco-listed creations dating from the 11th and 12th centuries, whose interiors were primitively filled with affluent spiritual creation (most of it is present successful Barcelona’s Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya). The tiny chromatic villages present – Taüll, Boí, Erill la Vall – are among bluish Catalonia’s astir striking.

Sant Joan, a Romanesque religion  successful  Boi, La Vall de Boi.
Sant Joan, a Romanesque religion successful the Vall de Boí. Photograph: Imagebroker/Alamy

The Boí vale sits connected the occidental borderline of Aigüestortes, Catalonia’s lone nationalist park. Walking trails thread done this high-mountain wonderland dotted with conifer forests, distant refugis (mountain refuges) and sparkling lakes. And if you swap the high-summer play for autumn, you whitethorn conscionable person them each to yourself.

Elsewhere, you tin roam astir little touristy Catalan vineyards successful Tarragona’s adjoining Priorat and Montsant vino regions and Lleida’s progressively respected Costers del Segre DO (Denominació d’Origen); soak up locally loved beaches and modernista architecture on the Costa Maresme conscionable northbound of Barcelona; acceptable disconnected multiday hiking oregon spell stone climbing successful the distant Parc Natural del Cadí-Moixeró, betwixt Cerdanya and La Seu d’Urgell; and overmuch more.

As we caput southbound from Solsona, past Cardona’s imposing ninth-century castle, towards glitzy Sitges connected the Costa del Garraf for the last nighttime of my trip, I spy the foothills of the Pyrenees looming successful the distance, and instantly get cracking connected readying my adjacent escapade astir Catalonia. The lone occupation is that I’m spoilt for choice.

The travel was supported by the Catalan Tourist Board; for much accusation spot catalunya.com and grandtour.catalunya.com

A expansive tour: five ways to spot Catalonia

The Catalan Pyrenees astir   the Colomèrs lakes.
The Catalan Pyrenees astir the Colomèrs lakes. Photograph: PhotoStock-Israel/Alamy

Hit the coast
From riverboat cruises to thrilling h2o sports, Delta de l’Ebre successful Catalonia’s south-west is packed with outdoor amusive and back-to-nature beaches. Mural-filled Hostal Cling 43 (doubles from €68) makes an fantabulous basal successful Deltebre.

Work each the ambles
Hikers tin get distant from it each successful Vall de Boí and Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes (the full-day Espot-Boí way crosses the full park). Spectacular Catalan Romanesque churches are worthy a travel successful their ain right. Stay astatine the rustic-modern Hostal La Plaça, other Erill La Vall’s religion (doubles from €63).

Grand designs
El Solsonès successful cardinal Catalonia is known for Romanesque and baroque architecture, including Solsona’s cathedral. Solsona Experience offers fantabulous guided tours, and you tin slumber successful a modernista mansion astatine Hotel Sant Roc (doubles from €96)

Up and down the slopes
Deep-winter skiing, peaceful villages and hikes into the region’s lone nationalist parkland are among the draws of Val d’Aran, the adventure-loving Pyrenees valley. Casa Irene (doubles from €120) is simply a stylish, wood-beamed spa edifice successful beauteous Arties.

Sample a drop
If you’re keen to dive into Catalan wines successful a somewhat quieter setting, caput to the prestigious grape-growing Priorat hills westbound of Tarragona, wherever Lotus Priorat (doubles from €80) is simply a charming boutique spot to stay.