Nestled between the imposing peaks of the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean, Catalonia is a land of beautiful contrasts. Bustling metropolis, medieval mountain villages, and an incredibly varied natural heritage are the defining characteristics of this historical region.
Due to its strategic location on the shores of the Mediterranean, Catalonia was considered a highly desirable location by Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, and Islamic rulers for more than 1,000 years. Today, visitors are greeted with evidence of Catalonia's rich historical past and multicultural background at every turn. Culture, history, and entertainment options are everywhere in this region, but it is also easy to escape the crowds and get away from it all in Catalonia's peaceful countryside, which is never too far away from the main cities.
There is no such a thing as a wrong time of the year for a holiday in Catalonia. The region has three distinct climates: Mediterranean along the coast, continental in the interior, and alpine in the northern provinces that border the Pyrenees. Generally speaking, there is a marked seasonal difference in temperatures across the region, as summers are hot (with temperatures reaching the high 30s) and winters can be bitterly cold.
The winter months offer plenty of opportunities for skiing, whereas the summer is perfect for camping, hiking, and for exploring Catalonia's magnificent beaches. The rest of the year suits visitors interested in city breaks and cultural events. Barcelona is particularly known for its crowd factor, especially during important festivals such as Sant Jordi (23rd April) and La Merce (second week of September.
Catalonia's capital city, Barcelona, is one of the world's most visited destinations. This cosmopolitan city is a surprising cultural melting pot that can keep visitors entertained for days on end. Barcelona's museums, fascinating architecture, beautifully designed parks, and countless shopping opportunities are some of the most important reasons to visit. Other provincial capitals, like Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona boast quaint historical centers and numerous archaeological ruins.
Catalonia has close to 90 blue flag beaches, which range from rocky and secluded in the north to vast golden sand beaches in the south. Wine routes, international film festivals, and multiple opportunities to practice sports like cycling, swimming, and mountaineering complete Catalonia's list of attractions.
Catalan cuisine is a true reflection of the region's multicultural origins and therefore is a delightful combination of Spanish, French, and Italian gastronomy.
The typical Catalan dessert crema catalana is very similar to France's crème brûlée. The internationally renowned paella originated in southern Catalonia, although today is known as a Spanish dish. Canelons de Sant Esteve (a delicious dish eaten on Boxing Day) is a local variation of Italian cannelloni. Overall, Catalan cuisine is characterised for its vivid flavours and expert use of simple ingredients.
Some must-try dishes include samfaina (similar to ratatouille); suquet (a fish soup); arros negre (a type of paella seasoned with black squid ink); and esqueixada (a warm cod and vegetable salad).
Catalonia is also big on cold meats, mostly made of pork (llonganissa, fuet, butifarra, and the spreadable sobrassada) and cheeses (mato, tupi, drap, and recuit being the most popular).
Catalonia is home to 11 recognised wine-growing regions. The red wines produced in the Penedes and Priorat areas are the most well-known at international level, but Catalonia also produces excellent fruity and fragrant white wines, such as Alella and Conca de Barbera. And then, there is cava, Catalonia's masterful adaptation of the champagne formula.
There are other interesting alcoholic drinks produced in this region. Ratafia is a potent homemade liqueur made of herbs, spices, and walnuts, and usually served after a heavy meal. Catalan people are clearly fond of their signature dessert crema catalana, to the point of creating a drinkable (and alcoholic) version of it, known as licor de crema catalana, which is somehow similar to Bailey's.
Size: 32,114 square kilometres
Population: 7,512,982 people
Capital city: Barcelona
Provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona, Lleida
Landscape: dramatic coastal landscapes, alpine mountain scenery, fertile agricultural plains, extensive vineyards.